Toulouse, France

When I studied abroad in 2014, my friends and I made a quick weekend trip to Paris for about 3 days. I call that trip the Paris: Greatest Hits because we ran around crazily that whole time trying to do all the major things the city had to offer, and we succeeded. We saw the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe, Sacré-Coeur, Versailles, Catacombs and even did a boat tour of the Seine. We were also exhausted and lived off of sandwiches the whole time because food in France is expensive.

When I decided to come to Spain, I knew I was going to try to travel around Europe as much as possible. It’s so cheap here and I’m so close to so many places, I’m of course trying to take advantage of this. I didn’t have France on my list of places to visit because of the previous Paris trip, as I’d rather see new places before returning to other ones (with Ireland being the exception). However, a friend recommended a trip to Toulouse for a long weekend we had off, and given how cheap RyanAir flights are, I couldn’t help but say yes!

I need to preface the rest of this post by saying that I love Madrid. Madrid is a beautiful city full of huge, stately marble buildings, trees, and a huuuuuge park (hello, Retiro!). However, Toulouse was so cute. Everything there was just precious. The streets all had the same look, with pinkish stone and bricks, terraces and wrought-iron. There are of course buildings like this in Madrid, but not all the streets look as cute as Toulouse.

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Toulouse’s main shopping street
We found a great place to eat lunch the first day, but quickly realized how accustomed we’d gotten to Spanish mealtimes. In Spain, lunch doesn’t begin until about 2pm, and so restaurants are usually closed until around then. At 11, we looked up the restaurant  (The Winter City) we were thinking on the internet and realized their hours were 12-2! As in, they closed at 2 until dinnertime. We hightailed it to the restaurant and ate  so well. They had a student special and a lunch special, though the lunch special was the better deal. I tried duck for the first time, which tasted too much like beef for my tastes. However, we also had gratin au dauphinoise, which are thin slices of potato drowned in layers of cream and butter, kind of like a lasagna. I’m still thinking about them!

We left–well, waddled is a better verb– out of the restaurant and saw this adorably-painted doorway and so I had to take a picture in it, of course! I love this periwinkle color.

One of many adorably-painted doorways
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We meandered around the city pretty slowly the whole time we were there. Toulouse has quite a few churches and other pretty monuments, but nothing really that’s a ‘must-see.’ Instead, it’s really nice to just walk around and look at all the beautiful architecture without being stressed out about opening times or making sure to see all the things you want to (see: Paris). Usually when I’ve travelled to places, I’m so worried about seeing everything that it’s not as enjoyable as it maybe should be. This trip was really refreshing in that we weren’t worried about making sure to check off every ‘top sight’ from some guidebook but could instead just meander around and snap photos of the beautiful things we saw along the way.

Monument aux Morts

Cathédrale St. Étienne
This cathedral was I think the most beautiful building I saw while we were in Toulouse. The outside is just gorgeous, with the stained glass, spires and buttresses. With so many exquisite churches around Europe, it’s easy to get accustomed to seeing them and they can lose their ‘wow’ factor once you’ve seen a few. However, this cathedral re-inspired me to keep a close eye on all these marvels of glass and stone I’m lucky to have a chance to visit.

We headed down to the river (La Garonne) to watch the sun set and to look at the famous bridges, of which only one is pictured. The sunset was really quite beautiful, though of course not a match for an Arizona sunset. Across the river we could see the famed dome of the hospital and the remnants of the original bridge.

La Garonne and the dome of the hospital across
We wandered more around town to see more of the Christmas lights. Combined with the inherent cute factor of the city, everything seemed very whimsical.

Christmas lights in the street
We had been so enchanted on the first day by the river we headed back there to get more pictures another night, which turned out a lovely deep purple.

La Garonne and the hospital dome later in the evening
On our last day we went to the Museé des Augustines and looked at the beautiful church. I especially loved the inclusion of color in the ceiling, which I haven’t seen before in churches of this style.

Musée des Augustines
There were also, of course, stained-glass windows.

There is also a garden that’s part of the museum, which we weren’t sure if we were going to enter due to the 2 euro entry. It’s not that expensive, but we are always looking for ways to save! However, the lady told us it’s free for students, so we showed her ID and got to enter the beautiful center garden.

Gardens inside the Musée des Augustines
I love Snapchat’s geofilters, which show up with different options depending on where you travel. The Place du Capitole (Capitol Plaza) had quite a few different options, and I had fun finding my favorite! My phone is always on airplane mode when I’m using it as a camera, but I’m trying to remember to look for the Snapchat filters when I go somewhere new.

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Christmas Market in the Place Capital and one of the many Snapchat location filters for the site
Like I said before, we ate very well in France. I tried some new things (some of which I liked, some of which I did not) but we had a few tart/cake desserts that were delicious.

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Moelleux Natural at Flower’s Cafe
I’ve gotten accustomed to Spain’s cheeeeap cost of food, and usually only go out to pretty cheap places, so it was a little more expensive to eat out in France. However, it really wasn’t too overpriced, the food was delicious, and we’d eat such a big lunch we wouldn’t really be hungry for a full dinner. Some of the restaurants we went to that I’d recommend are The Winter City , Perlette and Restaurant Le May. We tried to eat lunch at the latter one day and it was so packed we couldn’t get in. Instead, we made a lunch reservation for the following day, though you have to do this in person at the restaurant. Toulouse also had a variety of tea houses, where we would have the delicious desserts we tried. I’d recommend O Thé Divin and Flower’s Cafe.

As I’ve never studied French, it was difficult to get around Toulouse. While in Paris, two of my friends had taken French and I used my Spanish when we’d have a difficulty. However, in Toulouse, my one French-speaking friend had to do all of the talking. I heard a lot of people speaking Spanish on the streets, but I was surprised at how few shopkeepers understood Spanish. I don’t expect people to speak English, but given the adjacency of France to Spain and how many Spaniards were visiting, I expected my Spanish to get me farther. It was pretty isolating not being able to verbally communicate with anyone except my English-speaking friends for three days, and I was so happy to hear a snippet of Spanish here and there and understand. I was happy to arrive back in Madrid and be able to understand and reply to somebody speaking with me, rather than the totally blank looks I’d had to give some people in Toulouse. Don’t let this sway you from visiting though! We had an excellent time eating our way through the city– just be sure you or one of your travel companions can speak the language!

 

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