For the past week or so, when people ask where we're going and we say Toulouse, the unvarying reply is Ah, Toulouse, Quelle jolie ville! American friends have said the same: Don't miss Toulouse! We agree. Street art combats graffiti
Yesterday at lunch we heard an American voice. A man came in briskly, ordered a lamb dish then (probably causing cardiac arrest in the kitchen) requested Tabasco sauce. We couldn't decide whether he is an aerospace worker or a bridge player. This morning he greeted us at breakfast--he'd been wondering about us as we'd wondered about him. Turns out he and his buddy are musicians from Atlanta (one of Toulouse's half-dozen sister cities as it happens) on their way to Hamburg and the Netherlands. Bush or Gore? they asked. Oh, not you too! we cried, to the amusement of the breakfasting French.
We had to get enclosures to an email printed out, and this was accomplished by the simple expedient of forwarding the email to our Mercure Elaborate caryatids Hotel. They were able to take each of the enclosed documents and print them on their printer. No charge. So at the least we should give them a plug! We have been very pleased by the can-do attitude of our hotel staff.
After the rain slowed down, we set out on our morning walk, in the general direction of the train station, and soon found ourselves in the middle of a clamorous, crowded, lively morning flea market where everything from fresh herbs to cutlery to furniture to African statues was for sale. At least a dozen city blocks are designated Market Zones for Sunday morning.
We took the new, very fast, driverless metro two stops to the train station. The metro has only one line so far, with others in the works. It's Half timbered building fast, clean and gets lots of use. Two men came down the escalator behind us as we descended; instead of passing they slowed down. Bob saw one of them reach into Elsa's pocket but a lifetime's bad habit finally paid off: All the pickpocket found was a dreadful damp Kleenex! As soon as Bob said something the pickpockets realized we were on to them and acted innocent. We watched at the bottom of the escalator as the two crooks made a pretence of buying a ticket and then, totally blown, went back up the escalator to try the next sucker. Just an hour before we'd read about a current plague of pickpockets, so we are now extra alert.
We were still recovering from our shock and anger an hour later as we threaded our way along streets where boutiques and trendy shops are tucked into the bottom floors of buildings which must be three or four hundred years old. We loved the old half-timbered buildings, some of which have been refinished without the customary covering stucco to reveal the timbers. The brickwork and recent and/or ongoing maintenance in old Toulouse make everything look Joan of Arc prosperous and inviting -- in contrast to the chipped and sooty stones in old Bordeaux.
The Cathedral St-Etienne is actually the result of construction of three churches over a period of 700 years, so you can't really be surprised it looks kind of lopsided. There was an early Christian church on the site in the 4th or 5th century, the cathedral was chartered in 844, rebuilt in the 11th century, one part finished in 1140, transformed at the beginning of the 13th century, work suspended in 1211 during the Albigensian crusade, the Romanesque chancel rebuilt in northern Gothic style at the end of the 13th century, but the bishop died before the nave could be rebuilt, vaults were added to the entire structure after the Toulouse fire of 1609, and the carved walnut choir stalls added later River Delivering Hydroelectric in the 17th century. This makes this cathedral so eccentric-looking that it is appreciated mostly by artists and intellectuals.
Fermat, the mathematician of Fermat's Last Theorem, has a street and a school named for him, the Dominican order was founded here, and the ascetic doomed Catholic heretical order of Cathares or Carthusians or Albigensians ended in this region of France. Joan of Arc rides her horse in bronze (as she does in many French cities), along with many other sculptures (some of which have been copied and stuck to a more modern wall) but our favorite is The River Delivering Hydroelectric Power To Toulouse (see picture).
There's a feeling of great age in old Toulouse, and the same sense of the continuing life of the city through the ages, that you feel in Paris. This may She's sad to be leaving France be partly due to the fact that this city is residential as well as commercial, so on this Sunday parents were walking with their toddlers, couples were bicycling and rollerblading, and mature ladies in suits and hats were heading for Tea Rooms. We loved the old hotels -- large private city mansions with courtyards -- built by wealthy merchants in the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries. Toulouse made a lot of money for a while with a blue dye, woad; the trade fell off when indigo, a cheaper dye, was found in the Americas.
The rain picked up again just as our feet were getting tired, so we took the bus back to the hotel with a resolution to continue our walk again tomorrow. But the walk must come after a major errand: Cuddles is heading for the United States if we can find a box for her. We suspect we're going to miss her, although she remains unimpressed by most of the sights we've shown her.