Next stop on my tour of France was Toulouse. There were a few cities in the area that sounded interesting, but there was one thing that I wanted to do in Toulouse that made me come here rather than Montpellier or somewhere else. At the moment I’m thinking that I should’ve stayed in Marseille though as it was the first rainy day of the holiday yesterday, thankfully today was reasonably sunny though.
I started off yesterday morning with a trip to Tourist Information and then a walk around town. The first thing that hit me was that Spanish is definitely the second language here, everything’s in French and most things are written in Spanish, then if you’re lucky there’ll be an English translation, and it’s tough being German or Italian. The tourist information signs around the city are all translated to Spanish, the street names are in Spanish and the station names are announced in Spanish on the métro too. I found out later that the city was where Spanish revolutionaries escaped to when General Franco was in power, so the ties with the the country are still strong.
I made the now routine stop at one of the city’s Basilicas, Saint Sernin, which is very austere with the only thing brightening it up being a set of completely unintelligible modern art which depict scenes from Jesus’ life, allegedly. When I left a small flea market was being set up outside, with a guy selling used bikes, another selling pots and pans, but what caught my eye in a pile of junk was a red heart shaped “Just Married” cushion, and it made me wonder who would buy someone a second hand Just Married cushion? I didn’t hang around to find out.
The only other interesting thing that I saw before lunch was in the Notre Dame de la Daurade church which was on my wandering path. There’s a wooden statue inside of the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus, but they’re black and no one’s sure why.
After lunch I saw that there were Oxfam charity collectors out on the street, and I managed to avoid one by blurting out “Je ne suis pas Français,” which worked. Ten minutes later though another one came up to me and said something about my shoes which I didn’t understand. I told her that I wasn’t French, but she said “Ah, but I speak English too!” Touche! So we ended up having a chat in French about the weather, Scotland and the fact that Oxfam isn’t known in France but is in the UK. Maybe I should’ve had a chat to the first woman too, as it was actually quite nice!
The only big thing that I did yesterday was to go and watch Stade Toulousain play rugby against Brive, which I’d bought a ticket for a couple of weeks ago. Getting to the stadium was a bit of a trek, they have two stadiums and it was in the smaller one, not Stade Toulouse, which is further out of town. First you take the métro out of the city, the a shuttle bus from the métro station, walk along a stony canal path then cross a pontoon bridge to make it to the stadium.
The game itself was very close, 9-12 at half time and Toulouse eventually won 23-22. It was the first rugby game I’ve been to without anyone with me to explain what was happening, but I got on OK although there were a couple of decisions that I didn’t understand. The atmosphere was pretty friendly between both sides too, at least until Brive scored the last points of the game through a controversial converted try near the end.
By the time I made it back to the centre of the city it was after 4 o’clock, so I went to explore the shops and squares in the centre. The almost-pedestrianised zone at the heart of the city is actually really nice, and I was surprised that I saw the same number of small independent shops selling cool and interesting things in one day in Toulouse that I have in 7 months on Paris. I think they’re just better hidden in Paris, but in Toulouse they’re more prominent alongside the bigger chains.
Today I had another art gallery day, starting in the morning at Les Abattoirs, which is a strange name for the modern art museum. I suppose the original use of the buildings may have been an abattoir, but they could have named it something else. I’ve decided to start playing a game of “guess what it is” whenever I see an untitled piece of modern art, as it should keep me amused for hours. I need to work on my out-of-the-box thinking, but my favourite one is below. Even titles of some pieces don’t help me at all in trying to decrypt the meaning behind them.
Second stop was a museum dedicated to photography called the Château d’Eau, which is a pretty small looking place. It used to be a water tower for the city from the year 1823, hence the name, but fell into disuse after some years. 1823 was the same year photography was developed, which is the link to why it’s now a photo gallery. I didn’t know what their exhibition was before I got there but it turned out to be of a Lithuanian photographer that I’d never heard of, Antanas Sutkus, who took photos of life and people during Soviet times. All of his photos were in black and white and didn’t really follow the rules of composition that I’ve been told, but I’ve also been told that the rules are meant to be broken. Some interesting photos, some that were a bit mundane, but it was pretty good.
The city, like Lyon, was pretty quiet on Sunday. There were people on the streets, and the bars and cafés were open as well as the museums, but as usual almost all the shops are closed with only some food shops opening. I saw my first “statue guy” of the holiday today when I was walking around. He wasn’t bad (well, he wasn’t moving much) but no one seemed very interested in him and walked straight past. I felt a little sorry for him, but I did the same thing too. He was standing on a quiet street though, and I think if he went and stood in the Place du Capitole, the main square in the city, that he might’ve found an audience.
Last thing to do before making it to the train station was to follow the Toulouse Resistance tour around the city, which points out locations in the city where resistance activity took place during World War 2. It was good but standard stuff, like the resistance press and the organisation of the movement. One of the differences in Toulouse was that because they’re close to the Spanish border, they helped people get into and out of France over the Pyrenees mountains which sounds like it would be a terrible journey, but better than not going.
And now I’m on the move again…