Posts Tagged ‘ rain ’

Toulouse: Rugby country

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.

toulouse notre dame de la daurade

Black Virgin Mary

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.

toulouse rugby

Toulouse in Black, but Brive were way stronger at the scrums

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.

toulouse zombie dog

Untitled. Zombie dog?

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…



Last weekend I hooked up with the photo group again.  Someone suggested that we go and see fire breathers on Saturday night and it sounded pretty cool.  It also made me think that there must be hundreds of interesting things going on all over the city that I have no idea about, and somehow I need to find out about them.

After we’d met up we headed to the place it was being held and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It’d been raining though, so there were lots of nice reflections on the ground from the streetlights and we were hoping to get the same effect from the fire.

Paris fire reflection


When we arrived there were a few fire breathers and people swinging fire poi, and the first thing that we noticed (other than the abundance of fire) was the smell of petrol, which was really really strong.  It was pretty dark when we arrived too, and the fire was the only thing lighting parts of the big square that was around 30m long and wide so it looked impressive.

Paris fire fire poi

Fire poi

Paris fire floating


Apart from the people playing with fire there were reasonable sized crowds watching the action, and the people standing the closest were all photographers.  I’m not sure how it feels to have so many cameras trained on you, half way to celebrity maybe, but it was quite weird.  One guy turned up on 5m high stilts and spent the evening walking through the crowds.  I’m not really sure how he managed to balance on them all night, but it was certainly different.

Paris fire paparazzi


I spent 90 minutes walking around in total.  As well as fire poi, there were quite a few people who decided that it was safer not to play with fire and were swinging LED based poi which also looked pretty cool.  It was fun taking photos of orange fire all night, but also nice to find some blue, green or purple glow poi.

Paris fire glow poi

Glow Poi

It was actually the poi that impressed me the most as it seemed the only thing you had to be careful of when fire breathing was not to set yourself on fire, but the poi required concentration, coordination and skill as well as not setting yourself on fire.

Despite the fact that I was there to take photos all of my photos were pretty rubbish, but I’m going to blame my tools (aka my camera) which wasn’t really up to the job.  I’ve got lots of blurry noisy photos which is disappointing.  It’s probably partly my fault too, but I’m definitely going back when I’ve got my DSLR back from repair and I’ll take my tripod too!

I was explaining the evening to a colleague on Monday morning and I mentioned how the fire breathers didn’t seem to have any fear either of the fire nor of anything going wrong, and that I thought what they were doing was pretty dangerous.  When I explained this I realised that as I spectator I felt pretty safe, even though if something went wrong it could just as easily be me who was set on fire (luckily I wasn’t wearing any synthetic fibres)!  My colleague took my comment about it being dangerous in a different way, and commented on how much of the fuel they absorbed while it was in their mouths which is something that I hadn’t thought about.  Most of the people seemed young, in their 20s or early 30s, so I wonder what’ll happen to them in 10 or 20 years time…

Paris fire white hot

White hot (or overexposed)

Photo group walkabout in the 16th

Thursday was a public holiday in France as it was Remembrance Day.  It’s interesting that is a public holiday here as it’s not in the UK, where it’s commemorated on the weekend following the 11th of November.  Having a day of remembrance where most people actually don’t work or go shopping, and have time to think about the past wars and the people who were involved in them seems like a much more meaningful and respectful way to do it.

So anyway, I had an extra day off and decided to do something with it.  Earlier this month I joined a photography group hoping to learn a little more about how to use the Nikon D5000 DSLR that I bought last year.  I went to a drinks night with them at the start of the month, but on Thursday they’d arranged a walk around Paris’ 16th arrondissement in the west of the city.

The 16th is a wealthy area, with many foreign residents and some embassies too, and as it’s a wealthy area well known architects have designed some of the buildings in the area.  One of the most famous architects is Hector Guimard who designed a number of Art Nouveau styled buildings including the Castel Béranger (as well as the famous green metal Métro entrances).

Castel Béranger
The entrance of the Castel Béranger

A lot of people pulled out at the last minute because it was raining all day on Thursday, so there were only 7 of us wandering the streets with cameras in hands.  The rain would normally be a problem, but the reflections and autumn leaves still gave chances to take some nice photos.

Motorbike reflections

Autumn leaves
Leaf collection

A couple of the photographers were using film cameras, which seemed a little odd at first, but after thinking about my first cameras I started feeling a little nostalgic for them.  Click-whirrrrrrrrrr!  After talking to them for a while I learned that they developed their own films too, and they could get effects that are pretty hard to achieve using digital cameras.  Part of me wants an old camera now, but I have no idea what I’d do with it or even if you can still get films developed.  I think I’ll file it in the “crazy ideas” folder and try to forget about it.

Undisturbed vélibs
Undisturbed vélibs

After 2 hours of following our guide and fellow photographer Olivier, we decided to get out of the rain and get some coffee.  Even the café we went to gave us some interesting subjects for photos, and I could have spent an hour there looking around and taking photos.

I think walking about with other people was really useful, and I definitely took some photos that I wouldn’t normally have noticed.  Still need to work to improve my eye for a good photo and composition, but it’s given me a bit of a kick to go out and take photos.  If they’re bad I can delete ’em, but maybe I’ll take some good ones too and learn something.

More photos are up on Flickr

Lights, taps and bottles
Lights, taps and bottles

Telephone booth
Telephone booth

Red stools
Red stools

Just like home

First real rain shower outside today. Luckily (?!) I’ve been stuck in front of my computer all night. Got a big list of tasks to do but managed to get sidetracked into doing the least important one because it seemed the most interesting.
Todo lists should get shorter, but mine rarely do.  I need a week off to catch up on everything.

Anyway, fun stuff planned for tomorrow includes reading a user manual for a camera flash that I don’t own and ironing my suit and a shirt *groan*.

On the upside I’ll hit the midway point of the week tomorrow, so things will get better from there.

I made this curry last night which worked out pretty well.  Needs a bit more spice though, but it was my first real go at cooking in the new kitchen and it went OK.  A bit cramped, and everything’s stored in a different place than I’m used to, but otherwise OK.