A Travellerspoint blog

day 10: toulouse is not too loose pour moi

in which your author has no excuse for that terrible play on words

sunny 45 °F

My first morning waking up in France (since July, at least) is spent catching up on sleep. I’ve found that’s sort of “how I roll” as a solo traveler – stay out at night and interact with people and places, then forego being an early morning tourist. There are disadvantages to traveling alone, but dictating one’s own schedule unapologetically is not one of them. After an unsuccessful joust with Marie’s stovetop coffee maker, I find a café in her neighborhood and manage to order un café (a strong French espresso, of course!) without much trouble, and I set out a map of Toulouse on the table to come up with a loose plan for the day.

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I make my way through brick-lined, colorful French side streets to Basilique St. Sernin, the major church of Toulouse. A large number of French students line the plazas surrounding the church, most of them smoking and happily chatting, and I see at least two bike drops close by.

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I stop into a crepe place Marie recommended (with a old piano at the entrance), and order a crepe dufort, with luscious, nutty emmental cheese and fromage de chevre, and a rich chocolate drink with vanilla cream. There's an old piano with a copy of the Beethoven Pathetique Sonata on it by the door. I must be in Europe!

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Passing through the 14th century gate, I enter the Basilica, a famous pilgrimage spot built in the shape of a Latin cross, and begin to explore its dark and ancient exterior. Allow me to pause briefly and note that one runs out of adjectives to describe the interior of these medieval churches; they all feel and smell “old” and storied, with ceilings stretching to the sky which make you wonder how the heck anyone got up there in the first place 600 years ago, never mind create incredibly ornate art. I sense a distinct lack of anything that’s comparable to them in the US. I also wonder whether if my students (or Americans in general) could hear music or even just set foot in these places, maybe the vapidity of much of American pop culture might lose some of its allure? (Soapbox now demounted.)

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In the rear of the church, I stop and touch the cement “feet” of St. Anthony, patron saint of travelers; this is one of the many stops along the legendary route of the Camino walk to Compostela de Santiago, and I think of my 70-something friend Dan, who has walked the 500 mile trip on numerous years, as well as Peter and Natasha of Greystones, who must have stopped here along their journeys as well? Incidentally, I'm very much looking forward to finding their book about the trip, which will be published in Ireland in March!

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In the other side of the rear, there’s an open space with statuary recalling the church’s history, reliquaries holding the remains of a number of Catholic saints, and what appear to be 14th century frescoes painted on the walls.

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I pay the 2 Euro entry fee to the crypt, and follow a curved path; from this angle, I can see the magnificent altarpiece of the church looming above. Steps leads down into a downstairs grotto containing more relic-holding shrines.

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Outside the basilica there’s a teenager bouncing a rugby ball, then kicking it high in the air to a mate; the accuracy of the kicking is impressive.

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Walking around the church, I find my way back to Rue de Taur, so named for the bull on which St. Sernin (aka Saturnin) was allegedly strapped to in the 3rd century; the bull ran the 1/3 of a mile along this street to the place where the basilica now stands. The street is busy with walking locals, and seems a center for shopping and eating, rife with bookstores (many displaying Camino maps), restaurants, bakeries, and even that grand French patisserie of yore, Subway. But thankfully, no holy men strapped to angry bulls.

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I spot another old church to explore, this one Notre Dame du Taur, which was the burial spot of St. Sernin. This is a good example of the constant renovation these churches must undergo; workers are up on ladders repairing some part of the altar, and most of the paintings and walls are in dire need of restoring. A beautiful 19th-century mosaic telling the story of St. Sernin and the bull decorates the area above the altar, and along the wall there’s a recently discovered, 14th century fresco giving the genealogy of Jacob.

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I stop into a bakery and order just one (just one?) pâté of chocolate and almonds, and come out into the large square surrounding the Capitolium, the large civic center of Toulouse.

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I pass through the archway and walk into the building, walking up a winding stairway around which colorful tapestries and paintings seem to cover every square inch of space.

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Inside the Capitoleum are what appear to be function rooms, all lined with paintings and ornate design. The workers setting up and breaking down ordinary plastic tables (probably for a wedding reception, as Marie says they have many here) seems a stark contrast to the opulent surroundings.

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Walking outside, I’m in a high traffic shopping area, and I stop into a Virgin Records, purchasing a few tough-to-find classical and jazz CDs in the clearance rack.

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At this point, I decide to try out Marie’s bike suggestion; she was kind enough to set up me up in the system with an account the night before. After some trouble with the all-French instructions (and some assistance from a stranger) I manage to get the bike out and I pedal back to her neighborhood, where I fix myself some soup and baguette and settle in for a nap.

I sleep way too long – I’m still in catchup mode after a physical rehearsal week – but luckily, France is a country that seems to open at 9pm!

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Marie and I venture out into a rustic neighborhood to visit one of her favorite local haunts L’Esquinade, and it’s the absolute picture of a stereotypical French restaurant, people wedged into chairs at tables practically butting into each other, everyone speaking French (imagine!) in animated tones. The menu changes depending on what they have in stock; I order white fish with vegetables, which is delectable. It’s tres difficult eating exclusively vegetarian (never mind vegan, God forbid!) in this country, as almost everything is cooked with some of meat, and the only meatless options on any menu seem to be cheese-based! They offer two house selections for wine, and we drink a good amount of the locally-produced Gros Manseng white, left at the table in jug form. The desserts are amazing: chocolate tiramisu, and flan encased in a caramel waffle, and after I pay the check (leaving an American-sized tip to make up for any previous rude, non-French speaking Americans… tres falulach!), we’re left with two shot-sized jam jars containing the house cocktail, strong, fruity, and gingery, though they won’t tell Marie exactly what’s inside!

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We walk a short distance over to Brueghel L’Ancien, another local bar with excellent Belgian beers on tap, where we befriend a cool local guy named David. We sit with him and his friend whose English is equivalent of my French (Marie translates), then retire to the outside area where most of the French people are now forced to do their smoking. I'm finding Marie's words true; everyone in Toulouse seems approachable and friendly, much more so than in Paris! A man with a dog stops by, then a few musicians getting out from a gig; one of them starts playing the Louis Armstrong classic St. James Infirmary on the guitar, but when a saxophonist joins in the bar manager comes out and asks them to stop. I’ve always heard how important jazz is to French culture, but it’s pretty amazing to see it in action; I can’t imagine jazz musicians picking up their horns for in impromptu session outside a bar in, say, Adams Morgan. Here's some video of this.

It’s been a nice, relaxing first full day in Toulouse, and I have another day to explore. C’est magnifique!

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Posted by coolmcjazz 03:15 Archived in France

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Comments

Hi Jason. Spectacular church, awesome pictures!. I don't know it. I start the Camino later on at a small French town, St Jean Pied de Port, in the Pyrenees.

by Dan McCarthy

Ah! Well I touched the cement feet of St. Anthony, patron saint of travelers. Also, Peter M. mentioned that you would be making an appearance in his book on the Camino, co-written by his daughter, which comes out in Ireland in March!

by coolmcjazz

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