Toulouse 6.10pm in bedroom at Hotel Des Arts – raining, thunder, wind
Just had a long relaxing bath in a huge tub with loads of bubbles. The shower head is set about 3 feet off the ground so, despite great temperature and water pressure, the only feasible option is a bath. The hotel is rather lovely, dotted with artworks, but not pretentious – very homey and a great central location. We’re on the top floor and my room overlooks a cluster of nearby roofs, but Dad’s has a view of the rather magnificent Musee des Augustins and has a wonderful walk in shower. I have secretly given Dad the best room as a reward –there is no lift and after a very long journey to get here Dad carried both suitcases all the way up 3 flights of elegant but old and uneven stairs!
The journey to get here was very long. Don’t believe anyone who says Toulouse is only 2 hours away. Despite Carol turning up on time and not muddling up the booking, and the fastest run to Heathrow we’ve ever had, the plane ended up delayed by an hour because a woman got ill on the flight over and it was “more complicated than expected” to get whatever equipment was needed to help her before they could take her off the plane. So we didn’t get to the hotel till midnight, but with no hissy fits or panic surges and no drugs. I had my valium ready but the seats had a bit more room between them than Vueling (never flying them again) so I was absolutely fine – much to Dad’s relief. Never underestimate the importance of 3 inches.
The most dangerous part was the taxi journey. It was pouring yet he drove well over the speed limit, within a few feet of the cars ahead and worst of all kept looking at his mobile phone. I couldn’t work out what he was doing as he was fiddling with it for ages (occasionally glancing at the road ahead). I decided to focus on the road (as he was not) and be ready to yell out “Regardez!!” very loudly in French if needed. Was he trying to make a call? Or get directions? No – it appears he endangered our lives to be able to play some advert about our hotel through his phone for about 5 minutes!
So today we explored Toulouse on foot. A very attractive city with lots of interesting buildings, but remarkably deserted on a Sunday. After a quick first coffee we made our way to the town centre, Place du Capitole. The capitoules were members of the council – the ruling elite of wealthy merchants and aristocracy that led the town especially during the 16th-17th centuries when the town became very rich on woad – a blue dye for cloth. We had a late breakfast sitting outside at a café while the wind swept around us, an organ grinder played his music in one corner of the square, and very very few people were to be seen.
We then visited the town hall which overlooks the square and was filled with glorious wall paintings (don’t say the f word…) made by artists who had trained at the re-knowned Toulouse art school. These covered the walls, ceiling and staircase of the town hall with scenes from Toulousian history.
We then strolled to the Basilique St-Sernin which is one of the main sites of Toulouse. They had just finished a service so it was filled with chatting people and a priest bobbing about in his vestments, and the smell of incense (which set Dad’s nose off – his worst nightmare: a religious smelly shop!!!).
The altar was consecrated in 1096 and the place was built between 1080 and the 1300s. Huge and most famous for its big collection of relics. Pilgrims would stop here on their way to Santiago de Compostela – and donate money to the church to buy and house relics.
It is in fact part of the UNESCO world heritage site of the pilgrimage route and is one of the best Romanesque churches in western Europe. It was originally built to house the relics of Toulouse’s first bishop who was put to death by the Romans by being dragged by a bull through the town.
We then went next door to the Musee St-Raymond (apparently almost all the old dukes were called Raymond), an archaeology museum about roman Tolosa. It had a beautiful collection of busts that reminded me of the collection in the Accademia in Florence – but Roman. Each face absolutely unique and realistic, though many had bits chipped and blasted off them. Although I found it interesting as Dad said once you’ve seen Pompei and Herculaneum you’re a bit spoilt for any other ancient museums.
After that we needed a break but it was along walk before we finally found a coffee shop. Sundays are notorious in Toulouse for general emptiness. We did find a wonderful bridge with a mysterious red devil statue on it – and revisited it this evening after a scrumptious meal and a bit too much rain and wine.
One of the benefits of not hiring a car…
Meanwhile in Farnham
This morning there was a fox on the terrace. Coffee went everywhere as the dogs raced to see it off. Things were so desperate that Freya even used the doggie door.
I went to the gym for the first time in three weeks on Friday. It was a bit tough. In the excitement of Bob’s Jersey adventure, I forgot to mention it.
But most importantly, I killed Christmas :