Wednesday 25/08/2010 95
Today I headed for the medieval city of Carcassonne, about an hour by train from Toulouse. The train wended it's way through vineyards, orchards and sunflower fields before arriving at Bastide St Louis...the slightly newer part of Carcassonne. It only dates back 800 years where the walled city dates back 1 000.
I wandered through the streets towards the old city and while crossing a stone bridge got my first glimpse of the ramparts high on a hill. With 3 kilometres of wall and 52 towers the city really does look like something out of a fairy tale, or Harry Potter. Upon entering the city I was confronted with crowds of tourists and many kids wearing plastic armour and wielding wooden swords. Unfortunately much of the city is now crammed with souvenir and gift shops selling mass produced crap, but there were a few glimpse of authenticity. A few shops sold products from local artisans and the gothic Basilica of St Nazaire was suitably gloomy and mysterious inside. You are able to explore part of the rampart area between the city walls, and it was full of arched windows, stone walls and roughly cobbled pathways.
I brought a scoop of delicious homemade espresso ice cream and began the walk back towards the train station, stopping briefly at the local Musee de Beaux-Arts, which was featuring an exhibition of figurative artworks. All had been completed in the last 30 years and all contained the human figure in some way. Generally brightly coloured, and in some case quite disturbing, it was a refreshing change from the classical artwork that is in the majority of city run museums I had visited.
On return to Toulouse and the hotel I decided to take advantage of the bath tub for a second time, as it is unlikely that I will have the opportunity again in the next few months.
Tuesday 24/08/2010 96
After a fabulous sleep, courtesy of double glazing and block out curtains I headed out to explore Toulouse. The friendly reception guy provided with a map and a suggested itinerary for the day. The streets of Toulouse are lined with beautiful buildings and after the Surfer's Paradise on steroids feel of Nice (as beautiful as it was it was incredibly crowded) the space and lack of people was refreshing.
First Stop: the Saint Sernin Basilica. France's largest Romanesque building . It is a beautiful structure that is dedicated to Toulouse's first bishop who was martyred on the site and the church dates back 1 000 years.
Next was the place du Capitole, the main square in Toulouse filled with market stalls and surrounded by cafes and shops. An old monastery is a the setting for the Musee des Augustins, which I happily wasted a couple of hours in. It houses everything from middle ages sculpture, to paintings by late 19th Century artists Manet, Courbet, Morisot and Toulouse-Lautrec. The building was just as beautiful as much of the artwork with vaulted ceilings and a cloister complete with a veggie garden.
The Catherdral of St Etienne (St Stephen) is an anomaly as far as cathedrals go. From the outside it appears to belong to 3 or 4 different styles, although overall it is gothic complete with gargoyles and arched windows. From the front it is asymmetrical and wonky. This is due to it being built in several stages, none of which were finished. This lends to place a certain charm and whimsy that is lacking from most of the churches that I have so far visited in Europe.
I spent the rest of the arvo exploring some of the public gardens, one of which was complete with free range roosters crowing from a tree at 3.30pm and strolling past some of the other major public buildings which unfortunately were closed for August...as many things are.
Monday 23/08/2010 97
This morning I left my hostel and went to the Nice Ville Station to catch a train to Toulouse. Half an hour late the train finally showed and 7 hours later...a long 7 hours....I arrived in Toulouse, known as the pink city (due to the stone that has been used to build many of the buildings.) Having no map, only a few hand written directions, I went about a kilometre in the wrong direction before finding my hotel. When I finally checked in I discovered that my air conditioned room with a TV and wifi also had a bath...I enjoyed all the facilities and went to sleep.