Via Tolosana Day 26: Back to the future

Carcassonne to Toulouse

I awoke at 6am, but didn’t get up until just before 7am.  I wrote my pages in record time today and went down to breakfast, even managing to write a bit of journal before people came and conversation was required.  I had rested well overnight and awoke knowing that to return to Toulouse was the right thing to do today.

Michelle came a little while later as did two other pelerin, one we never said hello to and the other, Peter, English, but living in California for the past 28 years.  We had a very interesting breakfast time chat ranging over topics far and wide. We talked American foreign policy: economic, military, pharmaceutical and agribusiness. The modern ways the US dominates the world – eliminating threats by any means. It was a very animated discussion. Michelle has done interesting research on the ethics and laws around giving people placebos in research. It would not be any surprise to anyone, but the populations of prisons, and other people society chooses to forget, like prostitutes, are ripe for drug testing by pharmaceutical companies.

Michelle would have to be a second angel for me on my trip. Her quiet and gentle ways were very re-assuring. To have such a kind presence during my time in Carcassonne was nothing short of a bolt out of the blue.  She told me she moves slowly, in all senses, and finds that this ends up being a test for those she spends time with.  She can tell whether she is accepted by those around her if they tolerate her leisurely pace.  She likened herself to Marilyn Monroe, who was likewise always ‘plus tard‘ – slower or late. I like to think of it as going avec lentement or the opposite to ‘with haste’.  I think this kind of time-taking is different to the kind I used to experience – where I could tell the things I was reluctant to do, by how quickly (or not), I got ready for them and whether I was on time for them. Hers seemed more a permanent consideration of time, not feeling rushed by the expectations of others.  My second angel reinforcing the benefits of going my own way in my own time.

After a long breakfast, we made our way back upstairs and packed up.  Michelle brought me a little pice of paper she’d made – a practice piece for the little book she’s making with La Vie des fleurs (the life of flowers) printed on it in calligraphic script.  We both said goodbye to Peter (who’s room was coincidentally just near mine).  All packed, I went downstairs.  They had trouble with refunding my money, and Michelle said she would try while she was still there to see if she could get my money back.  I didn’t like her chances. Still no wifi, I realised I would need to return to the Office of Tourisme to retrieve my emails.  I also realised I had been walking for nearly 4 weeks and I was halfway through my trip.

Crossing the bridge back to the new town, I spy a woman photographing a big stork in the river. The name Pont Vieux is apt even though it means old bridge, it had the most stunning views of the river in both directions. I found more wall art facing the river and then a Bar Brasserie Florian for Flo.

At the Office de Tourisme I sourced the information about touring the Cathar region by deux chevaux  – now you’re talking! Next time. I found this great little pamphlet about a company that hires out these old gems for tours of the surrounding areas.  Their depot was in another town, so this would need to be another charming activity saved for next time.  I thought of Antoine in Melbourne, and took an extra pamphlet for him. For now, it became apparent to me that I just needed to get back on the road.

A neptune fountain and surprisingly beautiful slate floor of the square led me down one of the small streets on the way to the gare (station) where I bought a mini sandwich (actually a baguette with saucisson et beure) a perfect snack for later. Near the gare, I spotted me in my former life, carrying a cello case to the train. The line for a ticket was very long, and a guy had a complicated enquiry which meant we were all waiting about half an hour. There were  other walkers waiting from England but I didn’t feel like striking up a conversation as they seemed intent on bagging the service. I didn’t want to get into a discussion about it. I booked a ticket on the 12 midday train back to Toulouse.  About 5 minutes out, I took the underpass to the platform in the middle of several tracks.  On the way back I sat next to a guy completing his Baccalaureate and just about to start philosophy teaching studies philosophy.  Wow, how many 18 year old Australian men are just starting to learn to teach philosophy. The answer … not enough!!  I might be biased, but he was absolutely gorgeous – it was his mind I was completely taken with, of course. He was a scout, and had just been on a camping expedition and had stayed in a monastery.  We talked about my trip and his studies and the Cathares. He’d like to do the Camino with his brother, but is yet to convince him. His brother is 30, so quite a bit older than him. It seemed that my young philosopher friend had an intrinsic reason for wanting to walk, he was Catholic. But his brother wasn’t.  I said he might need to find some other motivating force – girls for instance.  He was amused by my idea.  I can’t remember his name, maybe Mikhail, perhaps with a Polish background.

As per usual SNCF style, we pulled into Toulouse station right on schedule. I made my way to the Capitole square, past the Donjon – I’d never stopped to think it really does sound like dungeon when you pay attention.  I wandered for a bit, past gorgeous buildings – turned into McDonalds with a gold sign – does it make it better?  I had spent several valuable minutes wandering in and out of exhibition spaces like the Musee-Théâtre du Capitole, over it’s creaking wooden floorboards reminiscent of many ancient French chateaus like Versailles, trying unsuccessfully to find a toilet – even opening my suspicious looking backpack for the inquisitive gendarme at the gate. The amusement of seeing a Toulouse hipster in the museum possibly made the toilet stop seem more urgent. The public ones behind the Office de Tourisme and dungeon were out of order.  Restaurants have toilets.  I decided to sit in a restaurant and eat lunch, as expensive as the pee stop would be.

Often the toilet justifies a more expensive meal than one really has the budget for.  At Le Paradis du fruit, under the colonnades opposite the Capitole building, I caught up on my journal while admiring the glass light fittings that reminded me of Chihuly’s. This restaurant was a bit of a cross between a Boost Juice chain store and Spats – all my Adelaide friends would know what I mean.  Incredible combinations of fruit juices with cocktail decorations, extremely fastidiously decorated desserts – beautiful.  The piddle-tax was high this day – 15.50 Euro for lunch.  It reminded me of my time working at a public service organisation in Adelaide where one of my colleagues was a long-serving member of the Adelaide City Council.  He was famous for opposing charges for toilets – the piddle tax. There aren’t many places in Australia where you are asked to pay to piddle, but it is quite common-place in Europe. The meal was worth it though. First a little board of dips and breads, then café gourmand with fantastic shot glass of caramel ice-cream with banana and strawberries and a coffee.

In the middle of the Place du Capitole, there is a zodiac with a symbol at every point of the Occitan cross.  Clever, or maybe that’s what that cross is all about.

Fully refreshed and free of liquid balast, I made my way to see St Sernin. After emerging from lunch en face the Capitole Square and building, above my head under the cloisters the ceiling was painted. Magnificent!  As I was about to walk to the Basilique Saint-Sernin, I noticed the Place was cordoned off and there was what looked like a drone flying above.  I saw the same people again a little later in front of the Eglise Notre-Dame du Taur and again after I came out of the Basilique.  They were making a commercial for UEFA in 2016, filming in every city that would be hosting the event.  I just missed the Cinema En Plein Air. Bummer. That would have been good.  The streets of Toulouse are fantastic.

I hadn’t yet decided on the place I would stay, and made the mistake I made in Arles, thinking that an accueil (welcome) in a church means they will arrange a bed for you. I had a lovely little tete-a-tete with a kind man in the basilica for several minutes before realising that all he was going to provide me was assistance.  Eventually I said I would stay at the same place as I stayed on the Friday night – the Jeune Travailleurs, and he kindly phoned them and booked me in. Perfect.  He was happy for me to leave my heavy backpack in the room he worked from at the back of the basilica while I took a tour of the crypt and the rest of the cavernous space.  There it sat being guarded by him and St Roch. I’d realised from talking with Philippe that the saint I saw at Villelongue was not St Jacques, but St Roch.  Funnily enough today was his fete day – 16th August.  He is always depicted with his dog, and has a wound on his leg – the two things that distinguish him from St Jacques as they share the coquille shell decoration.

Inside St Sernin has a very opulent feel – there are carpets covering some of the pillars in the church and it seemed that this may have been how they were decorated in centuries past.  It would have to be one of the most beautiful basilicas I’ve been in. It certainly rivals my favourite in Paris, Saint-Étienne-du-Mont. It has extra arches up top.  But the most amazing thing of all is the crypt below.  I have never seen so many reliquaries together in one place or saints for that matter. St Hilaire, beautiful saints carved from wood, Saint Papoul and statues of St Jacques. I took some photos of just a portion of the reliquaries too.  They remind me of giant versions of the tiny cut crystal memento mori jewellery, small parts of people are hidden behind the glass windows.  A lock of hair, a monogram, some part of a person’s life memorialised forever. These highly decorated containers put places like Howard’s Storage to shame.  These items also made me think of my French Huguenot ancestor, Alexis Pilleau (the elder) who was apparently known for making a gold reliquary for the local Catholic church in Le Mans in the 1600s. I wonder if they looked like these? There were some made in the 1600s, so the style would be right.  The church building reminded me of an Escher picture, and that scene from The Name of the Rose, where the library is burning and they are trying to escape through the labyrinth of staircases.

Once outside the building, my pack back on, it was a challenging matter to try to find the perfect angle to capture as much of the basilica as I could fit in my viewfinder.  And on this day avec drone. (See if you can spot it in my photos).  I wandered right around the place, getting a feel for the large footprint it made, and then back towards Capitole, clicking at every opportunity. The architecture of this city is quite different to any I’d walked through before. But whilst a rose city seems to be quite unusual here in France, for an Australian, not so much. Many of our buildings are these colours.  Every opportunity was taken to mount huge porcelain tiled maps of the ancient city on walls – grand and petite.  As I wandered ‘home’ I loved the way the afternoon blue sky and the orange-red of the bricks were playing.  I found it difficult to stop taking photos.

Back in familiar territory, I was close to the Jeune Travailleurs, and I elicited a bon route from a guy in a car. At the hostel, my host this time was possibly Spanish, and very flirty. He thought it exotic to be hosting an Australien. He gave me a large 3rd floor room that had two single beds in it, but which I’d have to myself. Two large windows looked out to the common courtyard below.  No bathroom in it this time, I’d have to go around the corner for a shower and the toilet along the corridor. Judging by the smell it seemed to be the location of choice for resident smokers.  I showered again with one of the push-button showers that delivers just enough water to get you wet, then stops again, demanding you push again for your next dose.  I did my washing under the shower, as I often did, as it was simpler.  Back in my room, I once again rigged my little stretchy clothes line into an intricate arrangement between a chair, a broken coat hanger and the window handle to dry my washing.  As I only had 6 pegs, I was glad I’d brought my twisted clothes lines that I could squeeze a little corner each item through to secure. It makes a funny sight – a room full of washing.

Not wanting to sit and watch it dry, I took a walk to the Musee and Jardin des Plantes.  I thought, from a map, that there was a labyrinth there, but I couldn’t find it.  Instead, I happened across naked couples canoodling, and the bells of L’église Saint Exupère doing their best impersonation of those at Baziege. Beautiful. The church inside was weird, but the bells were nice and the sweet Mary was a cute find too.


I called in at Casino (supermarket chain) on my way back to the hostel and got a ham and beure sandwich which was in really bad white bread, but there wasn’t much else. Unlike two nights before, there was to be no banquet on a tray provided by the hostel. I passed by many hôtel particuliers then when I got back I took photos of the rooftops from my bedroom.

Downstairs again, I found some more young people who were very interested in what I was doing there. I was attempting to do some iPad blog writing, but instead got chatting to Hugo and then Sebastian until 10pm.  I amused myself showing these two young French men AFL.  They laughed and laughed. I don’t blame them.  The game would look so ridiculous to people only familiar with soccer and rugby.  Hugo was sweet. He’d repeat what I’d say, but with the correct French words. It was very helpful. That’s the way I like it – the patient corrections. He would make a great teacher, but I think he was going to be an accountant.  Sebastian was a computer systems administrator.

I retired to my laundry room, feeling old and illiterate!


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