Ten hours in Toulouse

Last September, while au pairing in the small French town of Pamiers, I decided to venture, on one of my days off, to nearby Toulouse. I left the house bright and early (at least by the standards of a nocturnal university student) and was strolling along the streets of the city by ten o’ clock.


An account of my day


Determined to get as much done as possible in the limited time I had before my bus home, I made my way towards destination number one: the Basilique Saint-Sernin (Basilica of Saint-Sernin). I was unfortunately only able to see the exterior of this UNESCO World Heritage site – I think there was a mass service going on when I arrived, so make sure to plan around this – but even so, the slight detour I'd made was well worth it.

The church, built where an abbey once stood, is a fine specimen of Romanesque architecture, with its curved arches and intricately-carved relief sculptures. What is more, along with many buildings in the area, the basilica, with its rosy-red walls, gives justification for Toulouse’s reputation as ’La Ville Rose’ (the ‘Pink City’).



Next, I headed to Marché Victor Hugo (the Victor Hugo Market), and spent about ten minutes walking past meats. cheese and pastries of every kind. It wasn’t yet lunchtime, so I didn’t end up buying anything – always remember, when doing day trips, to think carefully about timing –  but it was still fascinating to watch locals making their way from one colourful stall to another, some evidently most at ease in the world of haggling.



Knowing that, if I stayed around much longer, I’d easily be convinced to fill my stomach with French delicacies and empty my purse of euros, I retreated swiftly, and walked down the beautiful Rue Lafayette to the Place du Capitole. It was surprisingly empty when I arrived, so would have been the perfect time to get a few shots of the hôtel de ville (city hall), had the sun been shining on, rather than behind, it. Anyhow, photography conditions aside, it certainly didn’t disappoint!


I then noticed that there were people going into the building, itself, something I hadn't realised would be allowed. At first I thought perhaps there was an important event taking place there that day, but I soon realised that the rather intimidating guards at the entrance were simply there to check bags, and not to separate the sheep (influential politicans) from the goats (tourists).

Anyway, if you think the monument’s Neoclassical façade is impressive, its interior is a whole 'nother story. What's more, entry is free, so you've really got nothing to lose (or should I say, 'Toulouse'? Ha ha...)! Only a few rooms were open to the public, but the stunning frescoes in these chambers were, alone, quite enough to satisfy anyone's artistic hunger. The main staircase, too, was quite spectacular (and difficult to climb because of the number of people who had stopped halfway up to take photos!).



Twenty minutes later, I was out wandering once more. Keen to see some street art – I'd read on Toulouse's tourism site that there was quite a lot of it scattered about the city – I made a quick trip to Rue Lapeyrouse to see a mural done in 2015 by the artist Der. 



I then made my way to the Couvent des Jacobins (Church of the Jacobins), a Southern French Gothic structure with stunning stained glass windows (actually all replicas of the originals, which were destroyed when the church temporarily became a barracks under Napoleon’s rule) and a magnificent cloister.

Entry to all parts of this establishment was free (usually only the church and chapel are), since it was the first Sunday of the month. On this day, a lot of museums and monuments will be opened to the public without charge, so it’s well worth arranging to visit big French cities at this time, if you’re trying to travel on a budget!



I then crossed the river for the first time, and decided to treat myself to a ride on the Toulouse Ferris Wheel (a temporary structure put up by Toulouse Plages, a company who transform the city's River Garonne into a beach each summer). I really love seeing places from above, and what better way to do this than on a fairground ride? We must have gone up and down about five times, but the views never got old!



Fast forward twenty-five minutes, and I was walking into the Musée des Abattoirs, an old slaughterhouse converted into a modern art museum.


Again, thanks to the date, entry, which would normally have been 8€, was free. Sadly, nothing was going on in the main hall – in fact, it was filled with cardboard boxes – but there was an exhibition running about space, so I wandered past model rockets and satellites, pausing occasionally to watch the odd art film. I also enjoyed testing my French by reading the various quotation dotted across the gallery – there was even one on the bathroom mirror! 



Having filled my mind with all things zero gravity, I did a quick lap of the museum's quirky exterior, before going in the direction of Parc Raymond VI, a gorgeous little patch of green, complete with its own botanic garden. I’d have loved to spend the afternoon lazing on the grass there, but I still had a lot left to see.

On my way back to the other side of the river, I stopped by at the Musée de l’Affiche (Poster Museum), a small room full of old advertising prints. Photography was not allowed, so I have nothing to show for my visit, but it’s well worth seeing if you have an extra ten or fifteen minutes to kill while in the area.



I then walked past Toulouse’s Chateau d’Eau (water tower). It’s rather a striking building, so I walked closer to have a better look, only to discover that it had actually been converted into an art gallery! I believe entry was about 4€.


The establishment specialises in photography, and at the time there was an exhibition on, featuring snapshots by Pieter ten Hoopen and Joséphine Desmene that highlighted the many problems faced by communities across the globe today. After looking around it for a bit, I went down a floor to see the tower’s old water wheel.



Before crossing the bridge, I paused briefly to admire the Prairie des Filtres, a gorgeous riverside park with splendid views of the opposite bank. I believe it's a go-to spot in the summer for locals and holidaymakers alike.



Back on the righthand side of the city, I headed to the Musée des Augustins, Toulouse’s fine art museum. The building was once an Augustin convent (hence the current name of the place), and it was fascinating to see the old church and cloister, now both filled with archives. I made sure to pop into the Salle de Sculpture Romane (Roman Sculpture Room), which must be the institution’s most photographed gallery (unsurprisingly so, given the extraordinary way in which the ancient masterpieces are complemented by modern lamps). It's definitely not a room to miss!



Apparently I’m incapable of spending more than a couple of hours without setting foot in a public garden, because my next stop was the city’s Jardin des Plantes. This was probably my favourite of the parks I visited, with its tiny waterfalls and dainty statues. I treated myself to some candy floss from one of the food stalls, which reminded me that I hadn’t yet had lunch! Because of this, I decided to give the museum there a miss, although I’ll be sure to stop by next time I’m in the city!



I ended up going back to the Place du Capitole, partly because I knew there’d be lots of eating places in the area, and partly because I wanted to get a good photo of the square while the sun was in an optimal position (#justmillenialthings). I have to admit that I didn’t indulge in any Toulousian specialities – although if you’re planning to do so, I’ve heard that cassoulet is the thing to try! – but instead opted for noodles from Wok to Walk, since it was one of the only places serving food at that slightly awkward hour.



My batteries were now recharged, but my phone certainly wasn’t. 20%? Eek! This wouldn’t have been much of a problem if I hadn’t (a) forgotten my adaptor, and (b) needed to show use e-ticket in order to get the bus home. Even worse, since it was a Sunday, almost all of the shops in the city were shut for the day, or had closed after lunch! I walked about a kilometre and a half away the centre of the city to a Casino supermarket, but this ended up being a fruitless journey, as they didn’t sell what I had come in search of. My irritation was soon calmed, however, when I came across a vintage clothes and antiques market while walking back the Allées Forain-François Verdier.



Thankfully, the next place I tried did stock adaptors, and I was more than happy to spend a hefty 10€ to get my hands on one! (God forbid you ever find yourself in my situation, but just in case, this little miracle took place in Carrefour City on Rue de Bayard.) I was now conveniently right next to the train/bus station, and since most of the sights were now shit, I sat in there for a bit to charge my phone and make use of the free WiFi. (Note: if you're trying to connect to it, make sure to switch on your data, otherwise the registration form won't go through.)



I then walked a further two kilometres, this time along the Canal du Midi, to pay tribute to the largest mural in Toulouse (see street artist 100Taur’s quirky creation below), located on the otherwise unremarkable Rue des Anges. I’m not sure if I can truly justify this trek, but as someone who has quite a crippling fear of slugs, it seemed only appropriate that I should go and stand next to a couple of huge ones. Some call it exposure therapy.



Last on my list was – surprise, surprise – yet another park: the Jardin de Compans-Caffarelli. I was rather exhausted by this point, having walked nearly thirty kilometres, so spent quite a while relaxing by the lake, before making my way along the shady pathways, past a few interesting sculptures, to see the serene Jardin Japonais Pierre Baudis (Pierre Baudis Japanese Garden). A bit later, I headed back to the station, just in time to admire the sunset before my journey home.


Final thoughts

I had a wonderful time exploring Toulouse, and will be sure to go back at some point! I succeeded in ticking everything but the Chapelle des Carmélites off my to-do list and managed to cover a lot of ground, given the limited time I had to see the city. Next time, I'll try to take advantage of public transport – walking, especially under a blazing sun, isn't always the most practical way to get around – and make sure not to forget my precious adaptor!

Photo gallery

Content available in other languages

Comments (0 comments)

Want to have your own Erasmus blog?

If you are experiencing living abroad, you're an avid traveller or want to promote the city where you live... create your own blog and share your adventures!

I want to create my Erasmus blog! →

Don’t have an account? Sign up.

Wait a moment, please

Run hamsters! Run!