We are now in full-cold-weather mode: hats, scarves, gloves, coats with down vests, and winter undergarments. We are no longer enjoying the warmth of the Riviera. I think we will need to sneak back there in early March before heading up to Amsterdam to meet Sarah and Sophia.
Along with the weather change, we have seen Christmas decorations going up. This started a few weeks ago in Carcassonne and then in Collioure, although the lights had not yet been turned on. Here in Toulouse the Christmas Market is in full swing with over 100 booths selling trinkets, food, and Vin Chaud (hot mulled wine). There are kiddie rides for those little French-speaking cuties to enjoy and the general inner glow of Christmas for all. One of the rides is a giant Christmas tree with spherical cars that elevate while they spin around the tree. The riders become moving tree ornaments. The featured image is a still of this tree. At the bottom of this post you can click on the tree to see and hear a 30 second video of the tree ride in action.
Toulouse is a nice, modern city with a pleasant, walkable historic center. We enjoyed our stroll through the enclosed Victor Hugo Market with all the usual European sights, sounds, and smells of locals living out their colorful lives. We savored a fantastic and filling lunch in one of the upstairs restaurants. The €18 meal consisted of an entree (fabulous fish soup), plat (lamb and fries), dessert (chocolate cake for me, lemon cake for Marsha) and plenty of wine. The place was packed with locals, which is always a good sign.
The Toulouse Capitole is the city’s working museum. It houses paintings that depict Toulouse life from earlier times and is used for present day activities such as getting married, taking in an opera, or obtaining your passport. The paintings and interior architecture complemented each other very well.
We visited two worship structures with very different exteriors and interiors. The Basilique Saint Sernin is impressive from the street and doesn’t disappoint as you walk through the doors. As with some other churches we have visited, this basilica has a Hogwarts feeling to it.
The Carmelite Chapel is quite a different structure. From the outside, it is basically a blank wall without description. When you pull back the heavy, large door and step inside you are greeted with a simple elegance that feels just right. The over-sized, 7th Century painted murals by Jean-Pierre draw you to the front to feel the simple sacredness of what was once part of a convent. This is all that remains after the French Revolution.
Although we enjoyed Toulouse, our most enjoyable experience was a day trip to Albi. It is an easy, one-hour train ride. Interesting side note: we have enjoyed being in public and having the French interactions waft over us like a pleasant, babbling brook. They do have a beautiful language. While on the train to Albi there were two American couples talking loudly, nonstop. It actually irritated us. We were bummed later when we saw (and heard) them get on the train to return to Toulouse. Tourists can be so annoying!
Our first stop was at the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum that is housed in what had been the bishop’s palace. Henri was born, crippled, in Albi. Before his teenage years, both of his legs were broken and his lower body never grew in proportion with his upper body. Along with this physical challenge and the lack of love from his father, Henri felt like an outsider and thus identified with the fringe of society. His drawings and paintings reflect this world view by giving value to those he painted. In 1882, he moved to Paris. Here he supplemented his income by creating advertising posters, which were just becoming an accepted art form. His most famous is the Moulin Rouge poster. Sadly, he died at 37, an alcoholic, depressed, paranoid and unappreciated as an artist. His mother and his best friend both saved much of his work. These were offered to the Louvre but refused. In 1922, the mayor of Albi took the hometown artist’s art and placed it in the bishop’s palace. We were impressed with his sketchings as a very young boy. I came away with an appreciation for his story and creative work.
Then we experienced one of our most impressive churches yet; the Sainte-Cécile Cathedral. Its outward appearance is very unchurch-like because it was designed to let everyone know that the Catholic church was in control. This 14th century fortress-like structure is the largest brick building in the world. We had a difficult time trying to get it all in our photographs. As impressive as the exterior is, the interior utters an involuntary ‘wow’ from anyone who enters. The vaults were painted in 1512 and have never needed to be restored or even touched. The colors are impossibly vibrant.
At one point of the cathedral’s history the building was being auctioned off for one million francs. No sale. Then it was scheduled for demolition! Fortunately, this UNESCO World Heritage site was saved by a wealthy architect. It makes you wonder what other amazing architectural wonders, art pieces, songs, stories, and other creative birthings we have all lost over the centuries.
Our next stop will be in Bordeaux for five days, then Paris for a month to take in Christmas and the New Year. There is something magical about Paris.
Fun note: If you want to watch a charming movie, “Midnight in Paris” is a lot of fun. Owen Wilson mysteriously goes back in time to encounter some of his literary heroes from the 1920s. We have watched it several times and love it. The scenes from Paris are familiar to us and the characters seem to be portrayed accurately based on what we have learned over the last few months of travel.
Click the image to play Video of the Tree Ride
NEW WEB PAGE
Several of you have expressed interest in seeing what our different flats look like. So, with that in mind, I’ve added a new page to our website: Lodging. Simply go to www.boomerreloading.com and click on the Lodging tab on the top navigational bar.
This week’s flat can be seen by clicking on the bed image below.
Invite your friends and family to join the fun by subscribing to the Stowaway Newsletter on our site. Just click the open Steamer Trunk on the Homepage.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Preston & Marsha
Don’t Retire: Reload – Groovin’ on the Flip Side