Our first stop in Paris was only overnight, although you can see a lot if you wake up really early,: Warning, long, photo- heavy post.
Bad photo of Dior dress (sorry, not really any sewing this post)
We did not have any specific plans for this short stop, other than a business meeting that managed to take up most of the time between breakfast and our train departure.
We caught the TGV from the Gare Montparnesse. We had chosen to take the train rather than another aeroplane flight for a)expense b) the chance to get some business out of the way in Paris and c) we would like to see some of France.
Originally we looked at the English language train booking sites,as neither of us speak French, and read it at only a very basic level, but after some internet searching, my husband discovered that the French language TGV site has a lot more available fares - including all the cheap ones and special deals. Using this site we were able to get a fare that was not only 1/3 of the price of the least expensive fare on the English language site, but also had no changes, was 30 minutes shorter, and left at a much more convenient time. To celebrate this discovery we put ourselves up to a first class ticket, for 5 euros more (80 euro difference between 1st and 2nd on the English site), and patted ourselves on the back a bit. Go babelfish and Google translator!
We printed the tickets out at home, so that we would not have to deal with the automatic booths at the station.
The tickets advised arriving 20 minutes before the train departure. We found that this was not quite early enough. We had stopped for supplies in the main part of the station (a fromagerie, a fruit stall and a boulangerie!) The train was really, really long. Walking briskly, it took all of 15 minutes to get to our carriage (there was a crowd-initiated traffic jam at one point). I was quite relieved to finally find our carriage, as I like to be early for public transport, but was very confused by the seat numbering. There was a digital display on each seat, with randomly arranged numbers - eg 48 next to 13. Due to this numbering system it took a while to work out that our seat numbers did not exist.
I left the carriage, with nervous thoughts of missing the train, to attempt to explain this to the conductor. My terrible French got the message across, and I even understood his fast French reply "Just get in lady, the train is about to leave"
After the train started, the conductor came to talk to me. We had at least 15 minutes of conversation (in French, with him being quite stern, or pseudo -French on my part) before he suddenly started speaking English and became very gracious, finding us new and much better seats that the ones we had sat in. I am still not sure what test I passed!
I took lots of photos during the train trip, but they are all blurry. The country side was very scenic (mostly).
We arrived in Toulouse in the late afternoon, it was much warmer than Paris, and again I was glad to have dressed in layers (skirt, cotton blouse, cardigan). We stayed at Hotel Albert1er, another result of trip advisor reviews. This hotel was O.K.. It was clean and the location was good. However the hotel was not fantastic - window opened almost directly onto a brick wall, so the room was very dark, the hotel was rather noisy, with our upstairs neighbours coming home in the wee hours of the morning. Of the 3 front desk staff with which we dealt, only one was cheerful and helpful. One gave us the impression that failing to speak French was practically a criminal offense. (To be fair, her English was excellent). I would not necessarily pick this hotel again, It was not particularly inexpensive -we paid the normal high season price, and I think you might do better for that amount.
We did not eat at the hotel. Toulouse has really good markets
and pastry shops.
We had insider tips from the son of my mother's next door neighbour (how is that for a language exercise!), who worked in Toulouse for a few years. I can thoroughly recommend the Blue Chicken.
My husband is vegetarian. This is a bit tricky in France if you want to eat at a restaurant. Not finding any menus in the vicinity with vegetarian meals (not even one measly tomato pasta, or vegetables gratin) we ate in our room - bread, olives, cheese and dips for dinner with red wine of the region. It was not too tough! The next night we bought a pyrex jug and steamed baby artichokes with our tea making stick,and ate them dipped in butter. They were delicious, but the best bit about making them was that I was able to tease my husband for several days about making me cook him dinner with a tea stick. It will probably come up again :).
We did some work things, then visited the Basilique St-Sernin,
and an ex-church turned into an art gallery
then had to consider our lack of cycling for the past 4 days of travel. This cycling was also a work thing, so arriving out of shape was not really an option.
Toulouse has a public bike hire system. The bike stations are all over the place. You need a smart chip credit card to hire the bikes.It is fairly simple to operate the hire system, as the machines have an English language version of the instructions. I was a little concerned at the 150 euro deposit required for each of the bikes. I had read that this amount was deducted from the card, held for up to 10 work days, then reimbursed - which would work out to about a 30 dollar fee for currency conversion for each bike, even though the actual cost of the bike hire would only be a few euros. We decided that the bikes were worth the fee, and went ahead.
I had been concerned for nothing. The 300 euro deposit was not taken from our card, and did not even show up on our credit card statement. The bikes cost us $AUS 10.60 each. This was very cheap, as our original intention to ride for an hour or so along the canal paths turned into a 5 hour journey. Lucky it didn't get dark until 10pm.
It was very pretty. We rode right out of Toulouse through farms and villages. The bikes weighed a ton (only slight exaggeration) and I had sore legs, just what you want before a 2 week cycling tour.
Walking about on Bastille day/night may have contributed to the sore legs.
Bastille Day Fashion