The French Connection: Day 9 – Getting my bearings in Toulouse

After a morning spent mostly getting my bearings but also being distracted by parks and basilicas, I headed for the Victor Hugo Market.

It’s THE place for lunch according to the travel blogs. I went, expecting something that looked like the Halles in Béziers (though it was closed) or Narbonne and Lourdes.

From the outside, it looks like a multistorey carpark.

Inside, it’s every bit the gorgeous market you’d expect though, being a Saturday, it was heaving. There were wine bars serving food but most of them were three people deep. If I had down my wine glass it would have been lost forever as I wouldn’t have been able to reach the counter.

Upstairs are restaurants so I thought I’d try my luck up there. I couldn’t spot any vegetarian options so returned to the market floor and bought mushroom quiche and couscous salad for lunch to eat in a small green around the corner.

It was an entertaining lunch.

The woman who perched herself at the other end of the bench to read her book chatted endlessly to me and the guy seated on the other bench.

Topic? The older gentleman shouting into his phone twenty metres away. I’ve no idea what he sounded annoyed about but if he wasn’t on a videocall, the person on the receiving end had absolutely no idea just how emphatically he was jabbing the phone’s screen with his finger. If he was on a video call then they must have been feeling pretty seasick as he waved the phone around.

When he finished the call, the younger guy on the other bench sympathetically asked if everything was alright. Apparently yes but that HAD been a private call.


Toulouse is a beautiful city. Close to my hotel is the Japanese Garden or to give it its full title, the Pierre Baudis Japanese Garden and it was created in 1981 to meet the wishes of one Pierre Baudis when he was mayor of Toulouse. He had enjoyed this type of garden on travels, especially the one in Dublin. (Not Japan then?) It was named for him on May 11 , 2016 – he wasn’t so arrogant to name it for himself at the time.

This 7,000m enclosed park is part of a 10 hectare green space in the heart of the recent Compans-Caffarelli district. Designed by the city’s parks and green spaces service as a place of meditation , there is a mineral garden, a typically Japanese red wooden bridge connecting an islet which allegorically represents paradise. It draws on the gardens created in Kyoto between the 14th and 16th centuries. It is isolated from the rest of the park by “curtains of greenery” (gorgeous phrase) and a hill offering some privacy. The garden is composed of a dry garden with a Crane island, a Turtle island and nine rocks, a lake, a tea pavilion and a planted garden consisting of a dry waterfall, Japanese steps, a lanterns, a red bridge, an island of Paradise, a Mount Fuji and the stones of three saints.

The Basilica of Saint Senin was built to honour Saturnin described as “the first bishop of Toulouse”… which all rather belies his role in the city. He was one of seven bishops of Rome sent to spead the Gospels to the Gauls. In 250AD he was martyred after the pagan priests said that the silence of their oracles was Saturnin’s fault.

He was seized, tied up and the rope fastened to a bull to drag him through the streets. The place where he died was called Matabiau though the Basilica’s information stands say it was actually Place Esquirol. “Matar” – “the killing” and “biau” – bull.

That’s given me a whole new way to look at the railway station when I leave: Toulouse Matabiau.

Back to the basilica. A small building was constructed in the 5th Century but it was felt by the 11th Century that a more fitting destination was required to meet pilgrims’ expectations. Toulouse became an important stopping point on the route to Compostela (tracking the route of St James). And guess what, it’s  a UNESCO Heritage site because of their significance on the pilgrimage route.

The Basilica is built of bricks and, unlike stone cathedrals, it is incredibly warm inside, even though today started fairly cool.

I then stumbled into a Sustainability Fair in one Toulouse’s main squares. The focus seemed to be on everyday life – how to live sustainably including in relation to buying furniture and goods, clothing$, food and gardening and transport.

The gardening displays were focused on maximising output in small urban spaces and planting for climate adaptability. There were a lot of stalls on calculating the carbon footprint of your food. Is it grown locally but is it intensively farmed and would it be better to ship it in from somewhere that doesn’t require high amounts of energy to produce it?

Fashion picked up on the fact that actually there is already enough clothing and material on the planet to dress the entire global population seven times over. (Source: The Great British Sewing Bee).

The furniture section was weak in my humble opinion. Hay bales wrapped in plastic. I’m not buying it. Metaphorically, theoretically or actually.

I mostly spent the afternoon wandering. Toulouse is apparently known as La Ville Rose (‘The Pink City’) because of the terra-cotta bricks used in many of its buildings and it is a very colourful place to stroll around.

The streets were busy with Saturday shoppers but also protests too. The biggest protest, which actually closed one if the city’s dual carriageways, was in solidarity with the women in Iran – pictures of the girls killed in police custody were held high. A lot of the people watching seemed very supportive: nodding and clapping.

The other protest was smaller and I wasn’t sure what they were protesting. There were banners criticising Macron, posters criticising the police and the marchers seemed to be talking about the climate crisis. So I wasn’t sure if it was a general purpose protest or of multiple issues were being pulled together as symptoms of one problem.

Toulouse is also a pretty big city. Having easily spent the day wandering around the city centre, I finally headed to the river Garonne this evening. Along the shore of the Left Bank, various parties were starting. On the opposite side, by the New Bridge (started in 1542 by a committee of master masons and carpenters with actual construction starting on the foundations in 1544 while the first arch was started in 1614, and the bridge was finished in 1632, and inaugurated on 19 October 1659. I am NOT saying that they took their time but blimey, HS2 might be finished more quickly) people were gathering to watch the starling’s murmurations above the water.

A stunning aerial display.

Categories: France, The French Connection, Toulouse, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Toulouse is one of my absolute favorite cities in France: I’ve gone there numerous times when I lived abroad, and I always loved just how kind the French were down there in the southwest…la ville rose is gorgeous, and crazy as it sounds, I hope to retire there someday!

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