For the 2nd year in a row I treated myself to a birthdaycation or birthcation. This year I took myself off to Toulouse, arguably the biggest city in southern France. The city is dubbed “Les Ville Rose” because of the pink bricks used for the exteriors of buildings.
Because of that Toulouse is naturally picturesque, most renowned for its fascination in archaeology and astronomy and high-quality museums and views.
With hindsight I could think of few places I wanted to be for the eve of my birthday.
So without further adieu – this is how Johnny spent his last 24 hours as a 22 year old:
Basilique Saint Sermin
My first destination was the Basilique Saint Sermin Church right in the heart of the city. It’s also a UNESCO world heritage site (finally said this in a blogpost – hallelujah!) so is strongly preserved by international governments and insitutions.
I love that there’s plenty of natural sunlight comes through the double-glazed windows, especially on a sunny day. Outside of service times, it acts as a nice communal space for people to pray, sit down on benches, admire the detailed Roman architecture and sculptures around you and generally God’s mighty presence. You can light inset candles of your own for €1/€2/€5 depending on how big they are.
It was surprising to see that photography is allowed in a lot of areas in the church. Usually in a lot of cathedrals I’ve visited they prohibit photography out of respect.
There’s currently construction going on the exterior parts of the building so couldn’t quite get that insta worthy shot!
Rue du Taur
After spending some time in the Basilique Saint Sermin I wandered onto the cobbled street that is Rue du Taur.
The street is full of many restaurants and cafes from different cultures and backgrounds, along with bars, bookshops and other interesting buildings too. aving mentioned the kind of stores present, it has quite a bit of a high street vibe/town centre to the area. Although it was pleasantly quiet given the wide range of shops around. No crowds or any kind if street music blasting out offshops to give it an atmosphere. I guess the reasons being due to its middle-age origins and it being a weekday not a weekend.
I even found a comic book shop called Gibert Joseph and I was absolutely chuffed and hyped. Don’t get me started with anything Marvel or DC related please :p As a matter of fact the French are big of comic strips and sketches so more often than not there are comic books in a lot of areas in their metropolitan cities.
I got lost reading a Wolverine comic book for a good 10-15 mins. What was even more cool that all of the comics were in French. Not a huge shock but it was a great feeling that the language barrier didn’t stop me from enjoying my lil reading session.
Place du Capitole
Wandering through Rue au Tour brought me to Place du Capitole, which is the city’s town square The Place du Capitole is where it’s all happening: massively wide buildings including yhe Théâtre du Capitole opera house, hotel and Toulouse’s city hall!
In summary it is the heart and sole of the city. This is not forgetting the people regularly walking through on their daily commutes and the various shops, bars, restaurants and cafes located around the city square.
Inside the city hall are the main meeting rooms and assembly halls (see pics below) where politicians and other government officials to go to for their conferences and other gatherings. The most well-known hall is the Salle Des Illustres (Hall of the Illustrious in English) that champions many aspects of Toulouse’s past history and heritage.
Cathedral Saint Stephen’s
Another UNESCO heritage site (Jheeze two mentions in 1 blog piece 👌🏾). Anyway Cathedral Saint Stephen’s is one of the biggest places of worship in Toulouse. It’s known to be the seat of the city’s archbishop.
Just like in the Basilique Saint Sermin, the interior architecture and works is striking and beautiful to look at the same time. One piece of architecture that stands out is a rose window dating back almost 800 years and is still a crown jewel of the cathedral.
Definitely don’t give this a miss if you’re looking for peace and quiet – and some art to admire free of charge! Or if you’re tying the knot or having a holiday festival 😉
In the north of Toulouse, and within the public park of Compans-Caffarelli behold the Japanese Garden of Toulouse (Jardin Japonais in French)
As you can tell from the name of the landmark and the pictures, it takes heavy inspiration from Japanese architecture and culture, Kyoto in particular.
Classified as a remarkable garden, the garden’s a lovely place to chill on a summer’s day with friends or the other half if a romantic date is on the cards. With a dojo, hot sunny weather, a waterfall and red bridge Jardin Japonais is as exotic as you can get.
And of course the garden itself is free of charge.
So yeah – big up Jardin Japonais!
Pont Saint Pierre
Next up on the itinerary after Jardin Japonais I had my eyes set on Pont Saint Pierre (Saint Pierre bridge in English). It is one of the most visited bridges in the city of Toulouse.
Got the pleasure of arriving at the bridge during sunset and sitting down whilst watching all the life going on. Underneath of a bridge there’s a life-sized doll/mannequin on a swing attached on the bridge which is a bit of a unique characteristic for the bridge to have and definitely caught me off guard a bit :p
There was a Les Mills fitness class going on by some steps parallel to the bridge. I was asked to join – if only I had my gym gear with me it would’ve been a yes from me 😂 Along with some singing from locals on the other side. To me it seems like Pont Saint Pierre has a community vibe to it, thats not so touristy too.
Rating out of 10: 9.5 out of 10
Food & Drink Watch
Ma Biche Sur Le Tuit
Before going for dinner, I thought I’d check out the Ma Biche Sur Le Tuit Rooftop bar and restaurant. The place is said to be among the hidden gems of Toulouse. It can be found if you go into the Galeries Lafayette department store and go all the way to the 6th floor.
There’s a terrace/lounge area where you can get a sick panoramic view of the whole of Toulouse! I literally just sat down and admired it all whilst having a break from sightseeing, sipped on a Sex On The Beach mocktail like a king and with the cloudless sunny skies. Staff were really friendly and relaxed too. I couldn’t have asked for more to be honest. This was the life!
P.S. The mocktail even ended up being free 😂
La Marc aux Canards
At the end of the day I was starving marvin and wanted to try Cassoulet. Cassoulet is a rare dish that originated in Toulouse. I spent all day searching on Google and asking locals on the best restaurants to go and try it out. Some of them were closed, some were too far away from the city and some were way too pricey. It was a real hard find.
Fortunately I found La Marc aux Canards which was fairly affordable. Their cassoulet was cassoulet was super super hot. Trust me! I felt like it was cooked up in the sun or something I was desperately blowing the spoon to cool it. All in all it was delicious, the pork and stew as part of the cassoulet was yummy. The best part of the dish for me.
I also had salad as a side dish. Salad was very very sweet. One of the best bunches of salad I’ve had in living memory. The chef seemingly did a good job with the dressing. It was a healthy/vegan side too so that’s a bonus considering my meal and drink options throughout that day. The bill came up to €17, which is more respectable than the prices offered by other restaurants nearby.
P.S. A lot of restaurants and cafes close early in the afternoon around 2-2:30pm then reopen later in the evening to allow for cleaning and for cost cuts I presume
Some opening times for restaurants were misleading. They weren’t open when they were supposed to be opened. It happened on more than one occasion which got really annoying.
Transport in Toulouse (gotta love the alliteration!) is fairly developed and straightforward. Much like major cities and capitals, they have underground metro systems with different metro lines taking you to different areas of the city.
Riding the city’s transport is very cheap also. Once you arrive at Toulouse airport, you can get a day ticket for €6.10 (£5.50). That included airport shuttles that takes you to and from the airport/city and access to the metro and buses all over the city. Not too bad at all 😀
The trains and train stations are prepped with AC. Something very much needed and welcomed at this time of the year to keep fresh. I also like how there’s music played from the radio at some stations. It helps create a bit of a vibe. However the carriages are small so space could be an issue during Toulouse’s rush hour – well – if there’s even one.
But because it’s a relatively small city, if comparing to Paris or Brussels for example, you can probably get away without the need to use transport.
Rating out of 10: 7.5/10
Fun fact: 4G works whilst riding the trains underground!
Surprisingly I found the people of Toulouse approaching and forward. I got asked a lot of the times for help. Whether it was for directions to somewhere or something else. That gave me a warm feeling because they saw me as a local and not a stranger.
Obviously I couldn’t help much due to them speaking only in French and not knowing the locals areas too well. I politely kept telling them in French (ironically enough) that I spoke only English.
But that’s to be expected when you’re in a foreign country for only a day. I think having been solo travelling for a good part of two years means I’ve kinda gotten used to language barriers being a problem. This is especially when you want to order something to eat or drink for example.
Although I did come across a few English speaking tourists when sightseeing. My interactions centred asking them to take pics of me which they kindly did. I even got chatting on a small talk with a few guys who were missionaries from the US and Canada. One of them was called John as well so we had a litttle bonding moment over that :p Shoutout to them – if they ever find this blog one day 😉
Rating out of 10: 7/10
It’s fair to say that 2nd visit to France was serene, scorching and scenic at the same time. Though I’ll happily take it compared to the gloominess of Paris two years ago weather-wise.
Toulouse is generally a nice, cute and mellow city thinking back to it. It’s easy to walk around given how close the attractions, hospitality and leisure are to each other. Public transport like trains and buses are easy to access also.
The local businesses disappointed me with how misleading their opening hours. It’s a big turn off for tourists who will likely judge the city based on their day or week’s experience.
Whats your take on Toulouse from what you’ve read? Have you visited before? If not then hopefully you’re all sold on penciling the place for a visit. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below 😀
Johnny | Johnny’s Traventures