Choosing a destination at random is a risky business – chuck at dark at a map and you could end up forming the Bay City Rollers.
However, owing to holiday signoffs and the like we were rather forced into picking our weekend away by taking what was left in the pop-up menu of Jet2‘s website. Which wasn’t a lot (and curiously, most of the affordable destinations which had flights in our precise three day window were towards the south of France).
So, a quick what-to-do for the city of Toulouse – this isn’t a review, if you want that then ask Simon Calder or someone, it’s just some notes, made a full week afterwards when much of the break was a distant memory! To be honest, it’s not a place which has a massive amount of attractions – if it did them we’d all be going there in similar numbers to those that descend on Amsterdam or Barcelona. But, for a two day break there’s more than enough to see in a town that’s not really touristy at all – it reminded me a little of Glasgow – similar size, based around industry, lots of galleries, and students – who congregate beside the river to drink and smoke, there’s also quite an emphasis on public parks with a river running through the centre… and like Glasgow, plenty of sandstone buildings, though seemingly less blighted by centuries of smog. Hence its being know as the ‘Pink City’.
We stayed in the Pere Leon, which is pretty central (close to the Pont Neuf, the main bridge across the river near the centre). It’s a very good hotel – rooms are smallish but the bathrooms a decent size. Not a lot of storage but no problem for a weekend break. The rooms are soundproofed, apparently, and indeed there wasn’t much noise bleeding in – which was as well, opened the window at 6.30 am and there were clearly people coming home from some club that we weren’t aware of the night before… oh yes, the air con is weird, it seems that it won’t go below 19 degrees, but Sue (while I slept) surfed on the free wi-fi to find an instruction manual and managed to crack the code. But necessary as it was pretty warm at night. Not quite so warm during the day, the weather across Europe was pretty odd that weekend (hailstones one afternoon, hot chocolates all round…)
Breakfasts were all you can eat – usually 8 euros or so but a deal with the hotel meant they were half the price, very good value – nowt cooked, but plenty of croissants, cereal, yoghurt etc.
If you want to do the tourist thing then take a bus tour. Lasts an hour or so, leaves from Place d’Arménie, costs 13E, has a English (plus half-a-dozen other languages) commentary. Gets you right round the town and points out the bits of interest – which are mainly parks and waterways, museums, and historic bits like the city walls etc. Giving us ideas for later on in the weekend i.e. which bits we could walk to and which parks were nicest for lounging around in.
Despite the French levels of smokers grouped outside the city’s pubs, it seems like a healthy place – loads of joggers and cyclists (there seems to be a pickup/deposit scheme for bikes). Transport is pretty decent, you could easily get from the airport to the city centre via bus – if you know what you were looking for – there are just 2 Metro lines, and a good bus service. I’d avoid the taxis is possible though, 30 euros which suddenly ‘jumped’ to E40 when the waiting time was added on.
Everyone speaks French as you’d expect – but less so English. My French is rudimentary, Sue’s is better, but as (for me) while I can ask a question in a language (if it’s written down) I am unlikely to get the reply unless it’s spoken very slowly. Which, invariably, it’s not! (I got a couple of free apps, the dictionary (French Lite) only works for French to English, but there’s a basic phrasebook from coolgorilla.com which is very similar to the one I use for Spain). There’s a tramline one, ‘Metromap’, which is pretty much just a PDF of the tram network, but handy to have on your phone, and there’s a Streetview-ish one, part of a series (I think) called ‘YesCitiz’ that gives you a bird’s eye 3D view of the city – a bit flaky perhaps but lets you pin locations and view categories (e.g. restaurants) in relation to each other.
We missed out on the aerospace museum, which is out of town, as we’d been told you need a full day to see it and, well, we weren’t that bothered to devote a whole day (I am not sure how interesting it is / how much of a geek you’d need to be).
The other thing that anyone reading this will be interested in is food. Toulouse is a bit of a gastro town I’m advised, but mainly because of the local produce. ‘Produce’ meaning in this case meat and whatnot, but since neither of us eat meat, it’s more of a challenge. I mentioned the breakfasts already which keep us going until lunchtime.
There was one cafe or restaurant, Bananaland, listed as being veggie. As it turned out, it was merely ‘veggie-friendly’ and really a smoothie and baked potato kinda place (maybe that it’s changed since the reviews were written). It was fine though, friendly service (the city’s people, those that we met, were consistently friendly and helpful… well, I assume they were as I wasn’t always 100% sure what they were saying…)
That also applies to a restaurant close to the hotel, an Indian one – Le Petit Rajasthan. Food was pretty decent – plenty of veg options – and the service although a little erratic was fast enough and certainly very friendly.
Pride of place on the eating front goes to the La Faim des Haricots, however. Seemingly part of a small chain (three across the city) it’s at first a bit of a puzzle – a baffling menu, even in English, describing how you can have 2, 3 or 4 choices for, I think, 10, 11 and 12 euros. A neighbouring diner, perhaps keen to test her English out, got 10/10 for explaining to us that we could indeed have one choice – say, the quiche – for 10E, or two – add the salad – for 11E. For 12E we could have these plus the curry. Or, as I decided, drop the salad and have the dessert. The easy bit was the self-service aspect – as you can basically eat as much as you want, refiling your plate until you burst. Which we did, the spinach and cheese tart was amazingly tasty, there was a similar-ish mushroom version as well, and while the sweet potato curry or stew (not too sure what it was!) didn’t seem that appealing, it was very flavoursome (sorry, thought I was back working on The List’s E&D guide again for a moment). They might get marked down for presentation, but I personally couldn’t care less if food tastes good and there’s plenty of it, and it won on both these counts.
So, towards the end of this randomly-constructed holiday guide. Only criticism would have to go to the boat tour companies – I’m not even sure what they’re called, that’s how badly publicised they seemed to be. Long story short, we were unable to find out what time the once-daily trip down the canal left or which direction it headed in. After spotting a boat moored in the dock, we went to get lunch and when we got back it had gone – early, we though, but in fact in the ‘wrong’ direction, so presumably some sort of private charter. Ho hum.
Fortunately the journey home was more straightforward – metro and then airport bus. We’d like to have taken the tram all the way to the airport, but seems that they’ve not completed it yet! Now that sounds familiar…