First off, my last week at work (second week) was dreadful!  While I had a good experience with my French coworkers before, there is one person who is now quite awful.  I’ve decided to edit this to remove the specifics for now, but suffice it to say that it was incredibly stressful (“not being able to sleep well past 1 AM” levels of stress) and I’m glad it is over!

I really needed a reminder that there were reasons I wanted to live in France, so I went to Toulouse.  I spent the weekend soaking up French culture, speaking only French and eating delicious French food.  Each region has slight differences, like I’ve seen no chèvre salad on the menu in Toulouse, but I had a dish Sunday that was new for me (pancetta that was like a big ham steak).  To illustrate my point about the little salad with nearly every meal, here is dinner and lunch from the weekend.  I will also note that PB (the GM) thought that Americans calling pomme frites “French fries” was rather funny and yet they serve them with EVERYTHING – burgers to fancy dinners.
I also partake of a local wine once a day when traveling on the weekends.  I had two good, lightly sweet whites this weekend.  The nice thing with a sweet white is it serves as an apéritif, goes with many dinners and is good with dessert!  I can just slowly enjoy the one glass, which suits me better than an apéritif, wine with dinner and wine with dessert (not uncommon here).

It was a sunny, gorgeous day in Toulouse when I arrived.  The city is called the rose city, presumably because of all of the brick?  And maybe the roof colors?  Or the pink columns?  Or pink stone roads?
I headed to see the Basilica of St. Sernin, but it was closed ,either due to the hour or signs about the restoration.  Either way, I saw a street that had shops and cafes, so I headed in that direction.

The thing to understand about French cities is that the walkable shopping area appears to be the social center of every French town I’ve been to.  Sure, you’ll find some overpriced restaurants and other places near tourist sites, but the shopping area is where you’ll find the local French in droves on Saturday!  While I’ve never been a big shopper, I’ve learned to head to these areas for the social aspect alone.  Here are some scenes from this part of Toulouse on Saturday:

Despite being the second most secular (non-religious) nation in the world, virtually everything is closed on Sunday.  They may not believe in God, but they believe in a day of rest!  Here is the same shopping area on Sunday just before noon:

I have very good luck with festivals when I visit cities; similar to the festival last week in Poitiers, there was an event at the Capitole this weekend in Toulouse!  These appear to be one of the rare times that the French will talk to strangers or share a laugh.  I had a couple of brief exchanges and could have had a French male companion, but I’m not accustomed to how forward they are yet.  Once you’re here for some time, you get used to it, but from an American perspective, it’s overwhelming.  There’s no “playing it cool” in the Frenchman’s playbook – it’s a full court press!

One of the most intriguing things about France is seeing really old things that only partially survived, but were just incorporated into the new.  I love that these little pieces of history are kept alive, even if the original purpose has been lost.

Since Sundays can be a little dead, I visited the Musée des Augustins.  It was a convent in its former life, yet another example of the French reinventing a space!  I found this sculpture of the woman’s face with a veil interesting given France’s hard line stance against face coverings now.

I was pleasantly surprised the museum was free since it isn’t the first Sunday of the month (when they’re virtually all free), but this first view of the cloister gardens was my favorite part!

The work on the church and convent started in 1309 (continuing into the 16th century) and it was clearly impressive in its prime, but you can see signs of the neglect that many religious buildings suffered after the revolution.

One section of the museum incorporated modern art with ancient art in a way that was actually complementary – not the norm here!  The color and presentation were designed by Jorge Pardo, formerly of Cuba (now working in Mexico).

I’ve realized that I am interested in visiting cities in a different way than before.  There aren’t a lot of tourist sites here, but I’ve instead enjoyed the normal pace of life – walking around and seeing what the city has to offer.  Despite the capitole square being fairly empty, I discovered that the French are not hiding at home on Sunday, but appear to congregate at local parks.  Despite the weather being much drearier than the day before, the French are still outside!

I did notice heavily armed military and police in unusual places until I realized they were near churches.  It’s a sad commentary on recent events in France that churches are guarded with heavy weapons during Sunday service.

Wandering down a different street, I came upon the Couvent des Jacobins.  Unlike a ” convent,” this was for priests.  Nuns seem to have been at abbeys in France.  This place was like many in France, where you appear to be on a normal city street, turn the corner and BAM! historical site just sort of tucked into the block.  In the center photo, you can see original decoration that they uncovered, which shows the sign for alpha and omega on the bricks.  It’s rather incredible that anything survived considering Napoleon quartered his soldiers here by adding a floor midway up.

As I explored the free front area, I was horrified to learn that the SKULL of St Thomas Aquinas used to sit in this box.  It’s now neatly encased in a golden box where the skull is not out for your viewing “pleasure.”

I wrapped up my Sunday with the realization that all roads seem to lead to the Capitole since I kept walking down random roads in different directions, yet found myself back at the Capitole again and again!  The upside was that I noticed people walking inside and went to see for myself.  The capital buildings in France are often historic buildings that retain the beauty and character of a different era, but are usually called the “Hôtel de Ville.”  I also read that the building sits where it does because it was the middle of two different parts of the city, as a reminder to its leaders that they equally represented both sections.

I also had to get a quick shot of these mirrors!  They were used in the Stuttgart palace as well – two identical mirrors directly across from each other that give the impression that they continue indefinitely, incidentally making the space appear larger as well.  I tried to get myself out of the picture at first, then gave up – I like how my outfit came together today anyway!  I’m actually loving the whole scarf thing now – the right scarf can take a blah outfit and make it look really lovely.

While I like Civray now and have committed to a 3-5 year role at the plant, I can easily see myself in a city like Toulouse someday.  It doesn’t feel as hectic and tense as some French cities I’ve visited.  I also think it’s the right size for me – big enough for a metro, small enough that you don’t really need the metro if you don’t mind a 15 minute walk.  I like the idea of exploring normal French weekend life in different places and finding the one that suits me best – so far Toulouse is the first where I took this approach, so we’ll see what the final conclusion is!  I have plenty of time to decide!

While I did like Toulouse, it won’t be *the* city because it’s FIVE hours away from Paris by train – I need to be closer to a major International airport, not further away.  Speaking of trains, it is common that a 1st class ticket may be available for just 3-4€ more than 2nd class, so I tried one.  Much bigger seats (since one side is singles), electric outlets at each seat (not common in 2nd class on the TGVs) – my phone was almost dead, so it was worth the price for the power outlet alone!  Unfortunately, after the 2nd stop I had a seat mate with terrible breath who kept yawning – eek!  That is one of the two things that will make dating in France a challenge – there are many more people here who have bad oral hygiene.  The other challenge is that so many of them smoke!

First class seats – I could get used to this

And one last picture for your viewing pleasure – the French will truly put chèvre in nearly anything – including a McDo’s (yep, that’s what they call it here) wrap.  Admittedly, the curry shrimp one sounds kind of good, but we don’t have it locally in the Poitiers area!