I’m not a city person. My general MO in a new city is to get out of it as quickly as possible — or, if that’s not possible, find a happy place in a patch of green somewhere inside the concrete jungle. However, even in spite of its hosting Eurovision 2016 while I was there, the city of Toulouse, where my journey to Santiago began, promptly won my heart.
I flew there from Heathrow, where I enjoyed operatic arias in the restrooms and the relaxed pace of the terminals.* The British Airlines’s flight was pleasantly bilingual, but French was everywhere (and often unaccompanied by English) once the plane touched down.
From the airport, I took a shuttle to the heart of the city, where I’d catch my bus to Pau the following morning, unless it had been canceled by the bus strike. I arrived at the Jean d’Arc station (fangirl moment!) and then navigated my way to the hostel.**
Instantly, I fell in love with Toulouse. Nicknamed “the Pink City,” it did, indeed, appear as though I viewed it through rose-colored glasses. The buildings ranged in hue from salmon to ballerina pink, as did the sidewalks. Plentiful street trees infused the city’s palatte with green. It felt warm and inviting, especially after the rain and greys of London.
The city’s crown jewel is its Basilique Saint-Sernin, which is a destination for pilgrims on the Chemin d’Arles. It was stunningly beautiful — but, in my mind, so was the rest of the city, from the winding pink streets to the huge municipal plaza to the banks of the river, where I’m convinced that the city’s residents go to enact Sunday in the Park on a daily basis.
I enjoyed a “takeaway” dinner from in a park, as I watched the sun set across the river. Then, I retired to the hostel, to sleep amid the evening’s last birdsong before setting off on the Camino the next day. I made a pledge to myself: If I ever were to have a European love affair, I would take it to Toulouse.
*Conversational blue blaze: From what I could tell this summer, it seems that everyone in Europe thinks we Americans are bizarre for removing our shoes for security.
**Another blue blaze: Pre-downloaded Google Maps saved my life this summer. Google Translate was helpful, too, but Google Maps is amazing.