This past weekend, taking to get a break from the grim gray of the Paris sky and the cold, my friend and I decided to take a trip to Toulouse, located in the south of France near the Spanish border and not too far from Barcelona. We stuffed a couple days’ clothes into backpacks/duffel bags, loaded ourselves onto a train, and after seven long and uneventful hours by train through the French countryside, we finally made it.
We could feel the difference as soon as we left the station. Even though we got in the afternoon, the sun was shining down onto a canal that runs through the western part of the city, illuminating the greenish water and soaking through our heavy coats. Paris is an incredible city but stark in the winter, particularly as almost everyone is wearing black. Toulouse has a much more lighthearted, Mediterranean feel, and the warmth couldn’t help but give it pleasant atmosphere.
After checking into our hotel and trying violet candies, as Toulouse is known for the flower and is sometimes called the City of Violets, we decided to explore for the rest of the evening. Toulouse is also called la Ville Rose, or the Pink City, because of the large amount of red brick buildings. They’re easiest to see in the Place Capitol, a square in the center of town around the capital building that has big open squares on both sides and various streets stemming from it. It was crowded with a steady stream of people bubbling up from the side streets and converging on or along the square. We wandered around a bit, strolling around a beautiful fountain and poking our heads into several brightly lit shops, and when it got dark we ate at one of the restaurants looking out over the Place Capitol. Afterwards we went to an Australian bar and then a nightclub which played reggaeton and salsa music, most likely due to the Spanish influence.
The next day, I’m thrilled to stay, we explored more parts of the city wearing sweaters and leaving our coats behind. I’d read a lot of great things online about the Toulouse Museum of Natural History; unfortunately, my friend and I got lost in a maze of fresco-like suburbs, and didn’t end up finding it in time to visit. However, we did make it to the gorgeous Basilica St. Sernin, which has beautiful architecture and a striking crypt with several relics. We also spent a while in the Musée des Augustins, which has sculptures and paintings from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. It has a particularly stunning hall filled from top to bottom with enormous French, Spanish, Dutch, and Italian paintings from the 15th to the 18th century. At night we walked alongside the river Garonne, one of the most beautiful waterways I’ve ever seen.
Unfortunately, we had to load ourselves back onto the seven-hour train the next morning and leave it all behind. However, I think it was a very good start to the traveling I want to do in Europe, and I can’t wait to keep exploring.
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Helena Archer is a sophomore at the University of North Carolina studying public health, international studies, and creative writing. She loves all three, and is thrilled to be able to develop her interests abroad. During her semester in Paris, she hopes to engage and immerse herself in French and Parisian culture, and also to examine immigrant and francophone presence and relations. Helena loves hearing and telling stories, and can't wait to discover more of them in Paris.</span></p>