TRAVEL with pat and lew

* Toulouse, Albi, Cordes – July 2008

Posted by Lew Weinstein on October 28, 2008

Last summer, Pat and I were having our petit dejeuner in a little outdoor café along the canal in Collioure. Next to us was a French woman. We got to talking; it turned out she and a friend were coming to Sanibel Island in Florida. On the spur of the moment, we invited them to visit us in Key West. Sure enough, in early November Sylvie and Claudine arrived on the boat from Fort Myers and we had a great two days showing them our town. Sylvie has an apartment in Collioure, but she really lives in Toulouse. This summer, she and Claudine invited us to explore their city with them.

Sun, 7/13/08

We took the early morning train from Collioure and were met by Sylvie at the Matabiau station in Toulouse. We were wondering how we would find her when the 10 car train stopped, the door opened, and there she was! We walked along the Canal du Midi, piled into Sylvie’s car and drove 10 minutes to her lovely home, where we were re-united with Sylvie’s dog Gladys. Since Sylvie’s home was undergoing extensive renovations (she was actually sleeping in her garden), the plan was for us to stay with Claudine.

cathedral in Toulouse

But first we explored Toulouse, by Metro to downtown and then on foot. The architecture of Toulouse is captivating, with large squares, wide streets, and narrow lanes. The Tour de France had passed through the morning before we arrived and the support tents were just being taken down in the great square by the Capitole. We saw astonishing medieval cathedrals, the even older, soaring Eglise des Jacobins, and a strange black Madonna. We passed through a picturesque indoor market and had lunch at a restaurant above the market. Returning to Sylvie’s house by Metro, we loaded our bags and were driven to Claudine’s spacious property on the outskirts of Toulouse.

Claudine has a very large, beautifully furnished and decorated home. We were given a choice of a bedroom in the main house or outside in a small building by the large pool; we chose the main house. Over wine we talked about Toulouse and Key West, then relaxed before an excellent dinner, which Claudine had prepared. Claudine showed me how to make coffee in the morning.

Mon, 7/14/08

Claudine drove us to Sylvie’s house; we switched to Sylvie’s car and set out for Albi, a town which was at the heart of the 12th century Albigensian/Cathar heresy ruthlessly crushed by the Catholic Church. There were two primary attractions.

The Musee Toulouse-Lautrec occupies the 13th to 15th century archbishop’s fortress like palace. The comprehensive and well displayed exhibit included over 500 works, from Lautrec’s early pencil sketches to his celebrated late 19th century Paris brothel scenes. We took our time and thoroughly enjoyed the art and the palace.

Outside, there were groups of young people doing gymnastics in preparation for a competition later that day.

Overseeing Albi is one of the most unbelievable churches we have ever seen. As much a fortress as a church, the Cathedral Ste-Cecile was constructed after the Cathar heresy was crushed, no doubt to discourage any other uncountenanced thinking. It took 100 years to complete, a huge lord’s tower rising ominously over the town.

last judgment in Albi

There is a frightening Last Judgment at one end, with a large space cut out of the middle to make room for the organ. One of Albi’s bishops decided he needed more space, and removed Christ from the Last Judgment to obtain it. We were stunned by his arrogance.

Not too far from Albi was our next destination, the medieval town of Cordes-surCiel. Cordes is perched at the top of a rocky hill. We parked at the bottom of the hill, and climbed. And climbed. We were weak, but Sylvie insisted, and it was worth the effort. Cordes was celebrating its heritage with a medieval festival; everyone except the falcon had a colorful costume. We enjoyed a beer and the festivities.

Tue, 7/15/08

Claudine took us to Sylvie’s house in the morning; she was off to see her daughter. We spent another few hours exploring Toulouse, with lunch at one of Sylvie’s favorite restaurants, where we had delicious aperitifs of white wine and cherry liqueur. A delightful end to a delightful visit. Then to the train and back to Collioure.

Sylvie, Pat & Claudine

******

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