Summer 2016 and Europe is flush with football fever as the Euros come to France. Me being a massive Francophile and loving anything to do with France and its beautiful language had always longed to visit this country properly rather than just travel through it on a bus on our way to orchestra tours in Barcelona and northern Italy. So, when Wales had an incredible qualifying campaign and qualified for the tournament for the first time in 56 years – I knew this was my chance! Visit France and see my beloved Wales compete in a major football tournament! Two birds with one stone as they say!
Exploring Toulouse, one thing became clear – it was a vision in pink! Toulouse, known as La Ville en Rose (or The Pink City!) is known for using red brick instead of expensive white stone which originated in medieval times! Toulouse is a major industrial city and known as the centre of aviaton and spaceflight – and home to the famous Airbus. But walking around the city there was a more laidback vibe than any other city I have visited so far. It was more homely and had a rural feel to it, which to me can be summarised in one word:
Most days were spent wandering round the beautiful streets of this city heading between landmarks that we would quite like to see. One of the most famous ones is the Capitole – which was literally around the corner from the Airbnb we were staying in. Unfortunately, we didn’t really get to admire the beauty of this building completely because we were in Toulouse the same time as one of their big summer music festivals and so there was a huge stage and crew with speakers and boxes and boxes of sound equipment and lights ready for the big night that filled this square in front of the Capitole building. It was a shame but we could still get close enough to see some of the intricate details that lace the walls.
Most of our first day was spent walking up and down the Garonne River and and admiring the array of different bridges, domes and spires of various buildings on either side of the riverbanks, until we reached Toulouse’s most famous bridge – the Pont Neuf. And me being the wannabe photographer that I am simply had to stop and take a hundred different photographs from different angles to get the best shots – which I did get eventually. It was surprisingly quiet walking along this route – yes it was the middle of the day and people were probably at work but I don’t remember any part of the city being particularly busy and full of crowds. But I still wanted to capture a shot that summarised life in Toulouse – which I think I did here. My ‘artsy’ photo of a couple just relaxing my the side of the river in the middle of the city in summertime. Not a care in the world and simply loving life.
After popping back to our Airbnb for some lunch we headed out to visit La Jardin Japonais – or the Japanese garden. We wandered around the paths spotting some beautiful flowers and a range of wildlife. There were birds picking up crumbs off the floor and benches, there were tortoises trying to climb rocks around the pool in the middle and we even managed to spot some tiny little gecko type lizards hiding in the leaves of some of the bushes. But we did time it wrong (again!) as there was some sort of fashion photo shoot going on in the middle so we were restricted to where we could explore.
After that it was time to head back to the Place du Capitol to get a seat in one of the restaurants that lined one side and watch that evening’s Euro2016 group games! It was quite an experience sitting amongst a group of people – some Welsh, some Swedish and there were even some Italians there – all just having a great time singing each others football songs and watching the games.
As with most European cities I’ve had the pleasure of visiting, Toulouse is home to an array of different looking churches. The two that really stick in my mind are the Cathedral Saint Etienne and the Basilique Saint Sernin. Why? Well just look at them. Both of them uniquely beautiful.
Cathedral Saint-Etienne was the church we visited on our last day in Toulouse and it was the hottest day we spent in Toulouse after three days of rain! It was in one of the nicer looking areas of the city and we stopped for a while around the outside in the cathedral gardens so to speak and watched two beautiful dogs running around in the blazing hot sun. They must have been so hot with their thick fur, but they were drinking so much water they must have been fine.
The Basilique Saint-Sernin was the only church we ventured into during our stay in Toulouse and like all European churches – it was stunning! It is such an unusual shape and just intrigued me that I had to go in – plus it was free! 😛
Toulouse is also well-known for being home to part of the Canal du Midi – a stretch of water that eventually reached the Mediterranean sea. I wanted to spend a day or so just walking along the stretch of the Canal that circled Toulouse, but in the end we didn’t have time for that, but instead just walked along part of it.. It was very beautiful though and scattered with cyclists and friendly passersby.
But now for the main event! The Wales v Russia match in the group stage of Euro 2016 that was the whole reason we were in Toulouse in the first place. This was undoubtedly the highlight of my trip and something I will never ever forget!
As we got closer and closer to the stadium that night, the swarm of red shirts and Welsh fans singing just grew and grew in size and volume. After finally getting through security where they pretty much through EVERYTHING in my bag away – I mean everything; lipstick, pens, leaflets, they even tried to throw my camera away – which I was not having! – we were there, ready to find our seats and watch Wales hopefully win and get out of the groups. I managed to get the tickets through a friend who works with the Welsh FA- who obviously did a great job as we had fantastic seats – and its always who you know not what you know that gets you places!
The stage was set – Wales v Russia in the final group game of their Euro 2016 campaign, the noise building in this stunning stadium and the sun was slowly setting creating a stunning sunset over and behind the stands.
But to cut a long story short – Wales won! And finished top of the group ahead of England 😛 I had not stopped singing and clapping all the way through so I had a sore throat and sore hands but that wasn’t going to slow the celebrations.
This is my favourite video from that trip! It makes me smile every time I watch it! It makes me proud to be Welsh, proud of the boys and just makes you want to get up, dance and celebrate being ‘top of the league’! These were some of the scenes amongst the Welsh fans when leaving Stadium de Toulouse that evening, and the party continued all the way up the streets back into the city. It is truly something I will never forget!
Our final night in Toulouse was their big summer music festival I was telling you about earlier, but unfortunately we couldn’t taste it as we had to be up at 4am to get the first shuttle bus back to the airport for our flight home and I’m terrible at getting up in the mornings anyway so I needed as much sleep as I could get despite all the noise around us.But the scenes after we left our flat in the morning and made our way to the bus stop was indescribable – it looked almost post-apocalyptic!
There was SO much rubbish and broken glass, the binmen were out clearing up, there were still bodies out from the night before and they were looking pretty worse for wear all under a black sky where the sun was making its very first move in the morning to start coming out for the day! Another image I will never forget from this trip – but it was clear that the people of Toulouse knew how to party!
Speak French – Toulouse is the perfect place to practice your French as locals speak slowly with long drawn out vowels, and as my French was rusty anyway I eventually plucked up the courage to try out my linguistic skills again! Yes, I only ordered two drinks in proper full sentences that the locals probably thought was a bit weird – but the guy just went and got them! He didn’t ask for me to repeat myself and the two drinks that came back were the two drinks I ordered – so I couldn’t have done that badly.
Find the door handles – Toulouse is full of weird and quirky door handles like this one. See how many you can spot.
Go to a major sporting tournament – OK, this one isn’t specific to Toulouse but I cannot stress enough how great it is to be at a big international sports tournament, especially if your team has a successful campaign. Don’t think about it though, just do it! You won’t regret it!
So, there we are. A small account of my time in Toulouse. Feel free to contact me if you want any other advice or have any questions.
How do you define Toulouse in one word?