Toulouse (29 July to 1 August 2023)

From San Sebastián we jumped back over the border into France and on to Toulouse.  This classified ‘City of Art and History’ is known as La Ville Rose (the Pink City) because most of the buildings in its historic centre are built of foraine brick – large, skinny bricks with a distinctive orangey/pinky/red colour.

Any tourist promotion for the city is sure to include a photo of Chapelle Saint Joseph de la Grave near the Garonne River, which is practically red in the right light.

But the whole centre is gently pinky orange, from modest apartments to elaborate public buildings.

In 1215 in Toulouse, Dominic of Osma founded the Dominican Order and eight centuries later, with quite a few modifications along the way, the now deconsecrated monastery still stands.  The Couvert des Jacobins is austere and plain on the outside, but the internal cloister and courtyard are lovely.

At the heart of the historic centre, Le Capitole houses the National Theatre and the Town Hall chambers.

Meticulous restoration work has brought the stunning interior back to the pinnacle of its grandeur.

The Basilica of Saint Sernin was built to honour Saint Sernin, the first bishop of Toulouse.  He refused to offer pagan sacrifices and was martyred by being tied to a bull which bolted, dragging him through the streets until his head struck a stone inflicting a fatal wound.

In the late 800s, Charlemagne donated a bunch of relics, as a result of which the basilica became an important way point for pilgrims on the route to Santiago de Compostela, and a pilgrimage destination in its own right.  It’s UNESCO listed as one of the World Heritage Sites of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France.

There are relics in the form of bone fragments from no less than 128 saints, the remains of several other saints who somehow escaped being dismembered for distribution, and even a thorn purportedly from the crown of thorns forced on Jesus during his crucifixion.  As such, it is the basilica with the second largest collection of relics in the world.  Only the Vatican has more.

For more modern entertainment, the month long summer arts and music festival was running, which included an open air cinema screening old classics.  What’s on tonight?  Le Fievre du Samedi Soir.  That’s right: the 1977 John Travolta hit, Saturday Night Fever.  Our French is nowhere near good enough to follow film dialogue but everyone our age knows the story and Julie is a sucker for 70s music – the daggier the better, and it doesn’t get any daggier than the Bee Gees.  John groaned.  Apparently not everyone our age does know the story and no self-respecting person admits to liking the Bee Gees.  But we went, and actually it was in English with French sub-titles.  What a relief!  And that music still makes one of us smile.

Payback was swift.

Toulouse is at the centre of Europe’s aerospace industry.  It’s home to France’s national space centre, the NATO space centre in Europe and the French Space Command and Space Academy.  A grouping of over 500 affiliated companies known as Aerospace Valley employing some 120,000 people in the aviation and space industries is located here.

It’s not surprising, then, that Toulouse also has Cite de l’Espace, a ‘scientific discovery centre’ dedicated to man’s endeavours to reach out into the universe.  More than 4,000 sq metres of exhibitions on everything from the history of manned expeditions into space to the subtle and not-so-subtle ways space based technology is integral to everyday life on Earth.

You can climb inside a faithful replica of the MIR space station.

And learn all about man’s first walk on the moon at this replica of the Apollo 11 lunar module.

And gawp at a big French rocket.

Sound nerdy?  Yes, it is.  But if that field of science floats your boat, there’s hours of entertainment.  Much longer than Saturday Night Fever.  Actually, the best thing was the IMAX 3D film on asteroid detection and diversion.  So realistic it had kids in the audience reaching out to try and catch the hurtling rocks.  Now THAT’s interesting technology.

Toulouse also has Aeroscopia, a museum dedicated to all things aviation, with a sizeable collection of historic aircraft including a Concorde and a Super Guppy [“a what?” said Julie] and the opportunity to see the production line for the Airbus A380.  But one nerdy science outing was enough so we skipped it in favour of Halle de la Machine.

Regular readers might remember our visit to the original of the same name in Nantes, with its giant mechanical elephant being one of main reasons we went to that city.  A second site here in Toulouse is filled with more mechanical creations from the Nantes workshop.  It’s endlessly fascinating, and really, why would you go ogle a half finished A380 when you could be watching a smoke breathing giant Minotaur striding around the neighbourhood?

It’s hard to articulate just how marvellous these giant mechanical creatures are.  The Minotaur’s arms move exactly like a human.  His legs move exactly like a bull.  He looks around, his eyes blink.  Amazing.

He brings a smile to everyone’s face!

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  1. Therese Bowes
    August 7, 2023 / 9:10 am

    Very impressive – good mix of the old and the new – enjoying the history, songs of the Bee Gees & Space

  2. David Kemp
    August 8, 2023 / 9:55 am

    Production line for the Airbus Wow , beats my last visit to a production line for the manufacture of a Dairy Milk bar at Cadbury . However your recent really interesting manufacturing story was in San Sebastián. Those Pintxos , looked really good . I’ve never heard of them sadly but they seem to have elevated tapas to another level .
    Good to be back reading your blogs

    • twotravelcats
      August 8, 2023 / 3:42 pm

      Thanks, David. And looking forward to seeing you both soon.

    August 9, 2023 / 6:33 am

    Julie. Thanks for making me kick myself for NOT stopping off at Toulouse when we had the chance! Great coverage of a fascinating and surprising place.

    • twotravelcats
      August 9, 2023 / 1:45 pm

      There’s always next time!

  4. Angela Morrisby
    August 12, 2023 / 6:18 am

    Saturday Night Fever, Bee Gees and French Rockets !! You two really do cover all genres in your travels…loving the posts and can we please have some of these pinchooss !!! at # 27 when you get back please …they look delicious X

    • twotravelcats
      August 12, 2023 / 4:00 pm

      It’s a date!

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