Sunday, February 23, 2014

Toulouse, France: La ville rose

A park in Toulouse

After my 3+ weeks of relaxing during winter break, I went on a trip to France to visit my friend Ashley! We had been throwing around ideas for places where we could travel together, but in the end we settled on my visiting her during her birthday weekend. And anyone who knows me knows that you don't have to ask me twice to go to France!

Before boarding my plane from Madrid to Toulouse, I stayed a night with my two friends Nicole and Judy in Madrid. I got to Madrid without a hitch, and found myself happy to be back there! I visited Madrid back in 2011 while I was studying in Granada, but hadn't returned since. I was thrilled to be in a full blown metropolitan city after four months of little ol' Ourense! I took advantage of being in this urban area by getting some much desired fast food. To be honest, I have been craving Subway like nothing I've ever experienced before, but alas, I didn't run across any during my night in Madrid. I did get my fill of pizza though :D

I arrived to the girls' apartment, where we caught up for a few hours. We were all in Ourense together last year as English auxiliaries so it was nice to catch up with them. Since I had a flight to catch in the morning I was planning to get some rest and to just have a quiet night in, and I even took a nap in the evening. Thirty minutes into my nap I awoke to this:

"Hey Cynthia... we're thinking about going to see a Real Madrid game? Our friend has Sky Box seats."

View from the Sky Box
UM. WHAT.?.?.?.?.? Yes, I know I'm not the biggest Real Madrid fan. Actually, I can't call myself a fan of them at all. But more important than that, I am a soccer fan. A fan of all Spanish soccer. So you should have seen how quickly I awoke from my slumber.

We got dressed, went to the game, and just lived like queens up in that Sky Box. There were appetizers before the game, unlimited drinks during the first half, more tapas during halftime, and even more unlimited drinks during the second half. And dessert to top it all off at the end! This experience could have only gotten better if it had been Barcelona playing instead of Madrid. The only downside of watching from the sky box was that people up there seem to be more interested in socializing and drinking than watching the game, but who am I to complain!! After the game we headed back to the apartment (there was no need for dinner...I had eaten probably two meals' worth of food in appetizers) and I gathered my things together for my flight the next morning.

The next day, as I was boarding my plane it fully dawned on me that I was going to France. My flight attendants greeted me with "Bonjour, madam" and I was a happy camper. I must have gotten a little too much in a French daze or perhaps a little too confident with my French language experience... because later on while on the plane, I was half asleep and offered a drink and, in my best French accent, I chose a jus du pomme (apple juice) which my flight attendant happily presented to me...then told me it costs trois euros. Um, three euros for two sips worth of juice? I quickly reverted to flustered English, saying, "Oh...shoot...sorry, I didn't realize you had to pay... nevermind..." at which point she snatched the jus away and pompously pushed her food cart away. What a pute.
Me, Ashley, and her friend Julia

I arrived to Toulouse with Ashley waiting for me at the airport! We got on the bus to get to her apartment where catching up/English jibber jabber/gossiping quickly commenced. Upon arrival to her apartment, I was swiftly served cheese, bread, Speculoos, (What a perfect host!!!) and the talking continued. It was grand. Eventually we did have to get up and be productive, because that night Ashley was having her birthday party! We provided some appetizers, but everything else was provided by the generous guests! It was awesome getting to meet Ashley's French as well as American friends, and it felt good to be at an American style party again. It was also nice to get back to my roots and eat all the food in sight when the night neared its end and people were less suspecting...

The pink city
The next day was to be a relaxing day of shopping! And exploring more of Toulouse. We walked around to the center of Toulouse, which was just minutes away from Ashley's apartment. Toulouse is a lot more urban and cute than I expected. Well, any French city you come across will inevitably be 'cute', charming, etc. Toulouse is known as la ville rose, the pink city, because from an aerial view, all of its red buildings give the illusion of a pink city. Toulouse had a ton of shopping areas and parks and restaurants and also has its own metro, so it's bigger than I expected. We took advantage of the soldes going on, aka rebajas aka the awesome post-Christmas sales that a majority of stores in Europe have!

My spectacular French meal
As the night wound down we headed to our final destination of the night: Le May restaurant for some typical French eats! Early on in my trip, Ashley had told me that food and meals are very significant in French culture. It's typical to have meals that last two or three hours. That sounded like a long time to be sitting around to me, but this night at the restaurant, Ashley and I had ourselves a wonderful three hour meal, where we talked forever about life. :) Aside from the conversation, the food itself was sooooooo good, the best meal I have had since I don't know when. I ordered du canard (duck) which came with des legumes et pomme de tierre (vegetables and a baked potato) and it was DIVINE. So juicy and so greasy and so flavorful: I was an immediate fan. And to end the fabulous mealcrème brûléeTrue blue, french-made, crème brûléeSuper good! It's like a more flavorful flan with the famous carmelized layer on top. Ashley also ordered a dessert we shared, which was a moist, fudgey, brownie cake with a side of ice cream. Oh my gosh I was so happy. And to truly finish my french food experience Ashley treated me to a  pistachio macaroon as a third dessert :)

The next day we made a short trip to nearby Albi. It was a half-hour train ride along the French countryside! Albi is known for its large cathedral, which is really quite immense and impossible to miss once you approach the city center. The only problem with the cathedral is that we struggled to get a perfect picture! It's most picturesque if you capture it from the other side of the river, such as in this photo:

A good photo, not mine.
but due to the sunlight that day (or my photography skills?)...this is the best photo I got:
My photo -__-
We wandered around Albi, exploring the quaint cobble-stoned streets, and eventually had to settle somewhere for lunch....and guess what we found...SUBWAY!!! Maybe I should be embarrassed to admit that I went to an American chain food restaurant during my trip to France...but I'm NOT. I had a magnificent meatball sub on wheat. Living in a small European city away from American fatty food will do these things to you.

After our meal we strolled through a park where it seemed like half the city had come out to enjoy the good weather, we quickly stopped by the cathedral since mass was about to start, and we ended our Albi trip by grabbing a nutella crêpe to eat. I was more than satisfied! We made our way back to Toulouse, where we had a quiet night in. My flight back to Santiago was early the next day.
Albi with Ashley!

The next morning it was pouring as I left Toulouse. I guess it was Galicia weather welcoming me back before I even got back into its territory. My final experience in Toulouse consisted of not having enough money to pay for a tea (3 euros??? I'm used to paying 90 centimos in Ourense), and having to run to an ATM to take out 10 euros which I later found out cost me an extra 4 euros for taking out cash at a foreign cash machine. Thanks a lot, France!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 But all is forgiven. J'adore la France toujours!