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Tim
Tim

Day 3: Albi

After returning from Carcassonne the previous day we spent a bit of time in the apartment, and then headed out for food. We didn't have any particular location in mind; it was Monday, so it was reasonable to assume that there would be far more venues open than on the previous evening. So off we set, seeing the Saint-Étienne Cathedral in the sunlight as we turned down Rue de Metz, a long street on which I spent plenty of time once; that's where the bar in which I met up with friends used to stand.

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Rue de Metz goes over the Garonne via the Pont Neuf, which we saw from above the riverbanks. Don't let the name (New Bridge) mislead you; it dates from the 17th century.

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Once upon a time I would occasionally spend time on the riverbanks, looking across the Garonne to the Dome of the Hôpital de La Grave, which was the chief maternity care center of Toulouse during a large part of the 20th century.

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We then retraced some more steps from my past, passing via Place St. Pierre and its titular bridge, and then the first apartment I lived in and the street where the second was. We were en route to a particular landmark:

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This is the Basilica St. Sernin. I both knew it and was utterly oblivious to it because I occasionally met my best friend, Cafard, at “St. Sernin”. The word “Basilica” wasn't part of his label, and since I never had a reason to walk around it, all I knew of it was what I had seen: it was a small church in brickwork.

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I knew to start walking around it because Clare had seen it on a previous visit. It was another black mark to my name, after not knowing about the Saint-Étienne Cathedral despite having clearly walked so close to it plenty of times. She couldn't believe that I didn't think much to the basilica which she'd visited, after I told her that I had used it as a meeting place.

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This was the side which Clare had seen, and to which I was oblivious!

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I really didn't have much of an excuse: this was at the bottom of a street I'd walked up and down plenty of times, being one of the spokes which feeds into the Capitole!

Here's a video of Toulouse from above capturing much of what we saw:

Our tour of Toulouse had caused a potential problem: there might well have been more eating options than on the Sunday, but we were by then approaching 21:45! Fortunately, we did eventually track down a restaurant which was still serving. And then it was back to the apartment for planning timings for the next day.

Our flight home wasn't going to be until 22:35 the next day, so we would have a long day in store. That shouldn't have been  a problem: I had an idea in mind because there were two particular places I thought that Matt and Alfie would love to see, with a third on the return train journey if we had plenty of time to kill.

Unfortunately, the timings just wouldn't work out because one of destinations, Cordes-sur-Ciel, isn't on a train line. There's a bus between Albi, our second destination, and there but it was due to leave a short time before the train pulled in, and there wasn't going to be another one for the next few hours. It was a no-go, so Albi would be our sole destination, with Gaillac as a second location to fill up the day. Nothing had changed when I looked at the timings with fresh eyes the following morning, so we set off to the train station as late as we could get away with, intending to catch the 11:16 train.

We were in good time when Matt and Alfie noticed that the outside of the station was full of people. A protest, perhaps?

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Nope, because the other two noticed the flashing blue lights of fire engines and a tape barricade. And then I saw an armed soldier: 

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It turns out that the train station had been evacuated because an unaccompanied package had been found. We were allowed back within minutes, and with commendably little disruption. Our train was around 30 minutes behind schedule. There was a further ten-minute hold up as we approached Albi because of knock-on delays but we arrived about 70 minutes later. It was clear to us even without signage which way we needed to head in once we left the station:

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Ah, yes, the reason to come to Albi: its ginormous cathedral! We had so much time ahead of us, though, that we didn't take the direct route but instead walked into the old town:

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In Albi, all roads lead to Saint Cecilia's Square, and that's where we stopped off for a drink. It proved to be quite memorable because of the waitress's disinclination to believe that people would really order pints of beer! She checked that I'd said I wanted a large beer; I confirmed, adding that we were after half a litre each. She emerged a moment later with two glasses in hand; the one we wanted plus one half the size. We confirmed that she hadn't made a mistake, and our pints promptly arrived. Matt's and mine similarly promptly disappeared, and so I asked her for another two, getting a smile from her. Five minutes later, I asked her where they were: she thought we were joking!

Whilst the two grown-ups were working off their thirst, Alfie was putting his time to good use, researching Saint Cecilia's Cathedral, which was directly opposite us:

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He informed us that it was the tallest brickwork cathedral in the world. I'm not surprised: we were seeing the short side, by the way! And then we walked around the outside:

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Clare and I had done that too but Matt and Alfie had a different approach; they wanted to see inside it!

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They made a wise decision!

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What a spectacular ceiling!

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That's Saint Cecilia lying in front of Christ:

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After exiting we walked around the really tall part.

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It um, towers over the other parts rather notably!

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We then headed off for a riverside walk, getting a view of the other side of town.

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The two bridges we saw were being repointed. A bit of judicious positioning hides the scaffolding.

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Although it wasn't possible to pull this off whilst taking a photo back to the cathedral from one of the bridges!

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We'd repeated our trick of the previous evening: by walking around we'd passed the point, this time 14:00, when restaurants were closed. We tried our luck at half a dozen before I finally found one which had closed but the chef (possibly the owner) didn't feel like going off for a break before reopening at 17:00. Phew!

We took our time over eating and so knocked the planned break to Gaillac on the head so that we could take a later train, which brought time for Matt and Alfie to look for some gifts for the people they were coming home to.

There was one more activity awaiting us between returning to Toulouse and getting to the airport: we were going to meet by best friend from France, Cafard, for dinner. It will be 25 years in September that we met: 20 then, now both 45! 

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Ah, the legend! 😍 He was fantastically entertaining, as always, and has two new fans in Matt and Alfie, who got to witness his effortless charming of the waitress. There's no such thing as out of his league with Cafard! I wish we'd got longer with him but we needed to catch a coach to the airport.

We finally got home at 01:50: it's hard to think that we were flying home on Tuesday having arrived only on Sunday but we'd fitted plenty in, and I was particularly pleased to have been able to show Matt and Alfie a little bit of life before I knew either of them. I hope we'll be head back to France in future, perhaps with a few others in tow.

 




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