How To Be A Toulousain
I wish I could say I lived in Toulouse my whole life, but I’d be lying. Fortunately I was able to live there for 3 years following a childhood spent in the countryside of Southern France, and that’s probably why I love that city so much, and why I’m not bored of it yet. But I know you’re not here to hear about me, so let’s get to some concrete info about Toulouse:
In French it is called “La Ville Rose” (The Pink City) because of the red bricks that decorate the front of the old houses. This warm and welcoming city is one of the most popular in the southern part of France. It is also well known for its nice weather, its beautiful monuments and places to wander, and especially for the inhabitants and their accent.
You may be a really good French speaker, but you’ll certainly have some serious trouble, if not understanding what they’re saying then at least trying not to laugh when they speak. It’s the kind of accent you pick up after 3 years of living there, and shows up especially when you’re angry (at least that’s what happened with me). But I love it. I love everything about Toulouse’s citizens, because they’re like nobody else. They’re open-minded, yet very proud of themselves. They’re really nice, yet very ebullient and spontaneous. They’ll say, “You’re welcome” and “Have a nice day” as easily as “Putain” (Fuck) and “Oh con…” (Oh Lord…). But if you love honest, generous and friendly people, then this is your city. Trust me.
Talking about language, here are some words you may hear during your stay if you dare to visit La Ville Rose:
- Une chocolatine: That’s what English speakers and Parisians call a “pain au chocolat” (literally chocolate bread). Here’s my advice if you go to Toulouse: never ever call it a “pain au chocolat”. It’s not question of life or death, but the baker may be less friendly if you don’t respect the distinction between the northern capital (Paris) and the southern (Toulouse). We joke a lot about it around here, but if you really want to make an effort to be seen as a nice tourist, just use the right word.
- Une poche: If the cashier asks you if you want one, he’s speaking about a plastic bag. In the North, they call it “un sac” but in the south, the word “poche” is more commonly used.
- Cagnard: You may hear it if you decide to visit Toulouse during summertime; it only means that the weather is really hot.
- J’ai la Cagne: Literally means “I’m feeling lazy”. You may know la Cagne, sous (under) le Cagnard, but those words are not really related. I confess, Toulouse slang may be a little weird.
- Putain: I kept the best for last. You’ll hear this one at least 200 times a day. It means “Fuck” and is used in almost every sentence. You’ll just have to get used to it I suppose.
Now I’m almost sure you’re convinced to plan your next trip here, so let’s talk about visiting the city centre. Two days will be perfect, and the first weekend of a month would be optimal if you’re a museum fan. The City Council decided to open all museums to the public for free on every first Sunday of the month. If you’re a student, it doesn’t really matter as long as you’ve got your student card with you, but let’s assume not everybody is a student. If you love museums, art and history, use Sunday to enjoy this opportunity. If you’re not, go get drunk.
I’m kidding, there are plenty of things to do in Toulouse, even on a Sunday. If you’re an early bird, the Victor Hugo Market in Jeanne Darc’s quarter (name of the metro stop) should be your first stop. Open from 6 in the morning, it’s an indoor market full of fresh food. You’ll get through it quickly because it’s not that big, but it’s a good start to know what the Toulousains’ mood is that day.
Close to that, there’s Wilson Place. It’s a crossroad of streets with a carousel in the centre. Lovely, but also a quick visit unless you want to stop here for breakfast. There are a lot of coffee shops in Toulouse, and for the first meal of the day I have no particular advice as I think it’s way better to follow your own intuition. But if you’re looking for something cosy with a nice view and a bit of luxury, the coffee shops and restaurants at Capitol Place look quite amazing. I haven’t tried them myself, but I’ve always wanted to.
After that, you’ve got various options and I’d rather let you plan your own route based on your travel habits. From Wilson Place, you’ve got plenty of choice. Once finished, you really should visit the Capitol itself and its wedding room. If you love paintings as much as I do, you’ll love it. Then, once outside, many other options appear (that’s why I’d rather let you plan your route). If, back against the Capitol, you choose to follow your right hand, you’ll find the famous Rue du Taur, full of coffee shops and snacks. There you’ll be able to buy many souvenirs from the city and if you like sweets, the famous “Violettes de Toulouse”, which are purple candy-like flowers, can be found here. And at the very end of the street, there is the Basilique Saint Sernin, a beautiful and very well-known church. Close to the Basilique is my university. I know, there is no point visiting a law university unless it’s a beautiful one. Fortunately, the university is considered the most beautiful of the three that are located in Toulouse. In its garden, you’ll find a very old red brick cloister where students and tourists like to rest.
If you’re still in the area when it’s lunch time, there are way-too-many-to-be-listed places where you can grab some food and drink. Moreover, because you’re very close to the Place Saint Pierre and the banks of the Garonne, you’re in THE place to have a drink (but I’d advise you to save that for night time, or at least after dinner).
Aside from that, you can eat, drink or grab a snack at (I’ll only list the ones I know personally):
- Burger à la une (17 rue Valade)
- Pizzeria Chez Emile (16 rue Emile Carthaillac)
- El Chivito (16 rue Pargaminières)
- Colombus Café (10 rue du Taur)
- The George & Dragon Pub (1 place Peyrou)
- The Coffee Pot (2 place Peyrou)
- Le temps des Tartines (19 rue des lois)
- Salon Eugenie (16 rue des lois).
- McDonald’s/Subway/EatShushi/Domino’s/etc… (Boulevard Lacrosse)
As there are so many options, I cannot guarantee I didn’t forget one. One last thing: if you go for Subway or EatSushi, you’re very close to one place I love: The Japanese Garden (Jardin Japonais), a beautiful place to take a moment to rest, or an after-lunch nap perhaps…
Remember when I told you there were two choices when you left the Capitol? Well, I’d advise you to keep that second part for after lunch: follow your left hand now. You’ll have to cross one of the main streets of Toulouse, The Rue Saint Rome. I don’t say “main” because it’s a big one, but because it is one of the most crowded ones (so don’t be upset if people seem unfriendly: you cannot really remain nice when you’re trying to walk through a small street full of people). It’s crowded because it’s full of shops. You may like it, you may not. It depends if you can afford to shop a little bit or not (because you’re broke or your luggage is already way too heavy).
If you’re still there when it’s tea time, or if your stomach is still half empty from lunch, there is one place where you must go. You can’t avoid it, because it’s THE place. It may not be typically French (far from it, even) but it’s a tea shop beloved by many: The Bap’z. This amazing place, hidden at the 13 rue de la Bourse, is often full, but you’ll have a table quickly. They have got such a huge list of teas, coffees and chocolates that you’ll have a hard time choosing. I don’t even talk about the cakes and sweets in the middle table. And the owners are two lovely twins who are probably the kindest people who have ever worked in a tea shop.
After that, you may wander in the quarter of the Carmes, and walk until the Grand Rond, which is a big garden on a roundabout. Once you get bored of it (if that even happens) you can backtrack and visit the large Alsace Loraine street, which starts (from the Carmes entrance) with a showcase on the Musee des Augustins. But I’d advise you to keep that for tomorrow. Alsace Lorraine Street is a bit like the Rue Saint Rome: wider, but with many, many shops. If you don’t like shops, it’s totally okay, but you should follow it at least until the Galeries Lafayette. I know it doesn’t look like it because it’s a huge luxury shop, but there’s a small secret that few people (including the Toulousains) know about: the roof top. You can access it through the elevators or the stairs, it’s totally free and you get a 180° view of Toulouse. Go on and take some photos!
If you did not buy the famous “Violettes de Toulouse” yet, you should take the small street near H&M on Alsace Lorraine street and discover the Place Roger Salengro. It’s small, but lovely. And if you follow the Rue des Puis Clos and the Rue de Baronie, you’ll end up (look carefully) finding the Paradis Gourmand, a sweet treats shop that’s absolutely unbelievable. It looks like it comes from another time, and with such a variety of candies you better not be on a diet because you’ll want to buy everything. Here, the Violettes are the main masterpiece and designed in so many different ways you will not know which to choose.
Then I believe dinner time won’t be far off. Again, there are so many restaurants that I can’t remember all the names. Here are two Italian restaurants I loved: Lo Specchio (60 rue des tourneurs) and El Bambino (39 rue rémusat). Again, for tight budgets there are (way too) many fast food places. Just let your intuition guide you. After that, as said above, you should have a last drink at Place Saint Pierre, as there is no better place for that in Toulouse.
If you happen to have an extra day, you may want to visit the famous Cité de l’Espace (Space City), a few kilometers from Toulouse, but that’s a very touristy attraction.
For the second day, you should enjoy the various museums:
- Musée des Augustins (Rue d’Alsace Lorraine, entrance Rue de Metz): my favourite one, with a huge painting room and many, many sculptures. The cloister itself is a piece of heaven in the dynamic city centre.
- Museum d’Histoire naturelle (35 allées Jules Guesde): for all the lovers of history and sciences, this is the place.
- Musee Georges-Labit (17 rue du Japon): See the ancient history of Egypt and Asia. Its garden is also a place to rest.
- Musée Saint Raymond (1ter Place St Sernin): close to the Basilique, it’s the place for those who want to know a little bit more about Toulouse’s history, though not really worth staying a day more only for that.
Once you get bored of all that cultural life and you just want to chill, walk up to the banks of the Garonne, sit down, breathe and say to yourself what every Toulousain says every day when the sun rises and enlightens the red bricks of the Southern Capital: Life is beautiful.
PS: For French speakers, find more info on Toulouse here.
PS 2: Oh, I almost forgot! If you’re on holiday for more than two days and you’re thirsty for adventures, you can take the Megabus at the Bus Station and for few euros you could go to Barcelona, which is actually not so far from Toulouse. But that’s another story…
By Kelly Videira