We said goodbye to the house, and caught the very busy 10.41am bus to Limoux, where we changed for the single carriage train to Carcassone. By buying the tickets separately, on the day and opting for regional rather than inter-city trains we actually saved money. Not like in the UK where you’ll usually pay a lot more doing it this way, and sometimes get fined for trying to buy tickets on the train itself! When we’d booked this trip we’d been completely unaware that the Tour de France would be leaving from Carcassone this very morning, but it explained the crowds. Had we stayed in the next valley along as originally planned, we’d have gotten a brilliant view of the race. As it was though, we just missed it.
We made the connection to Toulouse just in time, and enjoyed stopping at stations that we’d whizzed through on the way out. Once in the city we caught the metro to Capitole station. Or at least we did eventually. I got confused by the signs and dragged poor Rich off at the next stop, thinking that we were on the wrong line. We weren’t, but despite this mishap the tube network is still a lot easier to understand and use than London’s. Even when living and working in London I always used to admire tourists there, because it’s one of the hardest, and often unfriendliest cities to navigate.
Our hotel for the night was just a 5 minute walk away. I can assure you that we never usually stay in places like this, but as it was Rich’s birthday soon, and he’d shortly start undergoing chemo and whatnot, we decided that this was definitely one of those ‘what the hell’ moments. The Grand Balcon is by far the swankiest hotel we’ve ever stayed in, so much so that we were worried that we’d be turned away at the door despite a reservation, but completely by accident we ended up with the best room, and a view and balcony directly over Place du Capitole.
Whilst it was undeniably luxurious, it was still wonderfully quirky, and the aviation theme that runs throughout made it feel somewhat bohemian. Our room was designed to look and feel like we were in the sky, with pictures of clouds on the walls and ceiling, and white and grey furnishings. And the bed. Oh my, well that really did feel like we were sleeping on a big, fluffy marshmallow of a cloud.
Once we’d taken in all this loveliness, it was time for lunch, and where else could we go but the local kebab shop! I’m not sure many other hotel guests will have eaten here, but as the very nice lady eating outside told us, this was the oldest kebab shop in Toulouse, and the food was delicious. So we stayed, and she was right. Our pavement table was filled with freshly made hummus, salad, falafel and flatbread, and we ate like kings but for a fraction of the price of the cafes just around the corner.
Following a quick stroll along some of the side streets of the fabled ‘Pink City’, we felt the need to escape the crowds and return to our cloud room for a post-lunch nap. The room was wonderfully quiet, despite being so close to the hustle and bustle of the city centre, and we both slept well – unusual for me as I normally struggle to sleep in new places.
By the time we emerged our stomachs were already telling us that dinner was needed, and after consulting the guide book we headed to Rue des Gestes and the La Mare aux Canard restaurant for their set menu – smoked cheese salad and duck with orange sauce for me; duck terrine and duck skewers for Rich. By the time we’d finished our creme caramel pudding, we were both happy to declare that we much preferred Toulouse to Paris, and would heartily recommend it as a city break.