Sunday, 20 June 2004
Distance 36 km
Duration 7 hours 30 minutes
158 m, descent 143 m
Map 64 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Topoguide Le Chemin d’Arles (blue cover)
It was not raining when we left, although it looked capable of it.
To get back to the canal we had to walk a couple of kilometres on the road and take the first turn right. On this exact corner, a merciful providence had placed a bar, which was full of old geysers starting the day as they meant to continue, propping up the counter with a glass in hand.
They were not used to being visited by pedestrians from Australia, and found it highly diverting. The only thing they knew about Australia was that we had a very good Rugby team and by the time they had finished congratulating us, we almost felt that we had trained the team ourselves.
This reviving coffee break took us all the way along the canal into Toulouse. The closer we got to the city, the greater the crush of Sunday morning activity – cyclists, joggers, roller-bladers, people pushing prams – bobbing and swaying around us.
The canal was lined with long boats painted in carnival colours, with pot plants and all the trappings of permanent homes.
On the other side of the towpath there were factories, from one of which emerged a gargantuan object on a low-loader, which turned out to be a satellite on its way to Austria.
We were now well into town so we turned off into the streets and had our lunch in a strip of parkland lined with fashionable houses, beside the Botanical Gardens. We were then looking for our second coffee of the day but we were not in a café area.
We needed to find the Place du Capitole, and on the way we tripped over the cathedral of Saint-Étienne, an ungainly red brick mass resulting from the merging of two incomplete thirteenth century churches on different alignments. Inside it was even more clumsy, although undeniably impressive.
The next thing we came to was the Office of Tourism, where we got information about internet cafés and the nearest camping ground to the west, at Saint-Martin-du-Touch.
While we drank our breathtakingly expensive coffee in the Place du Capitole (which is the size of a football field), we composed an email, which we finally managed to send at the third attempt, the first two places being closed.
Much as we are opposed to mixing walking and tourism, we did deviate slightly to see the basilica of Saint-Sernin, the biggest Romanesque church in the history of the universe, apart from Cluny. Like the cathedral, it was jammed in awkwardly amongst other buildings, but its pagoda-like tower could be seen from afar.
It was here that Simon de Montfort, the sadistic leader of the anti-Albigensian campaign, was killed in 1218 by a stone dropped from the roof by a group of women – the sort of resourcefulness that gives women a good name.
There was plenty more to see in Toulouse, but we were on a mission to reach the camping ground before evening, so we pushed on. Had we known what misadventures would befall us, we would have stayed in a hotel in town, but that is another story.
Toulouse has a railway station. From there you can go to almost anywhere in France. Toulouse also has an airport.