We really must have stayed up too late the night before, because we had to peel ourselves out of bed to meet Mr. and Mrs. BoatMonster for lunch. They’d invited us to a fancy dessert house called Flower’s; all the desserts are lined up in the window to draw in passers by.
Desserts at Flowers; the elevated tart has sweet hazelnut or walnut paste filling; a currant and blackberry crumble is behind it; then a custard tart with a huge meringue top; also in back, a chocolate tart with chocolate icing and a layer of hazelnut; a chocolate in the front with some sort of orange business inside, a red berry on pistachio paste tarte, and just out of frame a banoffee tarte. Yes, this is all from memory, I don’t forget this sort of thing. Banoffee was a common flavor around Toulouse, showing up at ice cream stands, burger joints and fancy patisseries alike; it’s a bit like tiramisu, but without the cream layers and soaked in rum. Photo by CarrotCakeMonster.
The BoatMonster family enjoying their meals. They have some sort of fish, salad with cheese and Asian-inspired salad variations. Photo by CarrotCakeMonster.
Of course in the US we have multiple-course restaurants with set menus, but “make it a menu” in the casual sense usually means upgrading your sandwich with chips and a drink. In France most sit-down restaurants offer a menu consisting of entree (i.e. appetizer), main course and dessert, often with wine (or coffee, if it’s a brunch place like Flower’s). You get two or three choices for each (most places nowadays even offer vegetarian) but it’s essentially the recommended way to eat a meal in its entirety, so if you’re unsure what or how to order in France, the menu is a good bet. And it’s usually a pretty good deal.
My lunch has fans. The set lunch menu at Flower’s was salad or a savory tarte, dessert and coffee. Mine was some sort of delicious fresh salad, toast, and a pot of mildly tangy melted cheese that fell somewhere between brie and limburger. Photo by CarrotCakeMonster.
…and our desserts and coffees. We got the pistachio creme tarte with raspberries. It was excellent. But not quiiiite as good as the fruit tart I made myself for my birthday last year. That was a tart for the ages. Photo by CarrotCakeMonster.
After an excellent lunch Mr. and Mrs. BoatMonster left to pursue houseboat and canal-related endeavors, while NachoMaid, CarrotCakeMonster and I wandered out into Toulouse with vague plans to tour the Capitol if it was open (it wasn’t) and the art museum or air & space museum if either was nearby (they weren’t). But we decided to hike to the art museum anyway, and on our way through the city we stumbled upon the Musée de Veux Toulouse (Museum of Old Toulouse). It’s the kind of small, sundry museum that I enjoy very much.
The biggest draw of the Musée de Veux Toulouse is touring the building itself, which was a 16-17th century mansion that has been historically preserved. The courtyard and its arches look Italian; the clunky rectangular wooden spiral staircase feels like being inside an old ship; and the interior rooms remind me of touring antebellum homes in the American South. Look how inviting this private enclosed courtyard is! One of the best parts of walking around Toulouse is peeking into the private courtyards of old buildings when someone has left the gate open. They’re so peaceful and luxurious.
A look down the well in the courtyard. Waaaaay down there you can see a reflection in the water. Photo by CarrotCakeMonster.
NachoMaid standing in front of an old oxen yoke on display. The egg shape sticking up on top is covered in bells. I don’t know why I didn’t take more photos inside, but they showed pottery and archeological remains from the prehistoric Toulousians, the Celts, the Romans, the Rennaissance and Victorian era. Also exhibits on woad dye, paintings and photographs of Toulouse and its landmarks through the centuries, mannequins dressed in traditional outfits and Napoleonic uniforms, antique furniture and fittings for the house and other bits of historic ephemera.
As a special exhibit the museum had assembled portraits by Toulousain artists from its collection. They were all new names to me, and I can’t find any traces of the existence of these paintings online. It is so frustrating that so much of the shared heritage of world art is not accessible to the public but stored away in some private collection, church library or museum basement. Anyway, I thought this method of shading was novel. This drawing is a portrait of Georges Gaudion, by Luce Boyals, 1924.
The Studio of Luce Boyals, by George Gaudion (spelled differently in this label), 1930. The woman behind the easel is the one who drew the portrait above; the drawn portrait is of the artist who painted this canvas. They were both working artists when they met, and they married in 1920 and often painted together. Gaudion also taught chemistry, music and jazz. A little over a decade after this was painted, they both died in different accidents while hiking in the mountains, 4 years apart. Thanks to the museum’s website for the biographical info; they note that little was known of these artists and their works were not valued after their deaths until a pair of local art history students’ research recently put them back on the map.
Self Portrait by Dominique Baron, mid-1800s.
This video of a woad-making demonstration showcases the architecture and courtyard of the Musée de Veux Toulouse nicely:
We finished up at the Museum of Old Toulouse and continued to the Musée des Beaux Arts. It is housed in an old church which has alternately served as a convent and abbey throughout history, now renovated as a museum. The central courtyard is maintained with traditional fruit trees, roses and herbs that the monks and nuns would have cultivated. All of the wings of the museum branch off from this central courtyard; it’s a wonderful ground plan for a museum.
The colonnade around the central courtyard.
The ornamental quadrant of the courtyard garden.
A row of howling drainpipe gargoyles lining one side of the courtyard colonnade. Of course they reminded me of my cat. Photo by CarrotCakeMonster.
A view of the bell tower from the courtyard. Photo by CarrotCakeMonster.
CarrotCakeMonster opted for a midday nap instead of touring the museum.
Some doors in the museum.
An ancient Celtic or medieval epitaph from a tombstone (I don’t remember which, sorry) from the tombstone collection lining one spooky Gothic underground passage.
Having finished with the tombstones and the elaborately carved medieval column capitols displayed in an oddly Verner Panton 70’s style, I returned to the colonnade to find CarrotCakeMonster relocated to a more comfortable chair.
CarrotCakeMonster and some like-minded visitors.
This was his view. The building with the chimneys across the courtyard is a row of beautiful apartment buildings visible over the museum entrance, not part of the old abbey.
To my great dissatisfaction, the large collection of artwork 1700-early 20th century (my favorite general era) was completely closed so they could fix the big Victorian skylights. Of course that explanation only made me want to see the space as well as the art. All that was left to see was Gothic and medieval art. Ancient art is… fine, but I’m honestly never as impressed as I know I should be. Ancient architecture is another story, I can’t leave any ruin unexplored (who can?). However they did have a large exhibit in the former big church hall (chapel?) about the Renaissance in Toulouse. They had some very impressive tapestries, religious paintings, swords and manuscripts.
Because of the darkness of the old church alcoves, it was tough to get a good photo of this angry cherub in the middle of a huge religious painting. So I have recreated it here:
My faithful rendition of the angry cherub in all his fat flying wrath. The painting, which depicted a boilerplate Madonna & Posse in Heaven scene, didn’t make it clear why he was so pissed off; there were other cherubs flying around near him that seemed just fine.
Returning to the courtyard to find CCM deeper asleep.
Returning to the colonnade yet again after poking around the gift shop and wishing the modern wing were open, I found CCM in an even more relaxed position.
Seconds before he woke up to a camera in his face.
I don’t recall how we filled the remainder of the afternoon– trying to find a public bathroom maybe, or eating cheese in our apartment, but we eventually found ourselves walking over to the BoatMonsters’ houseboat to meet NachoMaid and borrow the BoatMonsters’ bikes and ride up the Canal du Midi to have dinner at a canal-side restaurant in the next town over.
Here we are walking to the canal to pick up the bikes. Photo by CarrotCakeMonster.
The inside of a WWI memorial on the way to the Canal. Toulouse is famous for defending France and for patriotism in general: in ancient times, in Napoleon’s armies, against the Germans in the 1800s, in WWI and II, and Toulouse was a major hub in the WWII resistance. The Museum of Old Toulouse illustrated this as well. Photo by CarrotCakeMonster.
A close-up of the incredible relief carving in the WWI memorial. It didn’t come across very well in this photo, but the liveliness and freedom of composition isn’t something you see often in relief statuary.
A beautiful boulevard lined in plane trees leading to an enormous old garden in the center of town. Photo by CarrotCakeMonster.
More of the tree-lined boulevard. Photo by CarrotCakeMonster.
And here we are biking along the canal. These are the old tracks trod by mules pulling boats down the canal; today they are bike and jogging trails. It takes you out of the city of Toulouse in about a fifteen minute bike ride, then you’re riding past fields of sunflowers and countryside. The canal is unbelievably beautiful.
Me biking. Photo by CarrotCakeMonster.
A nice view of the canal.
Taking a break, because we needed one. I don’t know why CarrotCakeMonster’s bike’s gears were fixed in such an odd way, but he had to peddle about twice as fast as NachoMaid and I the entire time. Photo by CarrotCakeMonster.
A seed pod along the way with perfect little star shaped openings.
NachoMaid waiting or us to finish our break.
An especially pretty field next to the canal.
Another view of the same field.
Me biking past CarrotCakeMonster. Photo by CarrotCakeMonster.
Photo by CarrotCakeMonster.
Thirteen kilometers later, we arrived at the restaurant… and it was closed. Indefinitely. Until the guy who ran it could hire the staff he needed. Meanwhile he was enjoying a beer in the yard with a neighbor. But luckily we’d just passed another restaurant about a km back, a picturesque old building next to a canal lock. It turned out to be so good that we completely forgot about our first choice being closed.
Attacking the appetizer, which was way too much food for the three of us. The salad had little pieces of duck gizzard in it; duck comprised most of the menu here and around Toulouse. The drink is rosé with grapefruit syrup (sooo good). This photo is taken seconds before I discovered that I really dislike fois gras. Photo by CarrotCakeMonster.
A view of the full lock (the water level goes up and down to hoist boats up and down uneven elevations) and a little house beyond it. Lock workers used to live in those houses and hand-crank the locks when boats came through, but now it’s mostly automatic. Photo by CarrotCakeMonster.
More appetizer. The weather was perfect, the view was beautiful, we had worked up a hard-earned hunger, and the atmosphere was just the right mix of fancy and friendly. Photo by CarrotCakeMonster.
Talking. Being a very slow eater usually in the company of very fast eaters, I enjoyed the multi-course system in France because I got to hang out without being rushed or guilted and still finish the meal with everyone else. We didn’t get any photos of the main dishes because we were enthusiastically eating them. Dinner was absolutely excellent– and there was a lot of it. No one went hungry. CCM had grilled duck with potatoes gratin, NachoMaid had fish with potatoes gratin, and I had some sort of duck drumstick with an amazing risotto. Very astute readers will notice I ate meat while on vacation; I do occasionally eat meat while traveling, as I have a weak spot for anything novel or a local specialty I’ll never see again. Je ne regrette rien. Photo by CarrotCakeMonster.
My dessert: crème brûlée. CarrotCakeMonster ordered fruit salad for dessert, and we ended up splitting the two to mix together. A very good combination. Photo by CarrotCakeMonster.
When we were finished we were so full that biking home seemed like an insurmountable hurdle. But there was no other way to get back. So we took quite a few more breaks on the way back than the way there, balancing our flashlights and bracing our tired butt muscles.
We encountered a pair of gigantic snails while taking a break near a bridge on the way home. Photo by CarrotCakeMonster.
We were physically tired when we got back but not ready to go to sleep, so we went bar hopping– as much as you can really do when your comfortable drink limit is one. We watched some people play darts at one end of an English pub while a drunk girl had a dance party of one at the other end of the pub, then we went to a hipster dive bar with an arcade machine. I guess I could have stayed to watch two grown men play Street Fighter, but instead I took a walk that I don’t remember at all except that it was especially nice. We all met back up and went back home.
NachoMaid braces himself against the nightlife. Photo by CarrotCakeMonster.
Me locking up, going out to a bar dressed like Martha Stewart. Turns out no one cared; I really don’t think it matters what you wear to a bar or club. All that generally matters, even in Berlin mega-club culture, is if you’re entertaining and if you have drugs you’re willing to share. We didn’t have any, and we were too tired to really interact with anyone around us. So we called it an early night.