89km, negligible climbing: Mauvezin-de-Prat – Saint-Lys.
We had already seen Saint-Martin-Lys and wanted to see the Martin-free version which was conveniently on the way back to Toulouse.
Yann and I must have passed a hundred different towns throughout our “Tour du Sud de la France”. France has 36,681 towns (source: insee 2010) whereas our home province of Québec has just 1,108 (source: mamot.gouv.qc.ca). Québec has more than double the land area of France and hasn’t even run out of saints to name their towns after. So it’s not surprising the French have had to recycle a lot of town names. They even had to name one of their villages… Condom.
In Canada, nearly all our towns and cities had the budget for an elaborate “Welcome to *name of town*” sign (here’s a sampling from Google). In France, they have a no-frills approach to welcoming visitors:
In Canada, we also have enough time and money to create a goodbye sign for nearly every town.
“Au revoir! Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!”
(There is a real town here named “Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!” exclamation points and all.)
In case our politeness in welcoming people into our towns won’t do, we’ve created a lot of giant roadside monuments of random things, like a T-Rex (Drumheller, AB), a paperclip (Kipling, SK), orange (Montréal, QC), a hockey stick (Duncan, BC) and a Canada goose (Wawa, ON) to name just a few.
France likes to keep it simple by reusing the same sign for the exit, only with a slash through the place name. At first, Yann and I interpreted this sign to mean the road no longer led to the city. We soon realized that it was actually a very terse way of showing that we were leaving the city limit.
We didn’t see any large versions of ordinary things.
On Day 12 (September 3rd), we didn’t see much. Here’s one of our more impressive sights:
It felt so good to see a four-digit number appear on the cyclometer. When Yann and I were planning this trip, we had hoped to do about 800km in 14 days. Yet, within 12 days, we had done 1000km! At that very moment, we were in the town of Rieumes, and only 40km from Toulouse.
For the entire day, the landscape was a slight variation of this:
The sky was uniformly blue, traffic was minimal, and we weren’t even given any surprise jolts by the wind. There was nothing to complain about. Yet, compared to the rest of our trip, Day 12 was very monotonous. The Pyrénées had spoiled us.
We pitched our tent for the last time in France at Camping Le Chemin Vert in the town of Saint-Lys.
32km: Saint-Lys – Toulouse.
We had a few options as to where to venture before heading back to Toulouse, such as Moissac or Montauban. We even had enough time to visit Auch, but being well out of the mountains meant we could expect to spend the next two days riding through even more farmland.
We had left Toulouse as soon as we arrived, so we agreed to come back two days early. Surely, France’s fourth-largest city would have more to offer than just wheat and sunflower fields.
Our last two nights were spent at the not-so-romantic Fasthôtel in Blagnac, less than 3km from the airport. After leaving our bikes inside our puny room, we went directly to Toulouse by foot.
When we reached the city, the Basilica of Saint-Sernin welcomed us with a ray of light.
Upon exiting the church, we were met with darkness and hunger. It was too late to see any other attraction, so the only thing left to do was grab some dinner and embark on the long journey back to our hotel.
Although we had only done 32km of cycling that day, we did an additional 20km by foot.
Toulouse is a city of proportionate, but dramatic sculptures, particularly in Jardin du Grand Rond.
“Oh, cool. It’s Cujo.” I thought.
But it couldn’t have been Cujo: this was France. It was most likely the beast of Gévaudan, which seemed somewhat out-of-place in a park.
Here’s a statue from Jardin des Plantes, which was right across the street from Grand Rond:
There were a lot of interesting sculptures in the park I wish I had taken photos of. I cannot even come up with a convincing backstory for the above statue. How come only the women are clothed? Were the dudes of yore only deserving of a couple strips of cloth? Is the guy on the right about to spew?
If I wanted to learn rather than fabricate historical events, I knew I needed to visit a museum. Fortunately, they had those in Toulouse. Yann jokingly suggested the Museum of Medical Instruments, which actually sounded great to me for I love fringe attractions.
Even now, I don’t think he acknowledges my enthusiasm for unconventional curios. The first time I saw the giant orange in Montréal, I was delighted even though it looked exactly like a miniature sculpture of the sun would. Also, my previous boyfriend had to fight me away from the entrance of the vacuum museum in Portland, OR.
Did Yann not also find it unusual for me to want to go inside a church?
The Museum of Medical Instruments was closed, so we visited the Natural History Museum (Museum of Toulouse) instead. The museum had Wifi you could use to connect to their website for a guided tour in the language of your preference, only it was all audio. To record audio, they must’ve had a script to begin with. To not publish the script online, they must’ve forgotten deaf people exist.
I enjoyed it anyway.
As someone who hasn’t been to many museums, Yann sure has mastered the “Museum Walk”. His “Museum Walk” turned into a “Bored Shuffle” when we entered the museum’s garden. I get it though, learning the names of different beanstalk varieties must’ve seemed dull after having just wandered through a hodgepodge of animal skeletons.
Besides, a lot of the plants were dead. There was a surveyor walking around, doing the “Surveyor Walk” (you know the one), scratching tally marks on his clipboard: column one for the dead plants and column two for the live ones. I couldn’t really see what he was writing: I just saw what I wanted to see.
I also wanted to see Le Capitole, the #8 ranked thing to do in Toulouse on TripAdvisor. The museum we had just visited was ranked at #11. Imagine how much more thrilling Le Capitole would be!
The #1 ranked attraction on Toulouse as decided by TripAdvisor? An escape room. Of all the things to see and do in Toulouse, am I supposed to believe I would have more fun trying to solve puzzles to break out of a room I paid to get locked in in the first place?
The Museum of Medical Instruments isn’t even in the top 50. Not a lot of antique bedpan enthusiasts, I see.
Toulouse is a splendid city, but Yann and I both agreed that riding all the way to Lourdes and catching a train back to Toulouse would’ve probably been a better choice.
5740km: Toulouse – Montréal.
It was almost guaranteed that Yann and I would have to ride through a storm to get to the airport, which is why we chose to stay at the one-star Fasthôtel in Blagnac.
We slept through the forecasted storm, but it stopped raining long enough for us to get from the hotel to the airport. We arrived about five hours before our flight, giving us ample time to deal with the logistics of “packing” our bikes without all the packing material we had come with.
Air Transat offers large plastic bags for bikes which I think are the same ones they use for strollers. We just had to remove the pedals, deflate the tires, and turn the handlebar sideways. This made preparing our bikes for the flight much easier, but it wasn’t a good feeling letting go of my bike with just 2mm of plastic to protect it.
2mm wasn’t enough. My bike did arrive in Montréal with new scratches.
On the upside, I came back with zero scratches and enough stories for 12 separate blog posts!