2018 Road Scholar Friends and Two More Days in Toulouse

Dave and I met such nice people on our April trip to France. To remember them, I am including photos and first names.Sandrine, our tour guide is French. She is multi-lingual, married and a great guide.Evelyn (top) and Richard. The only couple I didn’t get posed together. He a chef and she a lover of art and wine.Charlie and Annie on the left are from Washington State. They have RV’d all over the USA and were going on to Italy from France.Aileen and John are from Canada. They had been on many RS trips. Originally from Scotland, they spoke French and English with an accent. John shared the honor of being the eldest traveler with another scholar, Charles.Alice (pronounced in the French way, Aleece) in the top photo and Shuhan, below, are friends of more than 20 years and hail from Delaware. Alice was born in Israel, Shuhan in China. Alice spoke fluent French. Both teach language in a lifelong learning program in their hometown. Both are seasoned travelers and are engaging, vivacious and friendly people.Phyllis and Carol are also friends traveling together. Phyllis lives in New York City and Carol is from Oregon. Carol, originally from Iowa, had a midwestern warmth even though she has lived in many states. Phyllis was a fabric curator before she retired. She loves living in NYC with art and culture nearby. We had a fun conversation about food and cooking.John and Gary worked together for many years. Both enjoy travel. John had just been in Spain and Andorra (just to say he had been there). Gary was joining a bird and butterfly tour after this one. Both guys were engaging and thoughtful. Gary and I shared our love of birds. John gave Dave a line that he used in the song about the tour, the line about getting on the scale when finally home.Charles and Ellen are seasoned travelers. He enjoys photography and she is at his side helping him out. Charles shared eldest traveler honors with John. They had an anniversary while on this trip. Was it 60 years? They were headed next to Paris to meet a man who befriended Charles’ father in WWII.Sylvia was traveling as a single. She was most interested in the cave paintings.Roberto was also a single on this trip. He was the youngest of our group and the only one not retired. He is multi-lingual; born in Italy, he lived in Brazil and now in Massachusetts. Roberto was passionate about European history. He never missed an opportunity to pet a dog when we encountered one.Tim and Diane were on their first Road Scholar trip. They are from Michigan. They sat across from Dave and I on bus outings. Diane worked crosswords and read. Tim talked politics with John and Gary who also shared the back of the bus with us. Diane and I shared our nursing nightmare stories.Arnold is a friendly former American who now lives in New Zealand. He is a veteran traveler who was taking the train to Avignon after our tour. He summer plans included a trip to visit relatives in Finland and then to Canada. He has done extensive genealogy, going to great lengths to pin down his ancestral history.Terry and Andrea had been on many Road Scholar trips and as seasoned travelers, they had insights on trips that we may enjoy in the future.Jean, a single traveler, was from Delaware as were Alice and Shuhan but had never met them. She loved to travel and seemed to enjoy everything. She was a teacher before retiring.This trip was our second Road Scholar adventure in lifelong learning. We enjoyed almost every minute of this one. Because of the Air France strike we got two more days in Toulouse so I will include some photos from those bonus days.On our first extra day we enjoyed sleeping later and having no set schedule. After breakfast we headed from the hotel (circled) to the canal and walked along it until Rue de la Concorde. This part of the canal ran near the train station and was a bit grubby feeling to me but there were a lot of people out and about and I didn’t feel unsafe. We walked down Concorde until Boulevard d’Arcole where we turned right to head for the Japanese Garden in the big green space. I needed to use a rest room so stopped at a MacDonalds near the garden entrance. Inside was like no other MacD’s I had been to.These people were ordering their Big Macs on a touch screen! I did find the ladies room. Dave was waiting for me sitting on a garden bench and enjoying the sunshine and bird songs.Many people were using the park, strolling or jogging or just passing through.We had a wonderful time strolling about, sitting on benches, watching other people and enjoying the flowers and paths.From the garden we walked to the river past an old stone wall along Boulevard Armand Duportal. Then we headed for the city center Place du Capitole. A rummage market was being held in the square and we looked but didn’t find anything to buy. Lunch was at an outdoor cafe on the square. We had a beer. I had a Croque Monsieur, a fancy grilled cheese sandwich.As we walked back to the hotel along a street of high end clothing and luxury goods stores we enjoyed window shopping.We didn’t stop at the Blah Blah Restaurant. Neither of us remember what we did for dinner that evening. I do remember wondering how I was going to get everything back into our suitcases when the time came to go.Our final day was spent also walking in this very walkable and bustling city center. We ate lunch at an unusual vegetarian place.After lunch we went past a restored area.Then to the Bemberg Foundation museum which displays art and decorative collections in thirteen rooms. Everything from fine art to books to period furniture and objects ‘d art. A fantastic museum housed in a huge old residence.The Bemberg’s basement area was empty but had beautiful brickwork and vaulted ceilings. The entire space had wood floors and was clean and well lighted. It looked like a place waiting for something to happen.On the way back to the hotel that afternoon, we came upon a demonstration for a workers union strike complete with chants, signs, noisemakers and a general air of parade fun.Finally time to go home. Taxi to the airport. Toulouse to Paris; Paris to LA; LA to Phoenix and an Uber ride home.It took a whole week for me to get rid of jet lag symptoms but I would do it all again. We has a great trip.

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France 2018 Road Scholar Tour: The Perigord’s Ancient Towns and Caves; Continued

Albi is an UNESCO world heritage city. The old Episcopal City is made of red brick. No limestone is available here for building but there is lots of clay. The Cathedral Sainte-Cécile and Palace were built in the 13th century. The Palace (Berbie Palace) houses the largest collection of paintings by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. It also has a lovely garden and remarkable formal gardens near the River Tarn.

The bus is parked as close as possible and we walk to the Episcopal City as it is known.

Finally a sunny day and the flowers of spring are in bloom.

The Cathedral is spectacular. Next door is the Museum. We have an excellent and enthusiastic guide who tells us all about the lordly born Henri whose genetic bone problems limit his size and his ambitions. A series of broken bones with long periods of rehabilitation in bed result in Henri’s taking up drawing and painting to pass the time. He eventually moved to Paris to perfect his craft.

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec is most famous for his advertising art for the Moulin Rouge.

Now we move on to a new region and city.

We arrive in the city of Toulouse and cross the Canal du Midi. Our hotel and the city center are between the canal and the Garonne River.

A collection of lamp shades make art in the hotel. Our room looks out onto busy Jean Jaurès street where construction of the subway is taking place.

It is a nice evening to walk to dinner. The meat is wild boar and way too much but the custard is nice.

The next day brings a lecture on the Languedoc Region and Occitan People and a tour of the city center, the Saint Semin Basilica (“largest Romanesque church in Western Europe”) and city hall.

In Charles de Gaulle Square our guide stopped to show us the plant that caused Toulouse to be an economic powerhouse in ancient times.

This unassuming plant with bluish leaves is woad, in English, pastel in French. The leaves produce a dye of a lovely blue color which was once very prized. It was exported all over the world until indigo was discovered. The woad market crashed. Indigo was cheaper to produce and export and made a brilliant blue dye. We found a shop that had products dyed with woad which were very expensive, but a lovely soft blue.

This is an example of the blue color. Handmade dyed paper stitched onto a wall hanging.

The city hall is expansive with paintings on the walls. The building is used for many formal functions.

We all seemed to be a bit tired of standing around at this point.

Back to Charles de Gaulle Square. We walked past a gallery on the square that has modern art on the ceilings.

Our guide points out a map of the ancient walled city.

The Basilica.

The Garonne River and Pont Neuf Bridge. An impish red statue provides contrast. Back across town and to the hotel for rest and dinner on our own.

A group of us walked to this restaurant for a tasty meal. Tomorrow is the last day of the tour. We hear that Air France is having a strike the day we will leave. Many of us are flying on that carrier so we are unsure if our flights will be affected.

Out of town past fields to a higher altitude and closer to the Mediterranean and Spain. The Pyrenees Mountains are white in the distance. We are headed for the Medieval city of Carcassonne which has a 2,500 year history of occupation.

Despite the fortifications, Gallo Roman walls couldn’t hold out against the Visigoths, Saracens and Franks who occupied the city. Then in the 12th century, Pope Innocent III launched a crusade against Cathar heretics. The fort was again besieged since the owner protected the Cathars. The fortification crumbled in disrepair until the 19th century when Viollet-le-Duc, an architect, restored the city fortifications. It became an UNESCO site in 1997 and is a popular tourist attraction.

I didn’t make completely around the walls but did visit the Basilica.

Lunch will be a local specialty, Cassoulet. Some of us sit in the square to wait for the rest of the group. Buskers sing and play for coins.

The meal starts with another French mainstay, warm goat cheese on greens.

The cassoulet is served in casserole dishes. White beans, duck legs and duck sausage cooked low and slow. Delicious!

Back to the bus and back to Toulouse for some free time. We try to find out about our flight, cancelled. Calls to Road Scholar travel service have to wait until morning comes in the States but there is an emergency number which is answered. They will work on getting our flights rescheduled. Others are having similar experiences.

We gather in the lounge for a glass of Champagne before going to dinner. Alice has a poem she wrote and Dave has a song.

Dinner was in a lovely restaurant, Les Beaux-Arts Brasserie Flo, on the bank of the river near the Pont Neuf bridge.

Our entree of salmon was presented with sea foam.

After another excellent gourmet meal, our Road Scholar Tour is done.

Goodbyes are said and hugs are given at the hotel. Looks like Dave and I will be staying two more days in Toulouse!