L. and I stayed in Avignonet-Lauragais with her parents and took the car or train into Toulouse (about 40 minutes drive each way). The first night, we met her friends (most of them friends from childhood) at a bar. Most of the time, the weather was warmer than in Ireland and if it was significantly colder on some days, there was usually blue sky and sunshine. Click here for the link to some of the photos (L. had a camera). We even went to the Christmas market. I went to mass on Christmas with one of L.’s cousins and her grandma, although the tiny village church was so packed that it echoed incessantly, so none of us heard what was being said. Around 10 or 11PM on Christmas eve, we celebrated with a multi-course dinner, complete with two different cakes. We opened presents at midnight on Christmas eve; I received a book and shampoo (L.’s cousin gave us natural-ingredient-derived shampoo that smelled like paradise).
One evening in Toulouse, I was too tired to go out, so I took a train back to Avignonet. The plan was for L.’s dad to meet me at the train station because, although they are a 10 minute walk away, I did not pay particular attention as to how we got to the train station from L.’s house when we had left. However, my train had an unplanned 20-minute stop (normal for France) and I didn’t have a cell phone. Neither did I see L.’s dad’s car when I arrived. After waiting a while, I decided to try to find her house, even though I only knew the house number – because of course, her street has a name, but there is no street sign whatsoever in the tiny village. A dog followed me part of the way, but luckily I recognised the cross walk and a certain hill that the road was on and made it home in less than ten minutes without having to retrace my steps – hooray! Turns out L.’s mom was surprised I found the house and that L.’s dad was still waiting for me at the train station. Apparently he didn’t see a train come to a stop at the station, and I didn’t see his car. This village has *A* main street and *ONE* platform, so I’m not sure how we missed each other, but it’s a good story now and they joked about being glad they didn’t have to call the village police.
Near La Garonne (river) – Toulouse.
L. and I also visited a French friend (who lives in Ireland but returned to France for vacation) in the beautiful, warm and sunny city of Montpellier. We went in covoiturage, meaning you go online and search via registered people someone who is driving by where you are and either to or by the destination you want to go to. It can be cheaper than the train and is convenient when it is too much hassle to take the train. To go to Montpellier, a (presumably retired) well-dressed elderly couple drove us and there was one guy beside us in the car who was going to Marseille. We even stopped at a rest stop. Two hours later, we were in Montpellier for the day.
We didn’t have a plan in particular for Montpellier with our friend C. We ate lunch sitting by the fountain at the Place de la Comédie WITHOUT COATS (hooray!) and people watched. We went into a lingerie store (with our backpacks and cameras) because it looked high quality (and didn’t buy anything) and also to the Jardin des Plantes (essentially a public garden). After we sat at an outdoor café and had the obligatory French discussion about everyones’ relationships (past or present), the waiter came by to collect his part of the receipts. Only that they were crumpled up so much he was shocked. C. and L. explained that the two receipts were that way because they had been “talking about their past passionate relationships”. The server replied fairly daringly (L.’s words) but with a wry face that “he hoped they did not do the same to their exes’ couilles“. He left and came back for the payment, closing with “Remind me never to date you (all)” yet laughing all the same. Ah, France: it is taboo to talk about money and politics, but everything else is completely acceptable.
That night, we did covoiturage again to go back to Avignonet – this time our driver was a middle-aged French military man and his teenage daughter. We learned a lot of presumably semi-classified things about French military intervention and it was sincerely interesting. L.’s dad picked us up from the “meeting point” and drove us the rest of the 15 minute drive home.
As an aside, I did try to better my southern France accent. I.e., pronouncing words as if they all ended in EH or AY or pronouncing the n in pain so that the word “bread” actually sounds like the english word “pain” – and for once, French is pronounced how it looks! Eating meals at 2pm and 9pm is perfectly normal; so is having butter and nutella on bread for breakfast; dark chocolate on bread.
One day in Toulouse with some of L.’s friends we decided to see the film “Mommy” by Canadian director Xavier Dolan (who is Quebecois, so the film is in Canadien French). It was really good and unlike any other film I’ve seen before.
On New Year’s Eve, L.’s parents somehow had a crazy idea that they would leave us the house for 48 hours. L., myself and an Irish friend of ours who came to visit prepped the house for a party. By 10PM, all fourteen of us – including those from the group I met on the first night – were assembled around a table attempting to play a card game meant for five people. Naturally this transitioned into giving the game up, going outside, enjoying the ironically high-quality wine (seriously, everyone brought really nice bottles of wine) and assorted beverages and eating all of the food. Those of us outside missed the countdown to midnight but nonetheless were offered champagne. Yes, please.
Around 5AM, most people had vacated the first floor in favor of the sleeping arrangements above but, because the staircase is not enclosed by walls and all floors from the first to third floor are left fairly open to it, a constant chain of music, giggles and half-whispered conversations could be heard.
Eventually around 1PM on New Year’s, some of us managed to make our way down to the first floor and start to clean up. Conveniently, most of the guys decided they had to smoke whilst the rest of us cleaned. Some did, however, try to redeem themselves when they came back in, so I did not have to wash and dry dishes by myself (other people swept, etc). Little by little, people left via train and eventually it was just six of us. We made a late lunch at 4PM, all of us either setting the table, chopping lettuce, cooking lardons or cutting bread. It was like a little family when we sat down to eat, complete with blue sky and sunshine. L.’s parents came home that night to a pristinely clean house needless to say.
One day – when L.’s parents were on vacation – we all went to the village of Minerve together, which included eating crepes and going hiking.
We went back to Toulouse nearly every other day afterwards to visit some of these same friends and, as they all have apartments or share one, we always had a place to stay over so that L. didn’t have to drive home.
We were able to walk most everywhere, sometimes taking the métro. I like Toulouse even more than Poitiers and made friends with some of L.’s friends as well . We got home last night after midnight, greeted by blustering winds that blew the rain sideways and the hoods on our coats backwards. Welcome back to Ireland! Class starts on Monday.