Birthday bonanza

I recently posed the question as to what my beloved wanted to do to celebrate his birthday at the end of April. He discovered we could fly to Majorca for next to nothing, leaving plenty to splash on a five star hotel. But which one, there were so many? My beloved wisely left the choice to me.

As I was reviewing hotel candidates, I reflected on how we had spent my birthday. I had a “day out” in Toulouse. This wasn’t my choice. My beloved had a client meeting in Castres which we’d already explored on an earlier trip. We’d both previously visited Toulouse but those visits had merely whet our appetites to see more of the city. Thanks to the freezing cold weather my “day out” was more of a half- day thus most of Toulouse’s splendours still remain unexplored.

Now, as you know, I’m not big on birthday celebrations which is just as well because I’ve spent plenty of my special days either with my beloved’s salesteams or, alternatively, home alone while my beloved was living it up in the West Indies, Mexico or other such exotic spots.

I’ve noted that he’s pretty much always available to celebrate his birthday. Last year, for example, we spent five days in Paris for his while mine was celebrated at a favourite spot in Seefeld just before we returned from Austria.

In years past I’ve celebrated with a girlfriend – champagne and oysters – whose birthday is a few days before mine. However, she now lives in Paris and her other half makes her day into a really special occasion.

It’s not that I want a song and dance made of my birthday, more an equal sharing of the spoils. My beloved is exonerated from buying me a present. Gift giving is so not one of his competencies. I don’t think it’s unreasonable of me to expect him to plan a pleasant day out together.

I had tried to book one of Toulouse’s top restaurants but, even a couple of months in advance, an early January Tuesday lunchtime was fully-booked! I never leave booking restaurants to my beloved, he forgets all too easily and the time I spend reminding him can be more wisely spent on making the booking.

As soon as we arrived in Toulouse, I spotted a lovely brasserie in one of the main squares and my beloved secured the last available table for two – result – where we had an enjoyable lunch albeit the day after my birthday.

We had travelled down to Castres on my birthday but Monday evening is never a great time to eat out as, along with Sunday evening, most restaurants are closed. Still, we’d brunched the day before at one of our regular spots with my sister and brother-in-law, so I really don’t have anything to complain about, do l?

Postcard from Toulouse

Toulouse is typically a place we drive past on our way to the Basque country. I did visit it briefly in 2012 during the Tour de France but merely scratched the surface of this interesting city which immediately went on my bucket list for a return visit.

Seven years later, I’m partly fulfilling that wish with a few more hours looking around the centre of Toulouse, a rose-coloured gem, thanks to one of my beloved’s many business trips. However, it’s fair to say that it was more a case of what we didn’t see rather than what we did!

I always like to do a bit of research beforehand and discovered that Toulouse is one of France’s best preserved Renaissance cities. Pride towers dot the skyline. They were a sign of wealth when the merchants, known as the Capitouls, built their mansions in the city. Many are still private or have been converted to office spaces. Of course, if I see a door opening onto the courtyard of one of these impressive places, I’m honour bound to have a peek inside.

We had planned to spend the day in Toulouse and, although the sun shone, it was bitterly cold so we spent a goodly part of our time enjoying lunch! Once again we merely scratched the surface of this charming city. However, I did walk around an area in the centre that I hadn’t visited before, happily snapping away.

We started our perambulations in and around Place Saint Georges, formerly owned by the capitoulat of Saint-Etienne, a delightful square full of cafes and restaurants where everyone was wrapped up warmly and enjoying the sunshine. I understand the square has a bit of a grizzly past as it was previously used for executions. An impressive building, the Hôtel de Lafage, dominates the square and is illustrative of 18th century architecture in Toulouse. The hotel was built in 1745 on the site of some fire-ravaged houses for Count Henry Joseph of Lafage. Nowadays it’s apartments.

After lunch we wandered around the roads leading off the square but not any of the roads I’d previously visited. Of course, this means we’ll have to have a return trip to properly visit the town’s “treasures” specifically its impressive churches, in particular Cathedral Saint-Etienne, Basilica Saint-Sernin and Convent of the Jacobins. I’ve read that all of these played an important part of Toulouse’s tumultuous religious history.

I also missed out on Place du Capitole, the seat of the municipal government since the 12th century. While the sprawling neoclassical building with its eight columns representing the original eight Capitouls is impressive itself, it’s the interior 19th-century Salle des Illustres (Hall of the Illustrious) that is truly spectacular. In addition there’s a series of modern paintings adorning the ceiling of the arcade directly across the square from the town hall building.

Of course, if you say Toulouse most people think of aeronautics because the city has long been one of Europe’s most important centres for aeronautics and was the International City of Space in 2017. The massive La Cité de l’Espace has also called Toulouse home for the last 20 odd years and, as the name implies, it’s a small city of all things space including a full-scale 53m high replica of the Ariane 5 rocket launcher. There’s also a state-of-the-art planetarium which, along with Houston and Paris, is one of the world’s top planetariums – next time!

Another place I would have liked to visit is The Fondation Bemberg, housed in the 16th century Hôtel d’Assézat, which includes 30 paintings by the French artist Pierre Bonnard. So that’s another one for our next visit along with the Musée des Augustins with its impressive sculptural collection.