Note that my trips are paid for by me, myself, and I, so the opinions are my own and I'm not being sponsored by anyone. Also, Toulouse is a university city (there are 27 universities in Toulouse) and many young people in Europe speak English. When I started to speak (bad) French, everyone switched to English. Therefore, there isn't too much of language barrier for English speakers in larger French cities.
This was my second time visiting Toulouse and Barcelona. A French friend, who lives in Qatar, invited me to come to her hometown of Toulouse while she was there visiting family. She had rented a large apartment on Airbnb in a suburb of Toulouse near the Balma Gramont metro station. Because I was with my friend and her teenage son, and I had been to Toulouse before, I didn't do much sightseeing during this trip. However, we did go to a local carnival, F45 (run by an awesome couple), and a cat cafe. We also went shopping. I prefer clothes shopping in France over Spain, but that's for another post.
When I was checking flights from Spain to Toulouse this past spring, I was shocked and horrified that tickets were €700. Usually, flights to France are around €100 or less. My friend wanted to sightsee in Barcelona, so she told me to take the train there and she'd pick me up. There are also buses from Barcelona to Toulouse, and Renfe, Spain's major train company, just started direct trains to France. My train ticket to Barcelona was only €26. This is the beauty of Europe; there are multiple options to get from one place to another. Flights had gone down considerably, so I was able to book a direct flight a few days before I was supposed to return to Spain for €150.
Barcelona is a nice city with many things to do and a hip, diverse vibe. However, las manos son rapidas en Barcelona (the hands are quick in Barcelona). Definitely, secure your things! Pickpocking is rampant. There's even a video of a guy's bag getting stolen in the background while another man is giving an interview about how great Barcelona is. Even as I got off the train at Barcelona station, I could tell that the station was way more sketchy than other stations that I've been to in Spain. Definitely be aware of your stuff and surroundings. I waited outside for my friend to pick me up with my suitcase and purse securely in front of me. When my friend arrived, we went straight to Parc Güell.
Parc Güell is the famous park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, which opened in 1926. It was designed by Antoni Gaudí. You need to get your tickets ahead of time. I saw many people being turned away, because all of the tickets for that day were sold out.
Me at Parc Güell
Cerbère and Collioure, France
Because Toulouse is a 4 hour drive from Barcelona, my friend booked an apartment in Cerbère, France, which is a coastal town near the border. Since we were going from one EU member state to another, there was no official border crossing and only a small sign noting that motorists are now in France. After staying the night and enjoying some time at the beach in Cerbère, we headed to a nearby town, Collioure, to have lunch before driving to Toulouse. I preferred Cerbère and Collioure over the French Riviera, because it's more local and the water is clearer. Also, there were no beggars and scam artists harassing people.
My recommendations for things to do:
- Chapristea Cat Cafe (surprisingly good food)
- Chapelle des Carmélites
- Piscine Alfred Nakache d'été (cool art deco public pool)
- Hotel D'Assezat
- Church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Daurade (houses the Black Virgin)
- Resistance Memorial and it's underground exhibition
- Resistance Museum (when I went last year, it had a interesting Josephine Baker exhibit)
- Space City
- Aeroscopia Aeronautical Museum
- Espace EDF
- Church of the Jacobins (final resting place of St. Thomas Aquinas' head)
- Le Capitole
- St. Sernin Basilica (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
- Japanese Garden
- Le Château d'Eau Gallery
- St. Jerome Church (was the hideout of pilots fleeing to Spain during Vichy French/Nazi regime, because of it's inconspicuous entrance)
Walking tours are a great way to learn about a city. I highly recommend the walking tour with Henry. He is so knowledgeable and passionate about Toulouse history and gave excellent restaurant recommendations. He had one of the best tours I've ever taken. Note that "free" tours are tip based. I usually tip between $10 and $20 (more if I'm the only one who showed up). I've seen people tip $50.
Replica of the space station Mir at Space City. Guests can go inside.
French Military Uniform like the one worn by Josephine Baker displayed at the Resistance Museum
My French friend suggested that I check out Carcassonne, which is one hour by train from Toulouse. The first walls were built by the Romans in the 3rd century AD, and most of the city was completed in the 14th century. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are apartments, a cathedral, restaurants, souvenir shops, and hotels (with a pool) inside the walls. I also did a tour called, "Carcassonne During WWII." It's definitely worth visiting!
The Carcassonne walled city is in the background