South of France Holiday

e6626ab2dc1a11e2914322000a1f984e_7

I am full of impressions and while it is all still fresh in my memory, I want to write about it ;)

We have spent a week in south of France: Toulouse (Ramonville) – Agde – Sete – Carcassonne – Toulouse. The link takes you to the Evernote shared file with all the planning and description of each point (what to see, do etc). It is not what we eventually did point by point but is a good basis for planning.

The journey was planned couple of months in advance, we considered taking Eurostar or flying in. After some discussions we chose to fly as the return cost of London-Paris Eurostar and Paris-Toulouse TGV was higher than London-Toulouse flights. Return Easyjet was £279 from Gatwick airport.

All accommodations were booked via airbnb, a fantastic invention, thanks a lot to its creators.

Original plan was to hire bikes and cycle along Canal du Midi. When we got there we didn’t stick to that idea and instead biked, walked and took trains. A lot of inspiration I got from Experience France by Bike blog and from RelaxRentals website.

Part 1 – home to Ramonville

c2beb1d2dbbc11e2bf4822000a1ddbe2_7 aea33732dc1a11e2b44322000a1f92df_7

Sunday we got up early to get a taxi, which was pre-booked, to London Bridge station. It is cheap but don’t use it! :( We were to take a Southern train to Gatwick (£35.60 return for 2 people) at 05.08 to arrive to the airport by 6.00, flight leaving at 07.40. The taxi driver misread GPS directions and took us to City, so we had to take Tower Bridge to return to the station and as a result we were late for our train. He did not charge us, and luckily the train got delayed as well so eventually it worked out well. I was a bit nervous but all is well that ends well.

0932dd60dc1b11e2be8622000a9f192b_7 4da25732dc1b11e28d1822000a1f8cf0_7

Having landed in Toulouse we followed the instructions sent by our first host, Anne. Bought a 5 euro ticket to la navette (shuttle bus) from Blagnac airport to the city of Toulouse, got off at Compans Caffarelli metro station, took line B to Ramonville, got on the bus for 1 stop Marnac and walked to Canal du Midi. For the first 2 nights we stayed at Anne’s boat. Sundays everything is shut in France – shops, banks, markets, some of the restaurants. We went out that night to Toulouse and had dinner – Bruce Willis burger for Ben (purely because of the name :D) and a steak. Thus began our French feast, one week long.

6a7401c6dc1b11e29a1f22000ae801dd_7 8a8ba824dc1b11e2a8af22000a9f133c_7

I have to make a small digression and say a few words about French food. Breakfasts are usually unhealthy – a croissant and a coffee. By lunchtime everyone gets hungry and eats a proper meal (no sandwiches). Lunch time is from 12 to 15. Around 15 getting a table is problematic as it is time for restaurant staff to have lunch. Then everything is dead from 15 to 19. You can’t get food anywhere except for boulangerie/patisserie which sell croissants, croque monsieur, caneles and simple sandwiches. At 19 everything reopens and offers big meals until 22.30. After that it takes some luck and a lot of French snobbism to be fed – an alternative is a kebab shop.

In terms of food French are as crazy about it as Malaysians, but in a completely opposite way – Malaysians love food so much that they are ready to eat and feed any time day and night while French take it very seriously and treat it as a cult that should be worshipped on a strict schedule.

Everything is compensated for by the quality of food served everywhere – it is almost an insult to serve bad food. Obviously croissants are to die for :) Petit dejeuner includes an orange juice, a hot drink, a croissant with butter and jam. This is the so-called sucre petit-dejeuner (sweet version). The salted one includes eggs fried with ham, a baguette and a hot drink.

4b6e605edcf811e2b2a722000aaa0952_7 d6f6d116e01c11e2969322000a1fc655_7

40fe6722e01d11e2963b22000a1f9c8c_7

Caneles are Bordeaux speciality and shop versions of it are not that great – it is just biscuit soaked in rum and vanilla. Beignets are doughnuts with apple-pear filling. Croque monsieur is a double toast with ham and sauce hollandaise with cheese on top.

Anyway, coming back to the boat, it was such a great stay – we stocked up on food at the local shop and stayed on a quiet pretty Canal.

e8fb5ca6dc1b11e2a49c22000a1fb00e_7 027adb20dc1c11e286e022000a9e1782_7 3f5ebe3adc1c11e2aa0322000a1fa408_7 5bb5c858dc1c11e2bf2722000a1fbc66_7 76811c5adc1c11e29d8c22000a1fbd8b_7 c915bb86dc2311e2b5f422000a1f9a34_7 6c601b8adc5911e2a93822000ae9025c_7 78e2ba7adc5911e2983d22000a9f199e_7

Toulouse and Ramonville especially are full of graffiti:

c4fd1f7cdc5911e2801622000aaa0aaf_7 d9fbb1eadc5911e2984222000ae801ef_7 c16fde6edcf711e29da122000a9e28e0_7 d9fefa3cdcf711e2ab5722000a1f9684_7 f183e6c2dcf711e2bd9722000ae80ebd_7 05c7f010dcf811e28b3822000a9f15fd_78d636bcadc5911e29dbe22000a1fb6d1_7

After we had dinner on our first night we went back to Ramonville and I didn’t like walking in the night along the canal. Especially the part where we had to go under the bridge, that looked well dodgy. But we got home ok and little did I know about adventures ahead of us that made this experience look like a summer picnic.

ef2a7894dc5911e2803822000ae90265_7 2cbcbf78dc5a11e2999e22000a1f8afc_7 9dd5ecdedc5a11e289a922000aeb0c69_7 1c17ec76dcb211e29b6422000aa80460_7 b00a4e1adcb211e2b3e122000a1f9a4f_7 015d1f18dcb311e2805c22000a9e0290_7 242cb21adcb311e28c8022000ae912e8_7 a7046d6cdcb411e299ae22000a1f9c95_7 7044a5b0dcf711e298dd22000a9f3c77_7 9b8063eadcf711e2b9d422000aa80579_7

Toulouse is called the Pink City because of the color of the bricks used in building it. We walked around Capitole, popped to shops, met lots of cute French kids,went to churches and saw cool things.

27966302dcf811e2956822000a1f9e79_7 606883ccdcf811e2a13a22000aaa05ca_7 7eab812cdcf811e2a67a22000a9f3cad_7 570920b0dcf911e2b88d22000a1fd1dd_7 8073bb2cdcf911e2bcee22000aaa0a82_7 ea341ae8dcf911e2979f22000a1f8ae3_7 fd7d5b1edcf911e29ae122000a1f9a03_7 1c1134f6dcfa11e28c1522000a1fb2b2_7 34472076dcfa11e28e6622000a9f0a1a_7 45afe9a0dcfb11e2866422000a1f9c90_7 77ec15badcfb11e282f822000a1fbd33_7

All of that made me hungry and the tartare was a great fuel top up. Personally I prefer when meat is chopped and not grinded but as it was well past 15, I couldn’t afford to be picky :) Ben went for a safer option of parma ham and melon.

95f079c0dcfb11e2bee422000a9f14ea_7 10628306dcfc11e2892d22000a1fb82c_7 6447f8b6dcfc11e2be1e22000aaa041f_7 bad7a758dcfc11e28bf022000a9f139a_7 ee74d82edcfc11e282fd22000a9d0df2_7 0bec1a16dcfd11e2bf4822000a1ddbe2_7 6b8184b6dcfd11e2b49e22000ae91347_7 a5ba5086dcfd11e28df322000a1f9367_7 f13c0f5edcfd11e29e3522000a9f18ab_7 93c648fedd7e11e2beb722000a9f3ce2_7

Part 2 – Mediterranean

2 days later we headed to the Mediterranean seaside. Originally we wanted to bike/walk to camping sites in Deyme and Avignonet-Lauragais but the weather wasn’t worth camping and seaside was a lot warmer so we decided to go there. TGV from Toulouse Matabiau station took us to Agde in less than 2 hours. The transport is a lot cheaper compared to UK ;)

81659046dd8a11e2ada222000a9f3cf6_7 a531eb50dd8a11e29e7122000aaa0fd8_7

5377d8fade2611e28d7822000a1fa48d_7 80c7397cde2611e28a6422000a9e08ee_7 17f2094ede2711e2b62322000a9f12da_7 59695422de2711e291b222000a1f98fa_7

Offices de tourisme in France are very helpful: they provided us with a catalogue of camping sites and hotels, and when we picked a couple, they called them up for us to make a reservation. We have decided to stay at Camping La Tama right on the sea shore on La Tamarissiere side. 3 nights in a tent without electricity cost us 59 euros. It took us an hour to walk there along a beautiful canal and when we got there, the view of the sea was so rewarding!

077f371addcf11e29d7a22000a1f9d9b_7 30ef3d2addcf11e2850d22000aaa095e_7 9b789ad8ddcf11e292a322000a1faaae_7 cdc4fd6addcf11e29a0222000ae91425_7

Having set up a tent, we went to get some food. As the canal doesn’t have a bridge over it, we took a boat to get to the other side. A return journey is 2 euros per person. Les Zoulous resto we ate at was very nice, friendly southern staff looked well after us and when Ben accidentally dropped some money, they gave it back to us.

51e8e026ddcf11e29b0e22000a9f12cb_7 79b74f8eddcf11e2913d22000a9e2892_7

I managed to get connected at the camping site due to that huge wifi tower.

117fffa6de2411e28ec622000aa8030b_7 4720b68cde2411e2ab6822000a1fb191_7 2f7792dede2511e2873022000a1fa909_7 51182624de2511e2aa2222000a1f974c_6

Second day we decided to take a day trip to one of the towns nearby. We hired bikes, went to Agde to get a train to Beziers and walked around Beziers. We discovered a Russian shop there and I stocked up on my favorite candy -)

5ff4a75edf3c11e2bcee22000aaa0a82_7 8350a194df3c11e2b20722000a1f97fa_7 b90e1208df3c11e2801622000aaa0aaf_7 fe0afd8adf3c11e2820f22000a1fbcef_7 1fa47868df3d11e28ff222000a1fb6c5_7 43a4595edf3d11e2a64f22000a1f968e_7 921d53e2df3d11e2a58122000a9d0ed5_7 aad7723cdf3d11e2900122000a1f932b_7 e7fa2c04df3d11e2b87b22000aaa07f6_7 0649309cdf3e11e2a67a22000a9f3cad_7 9d4c021cdf3e11e2bd6322000a1fa42a_7

I got Avene 50 sunscreen at a pharmacy and applied on my face. All 50 screens have got a higher concentration of minerals, e.g. talc, to increase the protection. As a result my face looked like a mask. I do not care about things like that but this time it was impossible as Ben refused to walk with me :D He said I scared people off! I laughed so hard.

71c4a922df3a11e2b18c22000ae906be_7 e69dd340df3a11e285a622000a1f9e5b_7

When we decided to go back, we took our bikes and headed to the station.

209c9f90df3b11e2996722000a9f18fe_7

Unfortunately (or luckily, I am still not sure) we missed our station and got out in Sete. I knew there was voie verte (a green route) between Agde and Sete, about 23 km. I suggested we bike it and Ben agreed. Oh boy… how shall I put this… Silly irresponsible kids, we set off without lights, without helmets and not knowing exactly where to go. It took us a while to find the veloroute. When we actually left Sete, it was already getting dark, around 22. We biked away 17 km easily along the seaside on a paved route. But then we had to join the motorway! That was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done and probably the most dangerous. When we finally got to Agde, we got the wrong side of the map which led us to Cap d’Agde. Having realised that I proposed to either stay at a hotel or call a cab. We have tried that and having failed, decided to bike till the end. We had a glass of water with a receptionist who showed us on the map where to go, and set off. By 3 am we were in the camp. It took us 5 hours all in all to do that and this is the highlight of the whole holiday in terms of impact it had on me.

The next day we chilled and did nothing. Lazy breakfast, marche, beach…

caba907cdf3111e2bfbf22000a9f1935_7 19ee4deadf3311e2bd9022000a1fa522_7 7267bf06df3311e28b9422000a1fbe38_7 b7d2045cdf3311e2b7e922000aaa0a96_7 3624e6dcdf3711e29c8b22000a9f18f4_7 bcb5b23adf3711e2bdce22000aaa0927_7 d22bd0b8df3711e2b87b22000aaa07f6_7 e2b7cf86df3711e2895222000aaa0568_7 28f1c0c4df3811e2969322000a1fc655_7 2bf769c0df3a11e2bf8022000a1fbe54_7 a71344eedf3a11e2963b22000a1f9c8c_7 2dc7de9adf3c11e2a13a22000aaa05ca_7

f25ef0d4df3e11e293af22000a9e05e8_7 23b4517edf3f11e286b422000a9d0dd8_7 569d2a70df3f11e2b61a22000ae80d92_7 7e9ea3f2df4211e2852e22000ae90903_7

Having got tired of restaurants and eating out, we went to a boucherie (butcher’s), stocked up on food and made bbq. We made some friends on the site – a cool German couple, shared a drink and went to kip quite late.

b1f97358df4211e281cb22000a1f9a0a_7 45bcf7bcdfb211e2875e22000a9e016c_7 6a51fb5edfb211e2a3eb22000a1fbdaa_7 82c1a0a4dfb211e2a9c822000a1d2020_7

Part 3 – Carcassonne

The next morning it was time to check out of the camping site and go to Carcassonne. Having enjoyed another petit dejeuner we walked to Agde station.

506e962ce01411e2996722000a9f18fe_7 a9f94f7ae01411e2a9ad22000a1fb3f4_7

Unfortunately SNCF had other plans and our train was 1 hour delayed. Ben even asked me to take a picture of the timetable where it said ‘retard’ against each train (retarder – to be late in French), one of the trains was 2.5 hours late! o_O

e10e085ce01411e280dd22000a9f3cd5_7

Having eventually got to Carcassonne, we headed the tourist information who called our hosts and they picked us up. The apartment we stayed in was impeccable – pretty, centrally located with a great view of Cite Medievale.

aabdde98e01511e283e622000a1fb86d_70886e194e0c211e2bf2722000a1fbc66_7 261b86a6e0c211e2868f22000a1f97ea_759074d02e0c211e2a9d522000a1fb17d_77f961f5ce0c211e2a8b922000a1f8ac2_7ddcdb6d2e01511e2a5b622000a9f1254_7ed05acb6e0c111e284d022000a1fd178_7

Shower, change and on to castle exploration!

fa274e60e01511e2af7e22000a1f8ae5_7 22dac90ee01611e29b7022000a1fbd93_7 9d24b6fce01611e2ae7222000aaa0519_7 0bde509ee01711e28e2d22000a1fbe71_7 dd6bc2f4e01711e2b79722000aeb11d7_7 11048092e01811e2a60b22000a9e06bc_7 31daa79ce01811e28ab422000aa80430_7 52e10508e01811e293ab22000a9f1919_7 63d84fa6e01811e2978e22000a1fb9d3_7 73c99500e01811e28db822000a1f9720_7 a069c288e01811e2ab4c22000a1faffd_7 7087a278e01911e283f522000a1f9016_7 7d3a00f0e01a11e2a1d122000ae911c2_7 899ca0bee01a11e29c2822000a1fbe4c_7 a9f02782e01a11e283fe22000a1faeaf_7 e0e8e788e01a11e2a49722000aaa05c4_7 5480258ee01c11e2a89422000aa802aa_7 b4b2a4c2e01c11e2876222000a9f0a1b_7 a9b7b7fae01d11e29bb822000a1f9abd_7 cb1df102e01d11e2a12822000a9f18f6_7 dba93b1ce01d11e2984322000a1fcb7e_7 4d07c18ee01e11e2b8e822000a1fbcc7_7

Great site, restored in 19th century by Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, it tells you the story of a fortress that was on the border between France and Spain. It was built so well (by a paranoid man, adds Ben) that eventually commerce pushed people settlement outside the fortress walls. We finished the day with takeaway pizza at home.

The next day we checked out and left the bags at the hotel, kindly provided by Robert, our host! :) Went on to explore the city, churches and local market. Came across pet shop.

8835d798e0c111e2a1c622000a1fbcae_7 09838308e0c311e29e7122000aaa0fd8_7 2f847742e0c311e2892d22000a1fb72b_7 532ff98ce0c311e297d322000aaa0a71_7 aa498558e0c311e29b3722000a1fa50e_7 e72d8370e0c311e293d622000ae803b5_7 f90ba824e0c311e2aa6722000a9f393e_7 835f20f0e0c411e2be4122000a1f9d51_7 7c22d146e0c511e2851922000a9e084f_7 a6c8d684e0c511e29edf22000ae916b0_7 c2a1807ce0c511e2be6b22000aa80214_7 ee10fdfae0c511e2899a22000a9f4dc8_7 30b5f156e0c611e297fd22000ae912c9_7 5c71e6b0e0c611e2a64f22000a1f968e_7 a1d09210e0c611e2bdf822000a1fa51c_7 b6c767dee0c611e294d322000a1f8c09_7 e5380006e0c611e29b7122000a1f9a64_7

We had lunch at Le Cathare, a gem resto with local speciality – cassoulet (a duck leg, a sausage, all baked with white beans). They were so kind that gave us a jug of wine for free.

0af68772e0c711e2b2f422000a9f1255_7 3114c2c0e0c711e2987422000a9e08f2_7 71aa9454e0c711e2919b22000a9f1988_7 b4c18e64e0c711e2ba0522000ae8030f_7 fa041c58e0c711e2af7822000a1fb04e_7 5773891ee0c811e2875622000a1faf68_7 770d5cdce0c811e293ab22000a9f1919_7 0a42fdb0e0e511e29a1922000a9d0dee_7 2c75c9c6e0e511e2bb2322000a1fb131_7

The plan was to take a train to Toulouse around 15 but SNCF has its own plans and the next train was in 2,5 hours. So we found a pub and sat there for a while. Met a great Irish lady there who served us lots of drinks and added crisps for free, accompanied with a nice chat :)

5f5f0eeee01111e2ac8a22000a9e2947_7

Part 4 – Toulouse to home

We got to Toulouse that night and checked in at the best place ever – a shared house with great hosts – Joran welcomed us to travellers haven and introduced us to Manou, his cat :*

c976a390e0e411e28ed022000a1fbc58_7 65e411fee0e511e28c8722000a1f90f9_7 c66dff4ee0e511e29ff222000aa8009c_7 f8d95d34e0e511e282c522000a1fa433_7 21cc778ae0e611e2b47822000a9e06e6_7 4e475456e0e611e2a84e22000a9e5ad6_7 6e5f2534e0e611e2895222000aaa0568_7 8a085f3ae0e611e2912322000a1f933e_7 a767994ce0e611e29ad222000a1f97a2_7

We went to see Le Trader’s Pub where drinks prices float like on a stock exchange :)

ce7a8f44e0fa11e2b9a022000a1fa535_7

The next day we said goodbye to Toulouse who was cleaning its pretty face from Saturday night party.

9d6b4542e15411e2ae8022000a1fc41a_7

Having arrived to London, the first thing we did was paying a visit to our local, Mayflower. We met a great lady from Cornwall there and chatted for several hours.

e33c08d8e18411e2b10722000a1f98d4_7

It was a great trip! :) Now it is time to go to bed as tomorrow a new week starts and it will be good to go back to work with that inspiration I got from France. We will be back… :)