When presented with a whole week off University, I decided I was going to make the most of this opportunity and do a spot o’ travelling. When I realised that it was impossible to see the whole of France in one week, I settled for two cities at the top of my ‘To Visit’ list; Toulouse and Montpellier. The first I visited with a wonderful friend and the second I decided would be the perfect location for a bit of solo travel. It was a completely new venture and one that I was both eager and terrified to partake in, in equal mesure. But I thought to myself, ‘pourquoi pas?’ and did it anyway. Even though it was only for a few days, and not that far from where I am based, I feel like I am now an advocate for solo travel. And, bonus, I have two more ‘checked off’ cities under my belt.
But yes, first stop; Toulouse. Seeing as Pau is pretty iddy-biddy, the vastness of Toulouse was definitely my first impression. Being the fourth largest city in France, it was no surprise that we racked up 20,000 steps each day that we were there. But your legs don’t mind so much when your eyes are being treated to beautiful architecture. Toulouse is named ‘La Ville Rose’ because of the red-pink brick which forms the foundations of the city, and OH how aesthetically pleasing it is when the hues of all the buildings complement each other – the perfect backdrop for our fun and frolicking. We made sure to amble along La Garrone river, take snaps of Le Capitole, nosy in a few shops and earn our ‘cultured travellers’ brownie points by moseying in museums.
One of my favourite moments of the trip, though, was our stop off at St Sernin Basilica. We also visited Cathédrale Saint-Etienne, but the Basilica really was something special; a perfect contradiction of peacefulness and grandeur. There was an orchestra practising at the front of the church, the swell of their music filling up every crack and crevice of the Romanesque walls. And yet everything was so still. My friend, who has a very similar travelling mindset to me, turned to me and asked if we could just sit for a while and take it all in. I told her that she had read my mind, and so ‘take it all in’ we did.
We ate amazingly well too. I have two recommendations if you are ever visiting Toulouse. The first being ‘Perlette’ (Place de la Bourse). I believe it is actually a pâtisserie, and I can vouch that the cakes did look impressive, but we stopped there for lunch. I had ‘Clafoutis de Légumes’ which, in essence is a vegetably eggy flan type thing. I know, sounds delicious…But really, it was so light and flavourful that I savoured every bite, wishing it would never end. The second recommendation was a vegetarian buffet called ‘La Faim des Haricots’ (Rue du Puits Vert). Along with the Basilica, this was a definite highlight of our trip. It was an all you can eat buffet of Quiches, Salads, a Parmigiana type bake, Deserts, and enough Hummus and Baba Ganoush to fulfill all of my mezze dreams.
It was a fantastic few days, spent with a fantastic friend. But it had to come to an end, and Montpellier was calling my name. So, off I went. What you want to make sure of when you are travelling solo is that you arrive with a fully charged phone and the address of your Airbnb on a piece of paper in case your phone dies, and that you don’t get there on a Sunday night when, in France, most shops are closed. Yeah…I didn’t do that. Lost, scared, no battery, no food and no back up map was not the ideal start to my Montpellier adventure. But to cut a long story short, God provided. The lights of a little 24/7 corner shop where I could buy some provisions and ask the kind cashier to charge my phone was the answer to my freaked out prayers.
After that baptism of fire, I arrived at my AirBnb safe and sound and what a warm welcome it was. It had a lovely kitchen (ie one that is clean, not shared with thirty people, and has an OVEN!), a mezzanine where a plush double bed awaited me, a fancy bathroom and a view over the city. I felt like a proper grown up.
After I had got my bearings using google maps the first morning, I decided that my phone was going in my bag, only to be brought out for emergencies. I wanted to discover the city through ambling around without distractions. I was going to be a challenge for someone who can’t walk five minutes without headphones in, but it meant that all my senses were engaged and able to soak in the beauty of Montpellier. Every main road branched off onto narrow, shutter lined streets where little artistic details, like peddle bikes protruding from the walls, only added to the charm of the city.
I made sure to visit all the sights, like La Promenade du Peyrou, the Arc de Triomphe, Antigone, Musée Fabre and La Place de la Comédie. But I also filled my time with things that feed my soul. So I walked along lakes and through gardens, sat and read in coffee shops, browsed book shops and health food stores for hours, sat in the peace of Cathédrale Saint-Pierre, and then would come back and cook myself a meal, sit with a glass of wine and watch films. That’s my biggest tip when it comes to travelling alone; make time for the things that bring you joy. That way, you discover a city through your own unique set of lenses and it brings you comfort when you feel exposed and vulnerable in the big wide world.
Solo travelling was a really clarifying and enlightening experience. Being in a completely new environment, with only my thoughts for company, gave me the head space I had been needing. I could reflect on the past few months and look towards where I am going. I thought I would get bored but I was pleasantly surprised by my own company; I’m a hoot! But I think any longer without proper human contact and I would have gone a little stir crazy. I might have to gradually build up endurance if I ever want to do longer trips on my own. But all in all, I came away feeling so thankful; for my time in France, for the people in my life, and for my Jesus who has never left my side.
So yes, this little jaunt to Toulouse and Montpellier was definitely one of the highlights of my year abroad so far. An experience that I won’t be forgetting in a hurry. I realise this was a long post so congratulations if you read it to the end! My next bigger adventure is to Bordeaux in a week’s time with another fab friend, so that is to come.
But for now it’s cheerio, TTFN and à bientôt!