Finding Frugal Toulouse, Despite Two Holidays

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Musée des Augustins in Toulouse, France.Credit Seth Kugel

Some are unlucky in love, others in business. I am unlucky in calendars. Wherever I travel, local holidays materialize from thin air – shutting down attractions, slowing down public transport and sending the locals fleeing to country homes.

The latest unwanted holiday was in Toulouse. I planned a quick trip from Barcelona (three hours by train, six by bus), allotting 75 euros ($95.35 at $1.27 to the euro) to spend over 24 hours in France’s fourth-biggest city. Toulouse looks like a tourist haven – churches, museums, a tangle of medieval streets – but the hordes are actually more likely to be university students, probably a bit rowdier but otherwise more agreeable company.

I booked a “single room without window” in the Hotel des Ambassadeurs for 40 euros, via its Web site. That left 35 euros for a day in a relatively cheap city: entry to Les Abattoirs, the well-regarded modern art museum, is only 7 euros; Toulouse’s bike-sharing system costs 1.50 euros for 30 minutes (you are charged slightly more if you keep a single bike for more time, or you can switch bikes); and many of its nicer restaurants offer “plans du midi,” weekday lunch specials often for half the price of the dinner prix fixe. For dinner, I’d stock up on bread, local sausage and cheese at one of the city’s celebrated markets.

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The 1872 spiral staircase at the Hotel des Ambassadeurs.Credit Seth Kugel

Alas, the only full days I could spare were last Wednesday or Thursday — the same days the French were to celebrate V-E Day and the Feast of the Ascension. (Good days for Europe and Jesus, bad days for me.) Many attractions closed and plans du midi vanished, if the restaurants stayed open at all.

But by now I know the routine: briefly curse your luck, then regroup. Restructure with what’s left, be flexible — and see the bright side: although streets are emptier, residents who stick around are at leisure,…

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