Albi: Une Petite Ville en Rouge

Friday, December 02, 2016

Erasmus has really given me loads of perks and one of them is not having to attend classes five days a week, but lately I've just been very bored. How does one kill boredom when you've been to all the sites that the city has to offer? Travel. So I decided to do a spontaneous trip  to Albi on my own while everyone spent their usual tedious Friday.

Albi is a very small town located northeast from Toulouse. Almost every person I know in Erasmus has gone to Albi for a day trip so I thought I should go give it  a try. (Literally everyone, hence why I ended up going on my own.)To get there I opted to take the option of carpooling (through the help of the website Blablacar) rather than take the train because it was cheaper. At first, I was unsure whether or not to trust the site because: 
1. My french was very limited and 
2. I was going to ride some stranger's car and they might end up bringing me to an abandoned farm like they show in movies. 

To get rid of the paranoia in my head, I talked to my mates about their trips with Blablacar. They said they've met different kinds of people and they had no problems at all. One girl told me about her trip from Seville to Toulouse and she had to stay over at a hotel for a night with the other passengers (separate rooms obviously) because the journey took more than 12 hours. Nonetheless the driver was friendly and brought her to her destination without any complications. With that, I was convinced and  I booked my first carpool ride in a stranger's car.

My trip to Albi was in the morning and I booked my ride with a girl named Manon and another passenger named Ophelia. They both spoke very little English so for the duration of my trip I had to speak French. I was very shy because I  was worried to get my grammar wrong but I told myself to cease this opportunity to practice my French. As we neared our destination I was more confident and seemed to enjoy our conversations (Thank God I still remembered my French oral notes I learned for my Leaving cert because I used most of that for our conversations). They mostly asked where I was from and I told them about Ireland and Philippines. We also conversed about college and living away from home. Needless to say my journey to Albi was very comfortable as we had our chats along the autumn country side.

After the 90 minute car drive, I got off at cathedral known as Cathedral Basilica of St. Cecilia. It was located in the town centre and beside it was the Tourist Office. Unfortunately, the office was closed during lunch time so I had to wait for an hour for it to open to get my map. So I just wandered around the streets aimlessly. The town is quite small so it was easy to walk around without getting lost. While walking around cobblestone pavements, I noticed some of the buildings along the alleys were medieval houses. It reminded me of Disney's Beauty and the Beast intro when Belle goes off to the village and everyone starts opening their windows to sing about Belle and their provincial life  but of course without the singing part.

Cathedral Basilica of St. Cecilia and Church of St. Salvi


I went to 5 places and though that seems a lot of ground to cover for one afternoon; it wasn't really since they were all located near each other. The first place I went to was the cathedral as it was the first thing I saw when I got off the car. It was quite different to the usual Gothic cathedrals I've seen. The cathedral had tall, orange brick walls with slim narrow windows which were each separated by pillars giving a towering effect on the construction. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to go inside because there were three dodgy looking guys outside the entrance (Safety first). I went to another church which was called Church of St. Salvi. The monument was small that I didn't even notice it when I first passed by it. Inside, it was dimly lit as they exhibited some religiousv statues and art works. I also took this time to pray as I haven't been in a church for a good while now. I went out from different part of the church and  it brought me to a cloister. It was smaller and older compared to the Couvent de Jacobins in Toulouse but the garden in the middle was pretty.


Palais de le Berbie

I then went to Palais de le Berbie and this was the favourite place I visited. As I made my way to the garden, my eyes caught the beautiful sight of the red-orange roofed houses and autumn trees across the river bank that contrasted with the grey covered sky. It wasn't the most perfect day as raindrops did trickle down my face a few times but the view was Instagram worthy and it gives a diverse change to the usual sunny blue skies during most of my trips. I took this opportunity to whip out my gopro and take pictures but I struggled as it was my first time using it.  The garden was surrounded by a low rampart connecting itself to the back entrance of the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum which was overlooking an orange brick bridge connecting itself to the the other side of the town. Below the ramparts was a footpath that connected it to the park along the river.


Tolouse-Lautrec Museum


The next part I went to was the art museum of the 18th century French artist, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. I'm not the most passionate when it comes to paintings or to names of artists, in fact I had no idea who the artist was but he had an entire museum dedicated to his exhibits and his name did sound familiar to me so I went to admire some of his works. I paid €5 (Student price) which is a good deal.

At the start, I had no idea where to go so I just followed the old group of people that went ahead of me just to make it look like I wasn't as lost as I seemed to be. I started looking at the exhibits at the ground floor and most of them were portraits of aristocratic people of the past. They were very detailed but I found it quite boring to look at the portraits because they were literally just a pictures of the a person sitting on the chair staring at the painter; so I didn't stay long and moved on to the next room. 


I took my time more in the next room because they were mostly posters and I recognised some of them. The most distinct one I noticed was the one that said "Chat Noir" where there was a black cat sitting on a table with a red cloth over it with a yellow background. I realised he was the artist behind these iconic poster. He did a lot of artwork of this girl, called "Jane Avril" and she was one of the many posters and paintings I recognised as I dove deeper in to his art exhibit. Other works that were also, were featured the acclaimed cabaret of Paris, Moulin Rouge and one that titled "Amabassadeurs" which was a side portrait of a man wearing a black hat and a big red scarf (this was what made me remember that I've seen it from somewhere) around his neck. If would like too see our find out more information about Toulouse-Lautrec's life and artworks visit Artys.net 


Image source: Artsy.net

I tried taking pictures of and with the art but the guard told me not to because it wasn't allowed even though there were no signs around saying "Don't take pictures" (rant over). Although, it was quite amusing to recognise pieces of art that I thought was nothing of importance and have grown accustomed to in my mundane life but later on find out they were actually pieces that had contributed and cultivated the French history of art


(Remember I said his name sounded familiar but I couldn't remember where I heard of it? Well, while I was reaching the end of my exhibit tour, I passed by a gallery about Toulouse-Lautrec's life and I saw his pictures. He was a short man whose height was less than 5ft and wore glasses. From that, I remembered my favourite movie Moulin Rouge and the movie's own version of Toulouse-Lautrec who was also short and wore glasses but was more of an actor/writer than painter. Mystery solved!)



Pont Vieux d'Albi

The last place I visited was the Pont Vieux bridge where I was told I could get a stunning view and picture of the Palais de la Berbie and Cathedral from a lower ground. I could've gone on the normal route that everyone uses to get there but I opted to pass by alley ways and crannies just to further appreciate the town of Albi. It wasn't long to get there and the bridge wasn't bustling with cars passing through it. It was silent and very scenic when I was walking to the other end of the bridge. I was imagining what it would've been like if it was during the 18th century with horse carriages and farm vendors' carts heading to the market. Again I took pictures but again I had a hard time trying to connect my gopro to my phone so I could take selfies but it just wasn't cooperating for some reason. It was getting frustrating as my battery was being wasted so I said I should just forget about the pictures and just use my eyes as a camera. (Even though my eyes have failed me by not being the most high-def because I'm near-sighted but grâce à Deiu for lenses!)

For the remaining time I had left in Albi before I head home back to Toulouse, I went around the shops for some souvenirs. There were quite a lot around the town centre but I couldn't find one that sold cheap ones. Most fridge magnets cost €5 and they weren't even the nicest ones. I tried looking for a snow globe for my mom or any Christmas present I could give my family since December was drawing near. In the end, I ended up buying nothing but a golden Albi coin where decorated on it was the Basilica and the Midi-Pyrénées flag at back (another add to my coins-of-places-I-visited-in-France collection).


To get home I had to take another Blabla car from the Albi train Station, where me and my Blabla driver agreed to meet, which was only 10 minutes from the centre. To end my trip I bought my very first churros and it was the best €3 I spent. The warm, crunchy, sugar-coated churros dipped in to Nutella . . . yum . . . (I'm loosing concentration now from thinking about churros so I better wrap this up so I can attend to my new found craving for churros) Albi was such a lovely town. People were very helpful with directions and shop assistants were eager to help me. I would recommend this for a day trip with friends or just a short break from the college assignments and projects. It is an inexpensive trip that costed me just under €30 for the entire day including transport. Personally, the sites offered on a grey autumn day were just as beautiful as they would be a on sunny summer day. The town is constructed with multiple red-orange brick buildings and pavements covoured with harvest coloured leaves that make a crisp sound when you walk on them; honestly, one could easily think of this town as the "Petite Ville en Rouge" 



À bientôt, Dawn 

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