I can't believe my good luck of Toulouse! I love this city. It sort of has a feel of a village now town size. But the people are really nice, the streets and buildings are all brick (which is why it's called the “pink city” even though from my American eye it's brick red...) and I had an amazing and lucky and kindness filled stay here.
I chose to go to Toulouse on my way back to Spain from Orange mostly because, in addition to hearing pretty good things about it, my fellow English teacher and friend James (whose from London, but is now living in Madrid, and whose mother is from France), has a bunch of cousins there and offered to put me in contact with them. Thusly, I arrived in Toulouse with already plans to be shown the city by James cousin Niko and his wife Stephanie Sunday evening, and by his cousin Jeremie on Monday. (Jeremie I the owner of a really great French restaurant, so I thought there would be a good chance for a nice meal. Little did I know...) However, I was on my own to find housing. So I turned to Couch surfing. I contacted many people, but everyone was too busy. They could host me, but were reluctant to do so since they wouldn't be good hosts. Still, I accepted the invitation of a German girl named Zeke who was studying abroad in Toulouse (Toulouse has a lot and a lot of students). She and her roommates (two other girls) host a lot, and seemed very much the laid back bohemian traveler type. She told me that she had couch surfers there currently, but they would be leaving the day I arrived.
When I got to her apartment, after a silly episode of getting stuck in the entry way of her building, I walked into her living room and found it full or people (9 people I think?) – eating a communal breakfast of breadsa and different spreads - jams, honey, nutella, etc. And was asked to join and if I wanted coffee. I sat between two Americans, the only two other Americans. They were the couch surfers that were supposed to leave later that day. The guy to the left of me was the only other person at the table who didn't speak French (which was the language of conversation, or course, as it should be since I was in France). His name is Pablo. He and his friend Nate are from the Bay Area of USA. What are they doing in Europe? Well, something that makes my adventure look tame – they are biking from the west coast of Portugal to Bejing, China. Yes. Biking. (on a map this distance looks about twice the size of coast to coast America). Nate already biked America coast to coast. According to them, it's a great, cheap way to travel – just bring some camping gear and you are ready for anything. And you can travel easily about 70 miles a day in about 6 hours of biking. Stop when you want, see lots of pretty countryside, visit the big cities along the way. (Yes I'm already thinking that I'd love to do a mini bike ride travel – for a week or two. I think that would be awesome. Now if I can just appropriate the proper equipment...) Zike, my CS host, is also a fascinating girl, at the age of 22 she has already done two years of traveling around the world. She's traveled a lot of Europe, some of the USA, a lot of Asia, and even some of the middle east. Her last travel was to Israel, with her mother, who had never really been out of the area> It was a birthday present. And she took her 45 year old mom traveling the same way she would be doing it herself – staying in hostels, staying with CS, sleeping sometimes in strange places, (she definitely mentioned sleeping on a roof at some point). She says her mom had a great time, and that they both really enjoyed and appreciated the trip. She'll be traveling this summer too, as cheaply as possible, probably in Eastern Europe. She's a student at university until May however. She's studying dance, and costume design for theater.
Zike and her roommates don't have a working refrigerator in their apartment, which has forced them to all pretty much be vegans, but they don't really mind. It fits their laid back, green conscious, life style. Their apartment was huge too – though full of unframed posters and dilapidated furniture you'd expect to find in any college apartment. Zike's roommates didn't speak a lot of English, but were also awesome in an alternative way. (and their rooms were full of artistic projects). One of their newest projects is to create a vegetable garden in the backyard of their apartment building. I helped them for a couple of hours. Communicating in broken English, and exchanging words in French, I helped Zike's roommates plant potatoes, create a fung shui correct herb garden, and even help saw and hammer some wood for a big compost crate they were building. They did all this as cheaply as possible, collecting old potatoes, wood, and seeds and seedlings from their friends who already had gardens. For tools they had a too big shovel, their hands, a coping saw, a tiny hammer, and a four prong pitch fork where one of the prongs was facing completely the wrong way. I was really impressed with their tenacity and resourcefulness.
There are so many people traveling and doing crazy and artistic things in this world! Not that taking your mom on a back packing, or building a garden out of nothing is particulatly crazy (biking from Portugal to China might be though). Still, it's inspiring.
I left Zike's apartment to meet Niko and Stephanie, the cousins of James – not really knowing what to expect. Four hours later, after a lovely evening of driving around and seeing the city (it was raining again. I had back luck in France with rain), then being invited to an amazing French dinner at a very cozy restaurant with great homemade soups, I returned to Zike's apartment. Five minutes later, I left Zike's apartment with my luggage because Niko and Stephanie had invited me to spend my nights with them instead. The I ended up staying wit h them for the next three nights.
Seriously I still cannot believe how nice Niko and Stephanie were to me. Anything I wanted , anything that would make me more comfortable, they wanted to give me. I didn't pay for any meals in my two days in Toulouse. “Nuestra casa es tu casa” they told me. - oh yes I didn't mention yet that Niko did not speak much English – he spoke better Spanish than English. And Stephanie didn't really speak Spanish, but spoke decent English (though not fluent). So while I was with them, yet again I was having conversations in a triage of languages. Niko and Steph in French, Steph and I in English, and Niko and I in Spanish – and translating between the three of us when one person didn't understand. As a thank you, I cooked them shoyu chicken for dinner one night (it's becoming my signature Hawaiian dish). It wasn't as good as the first time I made it in Montpellierthough . That could be because I added pineapple, and cooked chicken breasts. But it was still fun and appreciated.
Stephanie and Niko were such a beautiful couple too, one that you could really see the affection between. They have an adorable and happy two year old too, who would look at me funny at first because I didn't speak the right language. I normally don't like two year olds very much. I stayed away from the one at the french farm house kind of on purpose. But their daughter Alecia completely charmed me. They are a hard working family, but have a lot of love, and very open hearts. Such good people.
As if my story about Toulouse could be better – it does get better. As I mentioned before, my Monday in Toulouse, I had their cousin Jereme as a tour guide for the day. And I couldn't have asked for a better one. Not only is he a native of Toulouse, not only does he own a restaurant and took me out to a lunch I definitely couldn't have afforded on my own, and not only did he patiently wait for me to buy a water color-painting set at a store he took me to despite me being indecisive and taking a long time to do so – he ALSO borrowed a scooter from a friend of his, and I got to spend the day wandering around the city from the back of a scooter. I've since decided that by vespa/scooter is one of the best ways to see a foreign city (or by bike). This is because you get to see more, and see more of the town's life as you pass it all by at just the right pace.
I will always have fond memories of my time in Toulouse.