Hope you had a good week. We spent the first few days of the week relaxing at home, catching up on washing and doing some watercolour painting. It was very cold and on Wednesday night we had a nice sprinkling of snow!
On Friday we took on the motto of the American mail deliverers – neither rain, sleet or snow would stop us from getting to our destination – Toulouse: it was raining as we left just on sunrise, sleeting as the freeway took us to higher altitudes and, before long, snowing as we continued to climb and it quickly deteriorated into blizzard conditions. It had obviously been snowing for a while but the snow ploughs were only just making an appearance. The roads were very icy and after seeing someone on the other side sliding and spinning out of control, we slowed right down and made sure there was a good deal of distance between us and the car in front. Finally a snow plough pulled onto the road and it was much better following in its tracks. We decided to turn back at the first opportunity and were glad to see the plough taking the exit road that we were going to take. We followed it around and back onto the freeway thinking we were heading home but a few kilometres down the road, there was a sign indicating we were in fact still heading to Toulouse! Not sure what happened there. Then to our dismay the plough turned off leaving us to negotiate the ice-covered road. It was still snowing heavily and this would have been exciting, had the road not been so scary! And, there were cars and trucks passing us in the left lane, which had a heavy layer of snow – the trucks threw up so much ice and water, it swamped our car each time.
We stopped at an ‘Aire’ (a roadside stop with fuel, food, toilets etc) for a break and some lunch then braved the elements and decided to keep going. Some time later, we caught up to another snow plough (they travel at about 40km/hour, we were doing about 50) so again, the road wasn’t as bad. Still a bit icy, but not fully covered in snow. About 3 hours later, the road started dropping in altitude, the fog rolled in for a while, then finally, the weather and road cleared and things were pretty much back to normal. What should have been a 4 hour trip to Toulouse took 7 hours! It was raining when we got out of the car in Toulouse so after a short walk around and a hot drink, we headed to our hotel.
To our relief, on Saturday, the weather was fine! We drove south a bit to Foix where there’s an impressive château built (of course) on a hill in the middle of the town. Foix is at the foot of the Pyrenees. After wandering round there, we drove to the Grotte de Mas d’Avil which turned out to be a large tunnel through the hill with a river running through it. Quite amazing actually. From there we meandered our way back through some very pretty country. The only frustration was that, once again, we couldn’t find anything open for lunch (this may sound unbelievable for France but, believe us, it’s a challenge!) and it wasn’t til 3:30pm (after not being able to find a parking spot back in Toulouse) that we came across a McDonald’s just out of town and had to get something there.
We decided then to visit the Airbus A380 assembly plant at the Toulouse airport – well, finding that was another major challenge. You’d think something of national and international interest would be well sign-posted but, this is France so…no. We did eventually find it and were able to join a guided tour. The hour and a half tour was interesting enough but the guide talked a lot and it was all in French so we didn’t take in much. The main final assembly building for the Airbus A380 is an impressive 490m long, 250m wide and 50m high and they build three planes side by side using enormous computer driven lifts to move the airplane sections together. The various parts of the planes are made all over Europe in France, Germany, Spain and England and the various bits all end up in Toulouse where the planes are assembled before flying to Hamburg in Germany for interior fitout and painting to each airlines specifications.
We left Toulouse early on Sunday and drove to Gaillac where we stopped and walked around the town. Then it was on to Cordes – the old city is crammed on top of a hill and gives fantastic 360 degree views of the country below. From there we drove to Albi via Castelnau de Levis – the remains of a 13th century castle with a very tall tower. We enjoyed lovely countryside all the way, dotted with small villages, each with its own church steeple or chateau rising above the town. Albi is a very beautiful place, built along the Tarn River. It’s one of the many Bastide towns in this area – towns built on and within walls which offered stability and protection. Wandering around Albi was lovely and we went to the Toulouse-Lautrec gallery and into the cathedral. The weather was spectacular, cold, but sunny all day. Our hotel for the night used to be a flour mill and is right on the river – our room has a great view down the Tarn.
We’ll head home on Monday, via some other little villages which we’ve been told are must-sees. We’ll tell you about that next week. The rest of the week will be spent at home; another couple arrive on Friday to stay in the cottage. We have 15 days left at La Villatte!
Hope you like the photos of our travels this week
Chris & David