Thursday, July 18, 2013

La ville en rose

Mes amis! I have so much to talk to you about! I know I have been sadly neglecting the blogosphere of late, due to having nothing interesting to say, but I should have quite a lot to get off my chest in the upcoming weeks.

Last Friday, we headed off on my very first Euro Roadtrip (can you believe it?) for a much-anticipated visit to our lovely friend Caro, who has been studying down in Toulouse for the last few months (and will soon head back to Tours, yay). In her absence, I managed to kill one of her plants and, I strongly suspect, knock the stuffing out of the other two, but in fairness, she was warned.

Due to the inconvenience of having a job and the selfishness of the French not moving Bastille Day to the Monday, it was a whirlwind trip. Six hours down in the car on Friday, leaving straight after I finished work at 4 (well, in theory - it was actually more like 4.45 before we properly hit the highway), and six hours back on Sunday. One mission: party hardy. Make that two missions: party hardy and eat cassoulet.

Philippa, Liz and I made a pact in the car down - Friday was going to be a quiet night, and above all, there were going to be *no shots*. We love Caro, but she is notorious trouble. Honest to god, I had grown out of the shots thing, but hang out with this girl for long enough and they mysteriously appear. The car was hot, the aircon was ineffectual, the weather was perfectly sunny and cloudless the whole drive down, and we finally rocked into Toulouse around 11 pm, planning for just a sneaky drink before resting up.

The next thing we know, Caro turns up at our hotel announcing that she had found a cute Kiwi bartender in the Irish pub across the road who was looking after her pint while she came and fetched us. It seemed a good idea to stay in the neighbourhood for our "quiet Friday drink", so we headed over, chatted with the bartender and caught up on each others' news.

A photo of Philippa and me and some randos in the background. (I'm kidding, but do check out the Vanilla Ice dude back left.)
Look look look! A kiwi! Called Sam, although I insisted on calling him Matt. Does that not look like a Matt to you?

Sure enough, a couple of quiet drinks in, suddenly a round of shots appeared at the table. Caro swears black and blue that she didn't order them, that the kiwi bartender just "sensed" we might like some. Shortly afterwards, we were up and dancing, but due to our late arrival it wasn't long before the bar closed.

However... for some reason, one of the other bartenders came up and asked us if we were keen for sticking around for a lock-in. This is where all thoughts of a quiet night started to go out the window. There was only us, about 4 bartenders, 3 girls and a couple of guys who stuck around for the lock-in. There's part of me that thinks, damn, why can't these things be happening in Tours? Over three years here, and no-one's asked us to a lock-in, whereas bam, first night in Toulouse and we're officially Friends of the Bar, even though this involved me (voluntarily) putting my arm around the world's sweatiest shirtless man.

So very sweaty. "Matt" the Kiwi bartender actually offered me a paper towel to mop the sweat off my arm.

Look sexy ladies

Sambucca, tequila and ??? shots followed one after another, and I somehow got involved in a pastis-off with one of the locals. For those unfamiliar, pastis is a not very pleasant aniseed-flavoured drink that's about 45% alcohol (although, as in this case, it's often mixed with water). Said local claimed that no-one who wasn't from the South of France could drink pastis without throwing up. I am nothing if not bullheaded, particularly after a series of shots, and loudly proclaimed that not only could I do so, but I'd also drink it in one go, faster than him. What can I say? I won. Of course I won. It's a fool who goes head to head with Gwan. What I should have done was left things there instead of, some time later, agreeing to a rematch (and paying for it this time). Oh Gwan, when will you learn? I won again, naturally, but it really wasn't the smartest move. Let's just say it's lucky the local wasn't around the following morning...

We left, basically, when we were kicked out. To the best of our calculations, we got back to the hotel across the street at around 6.30 (FYI, that meant I'd been up for 24 hours, worked a full day, had a 6 hour+ car trip and then partied all night) and managed to sleep until around 11 when it was time to get up and get ready to meet Caro for lunch at 2. I filled in the interval by taking about an hour-long bath, although by bath I mean I lay in the tub hosing myself down with the shower head, trying to get into the foetal position (not possible) and moaning like a mournful whale. 

After this shaky start, however, I managed to mount a Phoenix-like recovery thanks to some upbeat music, caffeine and a bit of lippy. Sad Face came out again when my lunchtime burger came out practically raw, but I sent it back and was soon soaking up the alcohol with some fatty goodness.

Then it was time for a bit of a wander around to see what Toulouse has to offer. It's called la ville rose (hence the blog title) due to the colour of many of its buildings, but I think it's more orangey than pink, really.

Not bad for 3 1/2 hours' sleep, if I do say so myself!

The Basilica of Saint Sernin, Europe's largest Romanesque church (supposedly)

Almost Native American-esque Romanesque bas relief. Esque.

The Garonne

We stopped at a café near the Garonne where I attempted a bit of a hair of the dog with a glass of rosé, but instead got served the world's most horrible, bitter rosé. Say what you will, Provence rosés aren't a patch on the Val de Loire (yep, them's fighting words). After a wee nap, it was back out for a late dinner, and I had only one thing on my mind: cassoulet.

Now, traditionally a dish made up of masses of beans, sausage and confit duck might not be your classic summertime meal, but it's one of my favourite things which I hardly ever get to eat, and I couldn't pass up the chance to have some in its South-West home. So I dragged everyone along with me for a meal that proved to be delicious but deadly.

Om nom nom, this is before I started dying

Looks kinda gross, but it's delish! Don't be fooled by the seeming small size of the dish, I swear to god this was some sort of never-ending Jesus cassoulet. The more you ate it, the more there was. I'm sure I'd already been eating it for about 20 minutes before taking this photo.

It didn't take too long before I was regretting the cassoulet goodness. Fragile, hungover stomach + 30+ heat +crowded club +huge bowl of beans and fat = unhappy Gwan. We went to a Latin American-themed bar where everyone just danced into me constantly and I sulked and clutched my stomach and fought back the urge to vomit. Then I actually did vomit, sad to say. We moved on to another bar where I was just about to call it quits and go home when the Spice Girls started up with Wannabe. Like magic, sulky Gwan and her stomach ache was gone, in the second magical resurrection of the day, and we danced the night away until a very respectable 3 in the morning, to a panoply of cheesy hits.

The only thing marring our enjoyment in this bar was the rudest bartender EVER. I'd started on vodka so I wanted to stick with that and I ordered something I normally get with gin instead - vodka, lime and tap water. Yes, I know it's not a classic cocktail, but seriously, it's three things. Three really cheap, easy things. The bartender had some kind of issue with it from the start, repeating it back to me in her most incredulous tones about three times. Yes, that's really what I want (NB her colleague had made me a perfectly fine version with zero fuss a little earlier on). As she was preparing all our drinks, Caro and I were joking that she hated me, thanks to her obvious death glares, but didn't think too much of it. The drink came, with the glass half full and very strongly limey. I took a sip and asked for more water. She put some ice in, and SLAM, down on the counter. "No, water". She put it for a second under one of the bar taps, then the other and SLAM on the counter again. She turned away as I sipped it. She'd clearly accidentally put some sparkling or soda water in, which I really don't like. I was just going to let it go though, but she turned back and asked "ça va?" and when I just shrugged she threw out her arms and goes "QUOI?"

So, of course I had to say something, and I asked if she'd put soda water in. Incredibly defensively, she goes "I did exactly what you asked, I made it right in front of you". I pointed out that the second time, she'd filled the glass from two different taps, and she goes "c'était de l'eau et de l'eau" (it was water and water) in a snarky tone (so why switch between the taps then?). So that was that, and I go "What's your problem?" and she did the biggest "Qui, moi?", as though she was being nothing but sunshine and light. Seriously, it wasn't just me, Caro was right there witnessing her being an utter bitch, and also tasted the drink and confirmed it definitely wasn't plain tap water. I think she'd have spit in it if I hadn't been watching what she was doing. Still no idea what got her back up so much. Someone should tell her that it's actually a bartender's job to mix drinks, and it wasn't even as though I asked for an exotic cocktail made out of stardust and unicorn wee.

Anyway, that didn't stop us enjoying the rest of the evening, and I got an almost respectable 5 hours' or so sleep before getting up again, wandering back into town for a last lunch with Caro, and hitting the road back to Tours. I've got to say, queasy stomach aside, I'm incredibly proud of our stamina (especially Liz who had to drive in, once again, crippling heat). Not bad for a bunch of 30-somethings! Back in Tours, I was tucked up in bed by about 9.30, and the closest I got to Bastille Day fireworks was being woken up by them...

I would normally crop out the ham-hock arm, but the whole point was showing off our glowstick accoutrements

Liz and I are blurry, but this is still a fun party shot and a great souvenir of an awesome Toulousain weekend!


  1. You my friend are hardcore!
    And you are officially invited to The LPV to drink Pastis :)

    1. Sweet! I'll be sipping it though :)

  2. Love the title of this post, super clever!

    A quiet evening turned into late night shots (mixing tons of booze!) and a "lock in". What is that exactly? Like staying after hours with the staff, I'm assuming? You are bad ass, Gwannel Sandiego! Damn!!!

    And I see "the dress" has resurfaced... ; )

    1. Thanks! Yes, sorry, I didn't realise you didn't say that in the US till I was talking to an American friend this weekend. Yep, as in they lock the doors and you pretend nobody's home so they don't get in trouble from the cops for serving booze after hours. Although I don't think we did a good job on the "pretend nobody's home" part, I seem to remember the music being cranked all night. Recollections a bit hazy there...

      It's summer time baby, the dress is back! :)

  3. I'm late to the party but I wanted to say that it's SO good to hear from you again! Just last week, I asked Ella if she had any news of you. Now I know that you've been enjoying life in "the dress". Way to go!

    And now the burning question ... what do you have to get off your chest in the next couple of weeks? Does it have anything to do with "the world's sweatiest shirtless man"?


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