Friday, 25 March 2016

Dragons and a Japanese garden in Toulouse

It's almost exactly a year to the day since we last visited
Toulouse and I was glad that we got a fairly warm sunny day yesterday in contrast to the previous year's grey damp! We got the train from nearby Escalquens station. The journey is only about twenty minutes on comfortable seats at a grand total of €11.60 for return tickets for us both. There's free car parking at the station too, and a friendly cheerful man staffing the ticket office. Off peak return tickets would have been a euro each cheaper, but we would have been limited to early afternoon trains or those after seven pm. As our train in wasn't until half past ten, we chose the open return instead and actually caught the quarter past five. Six hours of walking around Toulouse was plenty and we were both pretty shattered by then!

There didn't seem to be the same wealth of public
69 Allees Jean Jaures, Toulouse 
sculpture and street art in Toulouse as I had appreciated in Spain, however we did discover the above pictured Antonio Saura fountain sculpture, created in 1987, and I liked this architecture at number 69, Allees Jean Jaures. (I haven't been able to find the artist responsible by Googling so if you recognise the work, please comment.)

The pedestrianised old town centre starts fairly close to Gare Matabiau and we spent a while taking in the sights and atmosphere. There's a good selection of independent shops and boutiques to browse and the streets didn't feel as enclosed as in many historic parts of towns. Perhaps this area doesn't retain as much of its medieval plan as is the case elsewhere. Escaping shopping opportunities for waterside tranquility, we walked along the Canal Du Midi until Dave was suddenly surprised to realise we were exactly retracing our cycle ride from last year along the Canals du Midi and de Brienne to the River Garonne.

Our dragon sighting was in the park Jardin Compans
Tholus by Tom Petrusson 
Caffarelli where this fabulous sculpture by Tom Petrusson is sited in the centre of a pool. It is entitled Tholus and was created in 1993 from pieces of scrap metal.

We sat in the sun outside a little kiosk cafe for an excellent hot chocolate before taking a stroll around the Japanese garden that we had seen marked on our town map. The Japanese garden only covers a small space in the Jardin Compans Caffarelli so it would be easy to miss if you didn't already know it was there. Part is neatly raked grey gravel studded with largish boulders, then a pathway leads around an open sided wooden building to a traditional space with green trees, huge koi carp in a pond, and a red painted bridge overhung by a blossoming cherry tree. The Japanese garden, and indeed the whole park, was quite busy so we didn't experience any Zen serenity, but it was beautiful to visit.

Japanese garden, Toulouse 
A cute detail in the Japanese garden was this miniature
natural artwork that someone had laid out on a flat tree stump by a path. It would have been easily overlooked but for the eyecatching trio of red berries.

In order to see more art, we spent a couple of afternoon hours at Toulouse's modern art gallery. It is located in the former slaughterhouse and is appropriately called Les Abbatoirs. Fortified by our favourite coffee-and-cake lunch at a cafe called Baker's Lounge (I had croque monsieur and flan nature, Dave went with Brioche Suisse and pain aux raisins), we almost completely failed to understand the main exhibition of work by Antoni Tapies. We saw one of his large works in Ceret's Modern Art Museum and I didn't 'get' that either. Seeing dozens of pieces collated from across his lifetime should perhaps have been easier to comprehend but wasn't! I was a little envious of a small school group who were being taken around by a enthusiastic guide. She sat them in front of several works, discussing and explaining, and the children were knowledgeably joining in. I understood some of the French language discussion - but still not the art!

Upstairs, Les Abbatoirs had rooms with work by other
Picasso stage curtain, Les Abbatoirs, Toulouse 
artists including items from the Daniel Cordier collection. Some of the were interesting to see, but I think Les Abbatoirs is the first modern and contemporary art museum I have visited where there wasn't a single work to really wow me. A possible exception was a huge eight by thirteen metre stage curtain painted by Picasso in 1936 and now housed in the basement. It is best viewed from half way up the stairs and the mythical figures tower over visitors standing at ground level. Interestingly, it looks 3D in my photograph here, but didn't in reality.

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