The Hôtel des Deux Mers was as silent as the tomb when I got up. I was clearly the only guest and it was still silent as I prepared to leave my malodorous green room at around nine.
I had paid my bill in advance so there was no reason to stick around. I went to the centre of Castelsarrasin, had breakfast at a bar located on the little square at the end of the rue de la Fraternité and at the beginning of the rue de l’Égalité. The sun was already strong and I wasted no time in polishing off my coffee and croissant.
By nine-fifteen I was back on the canal. In contrast to the sleepy and semi-deserted streets of the town, the canal side was buzzing with activity. Today’s destination was Toulouse, the end of the Canal de Garonne and the beginning of the Canal du Midi.
My first stop was at Montech to get a look at the famous pente d’eau – a sort of alternative to multiple lock gates. The locks are replaced by a slope up which a sort of bridge affair constructed on two large, bus-like vehicles pushes a moveable dam, behind which a bit of the canal sloshes about as the whole moves uphill along with the boats and barges that happen to need the service.
I had a quick look around Montech, at Notre-Dame-de-la-Visitation
and then I was back on the canal side to finish the remaining fifty or so kilometres to Toulouse. This bit of the canal is perhaps the most featureless so far. There are long, straight stretches that have little of interest to see. I simply steamed along as fast as I could. I was overtaken at one point by a bunch of locals who passed me like a TGV. I then encountered them five minutes later parked in a crowd on the cycle-track and completely blocking it. I yelled a warning as I approached, but they stood fast. I ended up swerving around them on the grass close to the edge of the canal. They shouted “excusez-nous!” but stayed put nonetheless.
I arrived in Toulouse at around three-thirty. The quality of the cycle-track deteriorated markedly as I approached the city and the last few kilometres were completed on gravel so rough that I began to fear for my tyres. But eventually I came to the end of the Canal de Garonne
and the beginning of the Canal du Midi
at the so-called Ponts-Jumeaux.
These bridges were built in 1775 and decorated in 1775 with a bas-relief in Carrera marble by François Lucas. The sculpture represents Occitania ordering Languedoc to accept the waters of the Garonne. In fact, there are three bridges here and three canals: the short Canal de la Brienne starts here as well.
I followed the Canal du Midi as far as the rue Bayard. There I located the Grand Hôtel d’Orléans.
A charming African girl showed me the bicycle garage and gave me the keys to my room. After a shower and a change of clothes, I was ready to do a bit of tourism around town.
I went down the rue Bayard into the old quarter of Toulouse, down the rue du Taur,
past Notre-Dame-du-Taur, the church supposedly erected at the exact spot where the body of Saint Saturnin detached itself from the bull that was dragging it down the steps of the capitol because of the saint’s refusal to perform a pagan sacrifice.
I then came to the Place du Capitole.
From there I made my way through the little back streets of the old town
to the river and the so-called Pont Neuf (actually the oldest bridge in the town, begun in 1541)
and the banks of the Garonne.
It was a warm late Saturday afternoon and the streets were choked with relaxing crowds. There was also an extraordinary number of drunks and derelicts squatting in ill-tempered knots on the pavements or weaving their uncertain way along the pavements, hand outstretched for a donation. The town struck me as a very human place in which to live, its warm red brick buildings and narrow bustling streets had a kind of soft, untidy comfort about them that was reassuring. I wandered around, occasionally dropping a coin or two into the hand of a beggar, had a beer at a street terrasse and then went off to buy my evening meal. The heat and the exertions of the day were taking their toll. I went up around the Basilica of Saint Sernin (namely, Saint Saturnin)
and back to the hotel with my bag of provisions for a meal and an early night. I left my fourth floor window open because of the heat and fell asleep to the sound of raucous laughter, shrieks of horror or delight, drunken singing, cries of rage or pain rising above the relentless noise of traffic. The district around the Grand Hôtel d’Orléans was not particularly salubrious and the fauna I had encountered earlier in the day became decidedly more vocal after dark.