14 Cool Things to do in Toulouse, France

Last Thursday, after a hectic morning in Paris, missing my original train to Toulouse due to getting robbed on the train from the suburbs I live in, I left the capital and embarked on what is my last solo travel as a twenty-something. I’ve written all about the incident on Not Quite French (yet) – my new blog on all things France. There’s also another post on Toulouse on that blog (with a lot of the same photos) in case you’d like to know more about the Pink City. Yes, the nickname of Toulouse is la ville rose!

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You might not know much about this city, if you’re not one of those people who go on road trips or train travel to wherever and prefer the medium-sized, underrated cities over the capitals and the hyped up places. Although most people who know a little French geography, know approximately where to place Toulouse on a map, and most people I know even seem to have a friend or a friend of a friend who have moved there. Still, I don’t actually know that many people who have been there themselves (with the exception of French people).

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Let’s change that. Let’s make Toulouse the next big thing. Let’s put Toulouse on everyone’s top 10 bucket list. Let’s live la vie en rose in la ville rose!

And here are the things you can do while you’re there, livin’ it up or takin’ it easy…

  1. Visit a variety of interesting museums. I’ve been told the space museum (Cite de l’espace) is pretty awesome – and I hope I’ll get to go there next time I’m in Toulouse!
  2. Stumble upon cool art! I was pleasantly surprised with the cool-factor of Toulouse, especially in terms of art. While wandering around, I discovered a lot of fun street art and while hanging out at the Place du Capitole, I noticed a bunch of paintings hanging from the ceiling. How cool is that?
  3. …And visit the art galleries. If modern and contemporary art is right up your alley, check out  Galerie Alain Daudet.
  4. Or visit photography exhibitions…in a water tower. Yes, that’s right. If you’d like to visit a cool photography expo while in Toulouse, you can do that at Château d’Eau (water tower)!
  5. Or an artsy, cool bar? Le Nasdrovia is an art-themed/Russia-themed vodka bar.
  6. Hey, manga is art too. Visit a manga cafe! BD Fugue offers hot drinks, cold drinks and a large range of comics from all over the world, including a lot of Japanese manga!
  7. Or a literature cafe. Read a book, enjoy the atmosphere and grab a cup of tea at l’estaminot.
  8. Try the local specialties! Unless you’re vegetarian/vegan, eat local specialties such as foie gras and the Toulousain dish Cassoulet (french stew with meat, sausauges and beans) or any dish with the Toulousain sausage! I recommend the restaurant le Dahu. If you are vegetarian or vegan, get your greens at La Faim des Haricots.
  9. Celebrating a very special occasion? Visit a 2-starred restaurant. It is known to be the best restaurant in Toulouse, and I am not surprised. The owner is Michel Sarran, one of the judges from French Top Chef. Everything he cooks looks absolutely amazing!
  10. Eat pastries. Because, when in France you stuff your face and get fat. Simple as that. Visit Au Poussin Bleu Père et Fils and try their tasty chocolate or macarons, or go to Maison Beauhaire at the Victor Hugo Market and try their delicious eclairs. I highly recommend the lemon meringue one!
  11. Drink coffee. Yes, France has caught onto the Coffeeshop trend! Me, being Scandinavian and all, I am used to drinking latte’s on a weekly basis ever since I was 12, and it’s good to know that most French cities can give me my caffeine-fix in other forms than as bitterness served in an espresso cup at a dark old brasserie. I recommend La Fiancée and The Flower’s Café.
  12. Chill in the park. Jardin des plantes is the perfect spot if you wanna hang out and read a book and relax, or have nice little picnic, or go for a run or meditate or whatever. Wanna take a nap? Sure. Paint? Go for it.
  13. Check out the bar-scene.  I already mentioned the artsy vodka bar. But there’s a lot of other cool places to go to for a drink or five in the city. n5 Wine Bar will serve you wine and tapas. La Maison will serve you some pretty good cocktails!
  14. Admire the magnificent architecture. The Capitole building and its square, the historical churches, the Pont Neuf, the beautiful old buildings in the Old Town. Ah, Toulouse. Quelle belle ville!

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Panama Series: Adventures in El Valle de Anton

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After finishing a large last breakfast at our hotel in Panama City, we packed our bags and went to pick up the rental car – a Toyota 4×4 – because on rocky terrain and steep hills, only a car that size will be able to make it in one piece. By all means, renting a fancy impractical car would have made an excellent “how everything went wrong” kind of story, kind of like the plot of a poorly rated comedy flick. However, we didn’t want that kind of adventure. Nor did we sign up for what happened in El Valle de Anton, which is a completely different story. I’ll get back to that later. Needless to say I am now laughing about it in hindsight – although it wasn’t funny at all when it happened…

The day started out well. We got in the car, got on the road and drove the 128 kilometers from Panama City to El Valle de Anton – a town I had done little to no research on in advance. All I knew was that we were going hiking, and that we’d be staying in Hostel Orchid, which according to their official description, is the first genuine backpacker’s hostel in El Valle de Anton. The hostel is also the location of a beautiful orchid conservation. I was looking forward to seeing all the gorgeous flowers!

Two hours later, we made it to El Valle de Anton and stopped by a supermarket before heading to the hostel. We loaded the car with water bottles, plantain chips, yuka chips, nacho chips, dip, more dip, another dip, fruit juice and rum. Because, that’s obviously how you do lunch before going hiking.

The hostel was kind of hard to find, but we found it. Turned out it wasn’t  the right season for orchids, so we saw in total three flowers. Three individual flowers. Two that were gorgeous, and one I didn’t like, because I think those kind of flowers look vulgar. My significant other shakes his head whenever I say that, and tell me I have a sick mind. Well, he knows which flowers not to get me for Valentine’s Day.

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As I was already starving, I finished a bag of plantain chips before we left the hostel to do the Chorro El Macho hike, which turned out to be a nice but very short hike. We admired an impressive waterfall, stopped to photograph it, scouted for birds and animals, saw absolutely no birds nor animals and crossed a scary rope bridge – which is probably not scary to anybody else but me (I guess), as I’m terrified of heights and anything that makes me feel like I’m gonna fall into my death.

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At the end of the hike there was a natural lagoon. I dipped my toes into the water. It felt good – too good. Now, why didn’t I put on a bikini before going hiking? No matter how illogical it seems to wear a bikini underneath hiking-clothes, I guess I’ll have to start making it a priority when in countries with warm climates (this situation occurred more than once during this trip).

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As the hike was way shorter than we’d expected, we figured we’d have time to do yet another hike and see more amazing waterfalls. We had previously read about Chorro Las Mozas and realized today was our lucky day. Two hikes in one day. Two birds with one stone, right?

We parked the car, prepared our backpacks, but something seemed a bit off. Only a few people were there, and the gate was closed. Was it really closed? Mother-in-law who speaks the least Spanish out of the four of us (none of us speak Spanish) got out of the car to ask someone who may or may not have worked there, if it was still okay for us to enter. They didn’t speak any English – except from the word CLOSED. And that was it.

“What do we do now? It’s only four O’clock” we all said, and desperately drove from one tourist attraction to another, searching for something – anything – to do. We discovered a butterfly farm called Butterfly Haven, which was unfortunately closed as well, so we scheduled it in for the following morning as a last activity in El Valle de Anton before moving on to the next destination.

It seemed like absolutely everything was closed and everyone in El Valle de Anton had taken the rest of the day off, so we returned to the hostel to hang out and drink rum and fruit juice and eat more chips before heading out to a local restaurant for dinner in the evening. And that’s when the unthinkable happened…

The lights went out. The power was out. We asked the staff at the hostel if there was anything they could do to fix it, and they looked at us as if we’d never been to a small town in Central America before (which at least two of us hadn’t). “This is a small town. The power cuts quite often here. It will only take a few minutes – one hour tops, and it will be back” the receptionist said. We waited. And waited. And waited even longer. Minutes became hours. We were starting to get hungry and got in the car, in search of a restaurant. Dumb as we were, it never even crossed our minds that none of the restaurants would have any power either. And they didn’t. The restaurants were all closed.

Disappointed and with growling bellies, we returned to the hostel and finished our chips and dip before going to bed at eight PM – because we were bored and miserable.

This night, we’d all be sharing a room. My boyfriend, his parents and I. The room had a large double bed and a bunk bed. As always, the kids go in the bunk bed – and since I am the least fat one out of me and my man, I had to take the top bunk. For some reason, the bunk bed was centered in the middle of the room and had no edges. You roll over, you fall out of bed and break your legs. Or even worse, your neck. I laid there, anxious, imagining myself becoming paralyzed while on vacation in Panama. Nope, I ain’t having it.

As the evening fell, it got more and more windy outside. The wind was howling and shaking the roof like crazy. The windows had no glass, just mosquito nets covering them, and the roof had a two centimeter gap, and the walls felt fragile. Oh, how they were fragile. But not as much as the roof. The wind distracted me from my newfound “bunk bed without edges”-phobia, and got my mind busy picturing the building getting ripped apart by a tornado instead. Nice.

Not everything went wrong, though. We remembered to pack flashlights, so we were still able to find the toilet, the bed and the way out. And the hostel was clean. Now, while staying at a hostel, that’s considered luxury (it’s my only clean hostel experience!). And I DO recommend this place, as the staff was helpful and friendly and I’m sure the garden is amazingly beautiful when the orchids are blooming. And the property itself is lovely. So please, check out Hostel Orchid – and wherever you decide to stay while visiting El Valle de Anton, pack your flashlight and an extra sandwich!

I have no idea what time I finally fell asleep, but it felt like I’d only slept for one hour when suddenly I woke up by the sound of my boyfriend talking loud to his father. He turned to me and asked me if I was awake. Well, I sure was now. “What time is it?”, I mumbled. My phone was dead. Apparently it was five thirty am. Excellent. What can one possibly do at  five thirty, besides sleeping?

By seven thirty, we were all showered, dressed, packed and ready to check out from the hostel and find somewhere to go for breakfast. The power was back, so this time there was no excuse for restaurants and cafes to be closed other than how early it was. Heaven’s Cafe was our lifesaver. By the time we got our food, we were so hungry I’m sure we’d all willingly eat the cafe’s plastic furniture if our breakfast hadn’t arrived in time. My grilled cheese, smoothie and cafe latte tasted…heavenly. Pun intended.

After our much needed breakfast, we were all pumped up with new energy and a clear head, and decided to check out the artisan and vegetable market before visiting Butterfly Haven. My boyfriend and I bought nothing, but his parents found some nice souvenirs to take home. Me, I’m not much of a souvenir collector. I hate dusting ornaments, and I move around too much.

Butterfly Haven was my highlight of our stay in El Valle de Anton. The guide, John, was very knowledgeable and eager to answer any questions asked about butterflies. Butterfly Haven’s mission is to nurture and protect butterflies and educate as many people as possible about them. We enjoyed photographing them and I even had the pleasure of having a butterfly land on my arm and stay there for five minutes. Obviously, I didn’t touch it, as their wings are extremely fragile and would most likely be damaged by it. Nor did I move my arm. I stayed in the exact same position until the butterfly decided to fly away. Five minutes. Plenty enough time to take some cute pictures of the little beauty!

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3 important things to remember when visiting El Valle de Anton:

  • The money you spend on visiting the Orchid Conservatory (at Hostel Orchid), Butterfly Haven and the different hiking trails, go towards maintenance and protection of the nature and environment – and people who work hard to conserve it.
  • In case the power cuts, bring a flashlight/headlamp, portable charger and something to eat (that requires no pre-cooking or a refrigerator)
  • Bring a light jacket or a sweater. It gets really windy and slightly chilly in the evening.

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Next stop on my Panama adventures is the beach town Pedasi!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How everything went wrong – and how to be okay with it (Trondheim, Norway)

When buying Christmas presents for my loved ones, I am always one step ahead of everyone I know. Ridiculous as I am, I start planning and preparing everything months in advance. This year was no exception. A trip to Trondheim, after spending the holidays with my family in Stavanger – now THAT sounded like a wonderful idea!

My partner loves snow and we don’t really get to see it that often as it rarely snows in Paris. So what better gift than a trip to somewhere where we’d be guaranteed snow? From what I’d heard, there’s always a lot of snow in Trondheim during the winter months. Excited about snow in this Norwegian winter wonderland, I googled my way to a website advertising for dog sledding tours in Bymarka forest in Trondheim. And while browsing through Instagram, I saw some beautiful photos of the northern lights seen from Trondheim. I booked a dog sledding tour and I started daydreaming about the Northern lights. I’m Norwegian (from the southwest) and I have never seen them. Ever. This was not just the perfect gift for my partner. This was the perfect gift from me to myself as well!

But as things turned out, Mother nature had other plans and decided to show me the middle finger and rain on my parade. Literally.

As we got off the airport shuttle, Trondheim greeted us with dark clouds and heavy rain. 4 pm and already pitch black outside, my partner stepped right into a puddle and cursed loudly in French. Earlier that week, I had received an e-mail from the dog sledding tour company, informing me that the tour was cancelled due to the weather forecast. Rain every day. Dark clouds, wind, rain. In other words, we would most likely not see the Northern lights either. So much for a perfect gift.

I was devastated. I had lost motivation to visit the city and I felt like I had let my partner down. But we managed to overcome the disappointment – after all, we were visiting a city that neither of us had been to before and both had wanted to visit for a long time. This charming city managed to cheer us up, despite the bad weather and canceled plans. And these were our highlights:

Nidarosdomen (Nidaros Cathedral). This famous cathedral is even more impressive than I had expected it to be. And it’s only a few blocks away from the hotel we stayed at(Comfort Hotel Park)! The cathedral is built over the burial site of Saint Olav, the king of Norway (11th century), who became the patron saint of the country. This medieval cathedral is the worldwide northernmost of its kind. If you’re planning to visit, bare in mind that it’s not permitted to take photos inside of the cathedral.

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Gamle Bybro (Old Town Bridge). While visiting my parents during the holidays, my stepfather mentioned this charming little bridge as a must-see while visiting Trondheim. The view of the river and the wharfs is gorgeous! The bridge crosses the Nidelva river, connecting the main street Kjøpmannsgata to the neighborhood called Bakklandet. The bridge was constructed in 1681 by Luxembourg-born soldier and military engineer Johan Caspar von Cicignon. Back then, the location was of military-strategic significance.

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Bakklandet neighborhood is famous for its charming wooden houses and narrow streets. It is impossible not to fall in love with this neighborhood, which is probably why it’s also one of the major tourist attractions in the city. My partner and I visited Dromedar Kaffebar in Bakklandet and enjoyed some local pastries and delicious coffee drinks while staying warm, away from the pouring rain.

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Speaking of coffee… for some real, high quality coffee, check out Jacobsen & Svart Kaffebrenneri. Owner’s quote from the website; “I chose to put my family name on each coffee bag, because it’s a commitment. A commitment to perform, perfect and be proud of what I do” and “It’s simple, no bullshit and a honest approach to Nordic coffee culture”. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it over and over again: Scandinavians love coffee and coffee shops. It’s a part of our identity.

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Tyholttårnet (Tyholt tower) has more to offer than just being a 124 meter radio tower. It’s also an observation deck, giving you the greatest view of Trondheim. Inside of the tower there’s a revolving restaurant, which makes one complete revolution per hour. If you think it’s a high end gourmet restaurant, you’re wrong. The restaurant, Egon, is a Norwegian restaurant chain offering anything from pizza to quesadillas to steak to well, quite a lot of options for a reasonable price. As unromantic as that may sound, the atmosphere in the restaurant is amazing and you shouldn’t miss out on it once you’re in Trondheim. My partner and I celebrated New Year’s Eve at this restaurant. For the occasion, they had a fixed three-course menu and the atmosphere was festive and indeed very romantic. Which is exactly what I wanted for New Year’s Eve. We watched the fireworks from the tower and kissed 2016 goodbye.

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Nedre Elvehavn. Once a mechanical workshop, now a vibrant hot spot full of restaurants and bars. To honor this former industrial site, some of the original buildings and artifacts have been kept, including a dry dock and a crane.

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Fosenkaia Gjestehavn (Fosenkaia Guest Harbor). Strolling along this harbor was lovely, especially since it didn’t rain most of the time while we were there. The harbor seems to be either a current or a former industrial site and is located right behind the central train station. My partner who’s an engineer and fascinated with anything industrial, asked me to take lots of pictures, so I did.

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Vår Frue (Our Lady Church). Located in Midtbyen (town center), this church is also worth a visit – and a place to volunteer if you’re interested! The oldest part of this church dates from the 12th century and was rebuilt after fires during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries and finally restored in 1739.

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Stiftsgården. This is the royal residence in Trondheim and is possibly the largest wooden building in Northern Europe. It has been used by royalty and their guests since 1800.

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Needless to say, even though things didn’t go according to plan, and even though the weather was rather depressing, we had an amazing time in Trondheim. Mother nature can rain on my parade as much as she likes. I’ll still get back on my feet and find an umbrella somewhere. The Northern lights and dog sledding tour remains on our bucket lists for now.

more photos below

Nidaros Cathedral

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Bakklandet

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Old Town Bridge and Wharfs

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Nedre Elvehavn

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Fosenkaia Guest Harbor

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Our Lady Church

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