BEING of pension age, I am free to spend a lot of time going walkabout.
So, bear with me for some details of Toulouse: Le Trek.
My introduction to Toulouse, France's fourth-largest city, was on the unusual side. I asked the hotel receptionist why a large group of people, many with dogs, had gathered across the road on the banks of the Canal du Midi. "Welcome to Toulouse," she said. "The city council gives you 15 euros a day to buy drink, there is free food, and you can meet two or three dirty girls."
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On the face of it, this sounded like quite a good offer. Except when the receptionist added the dirty girls were "infectious" but not in a cheerful way. It was no party, of course, but a soup kitchen for the homeless and hungry. My informant said that as a well as the daily stipend of 15 euros, the foreigners among the flotsam on the streets of Toulouse can turn up on a Tuesday outside the railway station and get 300 euros from the French government to go home. I asked. but the offer does not extend to Scottish tourists.
The dogs, she said, were a ruse to avoid arrest. The gendarmes will happily lock up the street people but do not want to be left looking after the dogs, canines having better human rights.
Closer examination of the soup kitchen revealed that it is not exactly La Vie de Reilly.
It was not just those who spent their cash on cheap wine and cans of super lager who availed themselves of the two-course meal but also old people and families with young children.
But you will not be visiting Toulouse to see les miserables round the railway station. It is a rich industrial city based on aerospace and pharmaceuticals. With endless upmarket shopping thoroughfares and streets full of enticing restaurants. It also has the Victor Hugo market. This may be named after the author of Les Misérables but it is the finest palace of food I have ever encountered. with an amazing array of fish, seafood, oysters, meats, fowl and charcuterie.
The market has an entire upper floor of restaurants where the produce is served up in meals to die for and to die from if you have the Café Gourmand which comes with five puddings.
It has a superfluity of cheese stalls and bread makers giving free samples which, accompanied by a glass of wine, may provide a sufficient lunch for a canny Scottish tourist.
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