A Pleasant Week in Toulouse, France; Also, Humanity Lost and Regained in Paris

A few years ago, I wrote up a mini-travelogue -- a compilation of incidents/anecdotes I found interesting, rather than "sights" -- of our trip to Japan. It turned out to be rather popular, so I then decided to write on our trip to Hangzhou and Ningbo in 2016, and then on another trip to Ningbo again in April 2018.

I wrote the previous mini-travelogues on Asia. I've been reluctant to write about Europe, which are more well-traveled by the readership I expect here. But Toulouse may be less familiar, and I hope this report will be of interest.

We were in Toulouse for useR! 2019, the annnual conference on the R computer language. Toulouse turned out to be a wonderful location. (In recent years, the venues have been Brisbane, Brussels, Stanford University and UCLA.)

Toulouse is a mid-size city in southwestern France, right next to the Pyrenees and the Spanish border. A very pretty place with friendly people. Weather was on the warm side, but not the extreme oppressive scorching Europe had suffered a week earlier. On some days, there was not a cloud to be seen in the sky.

The conference was held in the city convention center, right next to a beautiful park.

The conference participants found the park to be a great place to eat the box lunches provided by the conference. The park is rather sizeable, and includes a Japanese garden. Our hotel was on the west edge of the park and the conference on the east edge, making for a very pleasant beginning each day as I walked to the meeting.

The city center is very walkable, and a glance down any side street is liable to bring one striking views, such as:

And delights such as a metro station named after Joan of Arc:

The river

The Garrone River runs through the town, and we spent considerable time there, including at a small park and promenade next to the water.

This bridge has holes in the supports to help deal with floods. The city has whimsically placed a red figure sitting in one of the holes.

Intersecting the river is an ancient canal, with locks. We were told that one of Leonardo da Vinci's many inventions was a V-shaped lock, to better accommodate boats.


Not surprisingly, we ate well in Toulouse!

The Airbus factory and aerospace museum

Toulouse has a long history in the aerospace industry, and is the headquarters of Airbus. We toured the A380 factory and the museum.


The ancient walled city of Carcassone is a one-hour train ride from Toulouse. The city and the castle within are situated atop a steep hill, and the citadel was considered impregnable. A regular non-walled town is adjacent.

Bastille Day

We were fortunate to be in Toulouse on Bastille Day, France's national day. Due to fears of terrorism, Paris was full of soldiers carrying guns as Bastille Day approached when we were there (for another conference) two years ago. We saw some this year in Toulouse too, but only a few.

There were lots of celebrations along the river, including free public concerts starting Friday night (Bastille Day was on Sunday). Here is a short video clip from the Friday evening concert. The one on Sunday was rock, "featuring French artists," according to the desk clerk at our hotel.

Earlier, we had seen them constructing a Ferris wheel, apparently for the occasion. The seats were not in yet on Thursday, but it was ready and very pretty on Sunday, next to an old domed church.

Of course, the elegant Capitole de Toulouse was lit up:

And then, fireworks!

An "incident" in Paris, but then redemption

After Toulouse, we went to Paris for a few days. Unfortunately, my daughter and I were both victims of pickpockets there, in spite of considerable effort to avoid it. But...

After the incident, my daughter received an e-mail message from a man who said he had found her stolen cell phone "on a bench." Though he gave his name and phone number and apparently was an executive in a French company, we were naturally suspicious. Was he really this guy with the impressive LinkedIn page? Were we being lured into an untenable situation with crooks? Since we needed to file a police report the next morning anyway, we figured we'd ask their advice.

The police offered to escort us to the rendezvous with the claimed business executive. Two officers drove us in a police car in an "interesting" ride. Due to traffic congestion, they often had the siren on and the lights flashing, while they zipped around the traffic. The meeting place was such that we passed a number of famous Paris sights along the way -- the Louvre, Champs Elysee, Arc de Triomphe etc., and I couldn't help but imagine the whole thing as a scene in some movie.

Well, we reached the company, the man came downstairs to meet us in the lobby, and sure enough, there was my daughter's phone, credit cards and driver's license. The man was very nice, as well as modest, yet he had chosen to "get involved," picking up the phone from the bench and spending the effort to find us. And the police were super. The receptionist also there in the lobby said, "See, there ARE some nice people in Paris!"