My Life as a Traveler

Reverse Pilgrimage

For over a thousand years, people have left their small towns in the country and have traveled as pilgrims to the huge cathedrals. Reasons abound: atoning for sins, crusading against infidels, or maybe, just for the sheer adventure of being part of something so much bigger than they have ever imagined. Today, we are doing a reverse pilgrimage, starting at the cathedral and ending up in a small village.

It’s our last day in Toulouse, Anna’s feeling better, and we do a pre-pack before our sightseeing. George is in meetings til about 2pm, so we have a little time to see some sights in town. We start at the Basilica St. Sernin, constructed the 11th century as a stopping place for pilgrims on the way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The enormous cathedral is pretty empty now, so it’s hard to imagine the place teeming with the faithful, shuffling along shoulder to shoulder, stopping only to pay homage to the relics of the saints resting in the golden chests nestled in the crypt and chapels. We do the same, albeit with many fewer faithful.

Now it’s time for a little adventure. We walk across the river to Les Abattoirs, the modern art museum in Toulouse. Morgan and I have been there before and enjoyed some really fun and thought-inspiring installations and I thought it would be a nice antidote to the somber cathedral.  We all loved the life-size cabin with the rain coming from the ceiling (only on the inside), sort of an inside-out camping trip. But that’s about the only thing there that I can describe in this G-Rated blog. They have a bunch of new installations, and let’s just say that the French modern artists have no problem with nudity and envision the human body (all parts of it!) not only as a fine subject, but a fine canvas as well, and if they’re goal was to shock, well, they succeeded with us. I’m sure that Anna’s brain is probably warped for good now. (Sorry, Julie!)

Back outside, we sit in the sun on the banks of the Garonne, watching a group of children playing in the playground. The cleansing breeze of innocence wafts over us.

We grab a quick sandwich on the way back to the apartment, meet George there, and load up the van (yes, we are driving a van in Europe, it’s an Espace). We have three days of long car trips ahead of us on the way to Paris to visit Chenonceau and Le Mont Saint Michel. Not knowing exactly when George was going to get out of meetings, I looked at the map, figured out that we didn’t want to drive more than 5 hours, and found a little place about 4 hours north of Toulouse. It’s a nice drive through the countryside in air-conditioned comfort.

The town of Massay is about an hour south of the Loire valley, a one-street village in the center of acres and acres of farmland. There’s a post office, a 7/11-size supermarket, a boucherie (butcher), a little Tabac (bar that sells magazines, cigarettes, and lotto tickets), a patisserie (baker), one new restaurant (just opened last month – before you had to go to the next town), and the Massay Gites.

A Gite is sort of like a cottage-and-breakfast. The French government subsidizes the owners of formerly run-down farmhouses or barns, or any type of building in a small village or rural area, to renovate and improve these buildings for travelers. Most will have kitchens. They differ from your usual vacation rental in that the owners will bring breakfast in the morning and will help you with your sightseeing plans, showing you local-knowledge type of places.

Our home tonight is a converted farm building a couple of hundred years old. George and I sleep on the top floor and the kids sleep downstairs. We’re too late for tea, but the nice British couple who fun the place bring us some cold orange juice. There’s no a/c, but it cools down enough so that it’s not too hot. There’s a little kitchen with a fridge to keep our drinks cool. We walk down the deserted street to the only restaurant in town and we enjoy a quick and delicious dinner. Morgan has tete-du-veau (veal head). We walk back through the village, stopping at the church on the way home. It’s quiet, and although we have tons of DVDs to choose from, we fall asleep, having made a successful pilgrimage.

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