October 19, 2010

26| Back to Toulouse

Not  too far past Ambialet I saw a fork in the road and a sign warning of a tunnel ahead, urging travelers to take the fork to avoid the mile-long tunnel. This is the tunnel my hosts last night had warned me about, not a smaller one I had travelled through earlier today, imagining it the one that concerned them. Now my choices were clear: uphill in the rain with additional, undetermined mileage, or flat, shorter and perhaps dangerous. No question: I easily decided for flat, shorter and perhaps dangerous, ignoring the advice I was given. I put on my front lights, one on my helmet, the other on my the front of my handlebar bag (the blinking rear light has been on all day in the rain) and headed through. It was everything one expects from a tunnel … dark, damp, narrow, slightly downhill, then slightly uphill … and quite windy. Windy??? I didn’t expect that, but it was a cold wind, and strong, right in my face: where did that come from, when it was not windy outside? Later I was told that it comes from the pressure of the atmosphere against the hills, the air takes the path of least resistance, into the tunnel. Happily there was no traffic, (everyone else was at table, leisurely eating delicious French food, with the mother in their life) and I went through uneventfully, although my lights don’t provide much illumination. Soon there was a second tunnel, same routine, also a little over a mile long. But this time there was some traffic, both behind me and oncoming. This traffic was remarkably thoughtful and polite. The oncoming traffic slowed down when near me, and the car behind me remained way back, seemingly keeping any traffic behind him away from me also. Thank you, French drivers!
Eventually, after another hour or so I arrived in Albi. Naturally, it was still raining and still La Fête de la Mère. I didn’t have the mental energy left to investigate a new city, get oriented, find a hotel, clean up, find a restaurant. Where I really wanted to be was back in Toulouse. So I pedaled straight to the train station, and within an hour, at the cost of only 12 Euros, I was on a bike-friendly TER train to Toulouse. In another hour and a half I arrived, a day early, had my bike safely locked in a hotel parking garage, myself ensconced in a warm room, with a hot shower. Soon after that I was in a good inexpensive restaurant where I was not out of place among whatever happy families were there. Toulouse remained marvelous; I spent my extra day visiting museums I didn’t have time for 10 days ago, ogling delicacies in the food markets around Victor Hugo Market, and meeting a friend’s brother and sister-in-law (who live in Toulouse) for a delicious lunch at their home. It was a delightful interlude and I was grateful to get to meet them. Françoise had invited me to spend one last night with her, so I bought some celebratory items for supper and joined her. Those were two of the best meals I ate in France.
I wanted to stay in Toulouse for a week, before getting back on the bike ….. maybe towards the Pyrenees? But no, it was time to head back home for me.

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