Eric, probably telling us for the fiftieth time to stop being snails when we walk...Ne soyez pas les escargots!
After completing two long days of orientation, our young linguists ventured on a walking--or jogging, rather--tour of Toulouse. Eric took everyone through a quick journey back in time as he explained the city center's layout and its history. He explained first that the city is roughly 2,000 years old, founded sometime during the Roman Empire. Though no one can be absolutely certain of the exact date of its construction, as it was never written down, we've found some documents signed by Augustus indicating that we can use the Roman Empire as a rough estimate of its genesis.
Sam can't wait to go on this tour so he can just crush it navigating around the city with his mad orientation skills.
Eric started off by explaining that the city is split in two by a major river: La Garonne, which runs from the Atlantic Ocean in the North to the Pyrénées in the South. Historically, the city center was built on the Eastern side of the river for a couple of reasons. This side created some really convenient cliffs in the bank, making it an excellent spot for ports. The other side of the river was prone to flooding which made it not so great for building a city. Additionally, a little further out East was wetlands and further North was marshy, so Toulouse's city center is situated right in the sweet spot. This was all new information to me; Sam seemed to have an already pretty intuitive understanding of how river banks work, ancient city construction, and how the street signs work here in Toulouse...which makes me suspicious that he's not really a Toulousain pretending to be an American high school student studying in the city for the first time...
Just a few shots of Eric doin' his thang...
So, here's the low-down on how this city works...and you'll want to pay attention here because it's pretty stinkin' cool. There are two main streets that run North-South through the city center, parallel to the Garonne. One of them, the one that the CIEE Study Center is situated on, is the oldest road in the city. In fact, it's as old as the city itself. (Are you kidding me? I get to walk on a 2,000 year old street everyday to work??) Now, the street name changes as you walk further and further down it, but we'll call it Rue Pharaon for now since that's where the study center is. If you look on the map above, you'll see that this particular street is highlighted in red. This street is tiny and all cobble stone, though this doesn't stop cars and motorcycles from driving behind you and expecting you to get out of the way, you stupid pedestrian. The second main street is the yellow one and that's Rue Alsace-Lorraine. Now this street wasn't built until the 19th Century during the Industrial Revolution. It's larger and busier in the sense that it was meant to accommodate this new surge in motorized vehicles.
Caroline from North Carolina (sorry Caroline...I couldn't resist...) making her way downtown, walking fast, faces pass...
Keaton and Christine work together to find the next destination!
So here's the thing about the plaques de rues, or street signs, in Toulouse. See that sort of blurry oval-shaped yellow thing on the building that Eric's pointing to? That's one of the original street signs from when the city was first built. They're pretty useful too. It's by these ancient street signs that a person can navigate through the city.
The yellow plaques indicate that the street is running east-west and the white indicate that it's running north-south. Additionally, the house numbers increase as you head east and increase as you move west. This all makes for a fool-proof, history-infused, and all-around super cool way to navigate through the city.
The big reveal!
The group finds their way to Pont Neuf, or "New Bridge," along the Garonne.
Pont Neuf (New Bridge) is a 16th Century bridge running perpendicular to the Garonne. Pretty old now, but it was newer than the bridge they were replacing at the time.
Antonia learns from Eric the art of navigating European cities through churches.
Eric explains to Wendy, Ginny, and Antonia that in Toulouse, Street signs are written in French and Occitan.
Last stop: Place Capitole!
Stay tuned for more adventures in the city!