If at first you don’t succeed…sneak in on the second try.
Segue to…One of the things I truly enjoy about living in FR is its remembrance of its heritage. Throughout FR – indeed, throughout Europe – there is a weekend each fall devoted to heritage. In FR, it’s the third weekend in September and it’s called the Journees du Patrimoine.
During these weekends, sites that are normally closed to the public are made available. The places may be government buildings, churches, or even in private hands. In our 6+ years here, we’ve managed to hit the sites four or five times. Each time, we’ve managed to see something fun – things in Toulouse such as Palais Niel (the current home to a paratroop regiment), the Prefecture (formerly the palace of the bishops of Toulouse), and the dome of chapel at the Hopital de la Grave. Click here to see stories and photos from my entry last year: https://newmansofleguevin.wordpress.com/2011/09/24/journees-du-patrimoine-2011/.
This year there one thing I really wanted to see: the courtyard of the Hotel du Bernuy. Ever since Elyse the Wonderful Tour Guide led a tour on Toulouse towers in June, I had wanted to get a closer look at the courtyard and towers of this magnificent old mansion that now houses part of the Lycee Pierre Fermat. I looked at the program of events for the patrimoine weekend and didn’t see that the Bernuy would be open.
However…there were tours of Toulouse’s hotels particulier – private mansions – scheduled to start from the Bernuy. The tours would be at 10, 2 and 5 and the program said that reservations were mandatory. I called the number given and it went straight to voicemail, with the message saying the all the tours were booked.
But all I wanted to do was see the courtyard and towers. I didn’t want to go on a full tour. Elyse had already done a great job with that. So as the lovely missus and I headed into town, I told her my goal was just to arrive at the Bernuy and see if the doors were open. We would go in, take a peek, and then scoot.
We get to the Bernuy a few minutes before 10 and…there’s nobody there. No crowd. No guide. No open door. And no one answered the call when I pressed the buzzer. So we walked around the side and to the back. The only people out back were students – FR kids have classes on Saturday mornings. There was one older gentleman we noticed from the front who followed us to the back. He was a FR guy trying to find the same tour as us. “Nobody there,” he said to us in English.
Massively disappointed, we decided to see some of the other sites on the program. First stop, the newly renovated Eglise St. Jerome:
Then we headed to the rarely open Chapelle Notre Dame du Nazareth, which was nice enough, but we liked this sign on the door next to it better:
Then we headed to three churches where organ recitals were on the list. First, the organ at Eglise du Gesu, where there was a lesson going on:
Then it was off to the Temple du Salin, the home of Toulouse-area Protestants. This was the mind-blower experience of the day. Why? Because the organist here played the Simpsons theme. Can’t imagine that being allowed at one of the Catholic churches.
But not everything was church-related. A valuable lesson that Elyse has taught me is that if you’re walking in Toulouse and see an open door to a courtyard, then you should go in. Here’s what we saw at one such open door courtyard:
By now, it was lunchtime. We grabbed a bite to eat and then did a little shopping at the Nespresso store and the Oliviers and Co. store. It was about 1:45 when we finished so the lovely missus suggested we stop back at the Bernuy and see if the 2:00 tour was going on. When we got there, there was a sizable crowd waiting outside the doors.
A few moments later, a young woman showed up to open the doors. Would she let us in? Was there a secret password you needed? Were there names on a list?
Nothing. She opened the doors and everyone came in. I listened as best I could to her relatively softly spoken French and picked up maybe 2/3 of what she said. But the important thing is WE WERE IN.
Then, she led us to the inner courtyard and the towers:
The merchants who built these towers were doing so to show off their wealth. Having more than one tower or having a taller tower than anyone else showed that you were a man to be reckoned with. And you could use the flast top towers to have Sunday afternoon picnics and look down – literally – on the masses:
The young woman finished her schpiel, then led the group off to see other hotels particuliers. The lovely missus and I headed back to our own home.
Next year, we’ll go and visit some other towns during the patrimoine weekend. I think we’ve seen pretty much all of the places in Toulouse we’ve wanted to see.
To see more pix from the day, click here: https://skydrive.live.com/redir?resid=FCB2CF114ECC39C7!6059