Toulouse, France, located nearly 400 miles southwest of Paris, is known as the Ville Rose (the Pink City) as many of its buildings are made of reddish-pink bricks. On clear summer evenings when the sun descends, the city’s buildings blush. Though it’s an old city (the university here was founded in 1229 and the Romanesque Saint-Sernin Basilica was a stop for medieval pilgrims en route to Spain’s Santiago de Compostela), Toulouse is home to a bunch of high-tech industries, such as Airbus, and offers up a lot for those seeking to be artistically inspired.
The Museum of Natural History reopened in October after an extensive renovation and upgrade that made it hip and high-tech (think CSI-inspired interactive exhibits of a Mesolithic burial and apps to help navigate and translate the displays). The museum contains 2.5 million items and artfully guides visitors from the birth of the earth, through the dawn of man, to a thought-provoking exhibit that examines contemporary society’s effect on the environment. On my visit, the museum’s curator and paleontologist Doctor Francis Duranthon told me that he believes museums have an important role to play in society; Toulouse’s revamped natural history museum certainly does that, instilling in visitors, young and old, the notion of being conscious of one’s actions and how they’re connected to the fate of our earth. After your mind-nourishing visit, relax in the museum’s botanical garden. The museum’s cafeteria offers hearty, healthy fare at reasonable prices.
Next up, leap from the Stone Age to the space age at La Cité de l’espace, Toulouse’s space-themed adventure park. The park offers non-French speaking visitors headphones that translate all exhibits. It contains an IMAX theater, planetarium, a replica of the MIR Space Station (that visitors can ramble through), and interactive exhibits such as one that attempts to determine how flying saucers may work through levitation and magnetism.
After all this science, it’s time to be artistically inspired. For that, head across the Garonne River to the contemporary art museum les Abattoirs. The museum houses 3,500 pieces (painting, sculpture, installations; somber to quirky) created primarily by artists born after World War II. Picasso’s 1936 massive stage backdrop, “La Dépouille du Minotaure en costume d’Arlequin,” dominates les Abattoirs’ basement six months out of each year, due to the work’s fragility. The highlight of the museum for me was the mosaics on the grounds. Their playfulness and vibrant colors enchanted me and got me to linger outside in the 100-degree late-June heat. The art also inspired, helping me realize how much I love mosaics– all those tiny, multi-colored pieces, some jagged, others smooth, positioned this way and that, coming together to create a unique take on reality. I left les Abattoirs and France thinking I’d like to try my hand at making mosaics and have been researching how to begin since getting home.
Have you been inspired to pick up a new hobby, craft or art form after a trip? What was it and what place sparked your creativity?
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Photos: Meg Weaver