Biking in Toulouse

Street market in Toulouse, over the boulevard

I haven’t had time these days to blog anymore. Since leaving my previous employer, a former “prestigious” mobile game creation company I’ve searched for other jobs, mainly going through an French telecom business, where the frustration were so high, from day one, that I quickly sought new challenges (searching again) after the first week.

Anyway, while I can’t say names and I will try not to tie this blog to any employer, directly, I’ve found a good (and exciting) job at a contractor in the space business. For which travel was included. The two weeks I’m here in Toulouse should be enough to understand 2 projects formerly under development here and to bring them over for upgrade back in my mother country (Romania).

The 2 weeks here meant that I’ve had the chance of a weekend over here. While rough at first, since the chosen hotel (MetrHotel Basso Cambo) is really well placed near the metro, the bus station directly to work, a Lidl, McDonald’s and KFC near, it took me a few days to accommodate so I didn’t have the urge to visit the center (old town) of the city.

Since there are currently the 18th or 19th riot of the yellow jackets and having been advised by pretty much everyone to not go to the center of Toulouse on a Saturday, I had to skip that day off my schedule. Instead, I went early morning on the Sunday.

Since the Basso Cambo area is pretty much closed on Sundays (except for the Geant Casino) the only “urgent breakfast” solution was to visit the city center. So I did just that, aiming for Capitole, which from Google Maps, looked right near the old city. Since I’m a McDonalds fan boy, it wasn’t much until I found one, opened, at 9/10am near the Capitole (in comparison to the Basso Cambo one which opens at 11).

Having dealt with breakfast, I had to loose the McDonalds so I targeted to visit the area by foot. Long walk up the boulevards have shown me a diversity of colors and life-styles of all combinations that are in Toulouse. The architecture is similar but much more colorful than Montreal or Paris (cities of French inspiration also). The buildings don’t usually go above 4 stories. The temperature this time of year, 22 degrees maximum, which meant walking with just a shirt on was great.

Flower sellers on the streets

After about 2 hours of walking I returned to the Capitole, where the bike stations (velo.toulouse.fr) attracted my attention. For 1.2 euros, it was possible to get a 1-day pass to use any bike and to leave it at any station. Basically put a card, you’re given a secret and your pre-set PIN and it just works, you take the bike from the enclosure.

I haven’t biked in … I don’t know, 15 years. So imagine an 135/140kg person, doing a fine balancing act, forgetting to pedal to keep it straight. It took me about 5 minutes to remember to … bike. Anyway, it was an experience and a pleasant one.

There’s a difference in biking in Toulouse compared to, let’s say, Bucharest. While I’ve been grown in the mentality of Bucharest in that “bikes should not use the street lanes” and you’d be crazy to do that with the drivers in my mother country (which may ram you just because they’re in a hurry) I was very scared to go on the street, given that I had problems keeping in straight.

However, in Toulouse (and probably true for most western countries) there’s the bus lane which sits on the right of the street which is shared by bikers also. And in difference to Bucharest, where it doesn’t care if there’s an buss lane and cars drive everywhere, here, cares were respecting the proper lanes and the bus would avoid any biker, including a now newbie like me.

Given I wanted to reach les Jardin du Plantes, I took the bike there and back. The 20 minutes became 5 and it spawned in me the desire to bike again, if I can, whenever possible. It’s been an enjoyable trip, so much that I’ve spent about 1h writing this article, out of which 45 minutes were spent investigating hotels near the center so that next time I come here, I’m no more than 5/10 minutes walking from a bike station.

Back in my country, these stations have been implemented also, but they are rare. There are 270+ stations if I’m counting right (or at least that’s the biggest number I’ve see on the map) while there are, I don’t know, tens (10, 20 maybe) in all of Bucharest. But none with the technology so simple that I could order online, get the secret via email, use it at the station and bam, I got the bike for the whole day, any bike, any station.

Toulouse is big to experience by foot and still have time to enjoy it. Next time I’m making an effort to check-in at a hotel near the center and profit from the after-work hours to pedal, even if I have to use the metro to get from the Capitole to the Basso Cambo and then the bus.