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Long weekend in Toulouse

Friday the 21st of April
Today started out pretty stressfully. I had set an alarm for 7 o'clock and had planned to take the bus to the train station at 7:30 - my train left at 8:20 and that was the only bus that got there on time. I woke up at 7, but fell asleep again at like 7:05 - this happens quite often. I ended up waking up at around 7:40, so the bus was long gone and I was basically out of luck: both of my host parents were in Saint-Martin-de-Crau, as was Norah. But Rémi had stayed back! Thank god for Rémi - I frantically knocked on his door and asked him if he could drive me to the train station and he woke up and was ready 5 minutes later. And the best host brother of the year award goes to...

I took the TGV to Toulouse (4 hours) and once I got there I immediately went to the grocery store, because I was starving - I had only brought carrots and humus with me on the train and hadn't had time for breakfast that morning. I ate my sandwich and apple near the "Capitole" in a really pretty park. There were a lot of people in Toulouse just wandering around, it might have just been where I was which was right on a huge shopping boulevard. After my small lunch break, I walked around a little bit - I had planned to see some sights, but my backpack was super heavy due to my computer, and my back was really hurting.

I decided to stay in the same area, and even went into a few stores and tried on some shirts and dresses - I didn't find anything I liked. Fashion is really weird at the moment - those shoulder-free shirts with the "half-sleeves" are just so impractical and make moving your arms like impossible. And the loose blue & white striped shirts with the weird flap in the front look 100 years old. I walked around a little more and was feeling a bit peckish, and I was going to get a cupcake at the only cupcake store in Toulouse, but then I was like, cupcakes are American and you're in France, so I got a French pastry: the Paris-Brest. It was seriously good.

By this time it was around 5 and I had nothing much to do, so I took the metro to the last station to meet up with Valérie - a family friend with whom I would be staying until Sunday! She picked me up after work and we drove home together. Her husband was home when we got there and we all went outside and had a drink together - the weather was really nice. We then had dinner together and talked some more, we had a lot of catching up to do, and watched some French TV together which was mostly about the terrorist attack on the Champs-Élysées. This led to the election coming up and they told me that they would be voting on Sunday, and invited me to come with them to see how it works!

Saturday the 22nd of April
Their daughter, Elvire, came home this weekend to vote, and she arrived this morning at like 6am from Paris (she took an overnight train). We all went to the market together in a small town not that far from where they live, and also where Valérie's mom lives. We got a lot of fresh produce, cheese and a whole chicken (it's neck and head was still attached and was flopping around when the butcher packed it up - I almost started crying). I got to pull the rolling grocery cart though - I felt very French.

After the market, we walked across the street to her mom's apartment building. We picked her up and then we all drove home together to make lunch. We had a fantastic lunch together outside - the weather was great and we used some of the fresh produce that we had gotten earlier to make the meal. After that, we all took a long siesta - the sun was shining, so we went outside and laid on pool chairs.

I didn't really have anything to do, so after a bit, I decided to bake something with Valérie. She has a Kitchenaid (!!!!!!!!!) and it was so easy to make this lemon cake! The butter was light and airy after like 2 minutes and adding the sugar and eggs was so much fun! I know this seems like such a weird thing to be obsessed with, but owning a Kitchenaid makes baking so much easier and takes your desserts to the next level, for example when you make meringue or buttercream.

The cake turned out really well and I was super excited to take a picture of it for Instagram, because the natural light was amazing and having the pool dazzle in the background made it look very vacation-y. I took like 60 pictures before deciding on the right one - I also installed a new editing app on my phone specifically for food, and it has a lot of great filters for different situations. Check out my Instagram here.

We all ate a slice of cake together and played a card game that I hadn't heard of before. It was really fun, and I was doing very well, but I got the least amount of points which I still don't understand. We had a pretty laid back afternoon/evening, but Valérie and I did end up making a brioche together! I rarely ever make breads, but this turned out really well and we had it for breakfast the next day.

Sunday the 23rd of April
Last day in Mons :( Election day in France! I got up a little late, so Valérie and Sylvain had already voted, so I went with Elvire later in the day. I didn't do much that morning, so let's talk about how the election works in France and how they vote.

Every 5 years, there is a new president. There were 11 candidates this year, but 4 more important ones: Le Pen, Macron, Fillon and Mélenchon. To win right off the bat, you have to have over 50% of the votes, which is basically impossible on the first round. So after the first round, the top 2 candidates advance into the second round. This year it is Le Pen (extreme right, has been compared to Hitler, want to exit the EU) and Macron (centrist, got largest share of votes, wants to stay in the EU) which is to be held on May 7th.

The voting system in France is pretty simple - you vote directly for who you want, and that vote is counted (*cough* *cough*). It was very interesting to go to the voting booths and see how they do it here. So basically, there are slips of paper with the candidate's names on them, and you take how many you want into the booth with you (you can take all of them, or just 2 or 3) and then you put who you're voting for in the envelope and throw the rest of them away.

After voting, we went to her grandma's house to cook lunch with her cousins - no parents allowed. We got there on time, and her cousins got there like 45 minutes too late, but they were super nice (they were 21 and 16) and we had an interesting conversation about languages. I seem to have a lot of conversations about languages when I meet people here. Anyway, we baked a huge hunk of meat that was pretty gnarly (not in a gross way, but just not what I usually choose to eat) and a mixture of veggies that I feasted on.

We walked around the flower market across the street and then took the grandma to go vote, but Valérie and Sylvain came to pick me up, because my train was scheduled to leave in about an hour. They drove me to Toulouse and we got to the train station 30 minutes too early, but it was fine, because I used that time to walk to a store to get some fruit for the train ride. My train ended up being 45 minutes too late. This was really infuriating at the time, because it caused me to miss my second train from Arles to Saint Martin, which forced me to ask Aline's brother to pick me up in Arles (Aline was in Vienne for the weekend). On the drive home, we found out who had advanced to the second round of the election (at 8pm).


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