Monday, May 04, 2015

An emotional visit to Albi, a place that used to be home

Albi, looking UNESCO-picture-perfect

Albi was my first French home, and for years I carried around a heavy, lump-in-the-throat nostalgia about it.

We lived there for two years in the early 90s; our first daughter was born there; I easily imagined staying there indefinitely.

But professional changes led us to spend a few years in Touraine, and then return to the Midi-Pyrénées area: not to Albi (sniff -- no, sniffed), but to Aveyron -- as you all know.

Rodez is now less than an hour's drive from Albi, but when we arrived, the road was sinuous and slow, and we immediately figured out that with two small children, we weren't going to get back to Albi that often.

I was shocked, though, as I planned a day trip there last weekend with one of our exchange students, to find that I had not been back for exactly (to the day!) 7 years -- not counting, of course, driving past the town on the way to Toulouse.

Tourists come from far and near...and why wouldn't they?

A lot has happened there, even since 2008. The Episcopal City of Albi, including its cathedral, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010, giving it the same worldwide cultural standing as Chartres Cathedral or the Pont du Gard

Albi was a tourist attraction even when I lived there, but the swarms of visitors in early May, and the rather alarming number of tourist-trappy-looking restaurants sprung up around the cathedral, attest to a significant boost in the town's popularity.

The St. Salvy/Salvi Cloisters, May 2, 2008

My favorite place in Albi, and one where I could always find a moment of cool calm when I lived there, is The St Salvy Cloisters

I'm glad I got this photo 7 years ago, because this time around, the cloisters were overtaken by a boisterous and vociferous group of young (but adult) Spanish tourists using the secluded site to take multiple photos in a variety of oh-so-amusing poses. 

Their raucous photo shoot took over half an hour, so I gave up on any hope of cloister "zénitude," as the French would put it -- athough I did think that was what cloisters were for, even now. Call me old-fashioned.  

Blooms have replaced the dirt in the previous photo, so at least I can reflect from the comfort of my own computer

The day marked a turning point for me. 

Yes, Albi, you are drop-dead gorgeous, certainly, at least at first glance,  the most beautiful medium-sized city in the region. I will definitely be back before 7 more years go by -- although perhaps in February.

And yes, you deserve your UNESCO status, and I might add in passing that the powers that be did a fantastic job fixing you up. You wear your honor well.

But, finally, after many years of "what-ifs," you no longer feel anything like what used to be home.


Dorothy Borders said...

Beautiful pictures and descriptions. Makes me want to vist Albi.

Betty Carlson said...

Dorothy, it is absolutely worth the visit. It was just very interesting for me to see how much it is changed and wonder what it would be like to live there now.

Anonymous said...

I really like your little story; compliments for a non-native speaker! Thinking abourt it: of course I am a native speaker, but not an English one....

Sarah said...

We spent a motorbiking weekend in the area a couple of years ago and stayed in Albi. We really liked the town and had a good walk around the streets. I seem to remember we ate well too even though it was difficult to find somewhere with space as there was some sort of marathon going on and the place was packed.

Genie -- Paris and Beyond said...

What a rich description of your former home, and I have already marked it on my "map of places to go." Your comments ring true. Once you have know a place intimately, particularly the secret places as you surely did, it is hard to go back. Time changes the landscape and our perspectives.

You did have perfect weather for your return!


Betty Carlson said...

Sarah, Genie, thank you for your comments. Genie, I definitely recommend Albi, I think most first-time visitors would be amazed by it. Rodez is very nice too, but in a different way. (We don't have any tourist-oriented restaurants yet, although that may be on its way!)

Thien Lan Weber said...

Awesome pictures indeed. Love Albi
#All About France

Katie Zeller said...

We spent some time in Albi when we lived in Andorra - pretty town. Which reminds me.... one of our friends from Andorra spends the summers in Rodez. Small world.

Betty Carlson said...

Interesting Katie. Does s/he stay right in Rodez, or in the surrounding areas?