Buses stop running on many routes in Toulouse at 8:30 P.M. Which is right about the time we made it to the bus stop after an afternoon seeing the sights and dining early (for France). A bus that earlier would have taken us directly to our hotel did eventually come along, but the driver informed us that service was finished. Instead he wrote out directions for an alternate way back—one that required three transfers.
I thanked him profusely, we returned to the sidewalk, and I turned to Gaston: “We’re taking a cab.”
Fortunately, the taxi was only €15. Clearly, this isn’t Victoria.
Back at the hotel, our next task was to find a gas station and fill up our rental car’s tank. We had filled up in Mirepoix earlier, so had almost a full tank, but the rental agency isn’t interested in “almost” full.
“Do you want me to come along?” I asked.
Gaston: “If you want to, I would be delighted.”
Mimi: “I’m thinking that, as it’s dark out and we don’t know the area, it will be easier if there’s a set of eyes watching for gas stations and directions, and one set of eyes watching the road.”
So off we merrily went, remembering vaguely from two years earlier, that we’d filled the then-rental tank en route to the airport, and that the route to the airport is well indicated.
However, we failed to remember in time—vaguely or otherwise—that the gas station the two-years-previous hotel staff had directed us to back then was off to the right at the first traffic circle. We instead followed the signs to the airport.
I’m happy to report that route to the Toulouse–Blagnac airport is indeed very well signed.
I’m not so happy to report that there are no gas stations along the route to the airport.
We arrived at the Departures level, swung around the roundabout, and headed back the way we came.
And you know what, the route back to our hotel from the airport is not signed at all.
In desperation—because, after all, we had cleaned the car out earlier in the day and so had no maps on hand—we took one of the exits to Centre ville (city centre), and headed towards the bright lights in the distance. After just having been driven through centre ville by a taxi driver who knows the town intimately, we quickly realized that navigating downtown Toulouse is not an experience for the inexperienced or for strangers-to-town up the creek without a map, so to speak, and we’d better find another way that avoided the maze that we were heading into.
A sign for the Péripherique (the ring road freeway) flashed by. The road curved and we drove along the bank of a canal. After some consideration, while Gaston was getting tenser and tenser at the wheel and beginning to breathe more and more shallowly, I laid out my Navigator’s plan: “The hotel is near Exit 29 off the Péripherique. Turn around. We’ll get back on the Péripherique and we’ll follow it around until we get to Exit 29, even if we have to drive all the way around the city.”
Gaston kept driving. A left-hand turn over the canal loomed.
“But …(blah, blah).”
He slowed at the lights, and turned over the dark water, and headed up the road on the other bank. At the next set of lights, he made to turn left again.
“Stop! Where are you going? The Péripherique is up ahead.”
“But what if that is the road by the hotel?”
“It’s not. The hotel is nowhere near the canal du Midi.”
“How do you know this is the canal du Midi?!”
“The hotel is nowhere near any canal. Keep straight on.”
Onward we went. Signs for the Péripherique and another major throughway appeared. We followed the arrows.
And merged onto a freeway, with signs indicating exits and routes to Boulogne, to Gaillhac, to Montpellier, back to the airport, and to the Péripherique, and cars and trucks whizzing past us.
“Go there,” I said, pointing to the exit that was upon us.
Gaston signalled, swung the car into the middle lane, made it into the exit lane, but couldn’t get through the traffic into the next lane to make the next exit off the exit.
Wailing and gnashing of teeth. “This is going to be a very, very long night,” Gaston said.
Montpellier, here we come.
Not at all what we had in mind.
Stunned, we kept going. Signs to the airport flashed by.
Then, suddenly, a sign for Purpan l’Hôpital.
It looked familiar. It looked very familiar.
“This is it! We’re on the Péripherique!”
Another sign: to l’Hôpital. And Exit 29!
We made it back to the hotel, but had even more room in the gas tank to fill up. This time, as we drove towards the first traffic circle by the hotel, I instructed Gaston to take the exit to the right, and yes, sure enough, there was a 24-hour supermarket with gas station about half a kilometre on.
As we drove up to it, we both exclaimed: “Ah, yes, I remember this!”