May 13, 2022 | LIFE | By Katherine Moynihan | Photo by Iris Guo
I studied abroad in Toulouse, France for a sociology class called Contemporary French Society during Block 7.
The second I walked out of baggage claim in the Toulouse airport, Professor Gail Murphy-Geiss greeted me with a welcoming “bonjour”along with my treasured metro pass, which I held onto religiously for the month.
After being in France for a block, I learned that I want to live somewhere where public transportation is popular.
Toulouse is the fourth-largest city in France, located in the southern region, near Spain. It boasts energetic university students, a multinational aerospace company, a gorgeous river, and lots and lots of bikes. People bike and walk through the streets on their way to work or to sit in a cafe for a chocolatine, the Toulousain word for chocolate croissant.
Typical of Europe, Toulouse has narrow streets for cars. However, the fastest way to get across the city is by metro. With a class scavenger hunt requiring us to take photos of famous Toulousain monuments, we simply had no choice but to learn it well. After the third day of riding, I felt like a local.
Trains are also the gold standard for leavingToulouse. On weekends, my classmates and I traveled by train all around southern France. We visited Cahors for a rainy randonee (aka a hike), Carcassonne to see an enchanting medieval fortress with awesome gelato, and Bordeaux, the world capital of wine. Getting to these places was a joy. The trains were high speed and affordable, offering a relaxing journey with rustic views.
These positive experiences made me reflect on my day-to-day transportation at home in the suburbs of New York. I love that I can walk and bike most places. I’m not happy when driving still feels unavoidable.
In Colorado Springs, reliance on cars makes transportation difficult.
I don’t own a car and I feel disadvantaged because of it. This city is so sprawling, and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface since I don’t drive.
On the last day my block abroad, I was stressed for time. I took an Uber to the airport. It was my first time sitting in a car in over a month. Seeing Toulouse through the car window was an odd feeling. I felt lonely. I was disconnected from the city I had been so plugged into. There was no robotic voice telling me to get off the train and no subtle coordination with strangers as to who had the right of way. I was on my own in a city full of life.
Let’s not forget that cars are still the number one transportation medium in France (yet sales are declining). Of course, there are many American cities that have fabulous public transportation. I guess I have never lived in one for a long period of time. Toulouse has made me realize that I love using public transportation every day, and I want to live somewhere where no-cars are the norm.
I kept my metro pass. It sits on the windowsill of my dorm room, soon to be packed up and put away. Who knows how long my personal connection with that little blue piece of plastic will last. For now, it takes me back to that childlike feeling of exploration. I am free to go where I like, and no one needs to know.