Down to the final three or four days here in Toulouse.

I’ve been staying in an apartment found via Airbnb. It’s in the center of the city so when you walk out the door – it’s full-on in-your-face – which is great.

It’s my first time using Airbnb. In each of the last three visits to Toulouse, I stayed with Jacques. I was welcome to return to Chez Jacques this time around but given the length of my stay – and the fact that I snore loudly – especially when on vacation – it seemed prudent to have my own space. Jacques works a regular 9-5 type job and my foghorn often went off just as he was in peak sleep mode.

Hotels in Toulouse are kinda pricey in the city center so I found a place on Airbnb that had received excellent reviews and was within my budget. I met the apartment’s primary resident at the agreed-upon time on the street in front of the address supplied to me by him – and the carefully laid-out process that Airbnb adheres to.

My biggest trepidation about Airbnb was the general notion of creating uneasiness among residents of a building who perhaps may be sensitive or are opposed to a temporary occupant. This revolving door effect runs contrary to the way apartment buildings – or any dwellings in a neighborhood are best inhabited by a community. In my building in New York City, I sometimes see people who stick out like a sore thumb with their big suitcases and unfamiliar faces. The “here one day, gone the next,” concept of living in a building just seems off.

And parallel somewhat to the arguments against Uber (which I refuse to use), does Airbnb undercut a long-planned system of rules/regs intended to maximize order and benefit to the residents of a community?

The impression I get in the case of the apartment I’m staying is that the host lives in it a good chunk of the year. The books – and trinkets – and photos – that adorn his walls are not up there for decoration. They match his personality and background best I can tell from the ten minutes we spent together. I believe he does the Airbnb to make extra money – and he must have at least the tacit blessing of his neighbors to allow strangers to enter the building. He told me he was staying with a friend for the duration of my time in his place.

The hardest part of staying here actually came in the first few nights when I was nervous about the four-step process of entering the building using a variety of keys, a swipe button and a code. The host provided written instructions on this which helped.
We’ve not had contact since the initial handover of the keys. He told me to drop them in his mailbox when I depart.

The bathroom is really small but there’s a pretty good kitchen setup and there’s one of those typical French washing machines which has been a great convenience.
I try to be really quiet all the time after hearing the story of a Swedish guy who we met at the bar two nights ago. This guy said he got a bad review for making noise late in an evening. Apparently a neighbor complained to the host – and the host relayed the info via the review that always follows an Airbnb stay. The Swedish guy said the bad review killed his ability to be accepted at apartments going forward. He had to start over and create a new account.

Tickets went on sale for next year’s Ryder Cup yesterday – and by some miracle – I scored one for day 1 of the competition. It’s one of my favorite events in sports and now I’ll be there about a year from now. It’ll be contested in Paris. During the ticket-buying process, one of the required responses was to a question about which team you’d cheer for. I selected the “neutral” option which is the honest answer for me given my love of the event without regard to country.

Tomorrow we visit the grape fields of a man who very well may be making the best red in the southwest of France.

Ok, picking up where I left off a couple days ago.

When I finalized plans for this trip – the fourth consecutive year in France during September – I knew I wanted to spend a significant chunk of the three or so weeks in Toulouse.

But I also wanted to add another French city I hadn’t been to before. Last year, it was Lille.

I was leaning toward a flight into Geneva with a quick train ride to Lyon – France’s third largest city. I’d also work in St.-Etienne which has a first division soccer club that had a home match during my contemplated time frame.

But then one of the women who I met here on my first trip to Toulouse helped launch a new restaurant in Nantes, which already was high on my hopeful list of cities to visit because of touts from others.

So, I ended up settling on Nantes so I could visit Elsa – and the great new restaurant/bar/small grocery La Grande Barge.

The Barge has been serving meals since mid-May of this year but celebrates its ceremonial grand opening today.

I couldn’t attend the grand opening but I had lunch there on Monday and Tuesday of this week.

On Monday, I had a pork and rice dish that incorporated Columbo, a blend of spices unique to France. The rice was plumpish, moist basmati and the pork was fatty and tender. Since Elsa is kinda famous for her desserts, I had the “pear crumble” which included flavors of chocolate and hazelnut.

Tuesday was my favorite. I sat outside under sunny skies and had the “bowl of the day,” which is often vegetarian at the Barge but not always. On this day, it was amazing for its simplicity and deliciousness. It was a slice of curried/roasted pumpkin (a product used often by Elsa) grown in Vendée on a bed of buckwheat and beans topped by salad and a perfectly timed poached egg (the bowl is pictured above).

The dessert was ridiculous. She calls it a “tarte au fromage blanc citronnée” which was basically a slice of unbelievable lemon cheesecake topped with a drizzle of salty buttery caramel.

La Grande Barge was packed both days I was there. There’s a core four who work there including Elsa in the kitchen. Jean-Baptiste works the tables. And Francois and Aurelie assure that it call comes together during the busy lunch rush. The restaurant is backed by a collective which I don’t fully understand other than there’s some 30 or so people with a hand in the direction and philosophy which is intensely focused on finding and using local producers. The Barge says almost all of their products come from within 62 miles of Nantes. A map on the wall to the right as you enter shows in detail where everything comes from and who produced it.

When I was there Tuesday, people were also walking away with sacks of local produce sold at the store. Interestingly, and I guess kinda French, the Grande Barge is closed on the weekends.