After a late night finding our apartment, we awoke to an ancient French village bathed in the golden sunlight of a brilliant sunrise. Bars of light broke through our window and bits and pieces of chatter leaked in from the street. Once again, our Airbnb was in a stunning place, along a side street that parallels the city square. Albi, France dates back to the early 13th Century and is dominated by a gothic structure in its center called Sainte-Cécile Cathedral. Now, my wife and I stood in the city center, staring up at the massive red-brick structure.
Sainte-Cécile Cathedral has such an imposing appearance on the outside, still ready to take on the Cathars who might want to start another uprising. The wonder of structure is mind boggling to the time period. With stark contrast to its outside, military facade, the inside of the church is soft and welcoming with giant frescoes and carved rock that is washed over in blended color of light from tall stained glass windows.
We spent a few hours touring the church and its grounds. Leaving the church, we followed a stone path to a place between Palace de la Berbie and the left bank of the Tarn River. The Jardin de la Berbie is striking and completely inviting to everyone. Artists sat on benches, sketching a city skyline below or painting the glorious palette of wonderfully colored flowers around the garden. Others strolled quietly below a vine covered walkway that stretched around the garden. Albi was skyrocketing up our list of the most incredible places we have ever visited. Many places around the world with a historical perspective cannot decide what decade they wish to enhance. There might be a 1970s apartment building next to a 14th century church (God only knows what they bulldozed out of the way for the apartment building). Around another corner, a person might find a McDonalds serving hamburgers next to a Medieval cemetery. This is not the case for the jewel of a city called Albi. No, it is not cleansed of all technology and combustion engines, but their tourist office (on the city center) is top-notch. They are extremely helpful and proud of their city. For example, I asked one of them about the posters in the various shops that advertised the Tour coming to Albi and where I might find one. She held up a finger and darted to the back. In a moment, she brought me one and gave it to me with a smile and said that they had some extras after putting them up last week. That might have put them over the top.
After a wonderful lunch, sitting in an outside cafe in the shadow of the cathedral, we walked over to the Tour de France Fan Appreciation gala going on a few streets over. We had so much fun. We shopped and mailed some postcard and even did some laundry. It was the perfect rest day for us both. Tomorrow would be Stage 11, and the start was two streets over from our apartment. Our plan was to watch the start, take our time to leave and make our way to Toulouse where the race was ending. We were not in a hurry to get there before the race ended, but little did we know what was just around the corner for us.