Toulouse is surely one of those French cities that has a touch of magic to it. Just the mention of its name brings, for many, romantic images to mind.
Famous for its terracotta brick buildings, which give the city its most common nickname*, "la Ville Rose", Toulouse is, as the official website of its tourist office rightly boasts, a city "at once both modern and proud of the legacy of its past."
Visitors, it promises are "bound to be seduced by the incomparable Toulousain lifestyle, coupled with the wealth of its cultural heritage."
And the site probably isn't far off the mark.
One look at the landmark Capitole de Toulouse for example which houses the town hall, an opera company and a symphony orchestra, is enough to tell you that this is indeed a splendid city.
Mind you, many of the more than 4,700 competitors (individual and relay combined) taking part in le marathon du Grand Toulouse (the National Grand Toulouse Marathon) last weekend probably won't have had much time to take in the sights and sounds of what it has to offer as they pounded the 42 plus kilometres.
It was Kenya's Benjamin Bitok who crossed the finishing line first at la place du Capitole in the heart of the city. Bitok's winning time of two hours, 14 minutes and 12 seconds, was four minutes faster than when he won the inaugural event back in 2007.
Following him home were two more Kenyans, Patrick Nymbane seven minutes back in second and Simon Ruto another six minutes behind in third.
The first woman home was Algeria's Kenza Dahmani in two hours 40 minutes and 29 seconds.
More famous in sporting terms perhaps for the exploits of its top-flight rugby side Stade Toulousain or even the first division soccer team Toulouse Football Club, la Ville Rose has played host to the marathon for the past three years.
It's an event which quite literally runs through the heart of Toulouse as well as some of its suburbs in a city which ranks as the fourth or fifth largest in France in terms of population, depending on whether you're taking into account those who live in the city itself or the metropolitan area.
Hotfooting it through the streets though is perhaps not the best way to take a real look at everything Toulouse has to offer: the architecture, history, culture or of course the gastronomic delights (this is France after all) les Toulousains Toulousaines have to serve up.
The ever-expanding Blagnac airport with regular arrivals from both Paris-Orly and Paris-Charles de Gaulle as well as a host of European cities, makes getting to Toulouse simple.
Given the fact that Toulouse is the home base of the European aerospace industry in the shape of Airbus, it's perhaps not surprising that the city will also be playing host in 2010 to a major air service development forum.
The "Airbus effect" aside though - and it has been an important factor in the growth of the city in recent years and its "dynamism" - Toulouse makes an ideal weekend break especially for visitors who prefer a more sedate pace of life and want to spend a little more time taking it all in.
The weather is generally temperate, the food fantastic and getting around, be it on foot (preferably) or by bus, easy.
And there's more. Toulouse is also the gateway to the rest of the southwest of France which might tempt you to prolong your stay and make a real holiday of it as you take in some stunning scenery.
One thing to note though, and it might just be the experience of this particular visitor, is that the local folk can be a little hard to understand once they get going.
Their French is heavily accented and they seem to speak at a rate of knots.
But don't let that put you off as it just adds to their charm and that of the city.
*Toulouse is also sometimes known as la cité des violettes - City of Violets - because of its long association with the cultivation of the flower.
Japanese Frog - [image: Japanese Frog] Isn’t this frog the cutest? I found it one summer day on the railing of the stairs outside my apartment. I guess it was hiding...