A Travellerspoint blog

France

1972 (Part 2)

sunny 21 °C

Le Filochard

Le Filochard

My 9 months working in Toulouse during 1972-73 changed me in so many ways. I was only 19, and still maturing (slowly) so it played a big part in shaping the end product. It is difficult to remember all those ways, but I have come up with a random selection.

For the first time I enjoyed working and having a reasonable salary in my bank account every month. Before that I only had summer jobs. We were paid the equivalent of what a newly qualified teacher was earning in Scotland. The cost of living in France was higher than in Scotland, but school lunches and dinners were subsidised. Going back to being a student after it ended was not easy.

I had the opportunity to travel around that part of France with the rugby team for our away games every two weeks. Sightseeing was not possible obviously, but it was fascinating anyway. As well as Carcassonne and Castelsarrasin, I remember going to Thuir (near Perpignan in the Catalan area), Foix in the foothills of the Pyrenees (on the route to Andorra), Cahors to the north, and St Girons - also in the Pyrenees but towards Lourdes.

Foix

Foix

My food and drink horizons changed out of all recognition. Southwest France is a gastronomic heartland of a gastronomic nation. Pastis and Armagnac were new experiences, as well as the huge range of high quality local wine which never goes for export. Even school lunches and dinners, or the occasional student refectory meal, were a massive step up from the food on offer in Scotland in the early 1970s.

Coffee was another eye opener. Having been limited to Nescafe most of my life until then, French coffee was a revelation. It took the UK 30 years to catch up.

Perfect Breakfast

Perfect Breakfast

My salary also gave me the chance to travel a bit. I went for a long weekend in Barcelona in early February, decades before the city became a compulsory weekend-break destination. At that time Franco was still in power, and as compared to France and Britain it had a real police state feel to it.

Barcelona Skyline, 2019

Barcelona Skyline, 2019

On my way back to Toulouse from Barcelona, I took the slow, scenic train through the Pyrenees with an overnight stop in the Spanish ski resort at La Molina. That was my first close up experience of a real mountain range.

For my Easter holidays I was invited to Morocco by Moroccan friends who were studying in Toulouse. I took an overnight train to Madrid, followed by another overnight train to Algeciras. Then it was a ferry to Tangier, and another train to Casablanca. It was great to be met by friendly faces off that train!

Casablanca Skyline

Casablanca Skyline

After a night or two in Casablanca we drove to the family farm (dairy and oranges) outside Marrakech. We had several nights there and then went we went to their home in Azilal, 1,350m (4,430 ft) up in the High Atlas mountains. Their father was a local governor, so the compound was guarded by army sentries. One day he went off in a helicopter and returned with a couple of dead “bandits”.

Their hospitality was extraordinary to me, but just normal to them.

M'hamid

M'hamid

I remember two downsides to my time in Toulouse. The first was everyone (me included) being conscious of my presence being very temporary. It meant making close friends was not easy.

The other was breaking my wrist playing rugby. Fortunately it was in the last game of the season in mid-May, but it meant I have my arm in plaster for the last 6 weeks of my time there. I was not allowed to work but I could not go back to Scotland either - I needed passport stamps showing 9 months in the country when I resumed university.

It was a difficult time, with most of my daily activity - work and rugby - gone.

St Cyprien

St Cyprien

I have visited Toulouse several times in recent years, staying in Airbnbs in the St Cyprien neighbourhood where I lived and worked over 40 years ago, and just loved soaking up the local way of life again. I hope I can do it again.

Posted by IainT 12:36 Archived in France Tagged me trains food scotland barcelona edinburgh france sport spain life transport morocco catalunya toulouse casablanca Comments (0)

1972 (Part 1)

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Hôtel Dieu, Toulouse

Hôtel Dieu, Toulouse

Are you ready for Chapter 3 of my Life Changing Travel series?

This chapter takes me back to 1972. In September that year I packed my bags and set off from Edinburgh to spend 9 months working in Toulouse. I was 19.

I was studying French and International Relations at Aberdeen University back then, and an academic year in France was a compulsory element of the course. The arrangements were all set up with the French Government such that those of us involved would be given jobs as language assistants in secondary schools.

In my case this had an extra twist. My services were sought by a Division 2 rugby team in Toulouse. Whilst everyone else was just sent randomly to schools all around the country, the president of the team arranged for me to be sent to a school in Toulouse located very close to the rugby club - in St Cyprien, for those who know the city.

Air travel was still a luxury back then, so the journey took me by train and ferry to Paris for a week at the Sorbonne doing an induction course. After that, Sunday morning brought another long train journey to Toulouse. In those days a fast train took about 8 hours.

Toulouse

Toulouse

The school day starts at 8am in France, so I was with my new employer bright and early on Monday. I was made very welcome, and because I was in the English department all my colleagues could help out if I did not understand something in French. In fact they were keen to polish up their English by practising on me.

Tuesday meant my first training session at the rugby club. At the Thursday training session I was told I would be playing on the Saturday - an away fixture at Castelsarrasin. It is north of Toulouse, on the road to Bordeaux.

It was daunting. I was still struggling with the local accent, on top of the inadequacies of 8 years of French tuition which had not produced very good speaking and comprehension skills. I was not very fit either, and of course the weather was about warmer than Scotland in early October.

© La Dépêche du Midi

© La Dépêche du Midi

I did not even know the names of all my new teammates, never mind the way they played.

It ended up 25-25, which were big scores back then and reflecting two teams playing an open, attacking style. In was sunny and in the upper 20s, so I suffered badly. It was a fantastic experience mind you, with the game played in front of a healthy crowd in a neat Stade Municipal.

Castelsarrasin (© Google)

Castelsarrasin (© Google)

Aside from the nuts and bolts of those first 2 weeks, some things remain etched in my memory. One of the first is the prices in Paris, even staying at the Cité Universitaire and eating in student refectories.

Then my arrival at Gare Matabiau in Toulouse, and taking a taxi to my bedsit across the river in St Cyprien. I could not understand a word the driver said. I decided he was Spanish and his French was not very good. Then I met my landlady and realised everyone spoke like that.

It was a steep learning curve, and it took me about 3 weeks to tune in to the local accent and patois. In fact the landlady spoke Occitan as her first language. French was for Sundays, occasional visits to government offices, and me. When she got agitated - which was often - she would mix the two.

Another eye opener was lunch in the school canteen. We got a two hour break (some colleagues went home to eat) and a 5 course lunch, with bread, wine and coffee. Whilst that may sound decadent by austere British standards (and utterly bacchanalian by presbyterian Scottish ones) the school day was 8am until 6pm, plus Saturday mornings.

The rugby culture was fascinating too. It was semi-professional, as I was in fact. In Scotland you bought all your own kit, paid a match fee for every game plus your share of travel costs for away games, as well as an annual club subscription. In France you paid nothing. All your kit was supplied. At that level, all the players were paid match fees with a bonus for winning.

After the game the teams did not go to a clubhouse - they did not exist - but to a local cafe/bar. Pastis was the drink, and not beer. I had a couple of dreadful hangovers until I got used to it. Following a few apéros, we would go to the team’s designated restaurant in Toulouse for a 3 course dinner, again paid for by the club. If we won, or got a draw away from home, the president treated us to champagne and cigars. This too caused me some discomfort the next day.

L'Apéro

L'Apéro

My blogging on this chapter of my life will need more than one post, so this section will close with my second rugby game in France. It was in Carcassonne, to the southeast of Toulouse, and one of the region’s top tourist attractions. Just after half time, the referee was forced to send off one of the home players for “repeated brutality” - mostly against me. This enraged the home supporters. Soon after, we scored a breakaway try to equalise the score, having been on the defensive most of the time. A 6-6 draw was our result in Carcassonne.

After the final whistle some of the crowd wanted trouble. They were known for this in Carcassonne, so the spectators were fenced in and the police were there to keep order. In fact, the police had to escort us and the referee out of the stand after we had changed, and then safely out of town.

Right, that is enough for now. Stay tuned for Part 2.

Posted by IainT 04:30 Archived in France Tagged trains food scotland paris edinburgh france sport life transport aberdeen toulouse Comments (0)

1966

France - Luxembourg Passport Control

France - Luxembourg Passport Control

When I was 13 I managed to get myself included in my high school’s established exchange scheme with a lycée in Metz. I remember some discussion about whether I was too young to benefit, but off I went.

It is strange to think back about those travel arrangements. Our group went all the way from Edinburgh by train and ferry. No planes. No Eurostar or Channel Tunnel. No TGV. As teenagers I suspect it was all an adventure but it must have been hard work for the teachers.

Metz - La Gare SNCF

Metz - La Gare SNCF

I stayed with a local family and they were super kind, but communication was a problem. I had been studying French for only 2 years. They took me on excursions to nearby Luxembourg, to the World War I battle site at Verdun, and into the Vosges mountains at Gérardmer.

Gérardmer

Gérardmer

Some memories remain vivid more than 50 years later.

Me (r) at Verdun

Me (r) at Verdun

Verdun is one. It made a lifelong pacifist of me. The key bit for me was the Ossuaire. It is the basement of the memorial building, where they place the bones of unknown soldiers which emerge from the ground as a result of weather or farming. It makes a impression, I assure you.

Verdun

Verdun

Luxembourg was great, and I have been back there several times for meetings at the EU Court of Justice and Commission. Crossing the border by car back then was “traditional” with passport and customs checks by both countries. The city is impressive, being largely surrounded by a deep ravine.

We also visited a steelworks at Longwy… Dante’s Inferno. Quite jaw dropping.

At some stage we went to visit my host’s grandparents on their small farm. The animals lived on the ground floor of the building, and the grandparents up above. The smell was quite something to a child of Edinburgh’s posh suburbs. I remember our lunch there. Tinned sardines on toast.

Gérardmer

Gérardmer

I also remember having a Sunday lunch in my hosts’ home. It was rabbit - again, not what the good people of Edinburgh’s professional classes would eat. My hosts kept the best bit for me - the head. The idea was to knock the top off the skull like eating a soft boiled egg, and spoon out the brain.

Boy, was I having an enriching cultural experience.

Posted by IainT 09:50 Archived in France Tagged trains france transport luxembourg metz verdun gerardmer Comments (0)

Toulouse - Travel tips

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View Toulouse on IainT's travel map.

Apartment - Early Morning

Apartment - Early Morning

My week in Toulouse was wonderful.

The weather was fantastic, the apartment was perfect, and I loved having R’s company for a good part of the week.

Perfect Petit Déjeuner

Perfect Petit Déjeuner

Here are the tips I would pass on…

My flights were with KLM from Edinburgh via Amsterdam, and cost £225 return. This price included a checked in bag of up to 23kg and a normal size cabin bag. I booked about a month in advance.

I have blogged already about the three nightmare parts of my KLM experience. It really is a shame about those because the in-flight part of the travel was excellent.

My apartment was arranged through Airbnb. It cost £607 for the 7 nights. The owner did not charge for cleaning, so I had to spend 30 minutes cleaning it myself before checking out.

Apartment - Front

Apartment - Front

The location is ideal. It is 150m from a Tramway stop (Fer à Cheval) and the Tramway now has a branch to the airport, so getting there and back is quick (30 minutes) and cheap - €1.70 single.

We took a taxi when we arrived at the airport because we were tired and had suitcases. It cost about €20 and took about 20 minutes in early rush hour traffic.

The Metro (St Cyprien-Republique) is about 10 minutes walk from the apartment, so you can be at the railway station in less than 30 minutes - again for €1.70 single.

Metro/Tram

Metro/Tram

You can walk to the city centre in 20 minutes. The St Cyprien covered market is 10 minutes walk away. Butcher, fruit/veg and bakery shops are within 200m, as is a Casino mini market.

Boulangerie

Boulangerie

The St Cyprien area has a good number of places to eat well if you don’t want to walk into the city centre.

L'Apéro

L'Apéro

The building is in a quiet street and on the 5th floor, so traffic noise is almost zero - car horns in the distance during rush hour. The other occupants of the building were mostly very quiet too.

Apartment - Front Views

Apartment - Front Views

It is a 2 bedroom apartment and it is both spacious and well furnished. The communication with the owner’s concierge service was good (she speaks fluent English) and the check in/out arrangements were completely smooth.

Apartment - Living Room

Apartment - Living Room

My excursion by train to Albi cost €14.40 each way, plus the cost of the Metro journeys.

Posted by IainT 12:36 Archived in France Tagged france transport flights klm toulouse airlines albi Comments (0)

Albi

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Tarn

Tarn

One of the pleasures of spending some time in Toulouse is the ability to take day trips into the surrounding areas. The choice is impressive.

Today I had an excursion to Albi, 50 miles (80 km) by road to the northwest. I took the train, but both amount to an hour of travel in each direction.

Toulouse

Toulouse

The trains leave from SNCF’s Toulouse Matabiau station, on the northern edge of the city centre and on the Canal du Midi. Mine were operated by TER Occitanie - regional trains as opposed to (for example) intercity or TGV.

I paid €14.40 each way, but I suspect I could have saved money by booking in advance. The trains were modern and comfortable - on time too.

Remember to composter (validate, in English) your ticket before boarding by means of one of the yellow boxes on the station concourse.

Old Albi

Old Albi

Albi is a gorgeous town of about 50,000 people straddling the River Tarn. It is full of history.

Cathedral

Cathedral

I had visited the cathedral previously, so this trip was about the Musée de Toulouse-Lautrec, housed in the Palace de la Berbie.

Musée

Musée

It was well worth the journey and the €9 entrance fee.

Posted by IainT 13:35 Archived in France Tagged art trains france transport toulouse albi Comments (0)

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