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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)

Best of 2019 (3)


View Athens & Krefeld & Sheffield & Nottingham & Tbilisi 2 & Belfast & Faroes & Iceland & Orkney & Tbilisi & Sheffield 2 & Sheffield & Dublin & Belfast & Barcelona & Manchester & Dundee & Vilnius 3 on IainT's travel map.

The Storehouse

The Storehouse

This category is for the various types of accommodation I enjoyed over the year.

What a variety!

When I think back over the last 12 months, that is my impression of my accommodation choices.

I had several Airbnb experiences - Barcelona, Tbilisi, Yerevan, Reykjavik and Athens. I was very happy with all of them, and indeed I went back to the Tbilisi place for a second visit. In fact I would happily return to any of them.

Apartment Terrace

Apartment Terrace

When it comes to chain hotels, yet again Novotel was my preference. I used them in Sheffield and Brussels. I used an Ibis in Nottingham and the Sofitel at Athens Airport - Accor brands as well.

I stayed at Marriott’s AC Hotel in Belfast twice and would do so again - price, location, style…

AC Hotel

AC Hotel

I stayed in quite a few airport hotels in 2019. I tried the Moxy brand at Aberdeen Airport - yes, I would use that one again. At Edinburgh Airport I stayed a Hampton by Hilton for the first time - I guess it is a budget/airport type sub-brand. It was OK, but nothing special.

Inter City Hotels seems to be a mainly German brand, part of the Steinberger group, and the one I used at Berlin Schönefeld Airport was ideal. It is a short walk from both the terminals and the railway station. It is great value for money - at least on a Sunday night.

Radisson Blu was my choice at Manchester Airport - it was good, but expensive. It is walking distance to the airport and the railway station, which was the attraction for me.

When it comes to independent hotels, my second visit to Georgia introduced me to several - 5 Rooms and Ilja’s in Tbilisi, Chateau Bruale in Tkhilitstskaro (in the Kakheti region) and Hotel Vache in Stepantsminda. I would happily go back to any of them - clean, comfortable, quiet, stylish and good value.

Ilja's

Ilja's

Chateau Bruale is a bit special because it is part of a vineyard, and I was there at harvest time. I also tried their 2017 produce. Zero air miles…

Top Class

Top Class

Hotel Vache is also special, but for its amazing views of Mt Kazbegi and the horses running free in the street outside.

Morning Visitors

Morning Visitors

I loved my first visit to the Faroe Islands and whilst my hotel (the 62⁰N) in Tórshavn ticked all the usual boxes, it was never going to be good value for money. It is a very expensive destination.

Kirkwall was an expensive destination too - at least in accommodation terms. Maybe it is an island thing. I had 2 nights in The Storehouse. It is excellent, but not cheap.

In Köln I chose the Lint Hotel. It is a small family run place, and really good. For me, the location was part of the attraction, being in the Altstadt and a short walk from the main railway station.

Lint Hotel

Lint Hotel

Last but certainly not least - I was back in Istanbul and stayed a few nights in the Terrace Guesthouse. It has been on my list of special places for a long time, and it has been a “Best of” winner before.

Sunrise, Terrace Guesthouse

Sunrise, Terrace Guesthouse

No doubt I have forgotten one or two, but I suppose that means they were not memorable.

In the end for my favourite of the year I have gone for the Hotel Vache.

Mt Kazbeg

Mt Kazbeg

In addition to the views and the horses outside my bedroom, the breakfasts were superb and the quality of the room was excellent.

Posted by IainT 00:27 Archived in Georgia Tagged barcelona greece germany athens turkey berlin istanbul belgium georgia aberdeen manchester brussels köln iceland orkney belfast tbilisi yerevan armenia reykjavik sheffield faroes kakheti nottingham kirkwall torshavn stepansminda tkhilitstskaro Comments (0)

Orkney - Basics

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View Orkney on IainT's travel map.

Stromness Sunday

Stromness Sunday

Time for a summary of the nuts and bolts of my visit to Orkney in July 2019.

I flew from Aberdeen to Kirkwall (and vice versa) with Loganair. Aberdeen is not the closest airport to home (it is Edinburgh) and whilst Loganair does fly between Edinburgh and Kirkwall, the flight times from Aberdeen suited me better.

Loganair's Saab 2000

Loganair's Saab 2000

The flights cost £146 return, and that ticket class includes a checked in bag.

Kirkwall Airport Terminal

Kirkwall Airport Terminal

It is possible to drive to Orkney obviously, with several ferry options from the north coast. However, it is a journey of close to 7 hours each way and for a short weekend break, that makes no sense.

I stayed overnight at Aberdeen Airport on the outward trip, at the Moxy Hotel. It cost £51, with breakfast (£12) and parking (£5) extra.

Moxy Decor

Moxy Decor

I arranged parking at Aberdeen Airport with Park and Depart whilst I was in Orkney. It cost £20 from first thing Friday until Sunday evening.

Moxy Lounge

Moxy Lounge

In Kirkwall I stayed two nights at the Storehouse, which I did a stand alone review of.

Location, Location, Location

Location, Location, Location

I took the public bus between the airport and the town centre. It runs every 30 minutes most of the time - less on Sunday. The journey takes less than 15 minutes.

Kirkwall Airport

Kirkwall Airport

I also used the public bus to visit Stromness - a 30 minute trip each way. I am the proud owner of a Scottish Government bus pass (free to all over 60s), so I paid nothing.

I had booked flights to and from North Ronaldsay for the Saturday. It is the most northerly of the islands, with Loganair’s Inter Island service being the alternative to the twice weekly ferry. It cost £18 each way. Sadly, they could not fly that day due to mist and low cloud on North Ronaldsay.

Posted by IainT 02:25 Archived in Scotland Tagged planes food scotland restaurants flights aberdeen airlines orkney kirkwall islandlife Comments (0)

Best of 2018 (3)

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View Vilnius 3 & Vilnius 2 & Toulouse & Lockerbie 2 & Barraigh & Bergen & Vilnius & IIHF & Aberdeen & Steòrnabhagh & Girne '18 & Eagles & Ouarzazate on IainT's travel map.

Hôtel Dieu, Toulouse

Hôtel Dieu, Toulouse

This award category is for accommodation.

My hotel in Barra - the Castlebay - was the year’s only disappointment but this did not come as a big surprise. The place was below average and the prices very high. Poor value for money. The view from my room was the only positive I could find.

Bedroom View

Bedroom View

Bergen was a big success all round, and the Magic Hotel was part of it. An ideal location, good food and excellent comfort. Add to that the excellent value for money, and there we are.

Magic Entrance

Magic Entrance

On my way to Bergen I stayed at the Jury’s Inn at Aberdeen Airport. As airport hotels go, it was just fine.

I also stayed in the Jury’s Inn in Bradford. Among the budget brands it is one of my favourites. Bradford is no exception.

My stay in Stornoway was excellent - just what you expect from a good Scottish B&B. Comfortable, quiet, friendly and a great breakfast.

In Klaipėda I had two nights at the Memel Hotel. It was lovely. The location is good, close to the city centre but not in it. I enjoyed a comfortable room and an excellent breakfast.

Memel Welcome

Memel Welcome

I had Airbnb stays in Toulouse and Vilnius - and both were ideal. They were just what I expected from their listings. I also had two Airbnb experiences in Northern Cyprus. In Girne it was an apartment I’ve stayed in before so obviously it was good. The Nikovlita Garden Hotel in Kumyalı was wonderful. Just so laid back, welcoming and… different.

Nikovlita Garden Hotel

Nikovlita Garden Hotel

In Istanbul I had a few nights at the Terrace Guesthouse. It is truly special and a past winner.

The year had begun in the Novotel in Casablanca - I like it for all kinds of reasons. Location is a big part of it - on top of all the usual things I like about the Novotel brand. It is almost across the street from the Casa Port railway station and so really convenient from the airport.

Dawn

Dawn

I also stayed in a Novotel in Glasgow on my way to catch the plane to Barra - I like the brand and the Glasgow version lived up to the usual standards.

My third Novotel stay (some kind of record, I suppose) was in Sheffield. It was just what I expected. Excellent.

Helsinki in December meant 2 nights in the Vaakuna Hotel across the street from the central railway station. The hotel was completed in 1952 to house athletes at the Helsinki Olympics. Although refurbished since then, of course, it retains some 1950s style features. I loved it.

Hotel View

Hotel View

When I’m trying to decide on my favourite, step one is usually to choose my top three. This time it is tough. The Airbnbs in Toulouse and Vilnius have to be in the top three. I think the Vaakuna Hotel in Helsinki has to be the third.

Apartment - Front

Apartment - Front

Ultimately I have gone for the Toulouse Airbnb as the winner. It had pretty much everything I could have wanted. Quiet. Comfortable. An ideal location.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿🇪🇺

Posted by IainT 23:13 Archived in Scotland Tagged bergen helsinki turkey island istanbul finland morocco norway cyprus aberdeen denmark copenhagen vilnius lithuania lewis toulouse casablanca kibris barra sheffield klaipeda bradford stornoway islandlife steòrnabhagh leòdhas castlebay barraigh best_of_2018 Comments (0)

Best of 2018 (1)

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View Vilnius 3 & Vilnius 2 & Toulouse & Lockerbie 2 & Barraigh & Bergen & Vilnius & IIHF & Aberdeen & Steòrnabhagh & Girne '18 & Eagles & Ouarzazate on IainT's travel map.

Wait in Lounge

Wait in Lounge

The first category in the annual awards is for airlines.

This year has brought a lot of variety and - like last year - a new experience.

Widerøe is the airline I used for the first time, on its Aberdeen-Bergen route. As I blogged at the time, it was very positive.

On Approach

On Approach

SAS is the airline I used most - 8 flights - but the reason really boils down to a couple of trips to Vilnius via Stockholm or Copenhagen. All those flights were good.

I had two trips with Loganair (Barra and Stornoway) and they are a lot of fun to travel with. It helps that small airports and small planes are so user friendly.

Loganair Saab 340 at Steòrnabhagh

Loganair Saab 340 at Steòrnabhagh

Turkish Airlines featured 4 times - to and from Ercan (in Northern Cyprus) via Istanbul. I was very happy about all of them and of course with a longer flight (4+ hours between Edinburgh and Istanbul) you have more chance of finding something to be unhappy about!

I flew 4 times with KLM too - not so positive, but most of the negative aspects relate to a missing suitcase. It arrived eventually, but the delay and absence of anything resembling customer service was appalling.

I renewed acquaintance with easyJet and Norwegian on my weekend away in Copenhagen. In a direct comparison of two of the better low cost, no frills operations, Norwegian is a clear winner.

Norwegian Air

Norwegian Air

Air France took me from Casablanca to Edinburgh via Paris on 1st January. It seems like so long ago… It was good.

I flew Finnair from Edinburgh to Helsinki at the end of December. It was another renewal of old acquaintance. My only other flight with Finnair would have been over 20 years ago. They had reindeer on their inflight menu.

Helsinki Airport

Helsinki Airport

My journey from Helsinki to Vilnius via Rīga on Air Baltic went so smoothly it was a pleasure - an excellent airline and three excellent airports.

Rīga Transit

Rīga Transit

My top three out of all these is not an easy selection, although conversely the winner is. My top three are Air Baltic, Turkish Airlines and Loganair.

Loganair Disembarking

Loganair Disembarking

This year my decision for a winner is really easy because flying in and out of Barra is a unique experience - the tiny airport, the beach as the runway, the weather… So, yes, this year’s award winner is Loganair to/from Barra.

Posted by IainT 02:45 Archived in Lithuania Tagged planes bergen helsinki france turkey istanbul finland transport morocco flights cyprus aberdeen denmark copenhagen sas vilnius lithuania klm airlines casablanca kibris barra stornoway islandlife steòrnabhagh barraigh Comments (0)

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