A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about edinburgh

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)

sunny 22 °C

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)

Snapshot

sunny 18 °C

Cancelled

Cancelled

I wonder how the Covid 19 events of March - June 2020 will appear when we look back on them 3, 6 and 12 months from now.

How will our lives be 3, 6 and 12 months from now?

I should have been in Rīga on Thursday morning (19th June) after a flight the day before from Edinburgh with SAS.

Rīga

Rīga

My itinerary was supposed to take me to Moscow on Saturday with Aeroflot. Then today (Monday 22nd June) I should have been on an S7 flight to Kazan. My return was to have been via St Petersburg with Nordavia and SAS.

Russia is not open to travel for foreigners. Here in Scotland only essential travel is allowed, and for leisure I am restricted to a 5 mile travel radius.

SAS cancelled my flights - they are working on a 7 day cycle but it has been clear for a while that Edinburgh would not be on their schedule at the moment. They offered a voucher or a refund, so I took the voucher. It is valid for a year. Even if I cannot use it for a future trip to Russia, Scandinavia is always attractive.

SAS at ARN

SAS at ARN

Aeroflot cancelled my flight too. I have a voucher from them as well - valid for 3 years - plus a 15% discount. I had to call their customer service centre (free) last week, and they were a pleasure to deal with.

Aeroflot Offers

Aeroflot Offers

My S7 and Nordavia flights are still scheduled, and domestic flights in and out of Kazan seem to be operating normally. I have had to cancel and then see if I can recover on my insurance. The flights were cheap.

In the overall scheme of things this inconvenience is minor, and the cost very small. It is still disappointing. It was a trip I put a lot of research and planning into, even going as far as resuming my Russian studies (after a gap of 45 years) on Duolingo.

Thursday should have been special just on its own. In July 1968 I took my first flight, and it was from Rīga to Moscow with Aeroflot. My plans had been built around re-tracing those steps.

Posted by IainT 02:57 Archived in Russia Tagged planes moscow st_petersburg scotland edinburgh life flights russia sas riga latvia airlines kazan aeroflot Comments (0)

1968

Lenin Mausoleum

Lenin Mausoleum

If you have a travel blog but cannot travel, what is the answer?

One is to look back.

My second big travel adventure came along in July 1968, with an educational visit to the Soviet Union. I was a few months short of turning 16. We were a party of high school students from several Scottish schools who were all studying Russian.

We sailed on the MS Mikhail Kalinin from London to Rīga in the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic, from where we transferred by bus to the airport and flew with Aeroflot to Moscow in Russia. After 3 or 4 days in the capital, we took the overnight train to Leningrad (now St Petersburg).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MS_Mikhail_Kalinin

Leningradskaya Hotel, Leningrad

Leningradskaya Hotel, Leningrad

Again we had 3 or 4 days in the city, and then it was back onto the MS Mikhail Kalinin at St Petersburg to travel back to Leith (Edinburgh’s port).

It was quite an experience for a 15 year old.

Red Square, Moscow

Red Square, Moscow

Travel was very tightly controlled within the USSR back then, for nationals and for foreigners. We were warned that our hotel rooms would be bugged, and to make sure we did not say anything critical of the regime. Each floor of our hotels had a “supervisor” stationed at a desk beside the lifts and stairs, to monitor guests’ movements. You could not leave the hotel just to walk around - everything had to be done as part of an Intourist controlled excursion. It was not possible to speak to locals - they would be reported and face sanctions.

My knowledge of the language was quite basic at that time but one thing we all noticed was that on every radio news programme Czechoslovakia was the only story. The Red Army invaded a few weeks later.

Space

Space

Looking back, we took in a huge amount in just a week. Many things are still vivid memories - going inside the Kremlin, seeing Lenin’s embalmed body in its mausoleum, the splendour of the Summer Palace outside Leningrad, the Battleship Potemkin, the Winter Palace and the Hermitage.

The voyages were fun too. We crossed the North Sea in a force 8 gale on the outward trip. I enjoyed it. I found a vodka with Orangina (not the real thing - a Soviet version) calmed my stomach nicely. I remember sailing through the Øresund on the return voyage, with Copenhagen on the port side and Malmö to starboard.

Bolshoy Theatre, Moscow

Bolshoy Theatre, Moscow

Approaching Rīga on the outward journey was special. A party of Latvian exiles was among the passengers. They gathered on deck for the first sight of their homeland on the horizon, and then burst into song.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PU4RW2a2nK0

That may have been my introduction to the “nationalities question” which helped to bring the USSR to an end 25 years later.

Footnotes:-
(1) Leaving aside that the photos are over 50 years old and taken on a Kodak Brownie, they have been scanned from transparencies.
(2) I have only been back to Russia once, for a short business trip to St Petersburg in the 90s. I am privileged to have been back to Latvia many times.

Posted by IainT 23:27 Archived in Russia Tagged moscow st_petersburg scotland edinburgh russia riga latvia airlines leith aeroflot Comments (0)

Malmö - The Essentials

overcast 6 °C
View Malmö on IainT's travel map.

Sunday Lunch

Sunday Lunch

To get to Malmö I flew from Edinburgh to Copenhagen with easyJet. Flight time was 90 minutes (a little slower going west) and it cost £107 return. I only needed hand luggage for a 2 night trip.

From Copenhagen Airport I took the Oresundståg train to Malmö Central. The journey time is just over 20 minutes and train frequency is excellent. It cost SEK120 (£9.60 or €11.37) to buy a single ticket in Malmö and DKK91 (€12.17 or £10.31) in Copenhagen.

Sankt Petri Kyrka

Sankt Petri Kyrka

When you go to buy a train ticket at Copenhagen Airport, the first thing you see is a large row of automatic Danish Railways (DSB) machines, with a queue management system. It is well set up, with helpful staff to assist customers who are struggling.

Less obvious (and so less busy) are 2 Skånetrafiken machines close by which will also sell tickets for the Oresundståg. They are also red, and stand next to a couple of green SJ machines - the Swedish Railways ones. Skånetrafiken seems to be the regional transport - trains and buses - operator for Skåne, where Malmö is located.

Malmöhus

Malmöhus

I stayed at the Radisson Blu in Malmö. It cost SEK1,760 (£141 or €166) for the two nights, inclusive of their superb buffet breakfast. The room was massive and I am not sure if that is what I booked, or if I was upgraded.

The hotel was excellent in all kinds of ways - staff, comfort, location, for example. It is an 8 minute walk from the station, and in the centre, but the location is quiet.

Malmöhus

Malmöhus

One of my reasons for choosing Malmö for a weekend away at the end of January was to see the local ice hockey team play Luleå. The Swedish league is one of the best in Europe, and Luleå were top.

No Luck

No Luck

My ticket was super cheap at SEK100 (£8 or €9.47) for a seat on the behind the Luleå bench. I did not understand the details, but it seemed to be a special charity fundraiser match, so I guess prices were reduced. 12,600 took advantage, so the atmosphere was great. So was the game.

The arena is excellent, and easy to reach from the city centre by train or bus. I did not try their food and drink, but they had plenty on offer.

Posted by IainT 00:04 Archived in Sweden Tagged bridges trains scotland edinburgh sport sweden transport flights ice_hockey denmark copenhagen malmö airlines brexit Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 14) Page [1] 2 3 » Next