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1972 (Part 2)

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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)

Malmö - The Place

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View Malmö on IainT's travel map.

The Problem

The Problem

I had no preconceptions about Malmö. I did very little research before my trip.

I did not need to. The main reason for going was to be outside Little Britain when it left the EU. I could have gone anywhere. Malmö was accessible for a 2 night stay, plus I could take in an ice hockey game from one of Europe’s top leagues

19th Century

19th Century

What did I find?

A pleasant and relaxed city, with plenty of charm, but without any of the pressures of mass tourism. It was pretty much ideal for my 48 hour escape.

City Centre

City Centre

I was right about perceiving it to be accessible. It is as easy to get there from Copenhagen Airport as Copenhagen is! All my travel arrangements were smooth.

I found a great deal with the hotel I chose - the Radisson Blu. I have blogged about it already.

Radisson 7th Floor View

Radisson 7th Floor View

Perhaps I was lucky, or perhaps my expertise shone through, but all my food experiences were excellent. The hotel buffet breakfast was a great start! I ate Italian, Greek, Vietnamese and Swedish - they were all delightful.

Soul Food

Soul Food

The city centre is pleasant to walk around, with a variety of architectural heritage. It has plenty of pedestrian only areas. I enjoyed visiting Malmöhus, and the exhibition on migration in particular. The ice hockey was fantastic - a top class arena, top class teams and a big crowd.

After the Game

After the Game

Would I go back? Yes.

Posted by IainT 23:43 Archived in Sweden Tagged trains food beer sport sweden transport ice_hockey denmark copenhagen malmö Comments (0)

Brexit

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View Malmö on IainT's travel map.

Escaping

Escaping

Thursday night (30th January) was tough. I had been diverting myself all week by keeping busy at work, and with other stuff at home, but that night the barrier collapsed.

Brexit Blues

Brexit Blues

Yesterday (31st) was better, with more diversion therapy. I took a flight to Copenhagen, and from there took a train to Malmö. I have never been to this part of Sweden before, unless you count passing through on a sleeper train from Stockholm to Copenhagen.

My mood was helped by the hotel - Radisson Blu - upgrading me to a junior suite.

Radisson Blu

Radisson Blu

After settling in I went to find something to eat in the dark, in a strange city, and in drizzling rain. I was half expecting to end up at a fast food place, but only 100m away I found a great wee pizza restaurant.

Pizza Time

Pizza Time

Excellent food and friendly service. My mood lifted even more.

No 25

No 25

Well that’s what I did on 31st January 2020.

Goodbye

Posted by IainT 13:18 Archived in Sweden Tagged planes trains food beer scotland restaurants sweden transport belgium flights ice_hockey brussels denmark copenhagen airlines brexit Comments (0)

Best of 2019 (4)


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.

Cafe Leila, Tbilisi

Cafe Leila, Tbilisi

This award category is for restaurants. In this category there are too many places to mention, so only the most memorable ones get a name check.

Where will I start!

One of the best of the year was also the first of the year, on 1st January. At Joanos Carinovos Smuklė in the Belmontas Centras (Vilnius) I had a wonderful lunch in a lovely place. Cobwebs were blown away.

Traditional

Traditional

My short visit to Barcelona produced several successes with restaurant choices. Good judgement or luck? Both, probably.

La Bicicleta

La Bicicleta

My hotel in Kirkwall - The Storehouse - describes itself as a restaurant with rooms, so I gave it a try. It was really good quality.

Restaurant

Restaurant

I also “ate in” when I stayed at Chateau Bruale in Tkhilitstskaro. It gets a lot of points for giving me the chance to try the vineyard’s own Rkatsiteli Mtsvane and because in September it was still warm enough to eat outside. The food was excellent quality - of country style rather than sophisticated.

Dinner Time

Dinner Time

Can in Istanbul is a place I returned to, as I have several times. I love the cafeteria type set up, and the food is always excellent. Dinner there is almost always followed by ice cream and tea at Mado, a few meters along the street.

Baklava & Dondurma

Baklava & Dondurma

I went on walking food tours in Tbilisi and Athens and learned a huge amount about the cuisine of those countries in addition to enjoying great food.

Ariston Pie Shop

Ariston Pie Shop

Street food attracted me in Tòrshavn and Reykjavík - fish and chips being a stand out meal in each city.

In fact Chateau Bruale is this year’s winner.

Top Class

Top Class

Drinking wine which has been produced on the premises from grapes grown in the surrounding fields is an unusual experience, and the wine was sublime.

Posted by IainT 09:18 Archived in Georgia Tagged food barcelona greece restaurants athens turkey istanbul georgia catalunya vilnius lithuania tbilisi reykjavik faroes kakheti torshavn stepansminda tkhilitstskaro Comments (0)

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