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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)

Best of 2018 (3)

all seasons in one day 6 °C
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)

semi-overcast 1 °C
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)

Best of 2017 (4)

all seasons in one day 0 °C
View Ouarzazate & Girne & Lismore & Arran & Oslo & Islay & Colonsay & Abbotsford & Ben y Vrackie & Blair Atholl & The North & Gaimersheim & Eigg on IainT's travel map.

Restaurants this time...

My eating out habits changed in 2017 as well as lots of other things - being single I’m looking for a different kind of restaurant experience as compared with being in company.

The good news is I had plenty of highlights to choose from again! As usual, I’m only choosing from places where I’ve eaten while travelling.

Lismore Gaelic Heritage Centre/ Comann Eachdraidh Lios Mor. I loved relaxing there, especially when the weather allowed me to eat outside. The staff are friendly (they’re islanders, after all) and the food is good. Best of all is the serenity of sitting there surrounded by nature and wonderful scenery on a quiet island where nothing is ever busy and traffic is close to non-existent.

Local Lamb

Local Lamb


Palmi Börek Sarayı
in Girne (Kıbrıs). It’s a pastry/bakery place, as you’d find in Turkey. I bought my breakfast simit there most mornings - to take away. One day I had lunch there - börek and ayran. Just delicious. It’s a tourist free environment, so don’t expect the staff to speak anything other than Turkish.

Börek

Börek

Mado in Istanbul. Did you ever just go into a place you like the look of and it turns out to be a brilliant move? Then afterwards you hear from friends that it has a “top” reputation? That was me in Istanbul. I had a lovely (but basic) dinner in Can, and Mado is almost next door. It’s a bakery and pastry type of place. My baklava with Turkish ice cream and Turkish tea was fabulous. Add to that the location across the street from the Blue Mosque... anyway, a real highlight of the gastronomic year.

Baklava & Dondurma

Baklava & Dondurma

The Colonsay Hotel. The dinner I had there was memorable for sure. The first reason is that I had to cycle there - about 3 miles. The wind and rain started about halfway. I walked into the (quite elegant) restaurant looking as if I’d been through a hedge backwards. The main reason is how good the food was. I had oysters grown on the island as a starter, and beef raised on the island as a main course. Both were just wonderful. The service was good too - they were kind enough to give me a table in a corner beside a heater so that I could dry out gently and with a little privacy.

Local Oysters

Local Oysters

Little Wing in Belfast. My brief visit to Belfast and Derry in April seemed to involve very little to remember as far as food is concerned - unless I think of how mediocre the breakfast was at the Ibis. So, my pizza at Little Wing was a real highlight. Nice place, friendly service and very good pizza. I’ll be back next time I’m in the city.

Pizza Lunch!

Pizza Lunch!

Le Petit Riad in Ouarzatate. I’d chosen the half board option and it was a huge success. The dinners were superb - Berber cuisine and always a tagine, but varied and delicious. The service was great too - friendly and attentive. The dining area is a real joy to the eye as well.

Aubergine Starter

Aubergine Starter

Habous in Ouarzazate. Habous is top of the list in my Lonely Planet guide book, so I tried it for lunch on my first day in town. It happened to be 24 December. It also happened to be 18⁰c and feeling warmer than that in the sun - so I sat outside. It was excellent and I came back to eat there twice. Being on your own and a long way from home at that time of year has the potential to make life a little lonely. It’s experiences like enjoying a lovely lunch outside in the sun which reminded me I was the lucky one and to be grateful for it all.

Habous

Habous

Afriquia Gaz, Bouzeroual. A roadside service station in the Drâa Valley, in the Moroccan Sahara. I stopped to use the toilet and saw they have a cafe. I asked the man behind the counter what was available (knowing what the answer would be). Yes... “tagine”! “What’s in the tagine?” I was bold enough to ask. “Meat” was the answer. I was bold a second time and ordered it. Then I went outside to sit and wait for my food. Now, having spent quite a while that morning driving through the Drâa Valley - rugged desert mountains flanking a forest of palm trees on either side of the river - I should have been ready. But looking up after I sat down was the first time I noticed the view which would accompany my service station lunch. In front of me was Djebel bou Zeroual (1,594m - 5,229 ft), the ksar/village of Bouzeroual and the palm forest of the valley. Stunning. The tagine was good too, but it’s not always just about the food.

Afriquia

Afriquia

This year’s winner? It has been a tough choice. Any of the places I’ve chosen for the short list would be a worthy winner.

In the end the award goes to that service station - not for the food, but for the view!

Lunch View

Lunch View

Posted by IainT 12:14 Archived in Scotland Tagged food scotland ireland istanbul morocco cyprus belfast kibris ouarzazate lismore islandlife colonsay girne best_of_2017 Comments (0)

Best of 2017 (3)

all seasons in one day 0 °C
View Ouarzazate & Girne & Lismore & Arran & Oslo & Islay & Colonsay & Abbotsford & Ben y Vrackie & Blair Atholl & The North & Gaimersheim & Eigg on IainT's travel map.

Hotels now...

I think I only stayed in three hotels during 2017. When I visited Belfast in April I stayed in an Ibis, but it was a nightmare - noise from other (drunk) residents at 3am. I also stayed in the Ibis Ouarzazate. Quiet. Comfortable. Great value (£22 including breakfast - which wasn’t available when I left at 5am, oddly enough).

Ibis Ouarzazate

Ibis Ouarzazate

Then I stayed in the Casablanca Novotel... twice. It was delightful. I’d stayed there for a couple of nights in 2009, so as well as being a lovely place in a good location, I enjoyed that sense of familiarity.

I stayed in apartments a few times - in Oslo and Girne, and on Colonsay. The one in Oslo was particularly memorable.

Airbnb

Airbnb

Bed and breakfasts - I had a lovely one on Islay and a quirky (in an enjoyable way) one on Lismore. I stayed in another one in Roy Bridge on my way to Eigg - it was very good but nothing unusual or memorable.

Eigg... Yes... That was an unusual place. I loved it. No frills and the toilet was 10 yards away across the field, but an experience.

Eigg

Eigg

Then there was the Terrace Guesthouse in Istanbul - an officially designated Special Place which I hadn’t visited since 2008. It was fantastic to go back.

Ayia Sofia from the Terrace - Istanbul

Ayia Sofia from the Terrace - Istanbul

My previous experience of riads (Marrakech and Fes in 2009) is very positive. Le Petit Riad in Ouarzazate didn’t let me down. I spent 5 nights there - plenty time for something to go wrong, but it didn’t.

Room 1 - Berber Thunderbox

Room 1 - Berber Thunderbox

The same can be said of the Riad Lamane in Zagora - a 3 night stay.

I find myself trying to decide between the “caravan” on Eigg and the Terrace Guesthouse. Breakfast with a view of the Bosphorus, or with a view of Ardnamurchan.

The View

The View

The Blue Mosque on your doorstep, or a herd of cows.

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

And the winner - in a photo finish - is the Terrace Guesthouse.

Posted by IainT 12:51 Archived in Scotland Tagged oslo scotland ireland istanbul morocco norway cyprus belfast casablanca kibris ouarzazate zagora lismore islay eigg islandlife colonsay nesodden girne best_of_2017 Comments (1)

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