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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 2018 (2)

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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.

Skyss Catamaran

Skyss Catamaran

This annual award category is for transport other than flights.

In 2018 my ferry trips were quite limited by comparison to previous years. I took very short crossings between Klaipėda and Smiltynė, Barra and Eriskay, and Bergen and Kleppestø. I also took a vapur up the Bosporus in Istanbul.

Tight Fit

Tight Fit

The one in Lithuania hardly counts as a travel experience as it lasts 12 minutes. I did it twice, of course (there and back).

The Barra /Eriskay trip was a massive 35 minutes (each way), but it was the first time I’d taken a ferry as part of a cycle trip.

MV Loch Àlainn

MV Loch Àlainn

The Norwegian one was fast and efficient. It was a great way to see the city from the fjord too.

The vapur brought back memories of my first Bosporus trip, and no end of vapur crossings between Kınalıada and the city.

As far as trains go, I took a couple of good ones in Lithuania. I had a day trip from Vilnius to Kaunas, plus the one between Vilnius and Klaipėda - a 4 hour journey.

Comfort

Comfort

They were great.

In France I had a day out in Albi while I was in Toulouse. A local train, but modern and comfortable for an hour each way.

Toulouse

Toulouse

I also used the RER in Paris - an old friend.

I used Danish trains to get travel between Copenhagen Airport and the city centre, but also for an outing to Helsingør. It was all very modern and efficient - compared to the UK.

In Helsinki I used the train to travel from the airport to the city centre - 35 minutes for €5. Good value, as well as being quick and comfortable - oh, and warm. It was -12⁰c outside.

My main train trip of the year was from home (Fife, in Scotland) to Bradford, then on to Sheffield, and home from there. With such fragmentation of operators under the UK’s privatised franchise system, I used at least 4 train operators in 3 days.

I rented cars in Cyprus, Klaipėda and Stornoway. The Lithuanian one sticks in my memory because the rental staff were so friendly and helpful.

Solorent's Best

Solorent's Best

The Cyprus one holds memories of some crazy roads and crazy drivers.

Hyundai i20

Hyundai i20

I rented a cycle on Barra. It was a fantastic way to get around the island - and over to Eriskay.

My Transport

My Transport

Trams - I used the Bergen “light rail” a lot, including the line to/from the airport. It is great and good value for money. I also used the trams in Toulouse - again, ideal for the city/airport journey.

I suspect I also took a tram in Sheffield…

The metro in Toulouse is ideal to get to the main railway station from the St Cyprien neighbourhood where I was staying, so it is on the list. I took the metro in Copenhagen too - from the ice arena back to the city centre. As in Toulouse, the trains are driverless.

In Helsinki I also used the Finnair Citybus to travel from the city centre to the airport - €6.90 each way, fast and comfortable. They run every 20 minutes most of the day.

Well, it is decision time. My top three are my cycling experience on Barra and Eriskay, the vapur in Istanbul and the rented car in Klaipėda. Any of them would be worthy winners.

The Dune

The Dune

In the end I have gone for the Klaipėda Toyota because the whole trip with it - ferry across to the Curonian Spit and then driving as far as the Russian border and back - was just an amazing day.

Posted by IainT 09:11 Archived in Scotland Tagged trains bergen helsinki scotland paris france ferries istanbul finland transport norway cyprus denmark copenhagen vilnius lithuania toulouse kibris barra albi sheffield kaunas klaipeda helsingør bradford stornoway islandlife steòrnabhagh barraigh bhatarsaigh eiriosgaigh eriskay Comments (0)

Best of 2017 (2)

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View Ouarzazate & Girne & Lismore & Arran & Oslo & Islay & Colonsay & Abbotsford & Ben y Vrackie & Blair Atholl & The North & Gaimersheim & Eigg on IainT's travel map.

This category is for transport other than flights - the Edinburgh Airport buses and the occasional taxi don’t count!

I had my share of Calmac ferry trips - again... this has become a trend! Eigg, Islay, Colonsay and Arran were on my island hopping adventure list. I always enjoy them. The one from Mallaig to Eigg was memorable for the perfect weather, but so too were the Port Askaig (Islay) to Kennacraig and Colonsay to Oban mini cruises.

Bliss

Bliss

I also used the cute wee ferry to Lismore from Port Appin. 5 minutes each way. I even used the Western Ferries service from Dunoon to Gourock.

Firth of Clyde

Firth of Clyde

On a more exotic note I used a couple of ferry services when I visited Oslo. Scottish ferry trips are usually accompanied by dramatic scenery, but crossing Oslofjord between Nesodden and the city was spectacular in a different way. I loved it.

B10 from Akers brygge

B10 from Akers brygge

I used the train services in Oslo and Casablanca - but just the airport services. I took the train in Bavaria in January - Munich Airport to Ingolstadt. German train journeys seldom disappoint, but I’ve had many in the last 6 years so they aren’t especially memorable!

I took the Scotrail train from Fort William to Mallaig to get the Eigg ferry - the line made famous by the Harry Potter books. It is spectacular. I had a number of good awaydays by train around Scotland over the summer as well.

Scotrail's 8:30 to Mallaig

Scotrail's 8:30 to Mallaig

On business I took the Transpennine Express train to Lockerbie - you see some good scenery on that journey, plus it’s fast and comfortable. Last but not least (as far as trains go) is my day out in Derry courtesy of NI Railways.

I had a rented car (Renault Clio) in Ouarzazate and rented bikes on Colonsay and Lismore (makes unknown). The Clio became a friend. She kept me safe from other Moroccan road users.

Road Home

Road Home

The bike on Lismore was fun - in a way. It was the first time I’ve cycled with a full rucksack (20kg) on my back. Tough going.

I took a dolmuṣ (twice) on Kıbrıs. A new experience and a fun one. Ultra cheap too.

Dolmuṣ to Lefkoṣa

Dolmuṣ to Lefkoṣa

I’m really spoiled for choice in this category. The decision came down to a choice between that warm, dusty trip by dolmuṣ between Girne and Gazimaǧusa and the cool, sophisticated commute in Oslo.

Oslo Harbour

Oslo Harbour

Oslo’s the winner.

Posted by IainT 13:19 Archived in Scotland Tagged boats trains oslo scotland paris france germany ferries ireland transport morocco norway cyprus bavaria belfast casablanca kibris derry eigg calmac lockerbie ingolstadt islandlife colonsay famagusta nesodden gazimaǧusa girne best_of_2017 Comments (0)

Best of 2017 (1)

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View Vilnius 3 & Vilnius 2 & Toulouse & Lockerbie 2 & Barraigh & Bergen & Vilnius & IIHF & Aberdeen & Steòrnabhagh & Girne '18 & Eagles & Ouarzazate & Girne & Lismore & Arran & Oslo & Islay & Colonsay & Abbotsford & Ben y Vrackie & Blair Atholl & The North & Gaimersheim & Eigg on IainT's travel map.

At the end of every year I do an annual review, and award a "best of" in a few categories.

The first of the 2017 awards is for flights.

2017 saw a big change in my travel patterns. No more regular, monthly commuting to Munich on easyJet (it’s a long, messy story).
The change (like all these things) has had its positive angles. One has been more variety in my travel, and air travel in particular. easyJet did figure a couple of times in January, but let’s dump that in the past.

I used two airlines I’ve never used before - Royal Air Maroc between Casablanca and Ouarzazate, and Hebridean Air from Oban to Colonsay.
I renewed friendships with Turkish Airlines (Ercan via Istanbul), Norwegian (Oslo) and Air France (Casablanca via Paris).

Atatürk Arrivals

Atatürk Arrivals

I’ve used them before (many times in the case of AF).

Mohammed V International Airport

Mohammed V International Airport

I flew with FlyBe too - but it has never been a regular in the same way as Air France or easyJet. The short hop from Edinburgh to Belfast doesn’t allow much time for passenger experience, so its a question of whether it was on time and the staff were pleasant!

Norwegian was a 2 hour flight, but it is a slightly upmarket version of easyJet, so it’s hard to get excited.

Turkish Airlines was a 4 hour flight to/from Istanbul and a bit more than an hour from there to Ercan and back. All in all I was very happy with it. My last long flight with Turkish Airlines was in 2006, so my memory is a bit rusty.

4 Hour Flight

4 Hour Flight

Air France - the flight from Paris to Casablanca seems to get a better quality of service because it’s inter-continental. It was fine, but nothing to get excited about. the connecting flights to/from Paris CdG were on AF’s Hop! brand. I think it’s their “no frills” version. Well, as you’d expect the French do “no frills” with style.

RAM? My flight to Ouarzazate was a 22:40 departure so the crew just left the lights switched off to let people sleep - no on board service! It’s only 80 minutes, of course. My flight back to Casablanca was a 6.55 am departure - again no service, but early departure and early arrival. I like that!

Ouarzazate Departures

Ouarzazate Departures

Anyway, the Hebridean Air flight stands out. Unusual. Special. Fun.

Ready?

Ready?

An 8 seat plane with just the pilot to do it all.

Tight Squeeze

Tight Squeeze

Loved it. Easy winner.

Posted by IainT 13:53 Archived in Scotland Tagged oslo scotland paris france germany istanbul transport morocco flights norway cyprus bavaria airlines belfast casablanca kibris colonsay best_of_2017 Comments (0)

Trains, Planes and Automobiles

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View Ouarzazate on IainT's travel map.

The first blog post of 2018!

What a day 1st January was. Trains, planes and automobiles.

The automobiles - first, a wild taxi ride from the centre of Casablanca to the airport about 7.30am. The driver enjoyed the wide open spaces available to him so early on a public holiday. In fact, for a while he was watching the morning news on his mobile (hands free, but anyway).

Mohammed V International Airport

Mohammed V International Airport

Second, a reunion with my son at Edinburgh Airport. Public transport is almost non existent in Scotland on 1st January, so he had to drive 26 miles (42 km) to collect me. Great to see him obviously, and at 11pm after a long day his car was much quicker and more relaxing than the shuttle bus.

The trains - I had an 8 hour wait between planes in Paris, and was invited to a friend’s house for escargots, cheese, bread and wine. Lovely to see her and a nice wee start to the year.

Familiar

Familiar

Anyway, this involved a 60 minute each way journey on the RER from Charles de Gaulle to the opposite side of the city at Bourg-la-Reine.

Bourg La Reine RER

Bourg La Reine RER

You know those wee driverless shuttle things they have at CdG to take you between different bits of Terminal 2E? Well, I was on one of those too.

The planes - Air France from Casablanca to Paris and then on to Edinburgh. Both flights went very well and - mercifully - the flight to Edinburgh was right on time.

That’s the excitement over for a while. What next?

Posted by IainT 12:00 Archived in France Tagged paris france transport morocco casablanca sceaux Comments (0)

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