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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)

Barcelona - Travel Tips

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Old Style

Old Style

Well then, what about some of the nuts and bolts of that trip to Barcelona.

I arrived on a direct Ryanair flight from Edinburgh. It cost £99 for their “Plus” service, which includes a checked in bag.

Being direct made it attractive, but the 06:30 departure detracted from it. I live 40 minutes away from the airport and with early morning being one of the busiest times there, you assume you will have to be there before 05:00.

Ryanair, 04:45

Ryanair, 04:45

The other negative was arriving (10:30) in Barcelona long before most accommodation places will let you check in.

On balance it worked out well, partly because I stayed at an airport hotel the night before and partly because Ryanair had their bag drop really well organised. It took just 5 minutes. Of course the hotel night added to the cost significantly - £69 including breakfast.

I left on Air France via Paris. £153 one way. It was a 17:50 departure, which gave me half the day in the city.

Our Airbnb host suggested the Aerobus service to and from the airport, as its city terminus is at Plaça de Catalunya and is convenient for the Metro line closest to the apartment. The bus was excellent. €5.90 each way. The service runs very 5 minutes to/from terminal 1 and every 10 minutes for terminal 2.

Aerobus

Aerobus

The host also suggested Locker Barcelona for luggage storage if we needed it. We did. It is very conveniently located on Carrer d’Estruc, 5 minutes walk from the Aerobus. It cost €13 for the day for their largest locker, taking our 2 suitcases and 1 carry on bag.

Yes, you guessed by now, we had an Airbnb apartment. It was one of the highlights of the visit, in fact. We loved it. Quiet, spacious, clean, convenient location - no negatives.

Terrace

Terrace

It is in Carrer de Pàdua, close to Lesseps station on the Metro line L3. It is on the fringe of the Gràcia neighbourhood, which is wonderful for small shops, bars and restaurants with the bonus of being relatively tourist free.

It was a 5 minute walk in the morning to buy croissants for breakfast. It has a terrace to eat them on.

The cost was £82 per night (for 5 nights) including a cleaning fee and the Airbnb fee. Great value for money.

We used the Metro to get around. A 10 journey ticket cost €10.20 - a great deal compared with a single for €2.20. It has a reputation for pickpocket problems, so we were careful but had no problems.

Barri Gòtic

Barri Gòtic

As for sights we visited Parc Güell, Montjuïc, Barri Gòtic, Port Vell and Sant Pau Recinte Modernista. Oh, and the beach.

Parc Güell

Parc Güell

We did not pay to get into the monument area at Parc Güell having seen plenty just walking around the park. You get great views of the city, especially from the highest point (strange that, but true anyway).

Castell de Montjuïc

Castell de Montjuïc

Montjuïc gives fantastic views too. We paid to get into the castle - €5 p/p. The cable car and funicular up from Paral-lel Metro were not operating (out of season), although the cable car from Port Vell was.

We walked. It was good for us.

We enjoyed sitting outside at the cafe inside the castle - a few days into March and 18⁰c.

Sant Pau Recinte Modernista was one of the sights we enjoyed most. It is less visited than some, and I got the recommendation from someone who regularly visits family in the city as a result of which she has a bit of an inside track. Entry was €14 p/p.

Sant Pau Recinte Modernista

Sant Pau Recinte Modernista

We ate very well in the city. The local wine was great, and fantastic value too. We had a tapas “dinner” at La Bicicleta and normal dinners at Can Punyetes and El Rebost de la Plana.

Can Punyetes

Can Punyetes

To give an idea of prices, dinner for two at Can Punyetes cost €34.70. For that we had grilled veal as main courses, desserts, bread, water (a medium bottle), a coffee and a litre of house red. The wine was €5.50, and excellent.

Being honest, I cannot find fault with any of the arrangements we set up for travel or accommodation, nor with our food, drink or sightseeing experiences. A wonderful few days.

Posted by IainT 15:14 Archived in Spain Tagged beaches food barcelona restaurants spain transport flights catalunya airlines Comments (0)

Barcelona, Re-Discovered

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Catalunya

Catalunya

Last week I went back to Barcelona after a very long absence.

My last leisure trip to the city was in February 1973. I was there on business during the late 90s but it was just overnight and I saw nothing apart from the airport, the hotel and taxis in between.

This month’s visit was a 5 night midweek event. Time to relax and enjoy the place, as well as some warm spring sunshine.

Apartment Terrace

Apartment Terrace

One of the highlights was the weather - we had a cloudy day but it was not cool by northern European standards. Mostly it was sunny, and warm enough to eat outside at lunchtime, but not in the evening.

Sitting on the beach in March was a highlight for sure, even if it involved 3 layers of clothing. The beach did not exist in 1973 - along with so much in that part of the city, it was created as part of the developments around the 1992 Olympics.

Sun, Sea, Sand

Sun, Sea, Sand

The food and drink were a huge success, much as I expected, from tapas to burgers and steaks. Prices were very reasonable, especially in the wine department. It would be quite difficult to single out one food and drink experience as a favourite.

Can Punyetes

Can Punyetes

Our apartment (a last minute Airbnb arrangement) was superb, and made a huge contribution to the success of the visit. It was quiet, spacious, clean, and ideally located very close to the Lesseps Metro station, just on the edge of the Gràcia district.

We enjoyed all our sightseeing but perhaps the favourite visit was to Sant Pau Recinte Modernista. It was a hospital dating from 1401, it was rebuilt in Art Nouveau style in the early 20th century and has been restored after it stopped functioning as a hospital in 2009. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Sant Pau Recinte Modernista

Sant Pau Recinte Modernista

Parc Güell, Montjuïc, Barri Gòtic and Port Vell are other parts of the city we visited.

Barri Gòtic

Barri Gòtic

The locals were helpful and friendly, often bridging the gap between their lack of English and our lack of Spanish/Catalan with good humour and patience. I did find one menu in which the Catalan version was easier to understand than the English one.

Parc Güell

Parc Güell

It turned out to be a great decision to re-visit the city, and choosing midweek in early March was ideal.

Posted by IainT 08:36 Archived in Spain Tagged food barcelona restaurants spain catalunya Comments (0)

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