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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)

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)

Best of 2018 (4)

sunny 8 °C
View Vilnius 3 & Vilnius 2 & Toulouse & Lockerbie 2 & Barraigh & Bergen & Vilnius & IIHF & Aberdeen & Steòrnabhagh & Girne '18 & Eagles & Ouarzazate on IainT's travel map.

L'Apéro

L'Apéro

Category 4 of the awards is for restaurants. Really I spoiled myself again this year in the eating out category.

In Girne - well I knew where to go, and had plenty choice! However the best was a new place. Beşparmak Bufavento was amazing - spectacular in terms of the quality and quantity of the food, plus a fabulous view.

Wonderful

Wonderful

I seem to have become a creature of habit in Istanbul. Can Restoran (in Fatih, close to the Blue Mosque) for a main course followed by Mado a few doors along for a dessert. It’s a great habit.

Baklava & Dondurma

Baklava & Dondurma

I know Toulouse so well, and the food is so good everywhere! So is the wine. Le Dahu in rue des Blanchers was the best during my 2018 visit.

Le Dahu

Le Dahu

The same can be said about Vilnius, and of course I had three visits during 2018. Sunday lunch revolving around the TV Tower was amazing. Good food, good company, amazing views and great memories. It is called the Paukščių takas restaurant (Milky Way) and it is at a height of 165 metres.

I also enjoyed fantastic Georgian delights at Chačapuri Sodų.

Hvezeli

Hvezeli

I had a superb lunch in Kaunas when I returned to the place where I ate in 2015 - Medžiotojų užeiga on Rotušės a. Great traditional food and a lovely location.

In Copenhagen I really enjoyed the smørrebrød. There’s a wee place called Centrum on Vesterbrogade, opposite the front entrance to the Central Station… Excellent. Nothing fancy - just great food.

Copenhagen Dinner

Copenhagen Dinner

Café Rouge In Sheffield is a place I’ve eaten before and they did not let me down. It is solid French bistrot type food.

Sympa

Sympa

An Lanntair in Stornoway was the best out of the few places I ate while traveling in Scotland. Good food, a relaxed atmosphere and a view out over the harbour.

Christmas dinner was Middle Eastern food (think about it) at Fafa’s in Helsinki. Delicious!

Beşparmak Bufavento has to be in the top 3. Medžiotojų užeiga too. The last slot goes to Paukščių takas.

Moving

Moving

OK. Decision time! The winner is Paukščių takas. The food was great. So was the place, and the company too.

Posted by IainT 13:43 Archived in Scotland Tagged food helsinki scotland france restaurants turkey island istanbul finland cyprus denmark copenhagen vilnius lithuania lewis toulouse kibris sheffield kaunas stornoway islandlife girne steòrnabhagh leòdhas best_of_2018 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 (2)

all seasons in one day 0 °C
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)

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