Weekend escape: Toulouse

A few weeks ago I headed down to Toulouse to visit my French friend Sam, someone I met fleetingly when he was travelling in New Zealand earlier this year. I guess it was a little adventurous to trek halfway across the country to visit someone I hardly knew, but that’s what travelling is all about! And it was a great weekend. It was awesome being able to talk about New Zealand with someone who had seen it through the eyes of a visitor. Being away from home makes me so patriotic!

Toulouse is only four hours away from Lyon by train, but it was madness trying to get there on the Friday afternoon because there was a national strike. At this stage, the reality of French striking hadn’t really hit me, so I sure got a shock when I entered the train station (running late as usual) to find that my train had been cancelled! I couldn’t comprehend how they could just cut an entire train – but I’ve soon learnt that when France is striking, there is just absolutely no way of knowing whether your train will be running or not. Luckily my flatmate, Emmanuelle, was just across the road, so I called her and she came and helped me. She is a wonderwoman!! The station was in absolute chaos, and there were queues out the door, but somehow she managed to get me on a new train within ten minutes! I was so, so grateful… I would have been so lost without her there to show me what to do.

It turns out when your train is cancelled you have to hop on whatever train is available in the direction you need. This means that the few trains that are running are carrying about double their capacity; people pile into the corridors, sit on the floor, stand at the end of carriages… madness! But what else can you do?  My train ride from Montpellier to Toulouse was particularly memorable, because we were all standing up, packed in like sardines, in the end of one of the carriages. There were a bunch of young local kids in the middle enjoying the situation – they had their iPods blaring and had somehow managed to turn the carriage into a bit of a dance floor. So funny!

By the time I finally arrived in Toulouse I was relieved I had actually managed to get there! It was very touch and go and some points. But a nice cold beer at Sam’s flat was the perfect way to unwind. He had the NZ flag up and Katchafire playing – so good to hear kiwi music all the way over here in France! I felt very at home.

Max, me, Sam

That night we went to a flat warming, which was cool but a little challenging for my French! It’s hard to make small talk when people all around you are talking a mile a minute in a foreign language… even though I could understand most of it, my brain couldn’t work fast enough to reply. But I loved the chance to mingle with a group of French people – I hang out with so many international students in Lyon, which is fun, but it’s cool to see how the locals chill too!

I thought the flat warming was very civilized compared to some that I’ve been to in NZ… Sam and I went along with his friend Max, but neither of us knew anyone else there. Yet everyone was so friendly and charitable! The hosts poured me a glass of wine as soon as I arrived, and there were cute little nibbles everywhere… it was really nice! I like how the French drink and socialise. I need to make more French friends in Lyon! That said, I might as well take up smoking considering how much second-hand smoke I inhale from everyone smoking inside! Not ideal, but I guess its all part of the culture.

Saturday was spent sight seeing! Toulouse was FREEZING, but that meant the city was really quiet which I actually liked… it was nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of Lyon and just enjoy some peace and quiet. We did lots of touristy things, like a boat ride along the river and through the canals – it was actually a really cool way to see the city! We were probably the youngest on the boat by far (average age 60..) and Sam said the commentary in French was pretty boring, but I couldn’t understand half of it so I thought it was great!!

Boat ride

Saturday night Sam introduced me to two French classics: Cassoulet and Cognac. Cassoulet is a delicious winter meal made with white beans and duck; pretty fatty, grunty stuff but I liked it! Cognac is their drink of choice, and much to my surprise I liked that too. Although drank way too much of it, which meant I had an absolute MARE of a hangover the next morning and felt like the walking dead… was a tough train ride home sitting in the corridors – was really hating on the strikes then, that’s for sure!! But the hangover was definitely worth the night out; we went to this awesome boat on the river that had a reggae band playing! So good! I was in my element, dancing up front the whole night (those who know me well can imagine the sorta moves I would have been pulling…) It was so nice to go to a club that plays good music. Makes a nice change from the Enrique Iglesias obsession that the rest of France seems to have! Sam and Max introduced me to Xavier Rudd (or rood as the French say!) and Keziah Jones… so good! We spent a lot of the weekend exchanging music and I tried to showcase some of our best kiwi bands!

Really nice French people – love the NZ flag!

Toulouse in a nutshell.

So overall I think I will remember Toulouse for the great music, food and of course the good company!! Everyone I met down there was lovely, plus it was awesome to speak French all weekend… I’m pretty sure my grammar was shocking but most of the time everyone could understand me, which was such a confidence boost. The city itself is also pretty too – all the buildings are a lovely pink colour. Thanks Sam + co for an awesome time!!

At the moment I am in Venice, which is amazing!! Didn’t think I’d have time to blog, but the hostel we picked is a bit of a shocker so sleep isn’t looking too promising… so up doing this instead! Going to be interesting to see how my energy levels last considering I woke up at 4.30am to catch the flight here this morning! But I’m running high on adrenaline… off to Florence tomorrow! Will try post photos and thoughts later this week. So far so good – the food is AMAZING, and Venice is a crazy cool city! La vita e bella ! (what I think is Italien for … life is beautiful!)

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