I have never looked forward to half term so much in my life and I don’t even do anything that substantial here; yet in the typical student fashion I felt the break was well deserved and even somewhat overdue! I got to see the additional parts of Toulouse that I didn’t get round to exploring in my first couple of weeks and the best part? I got to do it with friends and not as a complete lemon…always a bonus.
And what better way to kick-start things than with a 21st Birthday celebration? Emily’s birthday was awesome to say the least; anyone who feels comfortable drinking and playing ring of fire with their mother present and participating I might add, is a top human being indeed! (Mum if you’re reading this, it’s not that I wouldn’t want you at one of my pre-drinking sessions…I’m just thinking of your safety…and sanity). To top this all off we went out to a club where I attempted to salsa dance…Safe to say I had no idea what I was doing, I prefer singing to dancing but apparently I didn’t look completely wooden or like my limbs were being electrocuted so overall a success; maybe I’ll start lessons…
After what was a pretty decent start to the holidays I am ashamed to say I didn’t really do a lot in my first couple of days during ‘les vacances’; most people had gone home and I sleep a lot as it turns out. BUT, I did get off my fat bum on Tuesday in search of something to do. It was a promising beginning as I met Joe and Emily to go to the train station in the hopes of finding a cheapish impromptu trip to a nearby paradise…This proved a bit less than fruitless as we spent hours searching for destinations online after obtaining nothing useful from the station. Turns out, it’s rather difficult to get to places from Toulouse…even if they aren’t technically that far away. So, armed with sandwiches and pastries from La Mie Caline, the search continued…and dwindled further. We had pretty much given up when Emily received a text…a saving grace of sorts…we had plans! How exciting! Beauty and the Beast at the Ballet; wasn’t quite the road trip we’d been theorising but it was to be a cultural experience so entirely worthwhile I’m glad to report. Even if it was the weirdest version of Beauty and the Beast that I have ever seen! Hey, I already mentioned dancing wasn’t my preferred activity. It was a fun night though, I got to see something new and Joe learned that a curtain goes in front of a stage before and after a performance, and that trying to catch a photo of a dancer mid leap is not necessarily a clever idea.
In light of our dismal search for an activity to undertake during the daytime the day before, we had agreed after the ballet that Wednesday would be better and with this in mind…we didn’t wake up until the afternoon; typical. However, things quickly improved as we wasted no time getting ourselves to the Natural History Museum for an afternoon of biological and historical discovery.
Plus, I actually got to see one of the plants I find most fascinating, the pitcher plant or sarracénie to use the French term. Basically, it’s an interesting looking carnivorous plant which traps, drowns and dissolves its buggy victims. Isn’t that lovely? Well I thought it was pretty cool.
So, our Wednesday was somewhat more of a success. Not to mention the fact that hockey in the evening despite only 5 of us turning up, was one of the most entertaining sessions yet! Je vous aime, les Tuquettes!
The next activity on my half term itinerary was to venture out of Toulouse to Carcassonne, I went and saw the city briefly a few weeks ago with all of the Erasmus students but I didn’t feel that an hour and a half predominantly spent eating really did the beautiful city justice. So I caught a train back to meet a friend also in France for the year, and he showed me the proper sights of Carcassonne; including the views from the walls and the beautiful Cathedral.
Now I know I am not a tremendously religious person and I don’t pretend to follow any faith as such, however I lit my candle and placed it alongside the rest to show that my mind is open and I appreciate the beauty of the beliefs, customs and reliquaries of others even if they are not my own.
It was not an overly long visit to Carcassonne as the prime reason for my meeting my friend Josh was to go to Avignon to see my first ever rugby league match. A World Cup match at that…may as well experience my ‘firsts’ in style. So we commenced the 2-3 hour drive north. Supposedly 2-3 hours. This journey progressively got longer and longer due to the fact that once we’d arrived in Avignon, the directions stopped (I was given an excuse almost comparable to that of a child in infant school that had not completed a piece of homework: that the printer had run out of ink and the dog chewed the replacement cartridge). We were on our own, a temperamental male driver and me; brilliant. The events that followed consisted of:
- Driving in a full circle of Avignon to end up at the same starting junction…three times.
- Taking an unknown number of wrong turns.
- Me laughing a lot at our misfortune to try to lighten the mood.
- Josh refusing to laugh with me…
- Checking into the wrong hotel.
- Receiving the worst photocopy of a map I think I have ever seen in my life!
- Asking a man for directions, finally.
Finally, we came across the ticket office and decided to stop to pick up our reserved tickets (this was the part I had done and no surprises therefore when it all went smoothly). Following this miniature success we took a deep breath, got back into the car and eventually found the correct hotel. It was then a quick matter of dumping the bags, running across an industrial estate, eating a KFC Sharers Bucket then heading off towards the stadium…1.5km away from our hotel…my arse was it that close!
But we got there after 20-30 minutes, fought our way through the crowd to our seats just in time to watch the national anthems, the famous Haka and the pleasantly fast game to follow in which France got completely mullered by New Zealand; final score being 48-0.
Ultimately from my first rugby league experience I have learned:
- Never trust a man who says he knows where he’s going…always check for yourself!
- Learn a flawless design for a paper aeroplane so that you can use the paper left on your stadium seat as a far superior annoyance to anyone else’s. (Or to throw back at someone who hit you with their origami structure).
- Develop and Master the patience of a saint so as if you’re sat near to anyone remotely annoying, it’s at least tolerable.
But my main highlight has to be of course; the fact that I couldn’t complain that the same scrum was being played over for 20 minutes as can happen in union.
I must say the pace of this particular match was much better suited to me…no I am not trying to spark the age old row between league and union, I’m just saying there are aspects of both which I hate and which I like. In all seriousness it was a really good experience and I’m happy I got to watch such a high level match.
And all of a sudden we ended up at the last 2 days of half term! I’m relieved to report that the drive back to Carcassonne (despite a minor diversion hiccup) was far more successful and I caught my train back to Toulouse with no issues. I spent my Saturday relaxing and organising events for Sunday. Nothing sums up ‘La vie Français’ better than a food and wine festival and all I can say is wow!
I had the most amazing time walking around trying various types of cheese, bread, cake and of course, wine. There were vintages from all over the country and once we got stuck into asking for tasters it was an experience I will remember fondly. (No I did not get so hammered off free wine that I forgot what happened). I engaged in many conversations about the origins of certain wines, what best to consume with particular beverages and even when in the day they can be best enjoyed. I must also add that I did try a wine that was 252€ per bottle and I can tell you all now…just because it costs more doesn’t mean it’s better! It was the only wine all day that I just held my breath and knocked back.
And what would life be if I didn’t bring back some souvenirs? I purchased a beautifully sweet bottle of red wine that is to die for but being a student and a sometimes immature minded one at that; I could not resist visiting a stall with the most interestingly named concoctions. After 8 shots and deliberating between flavours, I turned away the ‘Baiser Fraise’ (‘Strawberry Shag’) and ‘Gratte-Cul’ (‘Scratch your Arse’) and I eventually came away with a bottle of ‘Le Kiki à Franky’ (‘Franky’s Willy) and ‘La Turlette au Chocolat’ (‘Chocolate Blowjob’). Both of which taste lovely and with names like that in addition to the sheer hilarity and charisma of the man selling them, I am glad I made the investment.
So there you have it, my half term. Sorry for the length of this post but I couldn’t bring myself to leave anything out!