Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Toulouse


Q:What do you call a Frenchman with 2 toilet seats on his head?
A: Toulouse! (2 Loos)
I know, I know, its an old English joke and its not funny but I had to mention it since it has been in my head ever since I went to Toulouse in France last week for a couple of days.
I knew this silly joke for a long time but I never thought I would actually go there one day!
You see, my closest friend whom I knew since I was a child and who I haven't seen for over 16 years was in Toulouse doing a training course with Air Bus, Air Bus is one of the most popular reasons for people visiting and studying in Toulouse, so when my friend told me he was there, I waited until he successfully finished his course and had few days left so I decided to go and visit him, we have always kept in touch but it was about time to meet again.
That morning I woke up early and drove to Gatwick airport to catch the 6:30 am flight to Toulouse, I only had hand luggage and soon was sitting in the plane waiting for it to fly but sit is what we did as the plane did not move for the next hour, we had many excuses about the luggage truck getting lost and so on! eventually we were on our way. I kept thinking about my friend, we were in our early 30s when we last met, now we are heading towards late 40s, I was wondering what he looked like and how old am I going to look like to him.
One hour and thirty minutes later we landed in Toulouse, I was out in few minutes, looked around the people waiting and there at the end I saw my friend's smiling face, he hadn't changed much but he had no hair left at all, I don't have much hair but compared to him, well there is no comparison :o)
Seeing him brought back many happy memories of when we used to be neighbours and close friends to our studying days in Oxford and so on... seeing him made me realise that I do miss Libya a lot that part of me was still there waiting for me to come back.
Capitol building, equivalent to Town Hall or City Council
After we went to the hotel for a few minutes, we went out for a walk to see the town and have a well deserved coffee, it was still morning and the weather was nice and sunny, the centre of town was small with many beautiful old buildings but not many shops which is good for someone coming from London, of course all around the squares they have many street cafes, something we don't really have in the UK unless you want to breath pollution and have a heart attack!
We had many coffees and many stories to tell each other, that's until he told me that after 6 weeks of hard studying in Toulouse, he did not have any time to buy presents for his wife and children and that the only time to do that was the 2 days I was with him, I didn't mind too much as I thought still we will be together, 2 days later I felt that my feet melted from all the walking we did, I probably walked more in 2 days than what I would do in a year, maybe I should get rid of my car!
One sight I have never seen in the UK although I heard it would be introduced soon, is bicycles for hire attached to coin/credit card machines, you swipe your card, take the bike and then return it to any point where they have bikes for hire, which is all over the city, great idea.


The first day after we went back to the hotel which is an apartment/hotel, they each had a little kitchen and a sitting room in their apartment, we were invited for dinner by one of the Libyan pilots staying there, dinner was Makarona Mbowkha (steamed noodles with lamb and tomato sauce) which was nice but to my horror it was covered with horrible raisins which I hate more than anything, my kids call them rotten grapes and I couldn't agree more, so while trying not to appear rude, I pushed the raisins to one side, we were served a really nice Harissa (North African Chili Sauce) which tasted like home made Harissa, I asked the guy if he made it, he said no, that he bought it from an Algerian shop up the road so I made a note of buying some.
The next day we went to the Algerian shop and got some Harissa, the city is full of North Africans mainly Algerians and Tunisians, just like Paris but unlike Paris most North Africans in Toulouse seemed well dressed and middle class, in the evening many of them would be sitting in the cafes with families and friends looking their best, another thing I noticed most of the French people were very friendly which is completely different from Paris, here even though they do not speak much English they still carried on talking to you in French and tried to to make you understand, nice people.
While walking back from the Algerian shop I noticed certain ladies of the night (except it was early morning) standing at street corners trying to do some trade, the weird thing is that the average age of these ladies was about 65 years old with some well over 70! looking very strange with caked makeup on their faces, strange world!
The rest of the day was spent shopping, shopping and more shopping by the time we were back all I wanted to do was to put my feet up.
That night we had a fine dinning dinner, this is where the food is so well presented that it looks like a picture, even the plates were like triangular tiles! it was OK when it came to taste but really pretty to look at, the dessert was out of this world, I have watched people on TV make chocolate fondant but never actually tried it before, I especially like it when they split the cake and melted chocolate oozes out, so I ordered it and it looked stunning, I am not really into chocolate cakes, I prefer non chocolate but had to try this one, the cake was warm served with a small tub of custard and fresh strawberry and I split it with my spoon and the most delicious melted chocolate came out, it really was heavenly, the other dessert was blocks of chocolate with a tooth pick stuck in them then dipped in batter and fried then served with fruit sauce, it was a bit like Lugmet ElGadi but with warm chocolate inside, it was lovely.



Another common sight in Toulouse is the large amount of tramps walking around the city begging for money yet each single one of them had a huge dog with him, how can they afford to keep the dogs and buy the Alcohol that keeps them drunk all the time!! I felt more sorry for the dogs who seemed bored and miserable, the owners of these dogs above were on the side arguing and shouting at each other while drinking, the poor dogs just huddled together.

Next morning we went for a great breakfast at the hotel, started with pancakes and crepes with honey, followed by a plate of smoked salmon with the most fantastic crunchy crispy French bread that was followed by cheese & mushroom omelet followed by fresh fruit salad of pineapple and lychee with nuts all washed down with fresh orange juice and fresh coffee, I swear I wished my tummy was bigger so that I could eat more lol.
Luckily both my flight back to London and my friend's flight back to Libya were within one hour of each other that after noon, so we went together but I was a bit concerned about the Harissa I bought, I wasn't sure if it would be classed as liquid which is forbidden to carry on hand luggage in British planes (another thanks to Ben Laden for making life more difficult for all of us) I enquired at the check in desk and as I suspected I was told it is classed as liquid and I had 2 choices, either bin the Harissa or pay £20 to check in my small bag, I did just that, I wasn't going to go home with out my Harissa, probably ended up as the most expensive Harissa in the world!
2 hours later I was back in good old London and stuck in a traffic jam driving towards home, at least some things never change, home sweet home.
Did I write all of the above?? Who is going to read all of this???? its 5:30AM !!!!!!