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A trip to the Pink City

In his latest weekly The Bar Man column, Jeff Hoyle reflects on a trip to France...

Toulouse is known as The Pink City due to the number of buildings constructed of the distinctive red brick. Some of them such as the magnificent Basilica of Saint-Sernin are amongst the most impressive that I have ever seen, but it is not only the history that makes the city, the fourth largest in France, such a wonderful place to visit. It was there at the beginning of aircraft construction and remains at the heart of the European air and space industry with numerous museums reflecting the history and future of air and space travel.

So, which of these attractions persuaded us to go over for a week? Well, none of them as it happens. We chose the destination as the local rugby league team, Toulouse Olympique XIII, had a home game against Barrow Raiders in the second tier of the English Championship.

Our trip by Eurostar to Paris and then TGV direct to the city went without a hitch, but while checking the final details of the match, we found that it had been switched to Albi, 50 miles away due to the local stadium being used as a base for Japan’s World Cup Rugby Union team. Fortunately, it was possible to book a place on the coach ferrying the Barrow fans to the game, and so after a bus trip into the suburbs and a 20-minute walk to the Stade Ernest-Wallon, we climbed aboard.

The Raiders fans were in good humour and coping well with the local beer, and we arrived in Albi in plenty of time to buy some more to accompany our Toulouse-style sausage and chips. It was a good game, with a hard-fought win for the French side and there was another hour of drinking left before the return journey.

As 8.00 approached, the Bar Wife leapt into action to use her language and organisational skills to round up the stragglers, who by this time seemed a little disorientated. Fortunately, she is fluent in French, though her grasp of Cumbrian was perhaps less secure. Still, we finally had a full complement for the trip back, during which a minority of the passengers’ behaviour fell below the standards expected, even considering the strain that they had put the beer dispensers under during the match.

Her efforts did not go unrewarded, as the local organiser presented her with a team baseball cap for her efforts and we arrived back in Toulouse as lightning flashed around and the rain sheeted down.

Thank goodness for Google Maps, which navigated us through woodland to the nearest bus stop for the trip to town ahead of most of the Raiders’ fans, though we did chat with one sensible woman who told us that they had a 4am pick-up for their flight to Bristol next morning.

Relieved to be back in town, we avoided The Melting Pot, the Irish-style bar that was the Raiders fans’ watering hole – we had no intention of testing the 3am closing time, and instead found a tapas bar with a decent drop of Grimburgen beer. An interesting day. Would I do it again? At the drop of a hat.

Indeed, the next evening we were back at Stade E-Wallon to watch Stade Toulousian take on Montpellier in the French Rugby Union Top 14 competition. Despite the 9.05 kick off the stadium was practically full and rocking. The free shuttle buses from the nearby tube station worked a treat and it was a thrilling victory for the home side. Still, I have my Olympique XIII shirt and hat, and that’s the game I will remember most fondly.

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