Travelling has always been a significant part of my life. I am in the fortunate position of having a job which gives me the opportunity to explore new places, but long before that was the case, I loved the feeling of untramelled freedom that came from discovering parts previously unknown; distant from home in both a cultural and physical sense. As a result of these adventures I met my wife, and have friends strewn all over the world.
‘The Pandemic’ put a stop to all of that of course, and the absence of travel has also had an impact on my motivation to take pictures. The times I feel most inspired or motivated to capture moments are those which are novel, and being stuck in the same place for so long has not been a boon for my visual curiousity.
However, the time to wander has finally come again, and for the first time since January 2020, we got on a plane to head abroad. This specific trip was originally scheduled for May of 2020, a long overdue visit to our friends Gordon and Roberta, who had moved to the South of France a few years previously. The village they live in requires a combination of different kinds of transport, and so we took the opportunity to hop, skip, and jump between a few locations along the way. The first stop was Toulouse.
Despite chaos at Heathrow, broken check in systems, and threats of industrial action by British Airways staff, we made it to Toulouse without too much in the way of incident (the return leg was less fortunate). It felt like a relatively short journey, though if we had been able to fly directly from Glasgow it would have been far shorter. I liked the outside of the French airport, as it had retro-futuristic vibes in places.
Despite usually being avid AirBnB fans, the pickings in this particular French city were slim, and we opted instead for a hotel. Not just any hotel either – a fancy ‘design’ hotel called Mama Shelter, which boasted a vivid interior and actual cinema space in the basement. There was even a heart-shaped neon composed of sausage.
The rooms themselves were also characteristically quirky, though I am not entirely sure what these masks were all about. No suggestions please.
Every time we sat down anywhere to eat, I would order burrata, and that included our very first outlandish ‘snack’ on the hotel’s rooftop. It’s amazing how a relatively tasteless ball of cheese can be so enticing, particularly when it isn’t readily available back home.
At first, I must admit that I was underwhelmed by the offerings of Toulouse.
Despite being well aware that there is far more to a place than sights, there just didn’t seem to be a huge amount to take in. This was compounded when we stumbled across the Capitol building, which had been described to as as the city’s major landmark. I mean, it was nice enough, but not spectacular in the kind of way that the Grand Place in Brussels is. I began to wonder if we had inflated expectations.
To be fair, they did have a Claire’s offering free piercing…
and what seemed to be the smallest escalator in the world. However, that particular oblique title belongs to the ‘Petit-Escalator’ in Kawasaki.
Part of the reticence on this first day was probably down to a general apprehension about being in such a ‘foreign’ place after so long. Even though I am an intrepid roamer, the realities of travel in practice often require you to be open-minded, and humble, but also confident and with a sense of self-assurance – a tricky combination which the past few years locked away haven’t exactly helped practice.
The more we found pace with the rhythm of the city though, the more I liked it. At the risk of painting an entire continent with a broad brush, I had forgotten just how distinct the European lifestyle can be from what we are used to in the UK; the laissez faire approach in comparison seeming chaotic and intimidating. However, everybody we met was pleasant. Nobody gave us a hard time for not understanding French or what the etiquette was for simple interactions like ordering at a bar. This was quite a different experience to some other parts of France that I’ve had in the past.
As we sat by the river with beers and tried to improvise in the absence of a bottle opener, some girls sitting next to us offered theirs, and it felt like perhaps our initial British awkwardness had been misplaced. Then again, you can’t expect to return after two years to an activity which by its very nature takes you out of your comfort zone and immediately feel at home. In many ways, that would dilute the entire experience.
As the sun went down and the temperature cooled, Toulouse came to life. Restaurants spilled out onto even the tiniest of cobbled streets, plangent sounds of joy resonating down the alleyways. People embraced, laughed, and danced.
Even that central square took on a whole different character, and we felt compelled to sit and soak up as much of it as we could.
As I often find myself doing while abroad, I cerebrated upon what life might be like if we were to move there, and couldn’t help but feel a tangible sense of loss at the sudden internalised realisation that the options for such a fantasy were now far more restricted after the UK opted to leave the European Union. Sometimes the most important thing is actually the existence of a possibility, as opposed to whether or not you actually choose to indugle in it.
Given the proclivity for Heathrow to lose checked baggage as of late, we opted to take backpacks for this trip, and I almost didn’t even take a camera at all. However, in the end I went for the tiny Rollei 35s for film duties, and the Ricoh GR III for the digital pictures you see in this post. I mostly shot 35mm in Toulouse in the end, so we’ll see if I ever get around to developing them.
For the next part of our trip, we headed further South East, which is where the next post will pick up.