After almost two years I’m bringing this back to life, leaving old stuff intact and hoping there’s nothing too embarrassing left in there :) Any suggestions are welcome, especially about design and simple ways to make it better.


Toulouse – Valladolid

Leaving Toulouse

As I had mentioned before, B. kindly dropped me off before he went to work in the morning at the petrol station on the western section of the highway ring, pointing south. There were lots of cars but I figured most of them are just going somewhere within Toulouse, so I asked just drivers with something else than 31 on their number plates. (France is divided into 100 departments and each of them has a number designated to it. 31 belongs to the department of Haute-Garonne, where Toulouse is located.) Before I got picked up by two Frenchmen after half an hour, I had seen a plane passing quite low above me (the airport isn’t far away) but I couldn’t tell if it were an Airbus. We didn’t talk at all for quite some time as the guy next to the driver had a long phone call, but later they showed me Pic du Midi in the distance. There appear to be two mountains of this name – it means simply “Peak of Midi” (Midi = southern France) – but looking at the map it had to be Pic du Midi de Bigorre, especially as I seem to remember the dome of the famous observatory on the top.

They dropped me at a petrol station after 100 km and the first driver I asked – because he had Spanish plates – agreed to give me a lift. L. was driving a van to Bilbao. It turned out he was actually a Gallego from a village not far from Santiago de Compostela: when he got a long phone call from a friend, it seemed to me he had a very weird accent. I didn’t understand much but I had thought that my Spanish being so crap is the only reason for this… Anyway, I learned my first phrase in Galician (Bus dias!*) – I later found out it’s actually Bos días, but from his mouth it certainly sounded like Bus. He told me that Galician sounds like Portuguese, but actually isn’t that similar, besides, the Galician they learn in school differs a lot from what they actually speak.

L. works for for the textile company Zara, he named a few more brands they produce, but I didn’t know them, just 2 of them sounded kind of familiar. He told me a bit about his colleagues at work. One of them has the same name as me, another is Romanian, a good worker, but there are many others who don’t want to work but prefer to beg for money on the streets. He heard of a beggar who was offered work by a passer-by, but ran away from the plantation after half a day. Earlier L. worked in Switzerland, in Crans-Montana, where his colleagues were Safet and his brother from Novi Pazar, a mostly Muslim town in Serbia. Safet wasn’t very religious, unlike his brother, a strict Muslim who was fasting during Ramadan, never drank alcohol (except beer) etc.

At 11:15 am he left me at the service area after Donostia / San Sebastián, where I asked a few people for a lift. A French couple told me they couldn’t take me because they were on holiday, but another elderly French couple saw no problem with that and took me for about 250 km. We stopped in Bilbao for some shooping, got lost a bit in the city but quickly found the way back to motorway, so I saw just the Sacred Heart Monument (Jesusen Bihotzaren Monumentua / Monumento al Sagrado Corazón) pictured in this article and the sign pointing to the Guggenheim museum. When we started discussing money and prices, it turned out the Frenchman collects coins, so I promised to send him Slovene euro coins once they were isued, and we have kept contact since then.

The real motorway (autopista) ends at Burgos, and after they left me at a petrol station between Burgos and Palencia, I discovered it would be probably a better idea if they had left me there, because the service areas were further apart, and therefore more frequented. But here on autovía (dual carrigeway) there is a petrol station at almost every exit, so I waited for quite some time and in the end asked a Portuguese truck driver to just take me to a busiest one. It was large enough but the mostly Portuguese truck drivers either claimed they aren’t going my way, or that they don’t understand me, although I hardly said more than “Valladolid”. So I rather went to the junction and soon got a lift to Valladolid, almost to the door of my host.

Toulouse 2

Local host

I was a bad guest this time, as I basically just slept the night on B.’s comfortable couch and even used the short time I spent in Toulouse to go meet someone else. But we still managed to talk a bit in the evening and morning.

B. works in a construction company as the boss of the administrative department, which means he’s working with computers and women all the time, so he doesn’t have one at home. He’s an avid skier, spending most of winter weekends in nearby Pyrenees, and a traveller who had recently discovered the joys of Hospitality Club in the Baltics. He hates traffic jams and like me, that’s not all he does about them, but also plans to reduce them by selling the car and getting around the town by bicycle or maybe scooter, especially as the way between his flat and job is nice and safe enough. Fortunately for me, getting rid of the car was still in the future, so he was able to give me a ride in the morning to a petrol station on the highway ring.

Local troubles

As many other places around France, Toulouse saw its share of violence in autumn 2005. It started over a week later than in Paris, but after that it was one of the main centres of unrest, with dozens of cars, at least 2 buses and a few buildings set on fire, and for a day the city bus network completely stopped as drivers protested against the aggression. A part of the underground line was also closed down.

A much worse incident occurred in September 2001, when a chemical factory exploded, resulting among other consequences in 30 deaths, many buildings so damaged that they had to be pulled down and supposedly 2/3 of the city’s windows shattered.

Studying in Toulouse

Considering the size of town and the aeronautical industry, it’s no surprise that Toulouse hosts a number of high-quality engineering schools. The costs are of course lower than e.g. in Paris, which all together results in 2nd biggest university campus in France according to Wikipedia. The best thing is probably that there’s a host of opportunities for some practical experience during your studies compared to many other French and European universities (not to speak about Slovenia).

M. was quite surprised when he started his studies in France, as he hadn’t known the school is somehow linked with the military. It doesn’t show much, except during first two weeks, when the older students tend to get into commanding mood. At least in hindsight nothing particularly outrageous, but still too much for some tender souls who apparently reckon it will last till the end of ther studies.
More about local sports

Both the rugby club Stade Toulousain, one of the most successful rugby teams in Europe, and the football club Toulouse FC (with a fair bit of luck) finished third this year in the respective French championships. The latter thus got a place in the qualifying stage of the UEFA Champions League, while the former as always qualified for its rugby version. Football proved more dangerous at least for the mayor, who injured his ankle while celebrating the victory. In autumn Toulouse will be one of the host cities of Rugby World Cup.

More local news since the previous post (links in French)

Cité de l’espace celebrated its 10th anniversary. The second metro line was inaugurated, with apparently very nicely decorated stations (notice the mayor’s crutches). It also brought along a comic book and an exhibition in the Roman museum, showing what the archaeologists found during excavations. In summer the city will host a summer festival.

Modern Albanian names

There’s a boy named Arvidas, a girl called Esmeralda (though not because of this it seems).

Arvidas  Esmeralda

The Confession (L’Aveu)

The confession is a film by Greek director Costa-Gavras, starring Yves Montand in possibly his best role, and his wife Simone Signoret. It is based on a book of the same title by Artur London, describing the Prague trials in 1951-2 Czechoslovakia, in which he was one of the defendants.

L'Aveu - poster

I had a really hard time watching this film. After first 5 or 10 minutes it was just too revolting, what was going on in the film was so out of sync with today’s world I live in, contrary to all principles of democracy, freedom, human rights etc. The fact that the story was real, not just from the scriptwriter’s imagination, of course didn’t offer much consolation. But somehow I forced myself to see it till the end – I still found it easier than reading similarly revolting comics (there are a few that I found excellent, but still have to get further than page 5), probably (1) because you can just sit down and watch the film, while you have to turn the pages of comics, and (2) because the film just goes on, while you can stare into a single page of comics and think about it for as long as you want.

When I saw it the first time I got the impression it’s not particularly creative, just the story of the book put into film. But while I was watching the rerun a few months later, I knew the story already and noticed so much more: the camera angles, zooming, and other technical elements that together masterfully created the perfectly claustrophobic atmosphere. Maybe it’s simply a too powerful film to grasp everything in a single viewing. Or maybe it’s too difficult just for me :-) Certainly the first time all my thoughts were occupied with the (hi)story.

The curious thing about this film is that it’s made in French, which I found a bit funny, as here’s no doubt where the events take place, unlike in Z for example.

(random) LINKS:
an article (in French) discussing the events in connection with the film
criticism (in French) of Amen., 2003 film by Costa-Gavras, including also criticism of L’Aveu, concerning its manipulation with historical accuracy

La corrida for the more sensitive

For a break I’ll finally venture into regions better described by the title of this blog. When hearing about la corrida, one usually thinks of bullfighting as practised (most famously) in Spain, but a while ago I watched a travel documentary and discovered that the Balkans offer another version of it, called korida. It does involve bulls, but in most ways it’s very different from the southwestern version. Maybe most importantly, if you would really like to see corrida but cruelty deters you from visiting a “real” one – be it for ethical reasons or because you simply can’t watch it – you’re welcome to Bosnia and Herzegovina! (though it’s still a not very enjoyable activity for the animals, of course)


It is practised in many places in Bosnia. Reportedly the name korida is a modern invention for marketing purposes, while the most common traditional local name is bodljavina bikova (“bullpricking”).

The most famous event is organized in Grmeč area (Grmečka korida) in northwestern Bosnia, close to Ključ and not far from Mrkonjić-Grad, usually in August. Here is a short article (in Bosnian) about the 234th korida, held in 2006. Place names probably mean nothing to you, but let me write anyway that this source says that it was previously held on Međeđe brdo, while since 1996 it’s located on Popovića brdo near Oštra Luka. In 2005 it was honoured by a post stamp issued by Republika Srpska.

but korida is also held in many places around Sarajevo. It’s also been exported a few times to Serbia, e.g. Srem region and Novi Sad.


Unlike the more famous version, it’s a fight between two bulls, not a man and a bull. Two bulls clash their heads and then push, push, push… until one of them gets bored. The winner is the bull who chases his opponent away, usually towards the spectators. There are no Plazas de toros, but an ordinary lawn would do. This means the people are totally unprotected but usually there’s plenty of space to run to if the losing bull fancies the crowd a bit too much. The way a bull loses a match means the animals are very rarely seriously hurt.


A photo by Franci:

Korida in Bosnia and Herzegovina

photos from a small korida (around 4000 visitors)

Video clip in Slovene and Serbo-Croatian from the RTV Slovenija travel show Čez planke: Pasje leto (07.01.2007) –> start watching at 1:12:50

– 9-minute video from a smaller event near Sarajevo and “best of 2005

If you understand Bosnian:

a witty report from a big event (88 000 people) at Čevljanovići 30 km north of Sarajevo


There are apparently other events like this one around the world, as I saw a very similar picture in a Turkish travel magazine, in an article about northeastern Turkey.

Toulouse 1

Toulouse (mostly) through Slovene eyes

One of the HC members in Toulouse that I had contacted wasn’t able to host me but he said he knows a Slovene student who would be very pleased to meet me, so when I arrived to Toulouse I called M. and after I took a shower we met at the central square called Place du Capitole and had a drink right there. He told me that Salamanca’s main square looks just the same; I didn’t get such impression later in Salamanca but it’s true that the Place du Capitole looks like a typical Spanish Plaza Mayor – a big rectangular open space, the focal point for all the main roads, surrounded by arcades and of course including the town hall and usually several other important buildings.

It’s M.’s 4th year as a post-graduate student in Toulouse but I’m the first Slovene he met here apart from family and friends. We talked a bit about our studies and comparison between studying in France (or many other countries) and Slovenia but quickly switched to gossip about the locals.

Local passions

As I could tell from the profiles of the HC members in Toulouse and what I read about the city (4th biggest in France), almost everyone is doing something in connection with aeroplanes or rockets. Airbuses are built here and it’s their greatest passion besides rugby (not football): when the new Airbus A380 went on the first flight on 27th April 2005, the airport was as full of people as a rugby stadium and for those who couldn’t come it was shown live on a big screen at the Place du Capitole – while on the ground there was a shape of the aeroplane in natural size. This is probably what he had in mind; I think the screen is in the top right corner. At the moment the people are not so excited due to delivery delays of A380.

Main sights

Later M. took me on a short night-tour of the main sights in the city centre: we saw St Stephen’s cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Étienne), the Romanesque Saint-Sernin basilica, a result of Toulouse’s important position on the way to Santiago de Compostela, enjoyed a nice view on the bridges (photo stolen from la mairie de Toulouse):

Pont Neuf, Toulouse

and some other places that may or may not be described later.

Local transport

Yet another city I visited with only one metro line (after Sofia, Bulgaria and Genova, Italy), but there are plans of expansion, with line B under construction (obstructing the stroll around certain parts of the city at the moment) and scheduled to open on 30th June 2007. It’s quite unimportant for tourists, as you can get anywhere around the centre on foot; I guess it’s a different story if you’re into rockets and might enjoy Cité de l’espace.

Local food

Supposedly, when you come to Toulouse you have to try the fantastic very special and expensive local specialty called cassoulet, but I didn’t have time and probably I wouldn’t try it anyway, as M. said (and a Serb living in Toulouse agrees) that it’s pretty much like pasulj, a ubiquitous Serbian dish that is sooo “complicated” to make that it’s used in the saying “simple as pasulj“.

Local customs

I stayed in Toulouse for a very short time, so I didn’t have the opportunity to see it for myself, but comparing what M. told me and what I later saw in Spain, Toulousains and probably southern France in general have more of a South European character than (northern) Spaniards. If you’re walking around, you should wait until the red light is on, and then jump across the road. It actually makes sense, as while the green light is on for pedestrians, it’s also green light for drivers turning right across the road crossing – and there’s no way they will stop for anyone!

Local lingo

There are plenty of Spaniards and Portuguese working and living in Toulouse, so even during my short stay there I heard Spanish a few times on the streets. More interesting though is Occitan, a language spoken in southern France, though French is nowadays prevalent of course. It’s nowhere near official and it’s unlikely to be heard on the streets, but at least in downtown Toulouse, or Tolosa in Occitan, there are plenty of streets with signs in both languages, like this one (again, not mine):

street sign in French & Occitan, Toulouse

more to come:

Studying in Toulouse

Local host

Local violence

Local shop (it’s not Royston Vasey after all…)