To Amandine, Maïssa, Silvia, Pascal and Sidorela,
For the French half of my year abroad I was lucky enough to spend four months (September to December) studying in the charming city of Toulouse, in the southwest of France. Known for its beautiful pink terracotta buildings (it’s often referred to as ‘La Ville Rose’ or The Pink City), its quaint cobbled streets and grand squares, the city has certainly left its mark on this young traveller.
When visiting new places, I like to search for spots that are a little off the beaten path; hidden gems it feels like only you and your friends know about, which help fine-tune your experience to your tastes. I particularly loved browsing the independent bookstores scattered around town. Ombres Blanches was my favourite – it served as a retreat from the unforgiving winter weather and offered a snug haven for bookworms to spend countless hours perusing their favourite genres. No doubt it would give Waterstones a run for its money (yes, even the big four storeyed one in Newcastle!)
If you didn’t catch me in Ombres Blanches, I was most likely quenching my thirst for bubble tea at Café Perle. Occasionally I would take a stroll, peach tea in hand, towards Place de la Daurade which overlooks the Garonne River. On a clear evening, you could take a seat on the riverbank and ponder the meaning of life in the presence of the grandiose Chapelle Saint Joseph de la Grave, as the sun set beside it.
Maison Blanche was another one of my favourite spots. This cool retro bar hosted live music nights, where bands played traditional music from their countries. Needless to say, I regularly frequented “Greek Night”, which took place fortnightly on a Wednesday and featured the rebetiko classics. I particularly enjoyed going there with some fellow appreciators of Greek music who I met through Toulouse’s Erasmus Student Network, including one who had done a study placement in my family’s city of Thessaloniki in the north of Greece – what are the chances of that?! In any case, it was really special to have that taste of home whilst being away, and to be able to share it with some lovely people.
It was really special to have that taste of home whilst being away
In fact, I met my closest friends abroad at badminton practice, which occurred three times a week in the sports hall behind the university buildings. Attending these sessions was the highlight of my time in Toulouse. They rekindled my passion for badminton, which I’ve always loved but hadn’t taken seriously before, and I’m grateful that I could make some strong (and hopefully long-lasting) progress. Butler Badminton 2024/25 doesn’t know what’s coming!
The students there were incredibly warm and encouraging, often complimenting me on both my French and badminton skills (even if both could have used some improvement!). After three hours of practice on a Friday evening, we would make it a habit to go to the Christmas markets at Place du Capitole, Toulouse’s main square. Often overcome by the toasty smell of cinnamon, we would find ourselves in the queue for “chimney cakes” or kürtőskalács, a delectable Hungarian street food snack.
It was also these friends who supported me through my 8am 4-hour lectures. Having been used to my fleeting 45-minute classes in Elvet Riverside, to say that these ones were a shock to the system would be an understatement (however much I appreciated the energy and great detail that the professors put into their teaching). On top of that, being the only non-native student at times was a little intimidating, and involved a lot of whispering ‘Qu’est-ce qu’il veut qu’on fasse?’ (‘What does he want us to do?’) to the person next to me. All that to say, you certainly won’t see me missing a single class in final year – fellow students, hold me accountable!
On the whole, my experience in Toulouse was extremely rewarding, for which I especially thank my friends to whom this letter is addressed. Thank you for welcoming me with open arms and for giving me some very joyful memories. Thank you for making me feel right at home and for being there at the drop of a hat. Last of all, to all my peers who are currently on a year abroad or thinking of embarking on one, don’t be afraid to be yourselves and the right people will find you.
Lots of love xx
Photography by: Myrto Kaltsidou