Birthday trip to the South of France

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September 19th 2017
Published: September 20th 2017
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It was the day before my birthday when I caught hubby frantically trying to book something / anything for my birthday! ๐Ÿ˜ฑ

As usual his organisational skills held no bounds and he was getting increasingly frustrated at the constant "Sorry we are fully booked". His last ditch attempt was to book a flight to somewhere sunny ๐ŸŒž Of course last minute flights aren't the cheapest and hubby isn't used to shopping around so we decided to put our heads together. I headed over to Kayak who had a tool whereby you can just input the date and your budget and all available flights appear. Given the lateness, there wasn't much choice within my stingy budget... but Toulouse came up. Not a place I had heard of but at ยฃ9.99 for Ryanair flights... why not? So the 'book it' button was pressed and we just had hotels to source. Sadly the hotels weren't as reasonable and we were looking at an average of ยฃ100 for a night but needs must and the Ibis was booked in Toulouse.

So all was birthday (13th) would consist of a family meal ๐Ÿฝ , then on the 14th we would head to Stansted for our flight to Toulouse .โœˆ๏ธ

Then all started to go pear shaped ๐Ÿ˜ฑ

1. I had come across an article on Facebook about all the air traffic controllers being on strike that day resulting in hundreds of flights being cancelled. Our flight was 2 days away and the thought of the airports playing catch up etc filled us with dread.

2. The weather forecast for Toulouse consisted of lots of rain โ˜”๏ธ

3. Engineering works for the UK railway network meant getting back from Stansted on the Sunday was going to be hellish.

I was already frustrated at hubby's disorganisation and always having to arrange my own 'gifts' etc, this was the icing on the cake...was there any point in going anyhow?? ๐Ÿ˜ฑ

I just thought we would swallow the airfare but not add anymore monies onto it so the hotel in Toulouse was cancelled...

We had some reflection time and had a look at trying to find some sun in the region. Beziers was looking good ๐ŸŒž A couple of hours train ride out of Toulouse ๐Ÿš† , so at least hubby got something out of it and we were escaping the heavy rain forecast in Toulouse. Sadly our travel coupons for France expired at the end of August but we were confident it wouldn't hit the finances too much. Unfortunately we were flying into Toulouse too late on the Thursday to catch the train to Beziers immediately, so we booked the Ibis budget at the airport and planned to get the 10.15 to Beziers on Friday. In Beziers we opted for the Mercure which at ยฃ80 a night was cheaper than if we stayed in Toulouse.

Andrew looked at all the options for getting back from Stansted on the Sunday and found driving to Derby and basically going in and out of London would be the simplest and hopefully less traumatic. We had opted for the later flight back on Saturday to make the most of the time but of course that did mean a stay at Stansted. Thankfully points made up most of the bill for the Holiday Inn and we were landing at a time when the hotel shuttle buses were still operating (unlike when we landed from Berlin!) so hopefully it wasn't going to be an ordeal.

Things on the Thursday started out very positively. We didn't have to leave until midday so it was a nice gentle morning packing before the drive to Derby. We even made the earlier (and faster) train to St Pancras out of Derby๐Ÿš† . We got into London in good time and even got our Priv passes updated and we arrived into Liverpool St earlier than expected. Then it was straight onto the Stansted Express. So far so good.....the only shock of the day being my favourite custard tarts increasing by 40p each! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ Despite this, we were in good spirits and despite the usual chaos at UK airports we were sat waiting for our flight in very good time. The next hour was quite boring, as usual the airport was packed so going for a meal was impossible but still despite all our dreads we took off only an hour late. The flight was uneventful and only took 1hr45mins before we landed in Toulouse. The tram stop was right outside the airport and 2 stops later we had arrived at the hotel ๐Ÿšƒ There was some debate as to which stop we should have got off at, but thankfully either of them only required a 5 or so minute walk. The Ibis Budget was certainly quirky but the bed was far too hard for me but thankfully my sleeping tablets did their trick and we had a reasonable night waking up at about 6.30am. We decided to get going rather than snooze. Breakfast was cheap and cheerful and we were soon on the tram heading towards the centre of town ready to get the train to Beziers. The tram didn't actually go to the railway station so we did have to change onto the Metro. All was pretty straightforward and thankfully only one ticket required. Both the tram and the metro were pretty crowded but I suppose it was rush hour.

Once we had arrived at the station we were able to make the earlier train to Beziers ๐Ÿš† . The tickets cost just over 30e with our Priv discount which wasn't bad. The train journey was peaceful and we arrived in Beziers just after 11am. The City centre is up a hill from the station through a lovely park ๐ŸŒน . Thankfully I wasn't feeling too bad and managed the walk to the hotel without incident. It was too early to check in but the hotel did offer to look after our bags whilst we went to get some lunch. We found a nice little cafe in the back streets where I savoured a traditional French omelette and Andrew had savoury crepes. The bill was a pleasant surprise at 13e. By this time we were both feeling quite tired from the early start and travelling not to mention the overcast weather, so it was siesta time back at the hotel.

By 5pm we were feeling more refreshed and decided to go out and do some sightseeing. The clouds were breaking and the sun made a welcome return. The cathedral and Pont Vieux were on the hit list. Google maps took us straight to the Cathedral and we were lucky enough to be able to go inside and all for the cost of ยฃ0 e0. The cathedral was certainly a delight and you could see amazing views of the surrounding area from the 'Promenade Jacques Hemel'. The trip to Pont Vieux involved a more intensive walk down the hill. There was no denying it, it was certainly hard work but amazingly we made it. The bridges and the view of the town of the cathedral were certainly stunning and worth the effort ๐ŸŒ‰ .

The concern, now of course though was how to get back up to the town ๐Ÿ˜•

I was certainly in no condition to start walking back up. Luckily we came across a heavenly vision - a restaurant! ๐Ÿฝ It even met our exacting standards and we enjoyed a lovely meal, along with some scrummy cocktails ๐Ÿ˜‹ , and all for less than 40e. They even called us a taxi to go back up the hill....bliss ๐Ÿš•

The next morning we decided to have a light breakfast in our room and have a more substantial lunch before the trip to the airport. It was Andrew's job to nip across the street to the bakery to get supplies, though it didn't quite work out that way. He was gone quite a while hunting for breakfast. Luckily the cafe from the day before came up trumps with crepes and strawberry jam...yummy ๐Ÿ˜‹ . So it was time to check out, again the hotel offered to look after our luggage whilst we did some more sightseeing around town. First stop was the 'Halles' - the indoor market...a major disappointment when we came face to face with rows of fish and meat produce...doh! (Smelly too...) So back to the outdoor market that was lining the streets. There was some event on over that weekend so everywhere was quite colourful and loud with groups marching around banging drums. Even the trees were wrapped in big colourful blankets. Andrew's aim was to buy a new shirt...which he did for the grand price of 10e and of course he ended up with a couple of model cars too ๐Ÿ‘” . We then went for a trip on the town's road train ๐Ÿš‚ which handled the hills very well thankfully. We ended up at the 'Les 9 Ecluses Fonseranes', a series of 9 locks which again offered great views of the surrounding countryside. The road train trip lasted well over an hour and for 14e was great value. Once we got back, it was time for lunch...not as successful as the previous evening sadly as my cannelloni ended up being a plate of aubergine but hey ho, despite the odds we had actually had a lovely couple of days. Now all that was left was to get home ๐Ÿ˜•

Again the return trip to the airport went swimmingly. Onto the train to Toulouse, Onto the metro to connect with the tram. We arrived at the airport in very good time and swiftly went through security. The airport was quite uneventful and most shops etc were closed by 8pm. You couldn't even get a cup of coffee! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ Thankfully the flight only left 30mins late and we were soon back in Stansted. Thankfully this time, there were no transfer issues and we got the hotel shuttle bus without incident. By midnight we were thankfully all tucked up zzzzz.

Sunday travelling in the UK is to be avoided at virtually any cost and by any means! Today was Sunday! ๐Ÿ˜ฑ A travel many many miles across our crowded island, via London day! ๐Ÿš†Breakfast at the Holiday Inn Express is free to all guests and I would say one of the best free breakfasts available... on paper. Fresh fruit, pastry's, cereals, etc, scrambled eggs, backed beans, bacon and sausages. So, the fresh fruit juice turns out to be watered down from a machine, there never was any bacon, the scrambled eggs were in short supply and the baked beans were sporadic in their appearance too. The sausages were consistently available although they weren't the best in the world. Still we didn't starve for free!

Check out was the usual chuck the card at the receptionist and wait with baited breath for them to give you the updated bill amount, but on this occasion, all was well and we duly turned away just as the bus arrived. Perfect timing! Off to the airport to catch the train, eight minutes to go before departure. Perfect timing! Train nice and free of screaming kids and adults playing music too loudly through poorly fitting headphones so all was good... Train departed on time and arrived in London on time. Perfect timing! London Underground next, just missed one, but not to worry, only 1 minute to wait for the next one. Perfect timing! We rumbled under the capitals streets and arrived at St Pancras in time to get supplies for the train north. Perfect timing! We presented ourselves at the barrier to the train with 14 minutes to go before departure at 12:30, but this was not so perfect timing as the 11:30 train north had been cancelled due to over running engineering works and all the passengers from it were already on the train and were literally laughing at all the people who had turned up for the 12:30 because of course, there were not enough seats for everyone and so the train was more like a tube train in rush hour. With much searching we managed to find a couple of seats (apart) with old bags in them and asked their owners if they wouldn't mind moving them so we could sit down. Mutter mutter mutter... Fortunately this train departed on time and raced along as far as Bedford then we got stuck in all the aftermath of the engineering works and then proceeded at no better than 'slowly' to Kettering where we got going again. Derby was arrived at some 20 odd minutes behind the already slow timings for this train and we were both ready for home! ๐Ÿ˜…


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