May. Today my host family took all of us students residing with them for a day trip to Madiran, a small village about two and a half hours from here, where Nelly (our host) and her two sisters own a house (formerly a school) which their grandparents owned, and which they are renovating. The drive, though long, was interesting, as one had views across to the amazing snowcapped Pyrénées, and we also passed through a number of very old villages (villages and towns all around this area were originally Roman), boasting medieval churches, donjons and other buildings. We also stopped at a Sunday market in one village, and at another village having a massive street sale.
After our picnic lunch at the house, Nelly’s sister Annie took us on a walking tour of Madiran village, including the extraordinary 11th
Century church, part of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Many sites around here are part of the pilgrimage route, including sites in Toulouse itself.
May – Wednesday 6th
May. Back to being a student. My first day heading off for school started with the buses being on strike, an event repeated today (Wednesday), adding a nice
30 minute walk to the morning routine, today in light rain. Tuesday morning the trams were on strike instead, which didn’t affect me. The buses were running in the afternoons for the trips home.
There are 11 students in my main class (level B1), from a wide variety of countries (USA, Colombia, Sweden, Germany, Nigeria, Switzerland, Spain, Brazil and Australia). This makes for some difficulties, as everyone has accents, some very strong. For example, I can’t understand a word the Brazilian girl says, nor most of the Spaniards, due to their strong accents, lazy enunciation (sorry, I’m a teacher, it’s my job to be critical) and speed of talking! I might speak French slowly, but the teacher says my e
nunciation is very good, though pro
nunciation can sometimes still be problematic, though improving!
I am also taking some afternoon workshops: phonetics and culture. Also there is often an alternative activity after lunch, such as a walking tour, museum visit, or a tutorial. This Friday is another public holiday (like last Friday), so we are having double classes on Thursday, till 5.00pm.
On Friday I plan to spend the day at the Space Museum, and perhaps on Saturday will
take the train to Carcasonne (only an hour away), which people have told me is a must-see.
I am taking plenty of opportunities for conversation with my hosts, and I think the immersion part of the experience is at least as valuable as the course itself. In the occasional conversations with people in shops, in the street, etc I usually know what to say, the problem remains understanding what the other person is saying.
The weather has been mostly cloudy, but not cold or hot. Gluten-free food is quite difficult to find here, compared with Paris and especially Ireland, but most supermarkets have something. Fresh bread or pastries? No. Not like that patisserie I found in Paris, or those great crèperies in Provins! I have been eating a lot of salads for lunch, and long for one of those delicious-looking baguettes!
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