The Bank, Anstruther, Fife

IMAG9861A few months ago I was at a meeting in the Dreel Hall in Anstruther. As usual, I was far too early and went for a walk around the graveyard. Sitting on a bench, overlooking the Dreel Burn merging with the Firth of Forth, I noticed a conservatory sticking awkwardly out from the back of where I knew to be a bar. However, in my mind I thought it was an auld man’s kind of pub. It got me wondering and therefore it went on to my list of places for OH and I to visit (btw I’m always looking for recommendations).

We parked the car just dIMG_20180721_175027_504own the side of the Dreel Halls and crossed the Dreel Burn using the large square stepping-stones that take you on to the beach next to the end of Shore Street. From there we followed the Fife Coastal Path up to the back of The Bank and through their beer garden. Following our noses we climbed some stairs and ended up in the bar where we were taken into the conservatory and given a table with a lovely view of rooftops and the Forth and given a lunch menu along with a leather-bound one. When I opened the bigger menu the first page was a list of drinks so I closed it again and looked at the lunch menu. 2 courses for £12.00. There was fish and chips, burgers, mac n cheese etc, which was fine but nothing really jumped out. Bored I opened the leather menu again and discovered a page of starters, a page of chefs specials, a page of burgers and  a whole page of seafood. Ignoring my normal annoyance at it now being too big a menu, I was back in a good mood and made my decision as did OH. However, no-one appeared to take our order so we sat in a hot conservatory without a drink for far too long. Eventually a different waitress appeared and was about to disappear again when I called her over and told her we were ready to order.

I asked for the ‘Haddock Timbale – Smoked ourselves with oak shavings, poached with prawns and saffron cream, finished with chef’s vegetables and buttered baby potatoes’. When it arrived I was surprised to see the haddock was white and not the usual smokey yellow. However, IMAG9855the sauce was electric yellow and I immediately worried for my white top. The fish was good but white and not smoked, the sauce was a bit salty, the vegetables were good, crunchy and not over done but the best bit was the prawns that were hidden in the drum of haddock. They were large and succulent.

OH ordered the ‘Roasted Sea bass, Crispy skin sea bass fillets, tomato, chorizo, cashews, rocket & new potato salad. It looked fantastic and I was immediately jealous. IMAG9853

It’s not often that OH wins at the food ordering competition we have but he definitely hit the jackpot with the Sea bass. He could not talk more highly about it. The textures, taste and amount were all perfect and created a memorable dish. The cashews and thinly cut chorizo were a big hit as were the fresh tomatoes and crispy skin.

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Leaving a empty plate OH then ordered a pudding from the full-page of desserts. ‘Dutch Apple Flan – Dutch apple pie filled with apple, raisins and cinnamon topped with a glazed lattice pastry, served hot or cold with cream, ice cream or crème anglaise.’ He decided on it hot with ice cream. He was disappointed to find it must have been heated in a microwave as the pastry was soggy but still enjoyed it and managed to leave another empty plate.

Overall, it was a good lunch and we will probably go back just so I can have the Sea bass.

2 mains, 1 dessert, 2 pints of ale and a pint of coke = £40.05

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The Inn on Loch Lomond

Another Saturday, another lunch out. But where to go? Well yesterday we decided to go for a drive around Loch Lomond and stop at The Inn on Loch Lomond for something to eat. It’s not a hard place to find, if you’re heading North it’s on the left hand side and it is on Loch Lomond. Well, not right on, it is the other side of a fast road but you can still see the Loch. Parking was good and we just walked in and asked for a table for two. First off we were asked if we had a voucher. Eh no. (Damn! I hate it when I miss a trick) and then we were told to sit anywhere. On looking we could see every table was set for 4 and there was an empty one next to the window but it had yet to be cleared so we sat further up. Soon after we were asked for our drinks order and then when they arrived our food order was taken. No messing around. Very smooth service. I have to admit I was a little disappointed in the menu. There were burgers, sandwiches and soup, stuff from the chippy (you can get take-away too), curry of the day, steaks, a couple of veg options but nothing that stood out at all. I ended up having Cauliflower and Leek Macaroni Cheese with crisp leaves and chippy chips. OH decided to have the curry of the day, which was Chicken Balti served with scented rice, poppadum, spiced onions, mango chutney and spinach and plantain bhaji.

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We decided, as we waited, that it was a bit chilly where we were sitting (in front of an unlit fire) so we asked to move, which wasn’t a problem at all and soon we were sitting at the window with a cleared and a re-set table.

It wasn’t long  after our food arrived. OH’s looked impressive. However, it wasn’t until he mentioned it, I realised there was no plate to decant the rice and balti in together. He struggled on complaining that using a knife and fork in a bowl doesn’t work. With hindsight we should have asked for a plate as it did hamper his enjoyment of the meal. His only other moan was he missed having a dip for the bhaji.

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The good news is he liked that he could taste the chargrilling of the chicken and there were fresh herbs on top (even though he had to dump the rice on top of them).

IMAG9177My macaroni was delicious. I had asked for the optional bacon to be added and there was large lumps of gammon in it. I had thought the cauliflower would also be through it but instead there was a large floret on top. The crispy leaves had been fried and scattered over the dish. The chips were indeed chippy chips – I could taste the difference but unfortunately they got cold quick so I left the majority of them to concentrate on the very hot pasta dish, which I knew was gloriously unhealthy for me as it was laden with cream and cheese. It was a little salty probably due to the bacon bits but I really wanted to finish it but couldn’t because it was such a large helping.

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After our meal I nipped to the loo. They were tastefully decorated and nice and clean but there was no shelf for my handbag whilst I washed my hands so annoyingly I had to put it on the toilet floor.

2 mains, a half pint of lager and a medium glass of white wine = £32.50

Incidentally, I checked the voucher thing out. Itson are doing a voucher for a 2 course lunch for £19 instead of £42, which also means you get a different menu.

A week in Gran Canaria

Looking for some winter sunshine I looked at Gran Canaria to book a week long getaway. OH and I are not ones for lying on a beach so after much searching decided on an AirBnB apartment in Agaete – a small fishing village on the North West of the island. A long drive away from where the majority of tourists lie starfished in the sand.

imag5840We hired a car from the airport and drove anti-clockwise around the round island. We were not disappointed when we were shown around our new home for the week. The view of the mountains and Atlantic was amazing (the wine and beer left in the kitchen for us were also great). After stocking up on some essentials we chilled for the rest of the evening enjoying the first of many amazing sunsets whilst sipping wine and nibbling cheese.

The following day (Sunday) we drove in to the capital of the Gran Canaria, Las Palmas. It was the day of their annual marathon so the city was buzzing. Groups of drummers lined the route, helicopters and motorbikes followed the runners and the locals cheered and clapped as the sweaty athletes sprinted (or limped) past. There is also an old town aspect to the capital, which was definitely prettier on the eye than the new builds and chic shopping centre.

The weather on Monday was perfect for a drive, this time clockwise, down to Maspolomas where we found miles of sand dunes. Imagine the Sahara Desert but with a coast. img_20170124_180703_063

There’s a main road, which runs from Agaete round the majority of the island and is the sensible route to take if you’re going anywhere. Additionally, there is also a spiders web of roads, which wander through the middle of the island clinging to the sides of the mountains. These roads are seriously narrow, have sheer drops, crazy hairpin bends and don’t offer the chance to get into 3rd gear too often. However, as well as the near death experiences they offer, they also give you breath taking views. So after a wander over the dunes we drove back to Agaete through the mountains. img_20170124_180233_758imag5685Stopping off at Roque Nublo, a precariously perched volcanic rock and the second highest point in the island.

This drive messed with my hands and nerves giving me white knuckles, sweaty palms and muscle cramps as I tensed at each and every corner (and I wasn’t even driving!) but they also give some amazing views – img_20170125_170331_759the kind of scenes you wouldn’t normally see unless you’re the type that actually enjoys leaving the car behind and trekking up a mountain for hours. Incidentally, the roads were also full of cyclists. Lycra clad mentalists pedalling along the extreme roads, cycling just as fast as the cars could drive.

imag5734When I booked the break in Gran Canaria the last thing I was expecting to hear was that I could visit a coffee plantation. Yes! They grow coffee in the Agaete Valley at Finca Los Castaños. This was only a short drive for us but it was still another scenic trip into the valley where we loved the relaxed tasting of their own red, rosé and white wines accompanied with cheese made from cow and goats milk and some pork pate on chunky bread. This was then followed with a lovely cup of the only coffee grown and produced in Europe and some delicious home made cake. This was all enjoyed whilst being surrounded by orange trees, grape vines, coffee plants and lush green mountains. The word you’re looking for right now is bliss.

Our apartment looked over Puerto De Las Nieves making it only a short walk down through a cactus garden and along the coast. The working port boasts a string of fabulous fish restaurants. We could easily have dined in a different place each night and not been disappointed. As the area isn’t full of tourists there were very few menus with photos or waiters trying to coerce us to a table so it was great to wander and choose at will without pressure. imag5707Additionally, the lack of beach seekers meant the meals were reasonably priced and didn’t break the bank at all.

As well as the amazing fish dishes we also managed to eat like cavemen when we dined in a restaurant, which had been carved out of the mountains. Restaurante El Centro Guayadeque The menu was fascinating. Eventually OH decided on a Steer Steak, which, when it arrived, covered the whole plate and looked like at least half of the beast. I had chicken skewers, which I couldn’t finish but wanted to. Both dishes were beautifully flame grilled. Like Fred and Wilma, we ate our meals sitting at a stone table in a cave, which was surprisingly cosy.

I could go on and on and tell you about everything else we did and every meal we ate but I’m already way over my usual word count so will stop now.

So, in summary, a lot of people have preconceived ideas about Gran Canaria. Perhaps thinking it’s just a place to go and lie on the beach. This certainly isn’t the case. Gran Canaria is an absolutely beautiful island, which has something for everyone and even more if you venture off the beaten path. I, for one, wouldn’t hesitate to go back.imag5675

The Tolbooth Seafood Restaurant, Stonehaven

OH and I haven’t had a planned lunch out for a while so with an empty weekend on the horizon we decided to plan a trip to Stonehaven so we could visit The Tolbooth Seafood Restaurant and pop in to see our niece and her new fiancé who live in the area.

We set off up the A90 and then prior to heading into the coastal village we stopped off at 2016-08-27 12.05.11.jpgDunottar Castle for a wee daunder around the picturesque, cliff top fortress to work up an appetite.

It was just a short drive from there down to Stonehaven and to the harbour the restaurant looks over. 2016-08-27 12.26.09.jpgUp some stone stairs the restaurant sits on top of the Tolbooth Museum and is the oldest building in Stonehaven dating back to the 16th century.

Soon we were sitting down with menus in hand. There was a blackboard of daily specials, a set lunch menu (3 courses for £20) and a short à la carte menu.

Fresh langoustines, mussels and oysters were also all on offer However. the set menu was perfect for me as I easily chose the Cullen Skink followed by the sea bream. OH also went for the set menu choosing mackerel and then Thai prawn curry.

The Cullen Skink was served with chopped chives, croutons and herb oil and came in a IMAG4472beautiful bowl that I would have loved to take home with me.  The yellow smoked haddock was dominant within it as it should be but for me there was a lack of lumps of potato in it and the consistency was verging on splitting. Nevertheless it was a tasty starter.  IMAG4470

OH’s hot smoked local mackerel fillets, baby green salad, pickled red onions and orange dressing didn’t last long. He had been intrigued by the orange dressing and was perhaps a little disappointed that it was spotted around the dish rather than over the fish and salad but this was a very minor thing.

IMAG4475My grilled fillet of sea bream with crushed ratte potato, chargrilled courgette and spicy tomato sauce  was beautiful. The skin was crispy and the fish fell away from it in nice tasty chunks. I’m a big fan of courgettes and these were perfect. I also loved the potatoes having never knowingly tasted ratte ones before.

Surprisingly, OH had went for the Thai prawn curry, crunchy greens, IMAG4473black onion seed & coriander rice as his main. He isn’t a big fan of prawns so my eyebrows raised at his choice. However, I then realised that the other option left on the set menu was rib eye steak and he’d had one a couple of nights earlier so didn’t fancy another so soon. Plus when we go out we try (we don’t always succeed) to get different dishes. Therefore, he had decided to leave his comfort zone on this occasion.  I asked him how it was and he said just like mine when I cook Thai so maybe he wasn’t too far out his zone. His plate was wiped clean before mine so I’m guessing he enjoyed it – the prawns certainly looked like big, meaty ones.  IMAG4476

For desserts we had also chosen different dishes. He had dark chocolate mousse, honeycomb and salted peanut brittle. He IMAG4477loved his and liked the crunch of the brittle alongside the thick, rich mousse.  I had went for local Castleton Strawberries, vanilla meringue, chantilly cream and strawberry coulis.  This hit the spot and wasn’t too heavy or too much after the previous 2 courses – just a great ending to a great meal.

For me the set menu was really well thought out offering something for everyone. However, the waiter did say you could mix between the set and the à la carte and they would change the price accordingly, which is a good thing.

2 large glasses of Sauvignon Blanc, a Gran Marnier, a soda water and lime and 2 x 3 course set menu came to £58.85.

 

 

 

 

 

Venice – top tips

  1. Get a water taxi from the airport to your hotel. 2016-07-12 18.52.11
    Yes, it’s expensive but you will arrive at your hotel (or as near as the canals allow) feeling like James Bond.
    The alternative is the airport waterbus which takes ages, can be overcrowded and doesn’t offer you the wow experience of seeing Venice when you first arrive. Obviously the waterbus is a heck of a lot cheaper.
  2. Book a Free Walking Tour. 2016-07-15 17.40.23.jpgThis is a great way to get to know the city as it takes you off the normal tourist routes, gives you loads of information about Venice and at the end they give you a brilliant map of Venice, which advertises great shops and restaurants to visit.
  3. Learn how to stand. If you can stand at a counter to drink  and eat you will save a fortune in Venice. Venetians will pop into a cafe or bar stand at the counter and drink their coffee or a small glass of house wine called an ombra, pay a euro and walk out again. If you sit you pay more.
  4. Eat like a local. Don’t eat in restaurants that show photos of food. If you want to avoid the tourist traps look out for osterie and bàcari that sell Cicchetti (also sometimes spelled “cichetti” or called “cicheti”) These are small cheap snacks that you can stand and eat with your ombra. Or if you want something a bit bigger look out for the restaurants that don’t usher you in but have small menus with only a few options.
  5. Learn how to sit on anything that isn’t a chair. As I’ve said if you sit you pay. Therefore, fountains, steps leading up to bridges, the side of a canal all make great places to take the weight off. We found a great spot close to our hotel next to the canal where we would drink like a local (see no. 6) and eat pizza (see no. 9).
  6. Drink like a local. There are little shops that sell you wine straight from the barrel into a plastic bottle for just a few euros. This means you can grab a couple of plastic glasses from your hotel room, find a spot with a view and relax for a couple of hours watching the gondolas go by. 2016-07-14 15.46.39
  7. Don’t get a gondola until you’ve done no.6.

    Whilst sitting ‘drinking like a local’ we witnessed nose to tail gondolas slowly going past, the passengers engrossed in their phones or looking completely bored. It looked like the most unromantic thing EVER. If you have to tick the gondola box go off the tourist route to avoid the traffic jams and make sure you get a gondola with a steel end looking like the ones in the pic. 2016-07-12 17.44.04If it doesn’t have a steel it’s not a registered gondola.

  8. Shop with locals.  Venice is full of tourist shops full of imported masks, fake Murano glass and leather that has been sprayed with a ‘real leather’ scent. Look out for authentic Italian artisan’s shops to spend your money in. You’ll find these off the tourist routes in back streets usually with unassuming signage.
  9. Eat in the streets2016-07-16 16.41.06Sandwiches, paninis, rolls, slices of pizza can all be bought hot from shops and enjoyed next to a canal – couple it with no. 6 and you’ve got the best picnic ever.
  10. Get lost.  The best way to explore Venice is by wandering the streets without a map. Get up early and see Piazza San Marco when it’s empty. Cross the Rialto bridge when it’s deserted and best of all watch the locals getting ready for work. If you can, walk until your feet hurt and then get the vaporetto back at sunset.

Isle of Mull

OH has been at me to go to the Isle of Mull for eons. To be honest it’s not really my thing. Usually when OH wants to do something outdoorsy I will volunteer to sit in the car and read my book or sit in the hotel lobby and write. The promise of scenery doesn’t hold me as much as a good atmosphere in a pub does. So, on the promise of wine and much merriment, I eventually relented and looked up dog friendly hotels and ferry times.

2016-06-17 12.37.27The dog appeared to love the ferry – sticking her muzzle between the bars and sniffing the sea air as we made our way from Oban to Craignure. OH had planned a route beforehand that would take us down the island to Fionnphort – the very edge of the island where you can catch another ferry over to Iona – a small and beautiful island with a population of only 120 people. Our trip down made me realise the difficulties of travelling lengthy distances on a one-track road. Passing places became friendly places to stop and wave to other drivers. However, the novelty soon wears off and quickly you learn to drive as if some idiot is going to speed round the next corner at you. I’ve decided I’m going to invent a plastic hand that attaches to your car and waves for you whenever your car comes to a passing place. I’d soon be a millionaire. Well, maybe I’d make a few quid at least.

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Fionnphort

When we arrived a Fionnphort we (me really) decided not to catch another ferry but to allow the dog to have a walk and perhaps leave Iona Abbey for another visit. I have to admit the scenery was amazing. With the colour of the sand and sea you could have been anywhere in the world.

From Fionnphort we headed north towards Tobermory, where we were staying that night. O2016-06-17 16.59.43n the way back up we just had to stop for a Kodak moment outside Salen where 2 boats sat looking completely abandoned and unloved but extremely picturesque.

After taking a multitude of snaps we took to the road again until we reached Tobermory, where we were staying for the night. Our hotel turned out to be quite fabulous.

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Room with a view

Well the view from The Western Isles Hotel certainly was. The hotel itself was a little tired but it was dog friendly, had great staff/service, tasty food in the restaurant/breakfast room and everything you could need in a hotel room – not to mention again the view, which was phenomenal.

During our stay we literally travelled the length and breadth of the island. To my surprise I was impressed with the scenery, this was helped with the fantastic weather we had, which unfortunately you can’t rely on. Well, it is Scotland afterall. During our visit we didn’t see any otters but we did see some red deer, a Golden Eagle in the distance and I’m sure I saw the red feathers of a crossbill. There were also numerous ravens, grey backed crows and hunners of Highland Coos too amongst the other more regular wildlife on the island.

OH stuck to his promise and we enjoyed ourselves in the few pubs there are in Tobermory. The atmosphere was lively and we had a laugh with both locals and visitors alike. I managed to beat a Canadian at pool but was then thrashed by a local (boo). We met a couple from Motherwell who got us totally trashed and unable to make breakfast on Sunday morning – so that was definitely a good news – bad news moment.

All in all it was a top weekend and I won’t bore you with anymore details but I will leave you with just a few of the many pics I took and a recommendation you should go too.

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Tobermory

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View from Art in Nature, Calgary

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Beach at Calgary

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Tobermory

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Western Isles Hotel

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Anchors at the harbour in Tobermory

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Traffic jam in Mull

Toulouse – Lasting impressions

So OH and I have been in Toulouse for 9 days now and everyday has been different. I was worried that I had been a bit over zealous when I booked the 11 day break in a city as I was anxious I would become bored quickly with the same sites. Thankfully I have been proven wrong and the reverse has been true. The longer you stay the more fun you have.

Bizarrely the same streets and bars look completely different during the day compared to at night and there really is enough to do to keep you occupied during a lengthier stay. I know the streets well now and could easily give a stranger directions. However, although I now have a feel for the city, we are only acquaintances and my French would have to be far better to claim anything more.

So my top 10 tips for a trip to Toulouse are

1. Pack bold (not the washing detergent!)  Everyone is stylish and you will want to be too

2. If you’re a man embrace facial hair and trim it to perfection

3. Unless you’re a model don’t expect 2nd glances – everyone is gorgeous in Toulouse

4. Prepare to sit down at 8pm to eat and still to be sat there after 10pm – eating is something you do all evening

5. Bring plenty indigestion tablets – see above

6. Be prepared for discomfort as there is no such thing as a comfy chair in Toulouse – outdoor garden furniture is the norm

7. Don’t try to give up smoking whilst you are in Toulouse – you won’t manage. In fact, if you’ve already given up you will probably start again!

8. At some point take a bottle of wine down to the river, relax and people watch

9. Bring your art materials – you will want to  paints or draw or write

10. Book for longer than 3 days!

The main sites to see if you are visiting Toulouse are

IMAG3023Le Capitole: Right in the very heart of the city is Place du Capitole. All roads lead to the square and it’s extremely impressive building. The square is always busy whether there is a market on or not. It’s the place to be seen and the restaurants that surround the square are pricIMAG3358ey although it is worth paying that little extra to sit and people watch (my favourite pastime – especially with a glass of wine to hand).

You can go into the Le Capitole and wander around (for free). There is a room full of Henri Martins – an impressionist painter I hadn’t heard of before I arrived in Toulouse but his paintings of the banks of the Garonne are worth of seeing (if only to see how much the trees have grown along the side of the river!)

When you enter Salle des Illustres you take a sharp intake of breath as the paintings and colour overwhelm you. This room is now used for weddings and offiicial receptions and, although it’s no Sistine Chapel, it is impressive.

Unfortunately, you can’t get out on to the balcony but if you could you would be able to look down on to the 18m wide Languedoc cross outside, which is set into the square. Each point has one of the signs of the zodiac.

 

basilica Saint Sernin: This basilica was built in honour of a martyred saint, Saturnin. He died after being dragged through the streets by a sacrificial bull – what a way to go! Apparently in the 3rd century they didn’t sleep at night as they were too busy thinking up gruesome ways to kill people.

The other important thing about this building is that it’s part of the El camino de Santiago pilgrimage – if you have no idea what I’m talking about a good and light hearted way of finding out about it is to watch the film The Way. Oh and there’s crypts below you have to pay to go in and see but it’s only 2€.IMAG3186

At the weekends there is also a flea market around the building, which is worth a wander around too.

 

Église des Jacobins:

The Jacobins were another new research item for me (thank goodness for wikipedia!) The building is amazing and huge palm trees hold the roof up (I’m not kidding!) There is even a huge mirror surrounding one of the upright columns to save you straining your neck and looking up at it.

The cloisters were tranquil, even although during our visit a fantastic musician played the piano. My guess was that he was practicing for the Piano aux Jacobins, a yearly festival during the month of September held in the church.IMAG3416-EFFECTS

At night the gothic bell tower lights up and is more reminiscent of something seen in Blackpool during the illuminations than something you would expect from a church (Im not sure why either)

Marche couvert Victor Hugo:  This covered food market is a must see – all the food looks exceptional. They have however,managed to hide it under a multi-storey car park so look out for it. IMAG3287

Musee des Augustins: This is a beautiful building full of fantastic sculptures and paintings. It’s 4€ to get in and worth every cent. If you are the least bit arty, the artwork on display here will make you feel inadequate. The sculptures look like they could turn and speak to you and just yearn to be stroked (obviously you’re not allowed). The paintings are immense and tell painful stories in seconds that leave you queering the injustice.

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Jardin Japonais: It’s a bit of a walk to get to from the city centre but worth the effort (you could also get the metro). The Japanese garden is only one part of these extensive gardens but my favourite part.  The bridge, very like the famous one in Monet’s garden, is just screaming out to be photographed. IMAG3107If you work in the north east of Toulouse it seems it’s compulsory to eat your lunch here as every bench was occupied with workers with plastic forks and Tupperware boxes (told you they were stylish- no washed out plastic ice creams containers here!).  From the gardens we headed to the Canal du Brienne and followed it back into the centre. The Canal du Midi is another canal in the area popular with joggers, walkers and cyclists.IMAG3508

 

 

Pont Neuf: IT’S JUST A BRIDGE over the River Garonne – it’s there and you will see it but the the best thing about it is Le Filochard which is at the city centre side. Read about that here —-> Le Filochard

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