Thanks to the RFL, we now have a French team in the second tier of the “UK” rugby league structure, and my trip to Toulouse means I’ll now have watched Widnes play a league game in three different countries (England, France and Wales – versus Celtic Crusaders last season).
In the interest of finance, we (we being me and my Whitehaven supporting pal John, who I dragged along for the trip) flew from East Midlands Airport near Derby to Carcassonne before catching a ludicrously cheap train from the latter to Toulouse, courtesy of the fact John’s dad works on the railways back at home.
It really is pain free travel with RyanAir, and owing to John’s experience of visiting Toulouse with Whitehaven earlier in the season, we jumped straight on the bus to the centre of Carcassonne – driven by a rather elegant, middle-aged women – well, elegant in comparative terms to the usual bus drivers you get abroad.
We were then greeted by the golden arches of McDonalds upon arrival to the centre and we popped in for a burger, drink and McFlurry to recharge the batteries, as we waited for our 12.22 train to Toulouse. While waiting on the platform, we met our first group of Widnes fans, waiting for the same train and also a nice couple from West Yorkshire, who were over here to watch their daughter play for England Women against France in the curtain raiser to the Toulouse v Widnes game.
While waiting for our train we were treated with some French inner-city violence, as a brawl erupted between six lads in their late-teens. We were nearly caught up in it all as punches were thrown and kicks were landed. One lad ended up with a severely ripped t-shirt for his trouble, and then proceeded to jump on the rail track to escape the five-man tag team that were having a pop at him. Of course, the station manager was doing her best – but her blowing on her whistle was hardly doing much to stop the fight. It died down, the train arrived, and we went to Toulouse.
View Toulouse Map in a larger map
A map of our journey and its stages
Having got to the main station in Toulouse, we were now dealt with the task of finding our hotel. John was convinced that St Cyprien station was the best route to get their, so we hopped on the Metro to their and went on a hunt for it. After walking about a mile, we established that in fact our hotel wasn’t near here, and after a few minutes trying to figure out the French road maps, we got on the metro to Arenes. Eventually, we found what we were looking for, well the road at least, and then set off down it. We soon realised we were going the wrong way down it, and turned around. But after one hell of a walk (bearing in mind we had been carrying our luggage about all day) we found our Residshome Aparthotel, located bang opposite the Hippodrome.
It looked nearly brand new, and bloody hell it was. A relative bargain, it’s basically the French’s way of showing the English how a Travelodge should be. We’re overlooking the Hippodrome perfectly, meaning you could watch the whole event from our room. A flat screen TV is situated above a tidy work bench, there’s plenty of wardrobe space too. We have a kitchen with a hob, dishwasher and fridge. The bathroom is amazing, complete with bath and shower, and there’s even daft little things they’ve thought of that we keep stumbling across. Well worth the money I’ll say.
However, Toulouse isn’t the most tourist friendly destination, and we had a battle finding anything worth eating in the supermarket. We grabbed a few bits that will last us, and then we headed out to the centre of Toulouse to take in the Wigan v Leeds Super League match, live on SKY Sports.
Again owing to John’s experience, we located the Melting Pot – after eating an undercooked burger at an Italian restaurant that didn’t serve pizzas… – and took our seats complete with a pitcher of cider. We were joined by a few more Widnes fans and then just before kick off, the whole Widnes squad and coach Paul Cullen entered the fray.
We were treated to a cracking game between Wigan and Leeds, which Wigan won 28-10, and left me wondering why Joel Tomkins didn’t look any good when he played for us but now looks like a world beater at Wigan.
The Widnes players all left at half time – bar Gavin Dodd and Lee Doran – but me and eagle-eyed John also spotted a couple of other burly looking blokes in the bar. Turns out they were Toulouse players Antoni Maria and Bruno Ormeno, obviously sent by their coach to check out the Widnes lads.
All in all, it was a decent day. And after finding our way back to the hotel, we hit the sack after what had been a 21 hour day, with barely three hours sleep in the previous 24 to boot.