|Some might say that trying to fly out of Heathrow Airport 24 hours after 24 people were arrested on terrorism charges may seem overly optimistic. However, we decided with the additional security measures, it was probably the safest time to travel in the last few months.
We arrived a bit earlier than usual, to find the cue at Heathrow Terminal 2 tailing out of the door of the building. It actually moved a little faster than expected, and as we were able to use the automatic check-in machines, it was not long before we were moving through security. Security was pretty quick as people only had their 'prison bag' containing their passport and wallet (so not having to go through everyone's hand luggage).
Despite all of the people on our flight being at the gate easily on time, the plane was still delayed whilst they double checked everything. The delay meant that we needed to overnight in Frankfurt, which, whilst a little inconvenient, was at least free - as were the drinks in the hotel (thanks Lufthansa!). We were then on the first flight out Saturday morning - but the hotel forgot to provide us with our wakeup call - meaning that we arose 5 mins before we were due at the airport. A mission to the airport ensued, followed by a dash through security.
We eventually arrived at Toulouse around 11am to find Mum waiting for us. Luckily, the rather garbled conversation that I had had with the French hotel clerk the night before had got the message across that we were delayed (despite his assurances that Cordelia Thomas was definitely not staying at his hotel...!).
Our late arrival had somewhat scuppered our original plans to go up into the Pyrenees for the day, so instead we went on a canal boat tour around Toulouse. It was a great way to get a quick insight into the city, although half way through the trip there was a torrential downpour which luckily stopped as quickly as it had started.
We spent most of the rest of the afternoon looking about Toulouse - Korina found a kitchen / glassware shop that she was able to drool over for a while and I enjoyed multiple cups of strong French coffee. The capitol building was pretty impressive - the amount of effort over the years to decorate an administrative centre with artwork was unexpected.
Other than being a rugby playing heartland, Toulouse was also (in)famous for a number of race riots late last year. Whilst things had calmed down on this front, it was quite apparent that the French economy has not been going so well, with a relatively large number of street people milling about (including one guy with 3 dogs and 3 puppies). That said, French street people seem to pride themselves on their appearances, and most were clothed and relatively clean (unlike the poo stained guy that accosted us on the streets of Valencia!).
We managed to find a great restaurant in one of the squares for dinner - pretty rich food (fois gras etc), but very tasty. An early night was then in order due to the lack of sleep on Friday night (due to the multiple delays etc).
Sunday was a pretty lazy affair as nothing much was open. We initially walked across Toulouse to the botanical gardens before wandering back towards our hotel. As nothing was open, we decided to go back to the gardens and have a picnic.
It was great catching up with Mum here (and previously in London). It had been the first time I had seen her in around 20 months. Being away from family and friends is one of the things which I personally find most difficult about living in the UK.
It was then time to head back to the airport. Turns out Mum was on the same plane to Frankfurt as us which was nice. It was then a matter of collecting our prison bags again and hopping on the plane. Goodbyes were said at Frankfurt airport and we missioned through to our gate. At security Korina was asked "is that water?" in the bottle she was carrying - to which she replied "yes" - which I thought was a remarkably clever way of trying to trick anyone carrying liquid explosives in a bottle...
At our gate we discovered everyone else on the plane had hand luggage - meaning that we were the only morons with little plastic prison bags containing our passports. Very strange that the restrictions depended on where you had transited from!
Collecting our bags from Heathrow baggage claim was also an interesting affair - there were thousands of bags all around the reclaim area. There must be people all over Europe currently wondering where their gear is. Luckily for me, ours turned up pretty much straight away - which was good as my work laptop was in my checked in luggage (so would have prevented me doing much work the following week if it had disappeared).