AccommodationIt can’t be stressed enough how early you should look for accommodation as it is difficult to find somewhere. You could try a Foyer des Jeunes Travailleurs, a hostel-style accommodation specifically for young people who work. There are FJTs in:
• City Centre
Don’t rely on finding a place just here, as competition is stiff. Also it’s not particularly cheap and they’ll want a lot of admin from you, like pay slips (of you or your parents) and tax certificates. Alternatively, you can do what I did and find accommodation privately. Appartager has listings of people looking for a roommate. Also, you can apply to Lamy Residences, student style accommodation, but not just for students. Ask your destination university beforehand if they have or know anywhere to live.
FinanceYou will need to open a bank account to be eligible for the CAF. Any of the high street banks should suffice, there’s not much difference between them. I went with Caisse d’Epargne. If your level of French isn’t great, I’d recommend taking a French acquaintance with you to interpret. Make sure you get a Carte Bleue – it’s a Visa Electron debit card. Cheques seem to be slightly more common in France, but still cash and card are the most popular forms of payment.
Also, it takes time to open the account, get your card and PIN. You’ll need to have at least a few hundred quid at your disposal in your UK account in the meantime. Try to get a Nationwide current account as well – free cash withdrawals abroad. Most other UK banks charge for withdrawing (£2.00 for mine – NatWest) and using your card (£1.25 per transaction).
Also, some friends of mine were asked for 7 months' rent up front for their apartment so that should be expected if you haven’t sorted out your accommodation before you leave.
AdminGet your birth certificate translated (professionally, not by you or your friend) and get it stamped at the French Consulate back home. Make a few of copies. Your school will probably need a copy, and also a copy of your RIB – this is a slip of paper with your bank account information that your bank will provide.
Keeping in touchGet Skype – it will save you loads - free online calls (even with webcam) to anyone else in the world who has it.
Also you’ll still probably need a mobile. Don’t expect to get the same value for money on texts and calls with the mobile networks in France. The main networks are Orange, Virgin, SFR, Bouygues and Carrefour. The latter is like going with Tesco Mobile – basic service but cheap I imagine. There are phone shops everywhere in town and city centres, just like back home. The best range will probably be at The Carphone Warehouse, or The Phone House as it’s known in France.
I went with Virgin – just swapped the SIM card in my phone but you can get a cheap phone for around €50 - I’m talking a really rubbish phone but you can splash out on a better one if you want. Contracts are usually 24 months though. All top up vouchers (“recharges”) are available in supermarkets, tabacs etc. They don’t really do swipe cards for topping up, but you can top up online as well usually.
The post system tends me be slow - international mail in particular - probably because they’re always on strike. Give at least 2 to 3 weeks when expecting to receive something from home.
TransportTisséo operates all public transport in the area. There are two metro lines. Line A runs north-east to south west and Line B runs north to south. They connect at Jean Jaurès station, bang in the centre of Toulouse. There is also a tramway (Line E) running from Arènes to Blagnac. It was under construction whilst I was there but is now completed – it is currently being extended further into the city centre.
Toulouse’s main railway station is Matabiau, on Line A, near the city centre. Lines C and D are urban rails line running west from Arènes to Colomiers and south from Matabiau to Muret respectively.
The bus network is quite comprehensive. They’re quite punctual but can be busy and slow as there can be traffic problems. The airport shuttle bus runs every 15 mins or so to/from Jean Jaurès and Jeanne d’Arc metro stations, as well as Matabiau railway station.
If you’re going to be living in Toulouse itself or in its urban area, I recommend going to the Tisséo Travel Shop at Jean Jaurès metro station. Buy a travel card (similar to London’s Oyster Card). Top up €10 a month (up to 25 years old) and you have unlimited bus, metro and tram travel. It pays for itself after 4 return journeys. Otherwise it’s €1.40 single or €2.50 return anywhere (as of 2010). On buses, stamp your ticket in the machine when you get on, or hold your card close to the machine until it beeps.
The metro closes around midnight (1am Friday and Saturday) and buses stop even earlier, so don’t count on it to get home after a night out. Don’t count on getting a taxi either – they’re nowhere to be seen on Friday and Saturday nights. Living in Toulouse, I used the red bikes to get home, as long as you don’t drink too much. You pay a subscription fee (from €1 for a day to €25 for a year) and then they charge you about 1€/hour to use them. You can pick up a bike from any station and return it to any station, of which there are more than plenty in and around the centre. If you won’t be living in central Toulouse, I suggest making friends with someone who does who’ll let you sleep over.
Life in ToulouseToulouse has a fairly sizeable student population. Most of them hang out in the bars around Place St Pierre, next to the River Garonne just north of Esquirol Metro Station. You’ll find another cluster of bars and clubs around Jeanne d’Arc and Jean Jaurès.
There are three universities that I know of – in the city centre, Mirail (south-west) and Paul Sabatier (south-east). All are on either of the two metro lines.
Making friendsIf you bond enough with your students (those doing an assistantship), they may invite you out. But I suggest getting on Facebook and trying to get in touch with other Brits doing the same thing in the Toulouse area and arrange a meeting with them soon after you arrive. You’ll receive a list from the British Council of other British students in the same region. You should soon make friends that way. If you’ll be studying at university, well you’ll make friends soon enough – British, French etc. But be warned, if you make British friends, you will not speak French, so make French friends where possible.
Also, there will be two “training days” organised by the Académie (local education authority) at the beginning of October and mid November, where you will meet all assistants in the region. They should be held in lycées near the centre of Toulouse.
ShoppingFruit and veg markets are held every morning (except possibly Sunday) outdoors at Jeanne D’Arc and indoors at Carmes. There are also bric-a-brac markets held several times a week at Place de Capitole.
Still, supermarkets are dominant – Casino, Leclerc and Carrefour being the main ones. I shopped at the latter which is a lot like Tesco.
There is only really one shopping centre in town (St Georges), which isn’t particularly big by UK standards. Most shops are located on Toulouse’s cobbled streets. You’ll find several national chains in the city. There are retail parks and shopping centres at both ends of Metro line A, Basso Campo and Balma-Gramont.
SportToulouse is a rugby city – the team is Stade Toulousain and they play in red and black, and are the city’s pride and joy having won the Heineken Cup four times. Tickets can sometimes be purchased from Carrefour and McDonalds, but there is a Stade Toulouse official rugby shop near Jeanna D’Arc. The main stadium is south of the centre, on an island with a lot of sport grounds and facilities. Free shuttle buses run there on match days from Metro Arènes.
The football team generally hover around the middle of the Premier League. They play at the same stadium in purple and white.
P.S. Most places I refer to are named after metro stations so look on Tisséo’s transport map to see how to get there.
Want to read more about Toulouse? Check out Toulouse Mole Diary 1 and Toulouse Mole Diary 2!