Monday, June 27, 2016

Euro 2016 Fin?

Who would have thought it? Two weeks have passed since we set out on our own "Tour de France" and I heard in the last few days that all the Home Nations have qualified for the next round. Brilliant, who are Scotland playing?

Napoleon's Tomb, Paris, France.

I have struggled to keep up to date, (wifi in France isn't great) with things whilst we have been on the road, so maybe I missed something. Did UEFA finally actually act against Russia? Did they reinstate Scotland? Are the chances of those two things happening the same?

OK, so now you know that the final game I watched at this tournament was Wales against Northern Ireland. With the break between the group stage and the Round of 16, I was lucky enough to have time and good weather to explore Paris.

Louis Vuitton Foundation, Paris.

The Louvre, Petit Palais, Louis Vuitton Foundation, Napoleon's Tomb, Pere Lachaisse, Centre Pompidou were all visited where exhibitions of art by Rousseau, Paul Klee, Albert Marquet were viewed. But my favourites were The Beat Generation, with as well an exposition at the Philharmonie de Paris featuring The Velvet Underground (yes the ones that wrote I'm waiting for my man. Never early, always late, - you know who you are!).

Pere Lachaise - Oscar Wilde's tomb, Paris.

Looking for positives in the football I have witnessed is proving difficult. The real positives lie in having visited nine French cities, and sampling the food. Everyone knows about Paris, and I have just listed a few of the things you can see there.

We were lucky enough to have good weather in Nice which helped to make it my favourite city. If you've seen the photos you may notice the difference, and understand why I choose it as my favourite on this trip.

Stade de Bordeaux, France.

Then there was Bordeaux where it’s historic old town is on the UNESCO World heritage list and described as “an outstanding urban and architectural ensemble of the 18th century". Toulouse, the Pink City.

Lyon with the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière. Marseille, a huge city which unfortunately saw bad weather to stop us fully exploring it on the two occasions we were there. Lille, with its Flemish architecture where we could see the beauty of this city, but didn't feel comfortable due to the situation I mentioned on our first night.

Sacre Coeur, Paris.

Lens & St Etienne are football hotbeds unlike the rest of France where you would have struggled to find out there was a tournament going on. The size of the towns and the size of the stadiums bear witness to this fact. Lens population 32,663 - Capacity of Stade Bollaert-Delelis 38,223. St Etienne 178,530 - Capacity of Stade Geoffroy-Guichard 42,000.

Petit Palais, Paris, France.

Special mention to the best Croque Monsieur, which was found at Fric Frac by Canal St Martin. But the French have other things to worry about. I visited the lively 11th arrondisment, scene of atrocities eighteen months ago when the Charlie Hedbo offices were attacked, and The Bataclan as recently as last November. It remains closed but is due to reopen on November 16th with Pete Doherty. The lively backstreets are vibrant, with bars full of students away from the tourist crowd.

Philharmonie de Paris, France.

We witnessed strikers marching at the Bastille against Hollande's labor legislation. There were more police than we had seem at any football match. Two thousand sealed of the area around the Bastille to ensure there were was no repeat of the incident the previous week when cars were set alight in protests at République.

If you remember before I set out there was problems with the level of water on the Seine, the rain seen in the first ten days couldn't have helped this.

Nice, France.

There was also the small matter of strikes, which I quickly realised was an occupation in themselves. Thankfully we were only affected once, and were not inconvenienced by them. Others would not have been so fortunate as planes were cancelled and if you didn't know about the strikes missing your train could have meant you were unable to get to your chosen destination on time.

So back to the football, the highlights, the fact that there was interest in all the group games, as quite often there can be meaningless games at the end of this stage. The fact that third place could qualify gave every team hope (OK maybe with Ukraine being the exception).

Northern Irish fans.

The supporters, seeing every country backed by well behaved supporters was a joy. The Northern Irish win my award for being the best supporters, the highlight - them out singing their German counterparts. Special mention to the Icelandic supporters with their clapping.

Also the passionate Hungarians who clearly were not going to be defeated by Iceland, it felt as though the ref had to play on until they scored such was the atmosphere in the Velodrome.

Hungary fans at Euro 2016.

Unfortunately now I have to go against what the supporters of many countries, yes not only the English speaking ones, have adopted as their anthem.

"Please don't send me home,
I just don't want to go to work,
I wanna stay here,
Drink all your beer."

Personally I would be happy just to stay and eat all their food, and take in the sights I didn't have time for, of which there are still plenty, oh and maybe attend one or two more football matches.

Iceland fans at Euro 2016.

Ross Clegg

Friday, June 24, 2016

Paris The Last Leg

The last leg of our Tour De France, saw us wake in St Etienne, and catch a train to Lyon, where we boarded our Ouigo train to Paris Marne-La-Vallée-Chessy. A journey of over 300 miles.

Paris The Last Leg, Euro 2016.

Ouigo is the French National Railways low cost train line (their Ryanair if you like.) We (I) booked our tickets last year for €10 each. We met someone yesterday who had paid over €100 for the Lyon to Paris leg of the journey.

There was a large queue to board, as tickets and baggage were checked. On board facilities were basic, again just think Ryanair - without the garish blue and yellow.

Paris The Last Leg, Euro 2016.

The two hour journey saw us arrive in Paris just after 10.30am.

Paris was open.

Lunch was had before heading to the stadium, where Northern Ireland fans out sang their German counterparts.

We then headed off to the eleventh arrondissement, a lively area near La République, today 21st June is Fête de la musique. Where you can find bands in most bars playing live music.

Paris The Last Leg, Euro 2016.

Unfortunately for us the festival seemed to be continuing into the night as we arrived back at our accommodation.

The next day, and we didn't have to travel!

Paris The Last Leg, Euro 2016.

We stayed in Paris and visited the cemetery at Pere Lachaise, The Crypt at Notre Dame and passed by the Louvre before heading off to Stade de France to see Iceland v Austria.

Paris The Last Leg, Euro 2016.

After the match we went to Grand Train, a disused railway building turned into an assortment of pop up bars and eateries.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

St. Etienne

Beautiful blue sky first thing in the morning as I ran up the hill at Fourviere, 5km and 250 steps later, I returned to find the other two still asleep.

St. Etienne, France.

We visited Musée Des Beaux-Arts in Lyon, before catching the train to St. Etienne.

In the afternoon we found the majority of shops and restaurants shut. Clearly the locals were put off, by what they had seen and heard earlier in the tournament and had decided to lie low. We had to settle for a pizza. There was nothing else.

Despite talk of alcohol bans, people were drinking in the streets, where Slovak fans mingled with the English. There was no hint of any trouble, but police were in the background in case.

St. Etienne, Euro 2016, France.

Supporters marauded through the streets to the ground, several clearly suffering from the lack of any alcohol ban, to the stadium, a fifteen minute walk from the centre of town.

The four stands inside the ground are next to the pitch and provide a better atmosphere than the newer stadiums with their sterile seating plans.

I couldn't quite make out the words to songs, as they seemed to be sung in a foreign language, but inspired by their performance on the pitch I think they were singing "England's going home". Then there was some other song "30 years of hurt", I must have misheard that one as I am sure it's 50.

I am pleased to report that I witnessed no problems in the city throughout the day, other than a few individuals who had drunk too much.

Ross Clegg

Monday, June 20, 2016

Marseille Again

Got up at 6am in Nice in time for a 10km run along the 4km promenade. The pace felt like that of the starter in Lyon two days earlier.

Marseille Again.

My alarm first went off at 3.50am, the time a week ago that this journey started. Since then we have been to 8 different venues and spent a day on a train (plus one flight) travelling.

The cool morning air, the waves breaking on the pebble beach and the Art Deco buildings made the run pass quickly.

At the far end of the promenade a number of Northern Ireland flags were laid with flowers in memory of the young man that died there last week.

Marseille Again, Euro 2016, France.

Nearby the police were moving on some Spaniards who had been partying/ sleeping on the beach.

The promenade was being hoovered and washed down whilst a boat sprayed water on the pebble beach to clean it.

After the run, I headed straight into the sea and quickly cooled down.

Returning to our apartment, no one knew that I had been out.

We took the train back to Marseille and met the clouds again.

The Hungarian supporters congregated in Vieux Port, setting of an array of flares as they headed off for the Velodrome Stadium.

We hid in a bar as the rain poured down before heading to the stadium for Iceland v Hungary.

The behaviour of a nearby Hungarian fan, led me to support Iceland and gave the game an edge. There was a tense atmosphere throughout as the Hungarians laboured. Riots were only avoided by a last minute equaliser for the Hungarians.

We headed to Notre Dame du Mont for Filet de Dorade Royale à la Planche, avec Risotto Basilic Bio.

Ross Clegg

Sunday, June 19, 2016


For the first time a conductor on the train checked our tickets. Looks like the strike might be coming to an end. Ivan and I showed the conductor our tickets while Steve checked the bins for his discarded coffee cup, in which he thought his ticket might be.

Nice, Euro 2016, France.

Later we discussed our future travel plans. That morning we received the final train tickets, by email, that we had booked months ago, for the journey on Monday between Lyon Perrache and Paris Marne-La-Vallée-Chessy. We were using this route as it was a cheap option and would take only two hours, by car it would be over four. Steve hadn't heard of our arrival station and I explained that it was the stop for Disneyland. Steve's innocent response "What ground is there then?" I thought to myself, some Mickey Mouse team.

The journey took us along the coast, looking to my left at times it looked like a Rauol Duffy painting while to the right their were breathtaking views of the sea.

Nice, France, Euro 2016.

The sun greeted us and we just had time to admire the view from our apartment overlooking Promenade des Anglais and the sea, before dining in the old town.

Rossopomodoro a pizzeria, was Steve's choice of restaurant. Steve showed off his language skills and ordered vegetarian pizza with tuna. Conversing in English, French and Italian with the waiter. (It's not uncommon for people in this area to speak Italian in preference to French as Nice is near the Italian border).

Nice, Euro 2016, France.

Ivan's pizza arrived with Steve's topping. I managed my Ricotta au lait de bufflonne, saucisson Napoli, mozzarella, tomate, fromage Grana et poivre. (Calzone pizza).

We caught the bus to the stadium and just made it in time for kick off after a 25 minute walk from the drop off point.

Spain strolled to an easy win and we started the long walk home. When we got back to pick up our bus it was chaos and midnight by the time we got back into town.

Ross Clegg

Saturday, June 18, 2016


We had time for some sightseeing in Marseille and chose to visit Notre Dame, the highest point in Marseille, for it's church and views over the city.

Notre Dame, the highest point in Marseille.

We caught the train, after checking it was running the night before, at lunchtime and made our way to Lyon as rain appeared on the Windows.

Steve called an Uber cab (I hadn't used it before and so was interested to see how it worked), to pick us up from our location, so that we could meet up with friends to watch the afternoon's game in Lens.

Ukraine v Northern Ireland, Lyon.

After 15 minutes, and us phoning the driver a few times we were united with the car and made our way. I can see room for improvements with the Uber system, these days with technology you should be able to get the driver to come to you.

After that there was a long bus journey to the stadium which is situated some 12km out of town.

Hail in Lyon, Euro 2016.

During the game fans abandoned their seats in scenes reminiscent of Ukraine v France in Donetsk four years ago, as the rain and then hail poured down. Play was suspended.

Thankfully it was nowhere near as bad as four years ago although it was for Ukraine as, like last time they lost 2-0. With Northern Ireland's boys in green on fire.

We decided to head to the old town and eat at a Bouchon rather than watch the football that night.

Bouchon, Lyon, France.

On the menu Fruit lets d'escargots aux asperges blanches, Crème d'ail et jus de persil (snail pastry with white asparagus garlic cream and parsley sauce). Followed by Andouillette Bobosse à la Fraise de veau sauce moût de raisin (Chitterlings sausage grape with a mustard sauce). And finally a strawberry soup. Excellent fayre for the evening unlike the 0-0 draw between Poland and Ukraine.

Northern Ireland v Ukraine, Euro 2016.

Ukraine fans in the rain, Lyon.

Ross Clegg

Friday, June 17, 2016


Once again we had to check the train timetables to ensure our train was running. It was, but it departed 40 minutes late. So far our journeys have been by TGV, but today it is an inter regional train which means a slower journey, which should take about six hours.

France v Albania, Euro 2016.

We have been spoiled by the efficiency of the TGV network, as it has made travelling easy and by booking months in advance we had some bargain prices.

Of course whilst on the train we saw the best weather of the tournament as we travelled from Bordeaux via Toulouse, Montpellier and Nimes to Marseille. The train was over 30 minutes late and staff handed out letters to be completed for refunds.

France v Albania, Marseille, Euro 2016.

Needless to say we were greeted by clouds, and as we sat down to Bouillabaisse in the Vieux Port, the heavens opened.

There was a heavy police presence, and some bars appeared closed but alcohol was being served. The scars from the weekend were still evident with the glass shattered on the front door and a plaster on our waiter's face covering his six stitches after he was attacked with a bottle.

France v Albania, Euro 2016.

You would hardly have known that a major football match was about to take place just a few miles down the road.

We took the Metro and arrived at the impressive Velodrome in plenty of time.

My night almost ended there after someone collapsed on me. Sending me over the seat in front with two rather large blokes on top of me. The culprit lay there upside down, apparently the victim of smoking something he shouldn't have been, in the stadium.

France v Albania, Euro 2016.

Albania once again gave there all, and were only beaten by two late goals.

Ross Clegg