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  • Day 1

    Train day!

    October 12, 2023 in France ⋅ ☀️ 24 °C

    An early start. Brighton to Marseille by train is probably the limit of how far I'd try and travel by rail in a single day. It's doable, but it's a trek. Vicki has had 4 and a bit hours sleep, while I'm a little better off with 6. Fairly bleary eyed, we board a commuter train from Brighton at 07:44 that should get us to St Pancras to pick up our Eurostar connection in plenty of time. It feels a little strange to be leaving Brighton on a train that doesn't include a train beer.

    30 minutes into our journey, we learn of an unexplained 'serious incident' somewhere further up the line, that means our train will unexpectedly terminate at Three Bridges. We are given no information about other train services, the likelihood of the length of delay etc etc. We start looking for information, I briefly consider booking us a flight out of Gatwick.

    We discover from a fellow passenger that someone has been struck by a train near Cambridge, and has tragically died. We're both struck by how quickly we process this sad news, before returning to the immediate task of planning our onward travel. As the interruption is near Cambridge, we're able to join a slow, stopping train that gets us to St Pancras with only a 20 minute delay.

    Happily, this gives us time to pop to Searcy's for a pre-match sharpener, before we check-in for our Eurostar train. Soon enough, we've hurtled through the Kent countryside, and are into the tunnel. Vicki is napping. It's a very civilised way to travel...

    We quickly arrive into Lille, where we'll change for a direct train to Marseille. Vicki snoozes for a while, I watch a movie. At one point, some heavy handed customs officers board the train - for what, we know not. They are shortly followed by three heavily armed police officers. Curiouser and curiouser. A woman near our seats has laid a full size bed sheet over her seat, turning it into some kind of pseudo-shrine. It's all very entertaining. We see large swathes of the French countryside - the agricultural North, the rocky escarpments and vineyards of Burgundy, and the heavily forested Park Morvan. Vicki is less than impressed by this last one ("Yet more trees") when she wakes from one of her regular naps.

    Our train is a little late into Marseille, but not catastrophically so. After a quick march to our apartment, we head out in search of food - and stumble (operative word) across a brilliant little wine bar / wine shop / café, that rewards us with a fabulous bottle of Alsatian wine, and a charcuterie/cheese plate for the ages. Salami, Figatelli, Andouillette, along with a punchy country style Paté, and several brilliant local cheeses.

    Despite the relatively early hour, we're both pretty knackered, so head back to our apartment looking forward to a long sleep.
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  • Day 2

    Marseille - Magnifique!

    October 13, 2023 in France ⋅ ☀️ 25 °C

    We both sleep brilliantly. Vicks (unsurprisingly) a little more brilliantly than I - but I'm not complaining. We spend the morning mooching around our apartment. It's a fab, if slightly strange, place. The building (I think) is from the Belle Epoque era (late Victorian to UKers...) and is decorated in a fitting style. 12 foot high ceilings, and lots of tall windows. V cool. Oh, but the smallest toilet I think I've ever seen.

    We head out for a wander and to find some lunch shortly after midday. Rugby fans are a lot more evident on the streets of Marseille today - mainly Welsh, but a smattering of England, Ireland and Scotland fans in between. We even spot an Argentina fan at one point, but I suspect they'll be heavily outnumbered by Welsh fans for their Saturday quarter final. We park ourselves at an incredibly French bistro with an outdoor terrace on a square, and pass the time with a bottle of Rosé and some typical Provencale cuisine. We realise we're sat next to Welsh rugby legend, Scott Quinnell. Such is the way of things.

    We have a wander around the Old Port neighbourhood, passing by a few pubs that are clearly engineered towards rugby fans and/or Brits/Celts. The 'Queen Victoria' pub is heaving at 2pm. The 'Temple Bar' similarly packed. There are 4 quarter finals taking place in the Rugby World Cup this weekend. We have tickets for the two games in Marseille on Saturday and Sunday at 5pm. There are then 2 games each day in Paris at 9pm. We'll head back to these pubs to watch the evening games amongst like-minded rugby fans.

    We head back to our apartment, which is a short 15 min walk from the harbour, to clean up, rest etc etc. I manage to squeeze in a short nap. We head out for our dinner reservation down by the harbour. The food is sensational, and I have one of the best octopus dishes I can ever remember having. We amble around town, attempting to walk off our dinner, before finding (yet) another bistro with terrace to enjoy a couple of glasses of Provencale Rosé. These street-side terraces are amazing for people watching, and we while away an hour watching the world go by...
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  • Day 3

    Time for some rugby...

    October 14, 2023 in France ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    We wake in decent time. Our first game is later today, so we’re having a chilled morning before heading out for some lunch. We go to a fab little bistro in the old quarter of town. I have a stunning piece of tuna tataki. We share an awesome bottle of Provencale rosé. We have a little wander around the Vieux Port district to work out where to watch the Ireland / New Zealand game this evening.

    We jump on a bus that claims to take us to the stadium, which is a few kilometres away from the city centre. As we’re waiting for the bus to depart, we see an altercation between some Welsh fans, and some local kids. Within seconds, as many as 20 Gendarmes are on the scene. It looks like arrests are being made. A little heavy handed perhaps, but it’s impressive to see how quickly the police responded to the incident.

    The bus is PACKED, and we’re actually pretty delighted to get off to walk the last kilometre to the stadium. The bars along the street are heaving - with Welsh and Argentinian fans, with locals, with England fans. It feels positively multi-cultural. We manage not to lose each other, and we make it through security at the ground pretty quickly. Earlier games in the tournament in Marseille were reported as pretty chaotic, but the security team are polite, engaged and of good cheer.

    Inside the stadium, we’re a little (lot) disappointed to find the only boozing option is Asahi lager. French stadiums don’t usually allow any alcohol to be sold, so the availability of ‘an’ option is a compromise. Clearly, the organisers wanted to keep things as simple as possible. We find our seats, and settle in for the game. We’re a little taken aback by the behaviour of some of the Argentinian fans around us. There’s a guy behind us who I think is going to have a coronary, so over-excited does he become. There’s another a few rows in front of us who amuses himself by spitting on Welsh fans as they climb up the stairs. It’s not attractive to see - so much so that we decide to head off at half time, to make sure we get a decent seat / view for the NZ vs Ireland game in the Vieux Port.

    We’ve got a couple of hours until the game kicks-off, and it’s just possible that we go a bit hard at the rosé. We befriend some people, swoop into to grab seats from others, and find ourselves standing next to New Zealand rugby royalty - Kevin Mealamu. The game is enthralling - several grades more intense than the Wales/Argentina effort earlier in the day. By half-time, we’re both flagging, so head back to our apartment to watch the second half. By the end of the game, Vicks is fast asleep on the sofa, and I decide it’s probably time to call it a night.
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  • Day 4

    Allez Les Blancs!

    October 15, 2023 in France ⋅ 🌬 20 °C

    We’re both a little groggy after last night’s rosé-fest, but push on, being the brave little soldiers that we are. We’re having lunch out by the coast before heading up to the Stadium for the England vs Fiji game.

    Lunch is a delight. The restaurant is on a beautiful little cove. The food is incredible. Grilled mussels to share, then Bouille a Baisse for me - the local fish soup/stew delicacy, and a stunning piece of seabass for Vicki. We manage a bottle of rosé between us. We take a bracing walk up the coast for a couple of miles to walk off our lunch, and stop for a couple of sharpeners in the sunshine.

    Arriving at the stadium around 75 minutes before kick-off, it feels different to yesterday. There’s certainly more noise, more tension. There are much longer queues for security. As we stop to have our bags searched, things start to worsen. We’re both told we have items that are forbidden (but which we were both allowed to bring into the stadium yesterday, and which are not mentioned on our tickets as being verboten). The guards start to get incredibly aggressive towards both of us. Vicki fears we are about to get dragged away - to where, we don’t really know. Ultimately, we’re able to leave our forbidden items (an empty reusable water bottle and a power bank since you ask) at a left luggage station, and can pick them up after the game. It’s a minor inconvenience in truth, but the way it’s been handled has left both us feeling pissed off, and shaken.

    Inside the stadium, the atmosphere is more tense as well. The majority of the crowd are French, and supporting Fiji. There’s an incredibly strong anti-English sentiment which we both realise we find uncomfortable. It’s not the same as the colloquial and bantsy game day experience we’re used to. We’ve sat in the stands surrounded by Kiwis, South Africans, Scots before when they’re playing England, and never felt this same terseness. This feels like real enmity. We’d been planning to find a French bar to watch this evening’s France/South Africa game and to support France, but no - Fuck the French. Vive L’Afrique Du Sud.

    The England vs Fiji game is a great, if stressful watch. England appear to be in control at 24-10, before Fiji come flying back to make it 24-24 with 10 minutes to go. The final score of 30-24 in England’s favour feels a fair result. I doubt the performance is keeping any of the other remaining teams awake at night though. Still - a World Cup semi-final when we really didn’t think we’d even make it out of the group stage is a decent result.

    After the game, it’s the usual scrum to find transport back to the city centre. We manage to nab a couple of seats on a bus, and we’re soon heading back to our apartment for the 21:00 kick-off. The France game is incredibly tight. Given our newfound Fuck the French mentality, it’s beyond delicious to see them lose their home World Cup at the quarter final stage by a single point.
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  • Day 5

    Home please...

    October 16, 2023 in England ⋅ ☁️ 13 °C

    We, along with several thousand other rugby fans, are heading out from Marseille. There's a small protest at Saint-Charles station - about what, we know not. The station concourse is heaving, but soon enough we're set up in our carriage for our 5 hour journey to Lille. I find the rhythm of high-speed rail to be incredibly soothing. I can stare with glazed eyes as the countryside rushes past for hours at a time. I use the time to reflect on our trip. I'm not devastated to be leaving Marseille specifically, and France generally. Both of us have been a little thrown by French attitudes towards English travellers over the past few days - so much so that it's taken the gloss off of our travelling experience. I don't know if it's a post-Brexit thing, or perhaps a heightened tension around the World Cup. Either way, it doesn't make us want to return any time soon.

    What feels like very quickly, we're arriving into Lille ready for our Eurostar connection back to London. I'll always love the experience of travelling through the Channel Tunnel. I remember so vividly its initiation, construction and opening during my childhood, and it remains an engineering marvel to me to this day.

    Arriving back into Brighton, we're delighted to see our two boys - neither of whom seems overly impressed that we're home. Gizmo, it appears, has been in the wars, with a few noticeable scabs on his ear. The photos of them are not mine, but rather are Kristine's - our wonder lady who looks after them while we're away....
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