Allez Racing, allez

I told Heleen Racing Metro is playing London Irish this weekend in Paris in the Heineken cup, and it’s the nearest rugby to our home in Köln. In true blue fashion she never hesitates to traveling proposals; weekends or longer, or an outing of any sorts and our weekend to Paris was on.

Racing fans showing their excitement

Its not the first time we travelled to Paris for rugby in the spur of the moment. In January 1994 we were on our first overseas trip together after selling our car to finance the trip. It was a six week back packing style trip including two weeks’ Kontiki skiing in Hopfgarten, Austria and four weeks’ Eurail train travel across Europe to wonderful places such as Vienna, Nice, London, Budapest, Venice, Florence, Geneve and Paris. It was Thursday 13 January ’94 (I know it sounds like a Neil Diamond song’s opening line) at about 16:00, having a beer in Budapest when I also mentioned to her that the French are playing Ireland (pure coincidence to the two teams in paragraph 1!) in the 5 Nations the coming Saturday. ‘Well, we have train tickets, why don’t we go and watch?’ was her immediate response. That evening at 21:something hours we boarded the train for Paris and arrived 16:something the next afternoon. It was before the euro and I remember that we had no deutsche marks for coffee going through Germany. You actually had to use the correct currency on the train for the country you were crossing at that point. In those days we travelled with Frommer’s as our GPS and found Hotel de la Paix in Paris as accommodation. It’s necessary to mention this as many years later I noticed Jason Bourne and Marie using the same hotel in The Bourne Identity.

This time we stayed in Hotel de la Paix’s sister hotel Hòtel Convention Montparnasse just off Rue de la Convention and its cosy cafes and bars.

For my South African frame of reference the mind-shift thing towards Europe is still slow. I found a parking garage at euro 38 for the weekend, but must admit that I did hesitate when the garage keeper simply ordered me to leave the car keys with him. Spread over his table was probably 50 car keys, each simply placed on a little invoice with your name on it!

The 5 Nations Test of ’94 was played at Parc des Prince as Stade de France was not yet built and the French won rather easily, very much to our liking! Those were the days of Philip Sella,  Phillipe Saint Andre, Marc Cecilon and Olivier Roumat to name a few and they ran with exquisite flair. If there is such a thing as your second team in rugby, the Cockerels are definitely mine. That day I bought myself a Springbok beret outside Parc des Prince which I still wear with pride and I have not yet seen a similar beret anywhere.

Parc des Princes in January 1994 with my Springbok beret

But back to December 2011 and our short weekend to Paris. Racing Metro is one of the two Paris based sides and has some of my favourite players such as Francois Steyn (unfortunately still injured after been bullied in New Zealand), Juan Martin Hernandez, Mirco Bergamasto and Sebastian Chabal in their ranks. Since it’s a leisurely 493km drive from Köln to Paris it makes for a very sensible weekend breakaway, and ‘El Classico’ played between Barcelona and Real Madrid in ‘La Liga’ on the Saturday evening complemented this one.

My varsity friend Henk often used the phrase that there is two things that make the world turn, sport and music. It crosses boundaries and cultures and makes people equal. The interesting thing about attending sports events in foreign places is that so much of the same little habits pop up such as the ‘braai and beer’ stalls outside the stadium, whether its at Loftus for rugby, Ellispark for Soccer 2010 or Stade Olympique Yves du Manoir for the Heineken Cup. This outing was no different and we enjoyed the ‘wors braai’, pommes frites and beer with mostly Irish supports outside the Stade Olimpique Yves du Manoir in Colombes to the north of Paris. This stadium hosted the Olympic Games in 1924 and was used as the stadium in the movie Escape to Victory starring Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone and Pele in the early eighties.

We searched for a pub somewhere in Paris to watch the soccer after the rugby. Well, Paris doesn’t have many of the pubs we associate with sport, but they do use their cafes for big games such as ‘el classico’ and with great supporting spirit and gusto to accompany the good food and wine.

Obviously Paris is not only a rugby city, even if you practically only have a day and a half there. We have been in Paris a few times before, which negates that  ‘have to tick all the sites’ rush when visiting a city for the first time and allowing you to leisurely pace around the town and the hordes of people also roaming the streets. La Tour Eiffel, Champs Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe built by Napoleon Bonaparte to celebrate his successes on the battlefields, surely are always the sites to wonder around and enjoy the Christmas markets and ‘vin chaud’, a French version of glühwein and then to finish it of with a freshly baked Crepe.

La Tour Eiffel, stunning photo Heleen

I’m not sure why nor where it came from but I have a real liking for France, its mannerisms, even if they are often deemed to be rude, and the language. In the three months we’ve been living in Europe we’ve been to France three times (keep an eye on this blog for trip report on the third visit, skiing in the Rhone Alps) and I know that there will be a few more. And hopefully I’ll one day be able to ‘prononcer une phrase correcte’ and order those delicious ‘cafè au lait avec croissants’ without the bemused gaze from the waiter.

Allez les Bleu!