Bordeaux is a fantastic city and one which you could happily wander around for days, taking in the sights, sounds and multitude of squares and back alleys, filled with buzzing bars and cafés.
The Euro’s had clearly taken a grip of the city, with an exciting atmosphere in the air. We watched the England v Wales game down at the fan zone, and although the Welsh outnumbered the English by some distance, it was a fantastic game to watch with two late England goals bringing us victory.
Pretty soon we became well acquainted with the anthems of the Euro’s, which alternated between ‘Will Grigg (or insert player name) is on fire, your defence is terrifed! Na na na na na!’ and the classic ‘Don’t take me home, please don’t take me home, I just don’t want to go to work….’, which sounded fantastic when boomed out by Eastern Europeans. You couldn’t walk far in the city without hearing someone start one of these up, particularly in the evening time.
The following day Dean was heading back, which meant that he had just a single day to sell his bike and recoup the 100 Euros or so that he paid for it. Thinking this would be an easy task, it turns out that no used bike stores have any interest in buying a bike. Frustratingly, they rarely even looked at the bike before waving us off.
Dejected, we were about to give up and were heading back to the hostel defeated. I asked Dean to let me try a previously closed bike shop next to the hostel, as the way the trip had gone so far with the various ebbs and flows, I somehow felt that there could yet be a positive ending to this.
The bike shop was still closed, but there were a young couple enquiring through the window. I went over and asked if they wanted to buy the bike; to my surprise and excitement, they were indeed interested! After some haggling they were keen to take it off our hands for 50 Euros, which although was half what Dean paid 3 days ago, it was still something!
It looked a done deal, with the guy nearly falling off while going up a curb what appeared to be a minor blip in the buying process. As he rode passed us again, looking down at the bike with satisfaction a sudden loud CRACK was heard. It clearly meant something had broken on the bike, as the guy jumped off in horror.
We went over to assess the damage, which turned out to be a broken dérailleur, which had somehow completely snapped. I glanced at the gears on the handlebar, thinking that he may have over turned them but no, there was nothing untoward; the bike had simply given up and died off.
The French guy looked a combination of puzzled and worried, though there was nothing else for us all to do but laugh. We had come so close, but it wasn’t to be. It was a strange moment, as there must have been a portion of him that thought we were trying to scam him. Without any English it made for an even stranger situation, with us all stood round scratching our heads, trying to work how it had suddenly snapped. Nevertheless, the dérailleur was done for, so after stashing it in a back alley there was no more time other than Dean to grab his stuff and head off to the train station.
The next few days were mainly spent under a spell of beer drinking, cheese eating, baguette buying and chanting with the various fans, along with adjusting our days around the various football matches. We became increasingly obsessed with Nigel Pearson’s famous ostrich speech, which we must have watched dozens of times. There was also a top amount of ‘tat’ that was acquired during the trip, ranging from huge cowboy hats painted in the French flag, through to Trev’s beloved Ivory Coast hat. All of which seemed to be lost, damaged or given away by the time we were leaving.
The only main downer of the Bordeaux trip (other than the bike, which I’ll come to later) was an unsavoury incident involving Trevor’s wallet, a takeaway pizza place and having a curse put upon my head. It was a mystery that will sadly never be solved.
The night before the Belgian v Ireland game was a particular treat, with us stumbling on a huge collection of Belgian fans, mixed with a few French, in one particular rowdy but good-natured alleyway. It was a place we’d spend a large portion of the next few days, with 5 euro pints being served outside the bars in the alleyway. Each night we were close to going home early before becoming gripped in chanting and football talk with whichever fans were in the city that night. The Belgians were particularly friendly and deserve a shout out.
The reason we were in Bordeaux was for the Ireland v Belgian game, which we watched in the fan fest. Walking among a lively and vociferous sea of green, it was a fantastic atmosphere on the way to the big screens, with hordes of Irish finishing off their cans and other drinks outside the zone. Sadly, Ireland never really looked like challenging and eventually lost 3-0. The fans were still magnificent, singing and chanting throughout the whole day.
With Trevor then departing, Ross & I were struggling to drag ourselves away from Bordeaux. A mixture of poor weather and still not feeling ready to get back in the saddle, we stayed a couple of extra nights at a place just around the corner. This also gave us a chance be in the city for when Croatia played Spain, with the Croat fans in good noise but the Spanish duly disappointing, particularly once they had lost.
The following day we checked out an up and coming area of Bordeaux, and one which culture-wanker Trev had spotted from a trip on my bike. Filled with graffiti in disused factories and a number of skateparks, it was a hipster’s wet dream.
On returning, I thought I’d grab my bike from where it was locked up, which was just outside our previous accommodation. As we were walking over towards it, I even said to Ross half-jokingly that I was so fatigued from the Bordeaux beer and footy fest, that I wouldn’t mind too much if it was gone. The thought of riding in 34 degree heat for the next few days weighing heavy on the mind.
At first viewing it was nowhere to be seen, as I checked around other places Trev may have locked it up after he borrowed it. Nope, it certainly wasn’t here. Perhaps he left it further down the road I thought, as I scanned the floor for any evidence. There it was! My bike lock lying cut and motionless on the floor. The dream was over.
I picked it up and had a quick photo for memories sake, before tossing it into the nearby bin. My time on the bike had come to a sudden end. Having had my fair share of bike related problems on the way, I wasn’t hugely upset as there wasn’t anything I could do to change the situation and also hadn’t formed much of a relationship with the chap.
Not dwelling on spilt milk or stolen bikes, I immediately switched into planning mode and sorted my route to return home. I opted for a one night stop in Paris, enabling me to watch the Irish game against Italy with Ross at the Eiffel Tower fan zone, which they needed to win to progress. Within a couple of hours I had finished my reroute, with a train to Paris, one night stay in a hostel and overnight bus back to London all booked.
After this we headed out, as inadvertently our stay timed with a city-wide music festival, which takes place on the ‘first day of summer’. This was a treat of noise and carnage in the city, with bands setting up all over the city in random streets and DJ’s performing down alleyways. A very cool setup, which led to a very tough morning gathering all of our stuff ready for our prospective train rides to Paris.
Definitely up there with my top 3 toughest train rides, weeks of poor sleep and fatigue were really starting to affect me as I battled through the ride into Paris. After a quick refresh in the hostel and catching a mesmeric 3-3 draw between Hungary and Portugal, it was time to gather energy for one final night in France: Ireland v Italy.
The fan fest under the Eiffel tower was a spectacular venue. They were showing the Sweden v Belgium on the main screens, with the Irish game being shown at the back of the fan fest. Around a thousand fans or so watched on, going crazy when Robbie Brady scored the winner towards the end of the match to send them through.
There was barely any energy left to celebrate as we wandered the streets of Paris, bumping into a number of Icelandic and Austrian fans who were all in good spirit. Buying a few beers from street touts we joined them for a short time, trading my Irish flag (Ivory Coast reversible) for a Austrian (Ostrich) scarf, before giving in to fatigue and heading back. It was a horrific night sleep in the hostel with extremely hot conditions, coupled with loud snoring and creeky beds. A terrible combination that gifted me only a couple of hours sleep or so. As I lay there, I promised myself I’d get on the first Eurostar home, screw the overnight bus, all I wanted was to be home and resting. In the morning feeling very groggy I checked the prices and they were nearly 200 quid. Overnight bus it was!
After spending the morning recovering in the hostel and eating a beef, cheese and egg crepe that was bigger than my head, I stumbled down to the impressive Notre Dam and fell asleep on a nearby bench. Paris had a nicer feel to the city than I had imagined it would, bustling with life and cafes at every corner I passed through.
Due to my state I wasn’t able to move much, though the Latin Quarter where I was staying was pleasant to ramble around in, despite the heat zapping my energy. It felt like a long day, but eventually it was time to grab my belongings and head to what is the most hidden bus stop in all of Europe. If you need to get a Megabus from Paris then arrive well ahead of time, as it takes some finding!
When I eventually found it, I was foolish for thinking the toilets would be shit-worthy, as the whole bus depot was like many others, a complete hole. Water and dirt covered the entire floor of the toilets, as I managed to tip-toe my way to a urinal. It added to my tiredness and increasing desire to just be home and rid of this impending bus ride.
Fortunately though it wasn’t busy, though unfortunately it was stiflingly hot on the bus. Briefly sleeping before the bus boarded the boat back to England, I woke up with my t-shirt damp with sweat. We were frogmarched off the bus, through customs and onto the boat’s higher decks, where I wandered around in sleep deprived daze.
Leaning over a girl watching the EU referendum result on her laptop, my despair turned deeper as it looked increasingly likely that we were leaving the continent. Before the boat had reached Dover, the results were in: we were fucked. It was a horrible moment to discover our fate, and one which made me glad I’d utilized my proxy vote at least. As the white cliffs of Dover came into sight in the early morning sun, I had made it back to England in one piece.
The bus continued on its route and took me to London, where I didn’t have the energy or willpower to battle the morning commuters on the tube. I took a seat in the Wetherspoons at Victoria Station, where I ordered a large fry-up breakfast and cup of tea, watching the hordes of Londoners dodging their way through the station like ants.
There was number of businessmen looking depressed and drinking pints of beer across the table from me, even though it was still the morning rush hour. There was a sombre, funeral-like feel in the air, which was no doubt the result of Brexit, with the realities of it sinking into Londoners on their Monday morning commute.
After waiting for the worst of the rush to die down, I left behind the jaded feeling of London and boarded the train for Bletchley where I planned to do nothing but sleep for 2 days.
I got home an hour later and did exactly that.