Road to the Euros – How? What? Where? When?

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Planning on joining the motorized division of the Green Army this June? Conor Power has some advice for you

On the 10th of June, it all kicks off with host nation France taking on Romania at the Stade de France. For the Irish (the Republic of Ireland, that is), the adventure begins three days later at the same venue (Northern Ireland start the day before in Nice). If it all goes to plan, we’ll still be there to lift the cup on the 10th of July. There’ll be many a slip between cup and lip, however, and the only guarantee is that we have three games. Here, we try to guide you through the three with suggestions on how to get there, where to stay, where to eat, where to park and where to drink.

Match One: Vs Sweden

The Time: Monday, 13th of June, 2016; KO- 17:00

The Place: Stade de France ; Capacity – 81,000. Hopefully, we’ll turn the scene of the Great Cheat of Thierry Henry into a scene of triumph by beginning our campaign with a win against the Swedes. (M°: St Denis-Porte de Paris. RER B: La Plaine Stade de France. RER D: Stade de France – St Denis.)

Best Budget Food: Before hopping on the Metro/RER to get out to St Denis, visit Paris’ oldest covered market – Marché des Enfants Rouges (M°: Temple). It abounds with some of the most affordable quality eating in Paris. Chez Alain Miam Miam serves incredibly tasty and filling gourmet sandwiches and crêpes. Another very cheap institution in the city centre is Au Bistro Beaubourg (25 rue Quincampoix. Metro – Châtelet). It’s hot traditional Parisian food at its very best, served with minimum fuss. Watch out for regular themed soirées where the bargains are even more enticing; €10 main courses such as a feed of oysters or gut-stuffing raclettes with cocktails at €5.

Koba surveys his rarely empty bistro at the exceptionally priced "Le Hide" near the Arc de Triomphe

Koba surveys his rarely empty bistro at the exceptionally priced “Le Hide” near the Arc de Triomphe

Best Fancier Food:Le Hide” (10 Rue du General Lanrezac.fr, M° – Charles de Gaulle Etoile) is possibly Paris’ best kept secret (though not entirely a secret). It’s a small traditional Parisian restaurant, amazingly just a short walk from the Arc de Triomphe. Owner Koba is a Japanese national who does French fare superbly and at exceptional value for the location – Plat du Jour from €19 and Formule Traditionnelle set dinner menu from €27. The risotto with parmesan shavings is both exciting and comforting at the same time, perfectly matched with a Burgundy wine.

Drink! Anywhere in the Marais District is good. Try the down-to-earth and always-overflowing Le Piment Café on Rue de Sévigné (M°- Saint-Paul). Forget any fancy notions and go for the big 23-euro pichet (jug) of “ti-punch”. Or the Café Charlot on Rue de Bretagne (M° – Filles du Calvaire) with its abundance of Belle Époque zinc and wrought iron fittings. A demi (about a half-pint) is €3.20 on its sought-after sunny terrace.

Catch the Buzz: For a zone on the rise, you won’t find trendier and buzzier of a weekend night than South Pigalle (often referred to in an irritating aping of a New York trend as “So-Pi”) – a revitalised part of the City of Light that used to be more famous for low-rent sex shops and lurid cabaret shows. Amidst the hippest spots are L’Embuscade – Rhumerie du Cap Vert (Replica of a Cap Verde Rum bar, specialising in a superb range of… rums. 47 rue de La Rochefoucauld. M° – Pigalle) and Le Kremlin (Garish retro Soviet-style décor with vats of fine vodka on offer. 6 rue André Antoine. M° – Pigalle).

Pigalle Buzz: South Pigalle has become a lot more groovy than seedy in recent years

Pigalle Buzz: South Pigalle has become a lot more groovy than seedy in recent years

Parking the Wagon: If you’re planning to park close to the stadium, the best solution is the Q-Park Université-Saint-Denis (q-park-resa.fr). It’s a 24-hour car park that will have you at the stadium in 15 minutes by public transport and no après-match traffic jams.

Get Some Culture into You: You’ll be older and greyer by the time you’ve seen all of The Louvre. If one must have art in Paris, then go to the Musée d’Orsay (M° – Solférino), where you’ll have all the best of the Impressionists seen in an hour or so and enjoy the ornate and reasonably-priced café on the top floor with great views over the Seine.

Bring Home a Present: You’ll be spoilt for choice if it’s a miniature Eiffel Tower you’re after. Why not go for a book of Baudelaire poetry from one of the booksellers along the Banks of the Seine? Just opposite Notre Dame Cathedral is the best spot. It’s good craic strolling along looking intellectual anyway, even if you don’t buy anything.

Don’t Miss While you’re There:
Exploring the Catacombs (M° –Denfert-Rochereau) is something most visitors to Paris miss out on. It’s a 1.7km-long ossuary deep beneath street level where the spooky skeletal remains of some 6 million people are very neatly stacked (catacombes.paris.fr. Entry price – €12).

Mega-fan-zone: The Champs de Mars fan zone will be able to accommodate 120,000 fans to watch Ireland stuff the Swedes.

Mega-fan-zone: The Champs de Mars fan zone will be able to accommodate 120,000 fans to watch Ireland stuff the Swedes.

Did You Know?
… that the famously guillotined King Louis XVI is buried, along with several other French monarchs, at the St Denis Basilica, just a 20-minute walk north of the Stade de France? Entry is €8.50, under-26’s go free with valid ID.

Fan Zone:
It’s in the Champ de Mars (the enormous green lawn behind the Eiffel Tower) and can accommodate 120,000 fans (M° – Ecole Militaire).

Getting to the Next Match:
It’s 590km and the most direct route is taking the A10. It can be done in under 6 hours if traffic conditions are right. Poitiers is a good place to stop off. If you’ve a mind to go to a theme park, one of the best examples of it – Futuroscope – is just outside Poitiers. Admission – €39 adult, €180 family of 5).
An alternative route that’s not much longer is the A71/A20 followed by the N10. Much of the latter stretches are dual carriageway and the motorway tolls are about €20 – a good €30 cheaper than the first option. Limoges makes for a nice overnight pit-stop – a grand mid-sized local capital and the home of the Limousin breed – imported into Ireland over 50 years ago!

 

Match Two: Vs Belgium

The Time: Saturday, 18th of June, 2016; KO- 14:00

Battle of the Messy White Box: Ireland's match with Belgium is their toughest on paper, so it's a good job we'll be playing them here...

Battle of the Messy White Box: Ireland’s match with Belgium is their toughest on paper, so it’s a good job we’ll be playing them here…

The Place: Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux (Matmut Atlantique) ; Capacity – 43,000. The “messy white box” was opened only last year. The best way to arrive is by tramway, taking Line C to Parc des Exposition (300m from the stadium).

Best Budget Food: Along the quayside between Place de la Bourse and Place des Quinconces. It’s close to the official Fanzone and you can get plats du jour in the middle of the day for about €10. Try L’Incontournable, Via Luna or the Belle Epoque. Another good area is the Saint Pierre locale. It’s within the historical city centre and has a good choice of reasonably-priced restaurants. Try local lamproie à la bordelaise (eel in Bordeaux wine sauce) or oysters from Arcachon Bay.

Best Fancier Food: L’Orangerie is not expensive and offers you a taste of the countryside within the city centre with its great garden terrace. The varied menu has a slight Mediterranean bent, combined with local favourites like foie gras. Mains are around €20 to €25.

Drink! The “I Boat”, Quai Armand Lalande is a moored boat that stays rocking and grooving into the early hours. Try a pint at the HMS Victory. Although it’s an English Pub, it does craic Irish style, with former Irish professional rugby player Lugha Verling frequently pulling the pints. Also, anywhere in the Saint Pierre quarter for drinks in charming old-town atmosphere.

P***ed in Saint-Pierre? The old quarter of Bordeaux is where you'll find a good buzz day or night.

P***ed in Saint-Pierre? The old quarter of Bordeaux is where you’ll find a good buzz day or night.

Catch the Buzz: It’s hard to beat the historic centre – the Saint Pierre quarter. It has atmosphere and plenty of places to eat and drink that draw a crowd at all hours of the night and day. For a different vibe, there is the energetically revamped area along the quays by the bridge Pont Chaban Delmas.

Parking the Wagon: The Jean-Jaurès car park is right in the heart of things under Place de la Bourse. With hourly rates of €2.40 and an overnight charge of €6, it’s surprisingly inexpensive for the perfect location. The tram line C leaves from here every 10 minutes or so and brings you to Parc des Expositions (5-min walk from the stadium).

Get Some Culture into You: What about football stuff posing as art? The exhibition “Football: at the Limits of Offside” runs from the 1st of June to the end of October at the Musée d’Aquitaine on Cours Pasteur in the historical city centre. It promises to examine the Beautiful Game through a series of installations and exhibitions.

Bring Home a Present: When in Bordeaux… you have to bring back some nice wine. The Chartrons district has the best wine shops or just pop into any standard supermarket, where you’ll find a drool-inducing range of local brilliant wines. Leave some room in your suitcase (and stomach) for canelés – fantastic little cakes of Bordeaux.

Don’t Miss While You’re There: Many are unaware that that Bordeaux is now as bike-friendly as Amsterdam with over 200km of safe cycle lanes. You can grab a bike and wing it or you can follow a self-guided tourist route. Esprit Cycles (27 rue du Docteur Charles Nancel Pénard) offer sturdy bikes for €10 for half a day or €15 for a full day.

One of France's favourite cities... mist and sunshine at the Place de la Bourse

One of France’s favourite cities… mist and sunshine at the Place de la Bourse

Did You Know?
When seen from above, the Grands Hommes district (also known as the Golden Triangle) looks just like the Masonic symbol?

Fan Zone:
It’s on the Place des Quinconces and has a capacity of 60,000. Take tramway Line B or C to Quinconces. Several buses also stop at Quinconces-Munich.

Getting to the Next Match:
You have ample time to make this marathon 805km-long journey (3 days), even allowing for hangover dissipation period. You have motorway door-to-door at 130kph so if you want to attack it in one burst, you could do it in 8 hours or so.
Rather than overnight in some motel-type place, take a diversion to somewhere like Amboise. It’s a small diversion to this pretty town. It boasts one of the finest châteaux in the Loire Valley and the local vineyards produce 4 official types of fresh, full-bodied wine. Leonardo da Vinci loved it too – he’s buried in the local cemetery at the Chapel of St Hubert.
Motorway tolls will set you back approximately €72. Fuel will cost between €45 and €65, depending on whether you’re burning petrol or diesel.

 

Match Three: Vs Italy

The Time: Wednesday, 22nd of June, 2016; KO- 20:00

The "place" to be: people strolling across a sun-drenched Grand Place in Lille city centre

The “place” to be: people strolling across a sun-drenched Grand Place in Lille city centre

The Place: Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille; Capacity – 50,200. The venue is another new one – built in 2012. It has a retractable roof and the ability for half of the pitch to retract and slide above the other half for certain events. Take Metro Line 1 to Cité Scientifique, from where the stadium is a 10-minute walk.

Best Budget Food: On the same metro line 1 as the Stade Pierre-Mauroy is the Rihour stop. Surface on Place Rihour and all around you are restaurants that won’t break the bank. Another good spot to try would be the student quarter (M° – Solférino/rue Masséna), where there’s an abundance of street food/fast-food outlets. “Le Welsh” is a local adopted version of the Welsh Rarebit, composed of layered bread, cheese, beer, eggs and accompanied by a true Flemish original – chips.

Best Fancier Food: Try “Estaminet Au Vieux de la Vieille” on Rue des Vieux Murs for some quality local specialities (e.g. pancakes stuffed with Maroilles cheese, ham and vegetables) in the heart of the Vieux Lille (Old Town). Mains are between about €12 and €18.

Drink! The most happening boozing zone right now is the long Rue des Postes. Try Le Pol’Art Café (southern end) – a place that used to be big on food but found that it does drink much better. La Boulangerie Bar (northern end), with its quirky former baker’s décor and jazzy/funk music, is a convivial and busy spot for a drink with a mixed crowd. Lots of locals drink Pelforth – a big brand beer that’s brewed nearby. To get even more local, try a Jenlain – beer sold in tall cider-like bottles.

Legless in Lille? Let's hope that there'll be plenty to celebrate about by the time we're finished with Italy.

Legless in Lille? Let’s hope that there’ll be plenty to celebrate about by the time we’re finished with Italy.

Catch the Buzz: During the day, the Vieux Lille area has a great atmosphere, especially around the Cathedral Notre-Dame de la Treille (M° – Gare Lille-Flandres). Thursday, Friday and Saturday are the liveliest nights of the week in Lille. In the evening, it gets busiest around Gare Saint Sauveur the Rue Royal in Vieux Lille (M° – Lille Grand-Palais).

Parking the Wagon: Underground car parks in town are quite expensive. A better option is to use the far cheaper Transpole (transpole.fr) car park and a Pass-Pass card allowing you access to the car park and travel on the efficient public transport system.

Get Some Culture into You: Try La Piscine, 23 Rue de l’Espérance, Roubaix). You’re right – the name does mean Swimming Pool. Where else can you find an Art Deco-style public swimming pool transformed into a fine art museum complete with the swimming pool still in it? Nowhere else, I’m guessing. The varied collection covers both art and industry and includes some stunning paintings – mostly impressionist and modern, sculptures from different eras, ceramic pieces from Marc Chagall and Raoul Dufy, as well as other designs and objets d’art. Entry is free.

Reflected art: La Piscine is a highly unusual place where one can have a short strong dose of culture.

Reflected art: La Piscine is a highly unusual place where one can have a short strong dose of culture.

Bring Home a Present: Don’t leave town without visiting Chez Meert for a waffle – a deliciously famous Lille institution. If you’re a true football aficionado, buy a souvenir from the official LOSC (Lille football club) shop on 68 Rue de Bétune in the city centre.

Don’t Miss While You’re There: Climb the Belfry of the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) for a splendid 360° view of Lille. You’ll even be able to see the stadium from here – off to the South-East. The nearest Metro stop is Mairie-de-Lille and the entry fee is €5. For further information, see the Lille Tourism website.

Did You Know?
Charles de Gaulle was born in Lille.

Fan Zone:
It’s at Parc Matisse, beside Lille Europe train station. 25,000 capacity.

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