I completed yesterday’s weather-affected sightseeing, taking in the stunning Notre Dame Basilica at the top of the hill, of which the views weren’t bad from either. The nearby roman ruins are quite nice but having been to Chester plenty of times they just seem OK.
This afternoon I was supposed to meet my mate Dave in St Etienne, prior to the Portugal v Iceland game there. Lyon and St Etienne are 35 miles apart and there is a twice hourly train service between the two cities. This sounds fairly simple. Prior to arriving in France much had been made about the workers strikes but I’d yet to notice anything. My plan was to get the 16.24 train, arriving in St Etienne just after 5 o’clock. However this train was cancelled and the next two trains had been fully booked so the next option was the 18.24 train. This wasn’t ideal as it would severely curtail the drinking time, although it’s hardly the end of the world. I can’t really complain about missing a couple of beers when people’s livelihoods are under threat. The train still hadn’t left Lyon by 7 o’clock so I gave myself a cutoff time of a quarter past seven. After that I wouldn’t bother going. The train left at exactly at quarter past seven. By the time I arrived at the stadium it was almost kickoff and unfortunately I never got to see Dave.
The Portugal v Iceland game was enjoyable. It was like a good cup tie with the underdogs riding a fair bit of luck to hang on for a 1-1 draw. The self-proclaimed CR7 (TM) was clearly not amused with any of this judging by his arm waving, hands on hips and generally petulant body language being displayed. This made his late miss even funnier. The atmosphere was great, especially sitting among the Iceland fans. The amazing statistic of anywhere between five and ten per cent of the Iceland population travelling to France has been widely quoted. There must have been at least 10,000 of the 322,000 population in this stadium tonight which is over three per cent of Icelanders. I wonder how many of the people here knew each other. All of the neutrals in the crowd seemed to be supporting Iceland, including a group who were adorned in carrier bags from the popular UK-based frozen food retailer, also known as Iceland. The St Etienne stadium is terrific. It’s a traditional ground that has been nicely refurbished to maintain its distinctive, non-geometric shaped stands.
On the train back to Lyon I heard an interesting conversation. A group of Canadians were sharing a table with an American father and son, something slightly unusual considering the situation. Listening in from the seat behind I found out that the Americans have been to every European Championships since 2000 and had plenty of good stories. One of the Canadians said he’d love to bring his son one day as it would be great father-son bonding and they’d have the time of their lives. Even for a bit of a cynic like me this was heartwarming! Walking back to the hostel from Lyon Station I spotted someone looking a bit lost. It was Eddie from the hostel in Lille who’d been to the game and was staying at the same place as me in Lyon. The traveling circuit is sometimes a small world.