France 2023 Rugby World Cup

France 2023 - Rugby World Cup

(mobile viewing/reading better in landscape mode ... my website is weird.)

In 2019, four years before this trip, the boys and I ventured off to Japan for our first Rugby World Cup. I was new to the sport, but agreed to go because ... sushi. By all accounts, it was one hell of a trip. So we decided to do it again in France. I'm pretty sure that qualifies as a tradition. This time the plan was for me and my lifelong friends, brothers Nathan and Josh, to meet up in Paris and do a little week-long tour. To which my girlfriend, Carolina, said, "Oh, so you're going to France with the guys." And that's how it came to be that my tour began a week earlier as a romantic getaway in Paris. So, here is a rundown of my two weeks in France. The first part was cultural and filled with good food and wine. The second part is fuzzy. It was basically a delightful combination of serendipity and poor life decisions. But all along, there was something that resembled a plan. And I've included this helpful trip map that (depending on when you read this) may or may not be current. But it includes some of the highlights we enjoyed, and many places we never got to see. (More pictures here in an uncurated photo dump.)

:: PARIS ::

Arriving in Paris
The overnight flight across the pond was largely uneventful. I'm told I was asleep before we left JFK airport in New York. Somewhat surprisingly, customs was a breeze at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, and everything seemed to be going smoothly until we tried to get into the city. The fastest and cheapest (but not necessarily most comfortable) way to the center is to take the RER B train. It leaves from terminal 2E and costs about €12. It shouldn't take more than 45 minutes to get to (for us) Gare du Nord. Unfortunately, it seems we hit Paris during a major heat wave and the packed, steamy, air-condition-less ride finally got the better of one passenger who became sick. The train had to stop for a while so medics could attend to the lady. She was fine. Just a bit barfy. Eventually we got to Gare du Nord and walked the rest of our way to the Airbnb. Note: Two other options to get into the city include the €17 Roissy bus to the Opera metro station, or just taking a €50-60 Uber or cab. However, both can get caught in some heavy traffic and may take longer than the train. But at least you don't risk throwing up on your shoes. 

The Airbnb
I'm going to try to be nice about our lodging ... it sucked. There. I tried. But, really, this was the final nail in my Airbnb coffin. I'm a hotel person. And this just makes it official. I'm done with Airbnb. I mean, look, the place itself was actually in a really cool area, right in the heart of the 9th arrondissement. It was small, but cute. But it just felt very lived in. On top of that, it used some selective photos and convenient omissions of information. But worst of all, it had no air conditioning. Now, I knew this when I booked. My mistake. But I had no idea it would be this hot. And opening a window didn't matter because it was so loud outside. We just never got comfortable. But more on all this later. 

First stop: Food and beer. Not far from our Airbnb we stumbled onto this little place that perfectly matched what we were looking for. Which is to say literally anything that could be consumed. But it actually was pretty good. I had a croque monsieur - a simple French-style ham and cheese sandwich. Not to be confused with a croque madame - which is the same thing but with a poached or fried egg on top. The beer was cold. And, at the moment, that was my only requirement.

La Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris - more commonly just referred to as Sacré Coeur - stands atop the highest hill in the city. Which is a more glorified way of saying: I hope you like climbing stairs. If you can handle the walk up Montmartre the view is spectacular and the surrounding area has lots of great little artists nooks. But be ready for lots of people. The basilica is actually the second biggest tourist attraction in Paris after some giant metal thing. 

L'Atelier Montmartre
We were starting to hit our day-one wall, but wanted to stay awake at least through sundown so we could adjust our bodies to Paris time and also see the Moulin Rouge all lit up at night. So we figured beers at a nearby sidewalk cafe would help keep us awake. That was the theory, anyway.

Moulin Rouge
Alas, we saw the world famous cabaret at night. At least the outside. Pretty windmill and all. It went like this: "See it? Great. Let's go to bed." 


Just a quick stop at one of the 10,000 cute cafés in Paris for coffee.

Le Pain Retrouvé
Just a quick stop at one of the 10,000 cute bakeries in Paris for fresh bread. More specifically, a couple croissants and - what quickly became my new obsession - a "baguette tradition." Which is a fancy way of saying a proper baguette. Because in addition to baguette tradition there's also "baguette ordinaire." You don't want that. The former - the one you want - is as simple as it can be, made the old-fashioned way with just four ingredients: flour, salt, water, and yeast. And it has to be hand-made on the premises. Some of the French just order it as a "tradi." I never felt cool enough to do that, but I did get one almost every day. A good baguette tradition should never cost more than €1, and the quality doesn't differ all that much from bakery to bakery. Just order the right kind and trust the process. This is where France shines.

La Compagnie du Cafe
Did not eat or have coffee, but long line. Must be good. We didn't actually eat or have coffee here, but it seemed really popular with a long line out into the sidewalk. Figured it was worth mentioning here in case somebody else wants to try it.

Arc de Triomphe
One of the most famous monuments in the city, the Arc de Triomphe stands at the western end of the Champs-Élysées and serves as the centerpiece of Place Charles de Gaulle - a circle junction that joins twelve avenues. Which is to say if you try to cross over the street to see the arc there's a pretty good chance you're going to get hit by a car. Fortunately, there's a tunnel from either side of the circle that allows you to reach the center. It's free to use the passageway and resurface to look around, but you can also buy tickets to go up and into the arc. We didn't. There's this other sorta famous thing in Paris that offers an arguably much better view of the city. 

This is sort of the main avenue of Paris, famous for luxury stores as well as theaters and cafes. It's also where they hold the annual Bastille Day parade as well as the final stretch of the Tour de France. 

Palais de Tokyo
This is Europe's largest center for contemporary art. So, yeah. A whole lotta space for weird stuff. On our visit, we were able to catch Laura Lamiel exhibition. It was OK. I guess. Big installations that had meaning or something. I dunno. Kinda cool to look at, though. And the museum had lots of other exhibits to keep this cynic entertained.

Stopped here for a really good Lebanese lunch. It had really cute decor and was surprisingly cozy with a great vibe. I was also done with walking for a while. So it could've been a cardboard box and I'd say the same thing. But it really was nice. And the food was great.

Eiffel Tower
It costs €18 to go up to the second floor and €28 to the top. On our day, the top was not being offered. Not sure why, but I was more than happy to only ride the funicular to the second level. Which is still pretty high and offers some amazing 360-degree views of the city. Is a visit to the Eiffel Tower the most touristy thing you can do in Paris? Yes. Do you feel a bit silly while doing it? Yes. Is it worth it? Also yes. Just do it and enjoy this, quite honestly, astonishingly beautiful piece of architecture. 

The Trocadéro is a giant public space with museums, gardens, and fountains. It also offers the city's best view of the Eiffel Tower. Of course, you'll also find dozens of vendors selling food, drinks, and cheap trinkets as tourists sit back and enjoy the 10-minute sparkly light show of the tower that starts at the top of each hour after dusk. Watch your wallet.

Café de L'Olympia
Walked into the city after the light show and finally settled on a place to eat. It was Paris fine. Read: Average for the city. Above average for everywhere else in the world. I forget what we ate, but if I had to bet my toe I'd say wine and cheese and bread. I dunno.


The plan was to be first in the door at The Louvre at 9am and beat some of the crowd, and some of my research suggested we could go to one of the "secret" entrances to buy a ticket on the spot. But that wasn't the case. In reality, it was either wait in the big line at the pyramid or reserve tickets online. We did the latter, and booked entry at 11:30am. So we had time to kill and wandered over to this nearby cute little coffee shop for an Americano and pastry. It was here that I was also scolded for using my iPad and politely told "No laptops." I actually respected that. It was nice to just sit and enjoy coffee ... and stew in my own thoughts.

Baguett's Cafe
This is another place we almost went into before The Louvre. It had a huge line, so we kept walking. But it looked great. Might be worth checking out if you have more time.

Louvre Museum
So here we go. The goddamn Louvre. It's been estimated that if you spent 30 seconds with each piece in the museum it would take six weeks to see them all. It's just massive. Thus, it helps to have a plan. And that's what inspired my idea of Hacking The Louvre. Which is to say, I did a ton of research in an attempt to boil the whole place down to what could be considered its 40 most important works of art. After finalizing that list (plus one) and consulting this digital map, I then created a walking plan that included directions and turns all sorts of other obsessive instructions on how to see these major works in the most logical way possible. I gameified it. My plan being to start with the Mona Lisa, see the weird lady, get her out of the way, and then follow a set path. Aaaaaand I kinda crushed it. Mind you, a few items were either on loan or in a temporarily closed section of the museum. But everything else was pretty much perfect. Basically, the spirit of this plan is that you go from one "highlight" to another while casually observing all the other stuff along the way, stopping, of course, when something catches your eye. Weirdly, my favorite piece was The Pandemonium. I say weirdly because it's Satan gathering a bunch of demons. It's way better than the Mona Lisa. Speaking of which, I did manage recreate a photo I took with the lady back in 2003 when I was doing my three-month European backpacker thing. Twenty years flew by, man.

We spent a solid three hours at The Louvre and probably clocked in an equal number of miles. So, we were ready for something refreshing. Cojean hit the spot for fruit smoothies. And air conditioning, 

Musée Maillol
This museum turned out to be one of the highlights of the entire trip for me as we got to see the absolutely incredible Elliott Erwitt retrospective. It was interesting to go from all these crazy old paintings to some of the finest candid photography I've ever seen. I was hugely inspired by this collection. 

Les Deux Magots
Stumbled onto this wonderful place while walking around and lucked out in that they do live Jazz Apertifs every other Monday between June and September. So we did the usual. Wine. Cheese. And people watching on the streets. This time with music. I could have this everyday and never get bored of eyeing all the fashionable Parisians. They're beautiful and well dressed and they know it. Jerks.

Notre Dame Cathedral
In April 2019, the cathedral was undergoing renovation when a fire broke out that completely torched the place. So, going inside wasn't an option, But we were able to walk around the exterior and view the reconstruction. The French government is hoping to have it ready for the 2024 Olympics in Paris. While we couldn't tour the building, we did enjoy a really cool photo exhibit along the outside fencing. It was a series of images detailing the work being done after the fire. It was actually really interesting.

L'Everest Bar Chatelet
Stopped here for one drink. It was nothing special. We were just killing time until our next stop.

Le Duc des Lombards
Before calling it a day, we stopped by this jazz club and caught the last show of the the evening of Andrea Rinciari and the Takeover Band. Man, what I would give for a place like this in Atlanta. Just a small club with amazing music. Weirdly, though, the club is in a section of town that seemed really young. Almost like a college neighborhood with students getting drunk. Odd place for a jazz club. But whatever. It was great.


Hardware Société
Friends in Atlanta suggested this place for breakfast and it was spectacular. The Aussie-owned restaurant actually started in Melbourne, Australia and has since opened locations in Barcelona and Paris. And all it required from us was once again walking up the Montmartre. I hate this hill. But I assure you the food was worth the steps. My quads beg to differ. 

Hôtel Amoi
It was over breakfast that finally decided to change our lodging. We just couldn't spend another minute in the Airbnb. The heat was killing us. I mean, I'm a cheap bastard. So that should tell you how bad it was. We literally ate the money we paid for the Airbnb and booked us a hotel in the city. And it was the single best decision of the trip. No close second. I can't help it. I'm a hotel person. I love hotels. And this one was perfect. Besides just having really good AC, it was perfectly cozy and well decorated. And in a great neighborhood. Would absolutely recommend it. Checking in was like a total vacation reset. We finally felt refreshed. I often say, "The best things in life come from a change in plans. But to have a change in plans, you have to have a plan in the first place." Well, this isn't exactly what I mean. But, damn. It tracked. I took the subway back to the other place, gathered our stuff, and returned the key. On my earbuds I played "Everything's Right" by Phish because it finally was. Air conditioning - you beautiful bastard!

This was our big dinner out. Elmer was closed for August and they had just reopened on this night. So we were somehow able to get a late reservation. Maybe people didn't realize they were back. But that's how we got a cute sidewalk table at this restaurant that's in the Michelin Guide. I emphasize the word "in" because something I learned was that you can be in the guide without having actual stars. It's like being an honorable mention. Still amazingly good. Just not starred. That's what Elmer was. Bottom line: The food and service were spectacular. Best meal of the trip. Carolina had some sort of fish. And I had the duck. Three stars in my book, Elmer.

Le Comptoir Général
We closed out the evening with a nightcap at this little hidden bar that I found through some research. I had been looking for speakeasies in Paris and somehow stumbled onto this place. And it definitely qualified. From the street, you hardly know it's there. In fact, even after you go through the door (if you dont walk past it) you still have to stroll through a strange little hunting museum to get to the actual bar in the back. But once you emerge, it's a completely different world. And, hark! It was Latin night. So, the music was salsa and it perfectly matched the vibe of the bar - sort of a nautical Caribbean motif with palm trees and island furniture. I mean, this bar had zero business being in the heart of Paris, let alone at the end of a weird museum. It was lovely. And a great way to end our reset day.


Gotta start the day with fresh pastries and coffee. This place we near the hotel and actually offered what we thought was the best croissant of the entire trip. That's saying something, y'all.

Galerie Vivienne
Quaint little mall Our first stop was actually just a stroll through the famous Galerie Vivienne, a covered mall with luxury shops that dates back to 1823. We didn't stop to buy anything. It's just really pretty to look at.

Palais-Royal Garden and Domaine National du Palais-Royal 
From there we just continued walking to the former French royal palace and its arcades and garden. There was nothing too specific to see here, but, like the Galerie Vivienne, it's just nice to view. We also lucked upon a group of dancers and acrobats from Compagnie L'oubliée rehearsing for a big show public show called "Horizon" that was being held on the grounds in the days after we would be away from Paris. But it was amazing to watch them use the physical space to practice their moves.

Cafe St. Regis
Another friend had tipped us off to this cute little corner cafe on Île Saint-Louis, one of the two land masses in the middle of the River Seine. Here, we just sat outside and had a beer while people watching and resting our legs. The other land mass is Île Saint-Louis de la Cité, which is home to the Notre Dame Cathedral and Sainte-Chapelle.

Carolina had this other museum on her list because she likes art and culture and what-not. So, we popped in to check out a an exhibition of hte photography and video works of the Dutch artist, Rineke Dijkstra. It was fine. I guess. 

Hôtel de Sully
If there was a theme to this day it was walking to and through things. Here, we added the grounds of this famous 17th century mansion

L'As du Fallafel
But to hell with old buildings. I was not-so-secretly on a mission to try the best falafel in Paris. My research told me it was here, and it absolutely did not disappoint. L'As du Fallafel runs like a factory. They're cranking out wraps and bowls almost as quickly as people can order them, and, if I had more days in the city, I'd probably go back for more. I kept calling this area the Falafel District because there's actually few different shops in this heavily Jewish part of town.

The Centre Pompidou
Full of falafel, we then walked to The Centre Pompidou. This is a massive modern art and multicultural complex - with very interesting architecture - and our plan was to check out some exhibits. But, ultimately, we just used it as a bathroom. I mean, not like in the middle of the lobby. But just walked in, use the facilities, and left. You're welcome.

Luxembourg Gardens
Someday I hope to write a book about great places in the world in which to take a nap. And the Luxembourg Gardens will absolutely be included. It's 57 acres of beauty adjacent to the Luxembourg Palace, now home to the French Senate. Basically it's like the Central Park of Paris. And, after a little light people watching, I promptly claimed one of the many reclining chairs and took a nap.

Le Barav
This was one of those let's walk around until we stumble onto something that looks good (and is still open) dinners. Fortunately, it was really nice. Great food and drinks. Nothing fancy. 


Train to Versailles
On the recommendation of friends, we considered signing up for the all-day bike tour of Versailles. But the heat wave sort of overpowered those thoughts. The idea of riding a bike and exerting energy seemed like a poor life decision. Plus we'd have to get up pretty damn early. Instead, we chose a later start to our morning and took the train out to the palace. It's pretty easy, and only takes about 30 to 40 minutes.

Notre-Dame Market
We had a scheduled entry for the palace that left us a little time to kill, which was perfect for checking out Versailles' famous Notre-Dame Market. Truthfully, it's nothing that special, but it certainly had a charm to it and was a great way to pass the morning. I even found a little Portuguese bakery for a Pastel de Nata. 

Before heading to the palace we tucked into this little cafe for an Americano. 

Palace of Versailles
My house isn't that big, but there are still rooms I almost never see. So, I can only imagine what low percentage of the former royal residence was ever actually enjoyed by King Louis XIV. This thing is massive. For scale, just consider that it has 2,143 windows, 1,252 chimneys, and 67 staircases. And then there's the garden. All I could think was, "Jesus, somebody has to mow this." Anyway, it's pretty impressive. But I think a half day is more than enough. Especially during a heat wave. 

Les Invalides
The Hôtel des Invalides, more commonly referred to as Les Invalides, is a collection of monuments and museums that focus on the military history of France. It was originally built as a hospital retirement facility for veterans. Today, the big draw is Napoleon's tomb. That's all I really wanted to see, but it requires a ticket to the full museum. Somewhat reluctantly we bought them. And, since we had time, decided to check out the military stuff. And it was totally worth it. Besides just seeing a bunch of cool weapons, you also get to learn a lot about France's war heroes, including Napoleon. Which is nice when you end at the tomb and can then say, "Welp, there he is."

Musée Rodin
I was pretty museum'd out by this point, but we were near the Rodin Museum and I wanted to at least take a poke at the garden. You can stroll through their for something like one Euro, and that allows you to see his famous statue, The Thinker.  Unfortunately, we arrived maybe five minutes too late and and missed the last allowed entry time. So, if I ever go back to Paris, my itinerary will be: Go see The Thinker, have coffee and bread, sleep.

This was our list big dinner in Paris and we opted for some Italian food not too far from our hotel. Generoso was recommended by the hotel staff, and it was a perfect little place to eat near the canal. 


Père Lachaise Cemetery
The last time I was in Paris, almost exactly 20 years prior, I paid a visit to Jim Morrison. So I thought it would be nice for us to once again break on through to the grave of the genius. But this time I had a plan. Not as obsessive as the one I devised for The Louvre, but similar. Here is my trail through Père Lachaise Cemetery. And, once again, it was pretty much spot on. We crushed the cemetery! Whatever that means.

This now marks the grey area of my trip's Venn diagram where my vacation with Carolina merged with my boys trip. Josh arrived from Denver while we were at the cemetery, and we soon met up at the hotel and ventured off, the three of us, for some breakfast. This little vegetarian place looked good and was a perfect stop while we waited for Nathan's flight to arrive.

Bar Le Relais Magenta Brasserie
Nathan finally arrived from Phoenix and we stopped at the first place near our hotel that had empty seats to grab a quick bite and a beer before heading out to the stadium. Carolina was on her own for the rest of the evening. Rugby-Palooza was officially underway.

Café Gaspard
The train ride out to the stadium was a hot mess - literally. But somehow paled to the logistical nightmare that it was just to get a pre-game beer. Having done the World Cup four years prior in Japan perhaps we were a little spoiled with the efficiency we experienced before, but this was a a complete cluster. There are few bars near the stadium. We stopped at one and it took a solid 30 minutes just to get an order of beers. This would be sort of a theme when it came to the rugby. Poor planning. I mean, hell, they stadiums were even running out of beer. Come on, man. This is a rugby crowd. Know your audience. Speaking of which, we saw some quality outfits. Credit to one French man for just wearing a cock and balls on his head. The French team's mascot is a rooster. A cock. Get it?

Stade de France: Opening Match of the Rugby World Cup
France and New Zealand Somehow we scored tickets to the opening match of the tournament. Well, not somehow. We paid out the ass. But we were in the stadium with pretty good seats for the big opening ceremony. President Emmanuel Macron was even there for the festivities leading up to the marquee match between the host nation and New Zealand. I think I was most excited about seeing the All Blacks perform the Haka live and in person. It was pretty amazing, though maybe not as intense as this one from the 2011 World Cup. France won the match 27-13. And it was our first of three opportunities to don our new custom Rusty berets that we ordered off Etsy.

We were pretty wiped after the match, but I can only imagine how we would've felt had we not pulled a masterclass move at the train station. The line for the rail heading back to the city center was like a mile long. But you could walk right up the stairs for the train going in the opposite direction away from the city. So we did that, took the train one stop in the opposite direction, then switched tracks, and returned to the stadium station sitting in seats as the masses squeezed like hell to try to get on. Work smarter. Not harder. Hell, we deserved a beer. So we met up with Carolina at the bar next to our hotel for a final drink in Paris. Fitting that it was called Georgia and themed after things from the state I've called home for 20 years now.


Train to Marseille
The next morning, all four of us met in the lobby at the same time. We said goodbye to Carolina as she took off for the airport to fly back home to Atlanta, and the boys and I head to Gare de Lyon to catch our train to Marseille. For this, we had booked three first class tickets well in advance. And it was totally worth it to have a nice, cozy seat waiting just for us for our three hour ride down to the southern coast.

The Airbnb
After the experience we had in Paris, I was a little nervous about our Airbnb. Fortunately, it was moderately better in that it had a portable air conditioning unit that we were able to plug in and cool the place off. The heat wave was really bad - we literally just sat in front of it for a while. The apartment wasn't anything special, but it wasn't bad. And certainly better than the culmination of my fears which were exasperated by the fact that we had to pick up the keys at a nearby CBD shop. Because, sure. Why not. Makes perfect sense. "Hey random dude who sells CBD, can I have the keys to the apartment?"

Dürüm Kebab
One of my favorite things about Europe is the abundance of kebab shops. I could pretty much live off shawarma. After checking into our Airbnb this was our first stop for some delicious stacked, roasted meat from spinning vertical rotisserie. Just like God intended

Brasserie Des Templiers
We bounced around Marseille for a bit, checked out the rugby village for a moment, and then finally settled at a bar that had a TV outside to watch Ireland v Romania. It was a beautiful day to sit in the sun and chat with other European rugby fans who sort of adopted us as the voice of America in hopes that we could somehow explain what the hell was wrong with our country. Specifically: Why do we like guns so much? Seriously. That's where they conversation went. Almost immediately. "Oy, what's with all the guns?" "I dunno, man. We're weird." The Irish won 82-8. It was a blowout. So we only stayed for the first half and then went back the Airbnb for a quick siesta before heading out to the stadium for the night.

Orange Vélodrome
England v Argentina Getting to the stadium for the match between England and Argentina was fairly simple, though the train did break down once and it was basically a sweat box. The real mess was, once again, the logistics at the stadium. The lines to get in were outrageous. I've literally never seen anything like it. It was so bad, in fact, that we rolled the dice and walked around the entire stadium to the far side in hopes that maybe there was a less crowded entrance. There was. It was the right call. But, of course, they ran out of beer and yada yada yada they really sucked at this. The complete logistical nightmare of these first several matches sort of became the talk of the rugby community online. It was a disaster that even forced World Rugby organizers to release a statement. Fortunately, our gamble paid off. We didn't miss any of the action and England won 27-10 with all 27 English points coming from the fly-half, George Ford. He even hit three drop goals in the first half. It was both odd and extraordinary.

La Brasserie Communale
We used our new secret back way to leave the stadium and over to a different train station to get back to the city center where we settled down for some late night drinks at a bar in this funky little square. It was actually pretty cool. But, yes, Marseille is known for being a little more "gritty" than other parts of France. And we eventually realized it might be time to call it a night when the heroin addicts started coming up to our table, needles in hand, asking for money. Check please.


Les Akolytes
The next morning we took a nice long walk to the water for some tapas near Plage des Catalans. This included panisse, sort of like chickpea French fries, which is said to be a traditional local dish. We all found it rather unimpressive. That said, the rest of meal was good. Well, not all of it. The ceviche sucked. Peruvians would've rioted.

Bar de la Plaine
After strolling around for a bit, Nathan and Josh went back to the stadium to watch South Africa beat Scotland 18-3. I didn't have tickets, so I treated myself to a nap at the Airbnb, a couple quarters of the Arizona Cardinals season opener on the iPad, and then strolled over to a nearby bar to watch the games on TV until the boys returned. I sort of claimed a primo spot, so the three of us just ended up hanging out here to watch the outstanding late game between Wales and Fiji. The Welsh just barely scraped by 32-26

Cafe La Muse
We had a little time in the morning before our train to the heart of the French riviera, so we settled for breakfast at decent little restaurant not far from our Airbnb. It was fine. Nothing special. But a good time to note that France had consistently good coffee. 

House of Pain
On the way to the train station we stopped at a bakery for a traditional baguette, partly because it was nice to have something for the ride, but also because the name of the shop was House of Pain. Get it?


Train to Antibes
I sort of misjudged the popularity of this train ride to Antibes and only booked us regular class open seating for the 2 hour ride. It was packed. None of us managed to sit together until it cleared out a little after Cannes. It was also kind of hot. So, yeah. Not the most comfortable train ride. But also not terrible.

The Lodging
I'm still very much anti-Airbnb in most cases, but this one was pretty damn nice. And weirdly affordable. I mean it wasn't peak season, but it was right in the heart of the old city. The door was literally in the Marché Provençal. Technically, I guess, it wasn't even an Airbnb. We found it through But it also wasn't a hotel. So, it was sort of an Airbnb. Whatever. The apartment had two full bedrooms and an upstairs loft. And most importantly - air conditioning. This is the way.

Le Championnet
Outside our door, right there in the market, was a perfect little place for mussels. For lunch, we ordered an absurd amount and just absolutely went to town on those bastards.

Beaches of Antibes
Next it was time for a little stroll to check out the beach options in Antibes. The closest beach to our apartment was Plafe de la Gravette. It's this lovely little cove nestled along the ancient wall separating the marine from the old city. But, a bit further away, as you walk down the peninsula, you hit two other beaches that are much larger and more popular: Plage du Ponteil and Plagede la Salis. In total, these are the three main beaches of Antibes. You could continue further down to Plage de la Garoupe which is the starting poijnt for the 5km costal loop path. But we never made it that far. With more time we would've done the 2-hour hike and maybe even ventured across the peninsula to Juan-les-Pins. But we sort of kept things close to the old city of Antibes.

Port Vauban
Coming back to our neck of the old city, we ventured just a little further up to the nearby marina, which is the largest in the entire Mediterranean Sea. We're talking mega-yachts. In fact, while we were there we were able to see Al Raya, the $250M vessel belonging to the King of Bahrain. The annual upkeep is said to be $15M. I mean that's insane. But I'm still going to complain about Atlanta's high property taxes. 

L'Oro Bianco
Apparently we ate here. I actually don't even remember this meal because our next stop was ...

Absinthe Bar Antibes
This is where things get fuzzy. It sort of reminded me of our first night together in Tokyo for the 2019 Rugby World Cup where we ended up in a bar at the Golden Gai and sang all night with strangers. Here, at this little underground bar, we had some dude playing guitar and we even managed to get a reprise of "Country Roads" from Japan. But, as the name of the bar suggests, we were pretty deep into the absinthe. The next day was going to be rough.


Marché Provençal
Despite some slight hangovers, we were still able to joyfully explore the market outside our door. In the morning it's an actual market with some of the freshest, most delightful produce and spices. If I lived in Antibes I would try to come here every day. 

Le Rustic
It was sort of a late start to the day, but we finally settled on lunch pizzas and fondu at a restaurant in the old city's main square. It was fine. The guy next to us seemed a little like Hannibal Lecter. So, that was a little unnerving.

Peynet and Cartoon Museum
Before heading to the beach for the day, the boys indulged me with quick stop for some culture. Right there in the square is a museum dedicated to Raymond Peynet, the famed French cartoonist and illustrator. His work was so distinct and whimsical. I discovered him in my trip research and really fell for his art. So much so that I used one of his illustrations for a tattoo later in the trip in Lille. But I do have two complaints about the museum. And I don't want to sound like some uncultured, ugly American. Buuuuut most of the people in Antibes are tourists. It's a destination. I literally heard more English than French. So maaaaaaybe use both languages at the museum so people know what the hell they're reading. And two, please provide or sell hard cardboard tubes to protect the art people buy from the gift shop. My print barely survived the journey back home.

Salis Beach
Next, it was time for the beach. And, in leading up to the trip, somehow we agreed to go full Euro and rock Speedos. So, we strolled up the sand, said let's do this, and proudly walked into the ocean with our banana hammocks. Antibes wasn't ready for this level of sexy.

Le Nomade
After a few hours of scaring the locals at the beach, the boys went back to the room and I took a little side detour to see if I could get up close to Antibes' most famous sculpture, The Nomade. It's a beautiful piece by the Spanish artist, Jaume Plensa, and it sits right at the top of the old wall along the marina. 

Le Golden Beef
We felt like having a proper nice meal so wee made a dinner reservation at this steak house we saw during our walk. It seemed nice and somewhat upscale, but was really mediocre at best. Avoid. 


Train to Monaco
It takes about an hour to get from Antibes to Monaco on the SNCF train. They run pretty frequently, and I was actually surprised to see how many people were heading there along with us. My draw was partially to see all the ritz and glamour, but I also just wanted to tick a new country off my list. Monaco counts. Unfortunately, we had sort of a late start and didn't arrive in time to watch the 11:55am changing of the guards at the Palace Square.

Planet Sushi
This small principality is home to, perhaps, Formula 1 racing's most famous track - the Circuit de Monaco. My friend, Bill, is a huge F1 fan, and in our conversations at the office he had once told me there's this random sushi restaurant right at the finish line that always ends up in the winning photo. So, I promised him I would go there. Alas, our first stop in Monaco was Planet Sushi. Just for Bill. And it was pretty good, actually.

Casino Monte-Carlo
Our main objective in Monaco was to lose money at the casino. You know, just to say we tried. So, we strolled up to the world famous Casino Monte-Carlo. However, there are a couple things to know. The gaming starts at 2pm and they charge €18 just to go inside. Basically, they know there are tourists like us who want to be able to say they gambled here, so they treat it as such. But at least this includes a €10 voucher that you can use for drinks or gambling. The other thing to know is that after (I think) 7pm you are required to wear pants and shoes. No shorts. No flip flops. It's kind of like tourists by day, sexy high rollers by night. We were all wearing pants and shoes and could've stuck around, but that wasn't really our plan. It was to lose money and leave. Which we did. Well, Josh and I did. Nathan somehow walked out €500 up. Two other things worth noting. One, there's a second casino next door called the Casino Café de Paris. It's beyond noticeably less elegant and sort of exists as a the place to go for those who either don't want to pay to get in to the Monte-Carlo or people who dressed for the beach. The other thing is that half the fun of the casino experience is just hanging out in the front plaza where you can watch all sorts of fancy cars come and go. While we were there I think we saw Bentleys, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and even a Toyota Camry. 

Back in Antibes, I grabbed a to-go shawarma before we set off for the beach.

Gravette Beach
Not that there was a sunset to be seen, but we decided to hit the sand one last time as a farewell to Antibes. Like so many others, we brought some drinks and just soaked it all in. What a glorious part of the world.

Il Giardino
Our final dinner in Antibes ended up being at Il Giardino, a little Italian restaurant that happened to still be open when we went wandering the streets looking for a late meal. And, by luck, we sort of landed in a good spot. The food was outstanding. We had pasta and even some delicious escargot because we kinda had to knock snails off the list. The highlight, though, was the owner. The dude is a total trip. Just loaded with personality. At one point he even took Nathan's fork and started feeding him. Just because.

:: LILLE ::

Getting to Lille
We could've taken the train to the airport in Nice, but out of an abundance of caution and laziness, we opted for an Uber. Only took about 30 minutes and we were there with plenty of time to catch our flight to Paris. Not Lille. The logic was this: We could take our chances on one of the few budget airline flights direct to Lille. Or we could pay a bit more with Air France to Paris where, should there be any delays or cancellations, we'd have more options of catching a replacement flight. Fortunately, everything work out and we were back at Charles de Gaulle Airport where we could then catch a direct train to Lille.

Hôtel Chagnot Lille
Now, I've spent a little time in this trip recap hating on Airbnb and professing my love for hotels. That sentiment still stands. But this hotel was just OK. Weirdly, the best thing about it was the lone elevator. Surprisingly fast and not broken. But the rooms were beyond basic and had no air conditioning. They did provide a fan, so we had that. The location was fine. Ish. It was right next to the central station. We literally just had to cross the street. Of course, that convenience comes with one hitch: It's gonna be a basic commuter hotel. One funny moment came at heck-in when Josh asked the front desk lady about access to the spa and pool. Rather shocked, she looked him dead and the eyes and replied, "Sir, this is a hotel by a train station."

Le Timgad
New town. New shawarma. We had to kill some time before our rooms were ready, so went for some shaved meat.

Rugby Village
We never really checked out the true rugby village in Paris - the entire surrounding area of the stadium was basically that. But we did see the one in Marseille. So, with that being our point of comparison, this village in Lille was miles better. In fact, the entire vibe in town was the most festive and fun from any place we had been. I think, in some ways, the town helps creates the atmosphere. Lille is tight and compact - a classic European city. And the main square just came alive with music and drinking. The fact that it wasn't 9,000 degrees also helped. So long, heat wave.

We had to stop at this little shop for Italian street food because it has my last name. Like a total goober I tried to explain this to the lady behind the counter who didn't seem to give a single care. Nor should she. Like what was she supposed to say? "Amazing! Order anything you want! On the house!" Anyway, the food was fine.

Tabac La Voûte
Back in one of the main squares we found a little bar at which to sit outside and enjoy some beers while watching the rugby crowd. This was good living. Just this. Sunny day. Not too hot. Lots of festive people. Cold beer. 

Stade Pierre Mauroy
Also known as the Decathlon Arena, this was the most modern and well managed stadium we had visited of the three. I don't know if all the early logistics criticisms of World Rugby had an impact, or if this was just a better venue at a more manageable city, but everything was smooth as butter. The train. The pleasant walk from the station. Getting inside. It was all lovely and free of chaos, and we enjoyed the hell out of ourselves watching France defeat a very spirited and up-for-it Uruguay 27-12. The score doesn't fully reflect how tense this was for the host country. Great match.

One more shawarma before bed. You know, for good luck.


We Are Ara
We stopped here for breakfast. I don't recall it being either great or terrible. 

Freaky Family Tattoo
Travel tattoos are sort of becoming a tradition for me. Nathan and I actually both got them four years prior in Kyoto. This time our appointment was at a shop in Lille called Freaky Family. Our research led us to an artist named Eymi who we corresponded with in the months leading up to our visit. Today, we finally got to meet her in person. Nathan went first and got space pouring out of a jar. It looked really nice, but you'll have to ask him for the full explanation. And, I went with a character drawing by the famous French illustrator, Raymond Peynet. I had stumbled on a drawing of one of his common characters playing a six stringed instrument, and it sort of spoke to my love of music in a very peaceful way. So that's what I got. And Eymi was fantastic!

Dumplings and Co
What do you eat after getting some ink? Why, dumplings, of course. The three of us ate a metric ton.

Lille Cathedral
We were in a classic European town with classic European things so we figured we might as well step into this classic European cathedral for the sake of looking at a classic European cathedral. Check.

Normally, a stop at McDonald's shouldn't qualify as noteworthy for a travel recap. But we had been constantly quoting that classic scene from Pulp Fiction and figured we owed it to ourselves to order a proper Le Big Mac. Ordering it was more satisfying than eating it.

La Bellezza
We had enjoyed a pretty non-stop week of fun and planned to take it ind of easy on our last night. Which is a cute way of saying we ended up going out on the piss. But, hey, it allowed us to check out a different part of Lille which included this bar. We didn't go in, but it looked amazing from the outside so I thought I would leave it here for somebody else to try.

Berliner Bar
Where we did end up was Berliner Bar. They had the New Zealand v Namibia game on TV (71-3) and some empty seats at a table out on the sidewalk. It was here that we sort of met our French doppelgängers. Kinda like that classic Seinfeld episode when Elaine befriends bizarro versions of Jerry, George, and Kramer. We immediately hit it off with these dudes which was both good and bad. Good in that they were a lot of fun. Bad in that they kept buying us what turned out to be 9.6% beers. We actually made a lot of momentary friends at that bar. We had a blast. And we even ended up at another bar with some other guy who I vaguely remember.

He took us here. I literally had to consult Lille's Reddit board to ask what bar this was. I offered one vague photo of a white Jesus statue behind the bar. Fortunately, that was enough to get an answer.


Boulangerie du Renard
Josh had an earlier flight than us, so we said our goodbyes the night before. Nathan and I had a little time to kill in Lille before our train back to Charles de Gaulle Airport so I used that as an opportunity to get one last traditional baguette. I also grabbed a couple croissants to bring back home to Carolina. Croissants which I accidentally threw away at the airport. Oh well. It's the thought that counts. 

Back to Paris, Back to America
The train ride back to the airport in Paris was smooth. We were quiet the whole way, perhaps reflecting on our failed plans to take it easy on the last night. Nathan and I said our goodbyes in the terminal and then it was back to Phoenix and back to Atlanta. Another successful rugby tour. Hope to see you in four years, Australia!

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