(written by Dave)
First a report from Nice football. Mats and I went to the Montpellier vs Nice football match last night. It was the first time either of us had been to a big time European football match. It rained lightly the entire match but it was not too uncomfortable. The weather and the position of Nice on the bottom of the ladder lead to a pretty empty stadium but an entertaining event for Mats and I none the less.
The first challenge was getting into the park. We arrived about 1.5 hours before kick-off and spent the next hour trying to get into the stadium. Our seats were in the section next to the Montpellier fans and there was an amazing police presence to prevent interaction of the two fan bases. At the first gate we tried enter we were told to go to the other side of the stadium. So we walked over there where we ran into our first “robo-police” checkpoint. That is, French gendarmerie, with American football shoulder/knee/arm/leg pads on the outside of their uniforms, complete with riot shields and helmets. They were nice enough to direct us up the hill to the next checkpoint. Ok, off to the next checkpoint where an equally nice group of similarly dressed gendarmerie directed us up the road to the next checkpoint. Ok, up and around a long block to the next street and checkpoint. Here a much less helpful gendarmerie told us to go back to checkpoint number two – at least via a short-cut, rather than the long block. This particular gendarmerie spoke no English and was not at all interested in helping us. Ok, back to checkpoint number two. Here, gendarmerie number two sent us back down the hill to the first checkpoint. This was starting to become funny. Back at checkpoint number one, they tried to send us back to checkpoint number two and I “called time” on their fun and games. We were not going to walk back to check point number two for a third time. After much back and forth, they eventually found a gendarmerie who spoke good English. He got out of his van, where I should add most of the gendarmerie were hiding (remember the rain) – so much for maintaining order. I explained while we found the gendarmerie at checkpoint number two quite lovely folks, we were not overly interested in visiting them a third time. He relented, got on the radio with the head gendarmerie and eventually told us that we could enter at his gate in 30 minutes. Phew, I was beginning to think that we were on one of those hidden camera TV shows. We hung out for a while and finally entered the parks via checkpoint number 1, 30 minutes before kickoff.
Once inside, we could see why they were so cautious. The highly lubricated fans from Montpellier were already sitting (without shirts) on top of their 25 foot separation fence. Their section was more like a cage than anything else. The fence was 60 feet tall other than the one small fieldside fence of “only” 25 feet. They MP fans were in full song and clearly ready for a rumble. The nearby section of Nice fans was equally vociferous. It is probably just as well that we did not understand French words to their competing songs as the frequency of one fingers salutes and rushes towards each other’s fences were more than enough to let you know that there was no love lost. Aside from the massive fence, the boundary between fans was also lined by a row of ushers. The ushers looked wholly under-armed (compared to the gendarmerie) but we didn’t really know what was hidden below the big yellow rain jackets. There was never any physical violence but we understood the gendarmerie presence better now. Had the weather been nice and the stadium full, it could have been a lot more intense.
Once inside, we found our section almost empty. We never bothered to find our actual seats because we could sit anywhere we wanted. The stands were right on the pitch, with only a tall electric-looking fence keeping us from touching the players. No track or anything of that sort, we were right on the pitch. Great seats, even in the rain. As for the match, it was pretty one-sided. Montpellier was by far the better side but until 30 seconds left in the game the score was nil all. Nice played grim defence for much of the night. MP earned a penalty in the first half but the Nice goalie made a nice save (this was at the end of the pitch where the competing fans were working on each other). The MP fans went nuts when the penalty was earned. The Nice fans gave it back to the MP fans with equal vigour when the penalty was saved. All quite entertaining from where we sat. In general, the standard of play was pretty high and with such great seats we felt right in the middle of the action. While outclassed, Nice played great defence until a lack of concentration let MP score with 30 seconds left in the match. Nice fans left a bit disappointed (as did we) but it was quite fun being part of the whole scene.
On the way out we stopped for photos by the robo-cops. We did not exchange address for Christmas cards but we did feel that we were getting to know a few of them pretty well. Mats was happy to pose for the photos. And the cops didn’t seem to upset by the photos. Based on the passion in the stadium, it was clear that cameras and photos was the last thing that concerned the gendarmerie.
The excitement of the match was book ended by all of us being tourist first in old town Nice on Saturday, then today in old town Antibes. It rained pretty much all of both days making it really seem like winter here in the South of France. We had such great weather for the first three weeks but this weekend, it was wet and cold. We soldiered on and tried to see some of the old sites. And bad weather gave us an excuse to try out more restaurants. Yesterday, Mats and my mom had moules-frites (mussels and french fries/chips) for lunch. Today we took Mats for his first taste of Indian food and got two thumbs up. So, even with the rain, we are managing to eat well, along with a glass of wine or two. We didn’t get to see much of Antibes but it looked like an interesting old village. Nancy and I will head back there in a few weeks once the weather breaks.
We have another day being tourists again tomorrow. We may lay low as rain is forecasted again. Monaco is still an option but until we hear back from the Prince, we’ll hold off on committing.