EURO 2016 – Le Grand Depart

Thursday 9th June – the alarm on my phone was set to rouse me from my slumber at 6am, but alas, I woke 30 minutes earlier, thanks to our 1 year-old son screaming his head off as first light crept through the gap at the foot of the blackout blind behind his nursery curtains. Megan went in to comfort him, whilst I reluctantly accepted I wouldn’t be enjoying anymore sleep for now.

Having packed my bags the night before, I splashed some water across my face, chucked my toothbrush in the top zip pocket of my holdall, and said some emotional goodbyes. This is my first ‘long-term’ trip away of any kind since Oscar was born just over a year ago, and never could I have believed it would be this difficult to leave the family behind. On this occasion, it is only for two weeks, but walking out of the door and driving away from the house, it felt like it was going to be a lot longer.

A little less than three hours later I was joining the hoards of travellers at London’s Luton Airport, checking in for my flight to Bordeaux ahead of EURO 2016.

A technical hitch resulted in our flight taking off more than two hours later than scheduled, which meant we didn’t land in France until just before 6pm. Fortunately, the arrivals process was a quick one, as was the collection of the hire car, and before I knew it, I was on my way towards the A62 carriageway en route to my hotel.

The charming Chateau de Grenier is an old country manor located on the outskirts of a small town called Damazan, nestled in the heart of the Aquitaine region almost exactly halfway between Bordeaux and Toulouse, the two cities I’d be spending the majority of my time in. As I pulled into the surprisingly nondescript driveway, the host, Patrice, emerged through a small wrought iron gateway surrounded by overgrown foliage and welcomed me into his house…

Front

Back

The following morning, a substantial continental breakfast got me off to a flying start before I made my way back to Bordeaux to collect my accreditation for the tournament, something that usually takes far longer than you’d expect it to. So, naturally, it was done in a matter of moments. Now I had 4 hours to kill before the first of the day’s 2 training sessions began at the stadium.

With Slovakia not due out onto the pitch until 16:30, I decided to hop back in the car and drive into the centre of Bordeaux, eager to get a sense of where everything was in relation to the stadium. I drove past the magnificent Place de la Bourse, which I immediately earmarked to return to for a picture at sunset one day during the next fortnight. I also ventured towards the main train station, Gare de Bordeaux-Saint-Jean, to see if I could make light of where to park come Wednesday morning when I head up to Lens in the north of the country for a couple of days.

When I returned to the stadium, I parked up and made my way to the Media Centre, where I encountered a few familiar faces. Armed with Nikon D5 and Canon 1DX MkII bodies, Getty Images’ Bordeaux contingent of Ian Walton, Dean Mouhtaropoulos and Dennis Grombkowski were busy discussing their new toys. It wasn’t long before we were being escorted out into the stadium, shortly before the Slovakian players emerged from the tunnel – our 15 minutes had begun…

The Wales squad were late arriving at the stadium, which meant their training session didn’t start until 19:00 – by this point, we were all ready to get going. Fortunately, their star man, Gareth Bale, gave us enough pictures to feel we’d come away with something from our brief spell on the sidelines…

A fairly swift edit and I was back on the road. The A62 already feels far too familiar, but with a game tomorrow night to look forward to, it feels like my tournament is finally getting under way.

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