More Train Tickets

st_etienne_to_lyon_vintage_trains_postcard-refcf73e3575d425a86edbdfb0556537c_vgbaq_8byvr_512We will be taking in one match in Saint-Étienne, an industrial town that is approximately 30 miles from Lyon.

To get there, we will be taking a regional train from Lyon into Saint-Étienne early in the afternoon on the day of the 3:00 pm game and we will take the train back at the conclusion of the match.

As it’s a regional train (unlike the TVG train that we’re taking from Lyon to Nice), we didn’t have to book these train tickets but, it seemed better to get them purchased in advance from our beloved Captain Train, rather than deal with hordes of people at the train station who are clamoring to buy tickets after the match.

We picked specific departure times for each leg of the trip, but we do have a bit of flexibility if we happened to be delayed for some reason or another. The tickets allow you to take the same type of train, travelling the same route (as indicated by color – either blue or white).

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Saint-Etienne train station: the Fanzone and trams to the match will be located nearby. 

We don’t expect to be delayed, especially on our way back to Lyon, because everything that we’ve read indicates that spending just a few hours in Saint-Étienne on either side of the match should be enough. It isn’t exactly a tourist hotbed but we hope that we will have a chance to admire the architecture and modern design that Saint-Étienne is known for and, time permitting, visit the Cathedral of Saint Charles Borromeo.

It is entirely possible that we will forgo the cathedral and the architecture for a comfortable establishment (or at the Fanfest, though those generally do not live up to the hype) and a glass of wine.

Despite the breakneck speed with which we approach it, we will be on vacation, after all.

Slow & Steady

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Upgraded!

We are at 55 days until departure and, having crossed all of the big hurdles (match tickets, hotel reservations, air travel booked), we are focused on settling as many of the small details of our trip as we feasibly can.

It was high priority to get our train travel from Lyon to Nice settled, as our window for taking that trip is narrow: we need to arrive in Nice with time to check into our hotel and get to Allianz Riviera in time for a 9:00 pm match.

We used Seat 61 to do a bit of research prior to purchasing our tickets. It is a great resource for navigating train travel, if you’re in the market for such information.

High-speed Trains à Grande Vitesse (TVG) tickets are available to purchase 90 days in advance. And, unlike the regional trains (which travel shorter distances) when it’s commonplace to buy a ticket at the station and hop on the train, it’s better to purchase TVG tickets in advance. One of the reasons you want to book early is that there are a limited number of nonrefundable first-class tickets that are just a touch more expensive than second class tickets.

We were slightly behind, booking at 72 days until our journey, but we managed to land those just-a-bit-more first-class tickets.

The amenities in first class aren’t outrageously better (bigger seats, more legroom and…that’s about it) but we will be taking a very early train and hopefully catching some sleep during the journey. A bit more space for an extra €5 per ticket seems like a bargain for a more restful trip.

Following recommendations that we read at Seat 61 and elsewhere, we used Captain Train to purchase our tickets. Captain Train is a third-party vendor, but its prices are equal to those that you’d get from booking directly with SNCF (France’s national state-owned railway company) and Captain Train’s website is far easier to navigate. Apparently the payment process works much smoother at Captain Train, too.

We’re counting on an equally smooth 4½ journey from Lyon to Nice. Preferably featuring a good bit of sleeping. And maybe some wine.

Pro tip: you’re allowed to drink on French trains. And also early in the morning if you’re on vacation.

Sweet Vengence

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Sorry, Holiday Inn Express – Columbus manager. We could have sorted this out between the two of us but then you went and ignored our email. Which is almost as rude as cancelling someone’s hotel reservation 30 minutes prior to their arrival.

Precautionary Measures

IMG_0986Admittedly, this is a weird time to be planning a trip to Europe.

We’re trying to find the right balance between excessively paranoid and naively carefree.

We enrolled in STEP: the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, therefore registering our trip with the nearest embassy/consulate.

IMG_0950If you’re also an American traveling abroad: it’s free and it’s fast and it’s easy and hopefully just another one of those precautions that you never need but do anyway. Like buying travel insurance and getting inoculations.

We highly doubt that we’ll be in a position where it is important that the United States Government be able to contact us or know our whereabouts in case of an emergency, it doesn’t hurt.

It’s not like we’re going incognito because this trip is a front for drug muleing. And it’s not like our travels won’t be reflected via our passports, anyway. So we have no problem with providing the government the details of our trip.

Like our trip to Brazil in 2014 and like our trip to South Africa before that: we will do all that we can to be safe and smart.

Because that’s all that you can do.

Redemption, part 3

The elevator opened on the second floor (there was some groaning because we weren’t going straight up to our room) and there was Edgar Castillo. Standing in his team gear, holding his cleats.

2016 Edgar Castillo headshot

This guy has great timing.

And we’re standing there dripping in red, white and blue.

There was no playing it cool.

Lauren: “So, you’re staying here?”

Edgar Castillo, laughing: “We are.”

Lauren: “Okay good because I’m going to need to meet Tim Howard.”

Then we get off at our floor. Lauren more or less immediately went straight downstairs to the hotel bar, where Chris Wondolowski and Brad Guzan and Kyle Beckerman are just chilling at the bar.

Lauren, being no fool, took her seat at the bar.

Which she immediately abandoned when she saw Tim Howard sitting at a table nearby.

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THIS FINALLY HAPPENED AND IT WAS MAGICAL.

She told her darling Tim Howard about his namesake, Howie, and about her Tim Howard is My Spirit Animal sign (which made an appearance in Brazil and Columbus and which he said he had heard about, but not seen) and he was kind and gracious and shook her hand and smiled for selfie.

And it all happened before Alyson could even take an elevator downstairs.

We chilled at the bar after and had a drink and marveled at our good luck and checked out Alex Bedoya’s hair from across the room (that’s…a lot of flow, dude) and didn’t bother another player for a selfie or an autograph or a kiss.

If we hadn’t had our room cancelled.
If we didn’t check out where the team bus was parked.
If we hadn’t parked on the street.
If we didn’t go to dinner after the match.
If the elevator didn’t stop on the second floor.

The soccer gods were looking out for us that day.

Redemption, part 2

Upon checking into the hotel, we were completely ignorant to the fact that the team was staying under the same roof.

Given the Holiday Inn Express disaster, we were feeling pretty fortunate that we had a room to stay in at all.

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What to wear, what to wear…

We got match-ready in a bit of patriotic garb. Then we headed to the 4th Street Bar and Grill. It’s a short walk to the stadium from the bar and we were lucky enough to snag on-street parking. (Sorry, MAPFRE Stadium, for denying you our $20.)

4th Street Bar and Grill was full of USMNT fans, as always, but the atmosphere was nothing in comparison to the last time we were there: pre-USA/Mexico in 2013.

To be fair, that would be hard to top.

We had a couple of drinks there and then bumbled down the road to MAPFRE Stadium.

Lauren made many friends, as she always does.

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Walking through the Guatemalan fans was reminiscent of strolling through the aisles of Mexico fans back in 2013. We stopped for pictures here and there and so it took just as long, too. (Thanks, blond hair.)

IMG_0900We got to our seats with plenty of time to catch the pregame warm ups.

And also to rapid-text our one and only Guatemalan acquaintance, Dr. Guillermo, who did not take us up on our invitation to join us at the game and was undoubtedly regretting his decision.

And also to sober up.

We have snagged some really fantastic seats in our soccer-watching days but these might have been the best. Right at the middle. Sun to our back. Low enough to see detail, high enough to appreciate the flow of the game.

There was a lot to appreciate in that USA/Guatemala match up. Unlike the disastrous showing a few days prior, America’s best really came out to play.

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There were many more people in attendance for the actual game.

The Americans pulled out a very convincing 4-0 win, including a goal by Clint Dempsey – the king of gritty – in the 12th minute and another by Graham Zusi and his flowing locks. It’s always nice to see Jozy Altidore score, as streaky as he is. Geoff Cameron scored, too, but that was practically the least of his contributions. He was great all match.

We loitered around after the game, trying to get a glimpse of where the team bus was parked and how we could have Tim Howard see Lauren and therefore immediately fall in love with her but we abandoned that plan rather quickly because it was:
a. cold as hell
b. mildly creepy
c. likely that we were going to get hit by the hundreds of cars exiting the parking lot.

So, instead, we opted for food.

There’s basically nothing a good grilled cheese sandwich can’t fix, including not meeting Tim Howard, and the grilled cheese sandwich at Bodega was phenomenal. Plus the television at the restaurant was playing the U.S. U-23 Men game vs. Colombia, so we got to catch a bit more soccer over dinner.

Credit where credit is due, Columbus: you’re a solid soccer town.

Following dinner, we went back to the hotel to fall asleep to the soothing sounds of a Dateline murder mystery playing on the television.

But then we got on the elevator to go up to our room and everything changed.

Redemption, Part 1

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Road trip!

It’s no secret that our trip to Pasadena for the CONCACAF Cup was basically the worst.

Tuesday’s World Cup qualifying match in Columbus was our first foray back into the USMNT game circuit since last October’s Trip From Hell and we are pleased to report that it went well.

Very, very well.

Starting with a disastrous phone call.

We were about 30 miles outside of Columbus when we got a voice mail.

It was the Holiday Inn Express calling. To tell us that our room for that night had been cancelled and given to another customer. They were booked. We were screwed. Call us if you have any questions, have a nice day.

We called because, yes, we had questions. Questions such as HOW COULD YOU JUST GIVE OUR ROOM – THE ROOM WE BOOKED THREE MONTHS AGO – AWAY?

See, just recently, the credit card that the room was reserved with was stolen and had to be replaced. Then the hotel tried to charge the old credit card number and, when it didn’t work, instead of doing some basic customer service such as calling us, they just cancelled our room.

We were 30 minutes from Columbus and had nowhere to sleep.

Holiday_inn_expressThe front desk agent who we talked to was not helpful. His contribution to the phone call was basically a shrug of his shoulders and a disinterested eye roll. No apology. No offer of any solution whatsoever (including offering to get us booked at another Holiday Inn Express location in Columbus, of which THERE ARE TWO MORE).

After a good bit of back and forth, he finally found the problem solving skills to transfer us to a reservation agent.

(“Our computer system cancels the room automatically, I’m so sorry that happened. Our property is booked for the night but I would be happy to help you find another room in the area.” Is that so hard?)

The front desk guy had insisted that the hotel was sold out that night, but the reservation agent miraculously found an available room. An available room that was identical to the one that had been cancelled.

For an additional $50 a night.

Yeah, no thanks. We’ll pass. You’re a Holiday Inn Express, not the Ritz Carlton, and we were only staying there because we could walk to the stadium from the hotel not because we are passionate about your bland-ass rooms and your stingy breakfast buffet.

Powered by the magic that is Priceline, it took all of 5 minutes to book at a nicer hotel, in a better area, for 35% less.

A nicer, cheaper, better hotel that also turned out to be the team hotel.

But we didn’t know that just yet.