Monday, January 16, 2012

Go team, go!

Saturday was Seamus' birthday, which coincided nicely with a big rugby game in Perpignan.  'Our team' (USAP - Union Sportive des Arlequins Perpignanais) were hosting the Gwent Dragons from Wales. They were competing in the Amlin Cup, a second tier to the Heineken Cup.

Enough of that. We arrived in Perpignan and without too much difficulty found our hotel, Chateau la Tour Apollinaire. I booked it through, a great website. Their prices match the hotels as if you had phoned them directly. The chateau was in the middle of a fairly working class residential area, and as we drove up I was getting a bit worried as to what it would be like. Once through the gates, however, I was much relieved. We were greeted by one of the owners, Elena, who showed us to our room. When booking online, I had mentioned in a comment section that it was my husband's birthday; to our pleasant surprise this earned us an upgrade to essentially a small apartment. Intended for two couples (but we had it to ourselves) it had a huge and I do mean huge living room, a kitchen and our bedroom complete with twenty-foot ceilings and a canopied bed. The grounds had lovely roses, oleander and camellias all in bloom. Elena was tremendously helpful in orienting us and letting us know about restaurants that were open all day.

We headed off in to town  and walked through the narrow, pedestrian only streets, which were teeming with people.The sales were on and everyone was intent on their shopping. The stores were full and lots of people were carrying bags filled with their purchases.

We looked at a few restaurants and funnily enough decided to have lunch at a restaurant we had eaten at a few years ago while on holiday. We opted for the menu of the day, always a good deal, the magret au dates gratin. When it arrived the duck was  perfectly cooked in a really light date sauce and a square of yummy gratin potatoes. This accompanied by a pichet of wine was enough. It was off for another walk followed by cappuccino and meille fieulle for Seamus' birthday dessert. It was time to go back to the hotel and get ready for the game.

After piling on many layers of clothes we set off to walk to the rugby grounds, getting there with enough time to visit the club store and kit ourselves out in team colours - Catalan red and gold. We both bought red and yellow scarves, much needed in the cold, and I bought a lovely black beret with the team's crest of the front. Now we looked like true supporters. As we awaited the 8:55 kickoff we watched local supporters greeting each other in the traditional way with a kiss on both cheeks; not something to be seen at a lot of rugby games!

USAP were the better team, and by half time were up 15 to 3, thanks to the excellent penalty kicking of full back Jerome Porical. It was a fun atmosphere with mascots, cheerleaders and lots of drumming and chanting from one end and a brass band at the other.

The concession area did a lively trade in beer and beignets, paid for with tokens. There were no vendors in the aisles as would expect in a North American stadiums.

Back to the second half. Gwent came out with intensity and were rewarded with a quick try. Then Gwent had a man sent off and USAP capitalized with a try of their own. Two dangerous tackles led to two player ejections for the home team but it didn't stop them from scoring yet another try and going on to win convincingly 27 to 13.

Since we hadn't eaten since the afternoon we thought that we could do with something even though it was after 11. We walked in to town where those crowded streets were now dead quiet and all the restaurants were closed or closing. Finally, we found a restaurant open and after a much needed pizza we were ready to brave the cold and return to the hotel.

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