Soccer & the Seine: A mother and daughter adventure

  • I made her take a lot of selfies with me, much to her chagrin. PHOTOS COURTESY ERIN K. O'NEILL

  • Mom and I toast to our trip at Logan Airport in Boston, June 14, 2019. COURTESY ERIN K. O'NEILL

  • Walking to dinner in Montmartre, Paris.

  • A lemon tart for dessert, purchased at the patisserie down the street from our apartment in Montmartre, June 15, 2019. COURTESY ERIN K. O'NEILL

  • We were in France to watch soccer, but we were also in France – the Trip Of A Lifetime. Here, we’re relaxing at a garden park on the Seine in Paris.

  • The Eiffel Tower in Paris, June 16, 2019. COURTESY ERIN K. O'NEILL

  • The author and her mother prepped and ready for the USA vs. Sweden game in Le Havre, France last month. (Mom ordered the scarves online in February.) Below, the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

  • American parents and their daughters packed stadiums across France, while other teams struggled to fill seats.

  • Drinks on the balcony after the USA vs. Chile game at Parc des Princes in Paris, June 16, 2019. COURTESY ERIN K. O'NEILL

  • Mom and me in the courtyard at the Chateau de Versailles, June 18, 2019. COURTESY ERIN K. O'NEILL

  • Mom takes a call from a customer in the gardens at the estate of Trianon, Versailles, France, June 18, 2019. COURTESY ERIN K. O'NEILL

  • Resting our feet in the apartment in Montemarte, Paris, after a day at the Louvre and the Scotland vs. Argentina game, June 19, 2019. COURTESY ERIN K. O'NEILL

  • A selfie with one of the world’s most recognizable women, the Mona Lisa, at the Louvre in Paris, June 19, 2019. COURTESY ERIN K. O’NEILL

  • The beach at Arromanches-les-Bains, Normandy, after the U.S. win against Sweden.

  • An Instagram-worthy mural in Trouville-Sur-Mer, Normandy.

  • A field in Giverny, Normandy, not far from Claude Monet's home.

  • Our last café crèmes in Paris, June 23, 2019. COURTESY ERIN K. O'NEILL

  • Hauling luggage on the train to Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, June 23, 2019. COURTESY ERIN K. O'NEILL

  • Listening to the audio guide at the National Picasso Museum in Paris, June 23, 2019. COURTESY ERIN K. O'NEILL

Digital Audience Editor
Published: 7/23/2019 4:27:23 PM

I broke my mom’s sandal as we shuffled through the crowds on a staircase in the Chateau de Versailles. I had stepped on her heel one too many times and a crucial strap snapped, leaving my mom walking ignominiously around the gold-gilt bedrooms and salons that once belonged to French royalty, barefoot.

I suggested glue or staples as a fix. A temporary solution came in the giftshop: a kind cashier took pity on my mom and helped us tape the sandal onto my mom’s foot.

In the end, after tentative inquiries in my very basic French, we walked into town, found a shoe store and plopped down €80 so mom could continue hoofing it through the majesty of Versailles. We walked 11.8 miles that day.

I mean, nothing was going to stop us. We were in France to watch soccer, but we were also in France – the Trip Of A Lifetime in every sense. It was nothing like the vacations we took when I was a child, wherein we were either camping by a lake in the Midwest or visiting family. Mom may have wanted to take me to New York for my birthday, or to London like her sisters did, but due to jobs and money and school, and sometimes just plain life, nothing like that ever came to be.

And since I moved to the East Coast, my mom and I have taken a trip together every summer. We usually riff on our old trips, tenting for long weekends in the Adirondacks or on the islands in Lake Champlain, or kayaking in Pennsylvania. Last year we spent a week on Prince Edward Island, Canada, camping on the red cliffs that overlook the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

But this year was different. One of the first trips my mom and I went on was to the Women’s World Cup in 1999. We took the train from my hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan to Chicago, and I got to see legends like Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Julie Foudy and Brianna Scurry play Nigeria at Soldier Field. Sixteen years later, in 2015, mom and I drove up to see group play matches in Montreal, although we didn’t catch any U.S. games.

Have I mentioned that my mom was my soccer coach for nine years, and even played in an adult league herself?

After the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) took home its third World Cup title in Canada, I joked that we were clearly the team’s good luck charm because when we attend matches, the U.S. wins the whole shebang. (Spoiler alert: We won this time. I was right!) At the time it was a far-fetched pipe dream to go see games in France, but then somehow, there we were.

After we checked into our little Airbnb apartment in Paris, we wandered out into Montmartre. It turned out, we were just around the corner from the Moulin Rouge. We gawked and took our first tourist photos, and then had our first café crèmes on the other side of the boulevard. We drank a lot of café crèmes that week, which are very much like cappuccinos, but French. They were not only delicious but also helped ward off the jetlag that even after nine days didn’t quite fade.

The jetlag contributed to the odd feeling of unreality. Because Paris in June is everything it’s cracked up to be. Yes, the Eiffel Tower is that impressive. Yes, the streets are that charming. Yes, the women are that fashionable. Yes, the food is that good.

We spent the first five days of our trip in Paris. Mom got scammed into paying €10 for a “friendship bracelet” at the Eiffel Tower, and I dragged her into the Trocadéro Gardens, where the best Eiffel Tower selfies can be had. (I made her take a lot of selfies with me, much to her chagrin.) We ate in the city’s brasseries and street cafes, which Parisians truly have down to a science: No hostesses, just sit wherever there’s a free table facing out towards the street – where the real action is. We walked along the Seine, and hopped the metro all around the city – to the Latin Quartier to see Notre Dame Cathedral and shop for books at Shakespeare and Company; into the heart of the First Arrondissement for the Louvre and the National Picasso Museum; a bit west to the Arc de Triomphe.

The day after we walked our feet to death at Versailles we took on the Louvre, which we later agreed was probably a mistake. The Louvre is an endurance test; a hiking trip in a palace through the most iconic art in the world. I fought through the scrum to see La Gioconda while my mother hovered at the back of the pack. We’re tall; she said she saw the Mona Lisa just fine.

Paris was magic but soccer was our main event. For the USA vs. Chile game Sunday night, we carefully festooned ourselves in USA gear, complete with team scarves, and made our way to Parc des Princes on the most sardine-like subway car I’ve ever been on. It was brimming with Americans, mostly on vacation like us, but one family we were crammed next to were expats living in Paris whose kids had homework to complete after the game. The stadium, filled to capacity, was also mostly U.S. fans, although the contingent from Chile was vocal and enthusiastic.

The U.S. was up 3-0 by halftime and had so thoroughly dominated the game that I caught flack for cheering for Chile when they had good runs. To which I said: Not only is it important for women to play on the world’s stage, but that the competition is fierce. After the game, Mom and I sipped rosé with other celebrating fans on one of the stadium’s balconies and waited to see if we could glimpse the team making their way to the busses. I couldn’t stop watching the young girls in their USA jerseys who were like I was in ‘99, looking out for their heroes.

We caught a second match on our last night in Paris before departing for Normandy: Scotland vs. Argentina. Despite not having any skin in the game, we were sitting in a cluster of Scotland fans and became part of the defacto cheering section. And it was a nail-biter: Scotland needed a win to have a chance at making it to the next round, and was up 3-0 well into the second half when Argentina scored two quick goals, and then a third in extra time on a penalty kick that was first saved by the goalie, and then taken again after a controversial video review by the ref. It ended up tied, Scotland was sent home, and Mom and I were off to Normandy the next morning.

We survived driving in Paris – including a hair-raising run dodging motorcycles through the roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe – to make our way to the last and most important game of our trip: USA vs. Sweden in Le Havre on the Normandy coast. We were seated in a cluster of mothers and daughters, with at least one father and daughter pair. Some of the daughters were grown, and I was closer in age to a few of the moms than the daughters. American parents and their daughters packed stadiums across France, while other teams struggled to fill seats. Soccer, for many women, has become a common language.

Of course, the USA won. It was a sweet victory, as Sweden is the team that thwarted the USWNT’s hopes for Olympic gold in 2016. And while Sweden gave them a game, the U.S. just flat out-classed Sweden. It was 1-0 before the fourth minute of the game, and right after the half, the U.S. was up by two. The lead held while we in the crowd dissected exactly how the ball would magically land at Megan Rapinoe’s feet, or how Crystal Dunn could steal the ball from another player with ease.

Thrilled with the win, I bought a World Cup tote bag right after the game and lost it before we got back to the car. My mom bought me another tote from Trouville-Sur-Mer, a resort town so charming I shouted “SHUT UP” multiple times as we drove in, the next day.

Our flight home was delayed, so as we sat in the airport with a crowd of cranky travelers, we put our feet up on our carry-ons (mine was filled with perfectly-legal French cheese for my not-invited boyfriend) and watched France take on Brazil in the first knockout round. We decided that as much as we loved our family vacations when I was younger, it was better that we were only now able to go on trips like this. We live far away from each other, so our trips are fun ways to spend time together. My mom is my best friend, which makes everything better. And every 10-year-old we saw at Versailles or the Louvre looked exhausted or bored. Our feet hurt, but we weren’t bored.

But next year, we’re staying closer to home. We’re thinking Cape Cod. Know a good campground?

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