Paris is a city of contrasts. As we arrived at Charles De Gaulle to face an hour's taxi to our rooms on a Seine barge booked at the last minute you could not help notice the squalor that surround the tenements of St Denis – our taxi driver was trying to find a quicker route into downtown Paris.
Rubbish is strewn everywhere on the pavements and public areas. Graffiti is the norm not the exception, however, this art form is prevalent throughout Paris. Not the picture one expects to paint as you make your way into the City of Lights and a far cry from status of being the leading host city of the summer's European Championships.
Wales' win at the weekend persuaded me to remain in the French capital for an additional three days rather than make a temporary hop back over to the UK. After a stopover at Place Des Vosges, a gorgeous square encompassing Victor Hugo's home, I headed towards the Bastille. The Place de la Bastille was closed to traffic; protesters protecting workers' rights at Orly airport were out in force with other trade unionists in support of them enabling me to explore the area sans voitures.
On my return towards my apartment near the Pompidou Centre, walking parallel with Rue de Rivioli, I stumbled across many haute-couture houses and a vibrant area serving kebabs, falafel and deli items. It is also home to a small but orthodox Jewish community. All these establishments under the watchful eye of military patrols – three or more in number with machine guns, turrets pointing downwards, but always at the ready.
Locals, whether fashionistas or religious or both, live their lives without any acknowledgement of the army's presence. This is the new modern day Paris and such protection is something these citizens appreciate and accept as part of their daily pattern of life.
As parts of the UK reel from a second exit from Europe in a matter of days, there are some to the west of Offa's Dyke who adorn beaming smiles from the events that took place at the Parc Des Princes on Saturday [25 June] evening. A fair number of us have travelled to meet arguably our greatest test of the tournament so far – a talented Belgium team and their array of individual stars.
Marc Willmots' men topped the qualification group ahead of Wales, leading to both teams making it to France, but having taken four points off the Red Devils the psychological advantages lies with Chris Coleman's team. Obviously, I do not want the journey to end. I shake my head in disbelief at the thought of the team making it this far in the tournament.
The grey skies shadowing the French capital mimic those under which Gareth Bale capitalised on a rare Belgian mistake to beat Belgium in Cardiff last June. I am sure Coleman and his coaching team have the squad readily prepared for the task and, as a likelihood, it will be another cagey affair against teams who know each other inside out.
With the match being played in Lille, so near the Belgian the tube line actually ends in Belgium, you expect it to be pretty much a home tie for the Eden Hazard and his teammates. Whilst the bank balance could do with respite from the ongoing expenditure that a tournament football brings, the heart yearns for another bite at the Euro apple; Portugal in Lyon awaits the winners. Now we have had a taste to what such adventures entail, you selfishly want it to continue.