Tuesday 14 July 2015

Monaco: Cars and chaos



 On my penultimate day on the Côte d'Azur I finally got to Monaco. As with Ventimiglia I had been keen to visit another country (or a city-state), plus some of my previous excursions had taken me through the Monte Carlo station and I hadn't know whether to be awed or amused by its over-the-top glitziness. I wanted to see the city behind the façade; the real Monaco.

 I arrived at the sparkly station and there I faced one of the most uncomfortable experiences of my Antibes fortnight: it may seem like a little thing but not being able to find any way out of a station can become slightly worrying after half an hour of searching. Finally I found daylight and walked out into Monaco.

 First I visited a church that boasted a lot of signs talking about the Turin Shroud. I thought excitedly that the Shroud might be there but there was no sign of it. Maybe it was there in the past.

 Formula 1 had arrived in town and practising had just finished. Stands were being erected and billboards prepared for the racing weekend. It was intriguing to be on a Formula 1 track and see up close little things like the ads/names of sponsors along the sides of the road and the piles of tyres. On two occasions I thought I saw Jenson Button!

 After my great tour bus experience in Nice I hoped to do the same here and waited patiently at one of the stops on the map but no bus came. Another guy was clearly waiting for it which was reassuring as it confirmed that I was in the right place. There was nothing on the bus's website about it not running for Formula 1 and I couldn't think why else it wouldn't operate.

 After about an hour I gave up on the bus and instead walked the race route which was far more interesting than I imagine a tour would have been. The track went along the coast and through a long tunnel which had windows with lovely views of the sea.  

 There were also frequent, rather psychedelic posters for a cactus expo. I love cacti but have no desire to see them emitting pulses of purple and red light! When I was back home that weekend watching the Grand Prix on the telly I pointed out the posters to my brother and he was equally amused.

 After the tunnel I saw what looked like a normal shop but it seemed to have been hired for the night by McLaren for a very swanky party. Well-dressed people were milling around and there were doormen with lists of names. It looked fun. I was hoping to see Nicole Scherzinger but then remembered that Lewis Hamilton isn't at McLaren any more.

 Further along the coast there was a little patio of sorts which looked down at the beach and sea. I sat for a while watching people pass by and glancing occasionally at the water which, like the cacti, looked rather psychedelic. The blue was pulsating and the late sunlight flickering on and off it like a strobe - I couldn't look at it for long.

 I admired how the very small beach had at least two big rubbish bins, shaped like dolphins to be slightly more photogenic and to appeal to kids. I like when people take littering seriously: beaches need to be clean and safe.

 I popped into the Japanese Garden. I didn't get long there before being thrown out as they were closing for the night; however, while I was there it was a nice, peaceful place.

 I retraced my steps back to where I had waited for the bus. The stop was by the marina and I admired the impressive yachts. There were several bearing Ferrari flags; whether they held team members or fans I don't know.

 Dusk was coming and things seemed to be hotting up in the area around the team garages. I strolled down to investigate and was greeted by a real spectacle. Red Bull and Monster (the drinks maker) had set up mini nightclubs in front of the garages with loud, thumping music, smoke machines and girls dressed in Red Bull outfits dancing and grinding on a podium.

 There were a few snacks for sale and I bought a brownie, sceptical as to whether it would be any good. There wasn't much food on offer - it seemed to be low on the party's list of priorities, under music, smoke, dancing and general chaos. However...

 ...the brownie was amazing. It was so delicious I wanted to go straight back and get another. It really was one of the best brownies I've ever tasted. Completely melt-in-the-mouth, it was one of the nicest surprises of the trip, along with the Cannes shenanigans. I almost forgave Monaco for my station annoyance. But they really do need to sort out their signing.

 I spent a while soaking up the ambience. It was chaotic and exhilarating. Like the Cannes red carpet event, the Pre-Grand Prix party pleasantly surprised me in its lack of arrogance and glitziness: it was all excitement and celebration and people enjoying partying together.

 I had really come to like Monaco and it was with reluctance that I caught my train back to Juan-les-Pins. On the train there were some loud, drunk British lads whittering on about Ronaldo vs. Messi, which made the long journey slightly less boring. (Seriously, though. Ronaldo to Messi is a rabbit to a hare; a bobcat to a leopard.)

 That was my final excursion. I then had one final day in Antibes before leaving via Nice Airport. Nice Airport lived up to its name with some nice shops and nice cafés.

 However, once we were on the plane we were told we had to sit and wait for up to forty minutes! It was very hot and tedious and we had to endure the same songs over and over on Jet2 FM but fortunately it didn't actually take forty minutes and eventually we were off again, along that runway led almost into the sea. 

 It was scary but wonderful to run to the edge, like on a diving board, and then take a great leap up into the blue. Except unlike divers we didn't come down again - we just kept flying and flying.

 As I hope you can tell from my blog posts, my two weeks on the Côte d'Azur were very special and I discovered no less than ten great new places. My top four: Antibes, Monaco, Cannes and Nice. They haven't seen the last of me! I really hope to bring my family to show them around the new piece of world I have discovered.

 Thanks for reading,

 Liz x

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