The main reason for a trip to Monte Carlo was an urgent need to make the most of my Schengen visa before it expired…also it was perfect weather…and I needed to utilize carry-over leaves else they would be wasted. These and more (nonsensical) reasons were deviously employed to convince myself that this trip was, if anything, extremely necessary. And with S going there for a conference, I hopped right along.
So we arrived in Nice on a cool Spring morning, me armed with my camera and S with a pulled back-muscle which was painful until I introduced him to painkillers. The “magic medicine” which he had resisted with all the stubbornness of a healthy person scorning such weaknesses, soon became the “best invention ever” for the next few days. Why are men such children about slightest illnesses? Someone please tell them they dont need to be supermen all the time, and being fussed around is not so bad sometimes! Nice was not very impressive – seemed just like any other port/beach town with a lot of noisy tourists cluttering the promenade.
We took a cab ride from Nice to Monte-Carlo along the highway in the interests of time and economy, although I wanted to take the longer scenic route which went by the sea (we did that later in the trip and it was breathtakingly beautiful). The cab driver warmed to our constant questioning and told us little tit-bits about the place. I love this part of coming into a new place and getting to hear local anecdotes from the cabbies as a sort of introduction. Apparently a tiny 1 room apartment in Monaco would cost you somewhere around 1 million euros – and that too if it was “sanctioned” by the “palace”. So much for our (non-existent) plans of chucking it all to live it up in the french riviera ;).
We reached the hotel in around 30 min, and checked into a pretty room with a wonderful view of the sea. And yes, the Mediterranean was all that was promised – colours ranging from azure to inky blue, with occasional white sails dotting the horizon. It was unnervingly calm which we didn’t notice so much at first…but by the end of our trip it was beginning to spook us a little, being used as we are to wild seas and crashing waves. Except for this minor scope for improvement, the Med was just fine! That is, until you tried to bathe in it when we discovered that under that sunny blue exterior it was treacherously cold! S prudently fished himself out and sat on the beach (the hotel had a private one which was a good thing). I hopped around in the icy cold water for a bit because warm or not, wild or not, its still the sea! and its so blue!
Monte Carlo is a hilly city – lots of slopes and steep climbs. However there are strategically placed public elevators to help you along, the only problem being they are difficult to locate if you dont know where to look. We chose the walking route the first day to explore the place better. The Monaco Grand Prix which is held in May uses the streets of the city as the circuit! I dont follow F1 (me and sports, the eternal story) so it was a revelation to know that the high-speed race actually took place along the twisted narrow city lanes. And the people of Monaco take their racing very seriously – within half an hour of walking on a Saturday night we must have seen at least 20 Ferraris (mostly blacks and reds, occasional orange, white, silver) zooming about and trying stunts. They were mostly youngsters (a contrast to the relatively older tourist age group) and out to prove why the French are notorious drivers. The place is a mecca for luxury cars, and the first day we would “stop and stare” like yokels at the shiny sleek ones zooming by. After some time you become immune to even the casually passing rolls royce .
We started off the first evening at Cafe de Paris, located right in front of the Casino and aptly named since it mirrored the Paris cafes with little tables out on the sidewalk where you can just sit and watch the world go by, without the laid-back waiters hurrying you. Looking back I really regret not bringing back olives from their original birthplace.Yum! Up next was the casino (of the Bond movie Casino Royale fame) which was an imposing building 150-years old, very majestic outside and decorated luxuriously inside. The walls were covered with impressionist paintings, and even without the lure of gambling it would be worth a visit. We steered clear of the slot machines having been unlucky with them in Wiesbaden earlier, and headed straight for blackjack. S benevolently let me do the ‘playing’ while he fortified himself from the bar, and supported his gambling wife like a good husband should. The stakes were high and on losing the first 3 rounds I thought we should call it a day and not get in any deeper. Thankfully S had the brainwave of playing “one last round for the road”, and in the way of fairy stories that round turned everything around.
Sitting next to me was a guy from Las Vegas (why am I not surprised that he chose to be here of all places in Monte Carlo) whom we got into a conversation with. Turned out he flew a private jet for someone-who-must-not-be-named. We (and the blackjack dealer) were suitably impressed into silence and started wondering if his boss was at this moment “making an offer that cant be refused” in some other part of the casino! Anyway pilot guy was really sweet and started helping me with the calls…and explained some ‘strategies’…with Very Positive results. S got chatty with him and apparently he had flown his boss down to “Day-li, India” for the doomed Metallica concert. All in all it was a good night and we came out very happy with the world in general, and ended with a dinner of buttery escargots among other things.