Sunday, June 05, 2011

Adventures in Monte Carlo (Monaco)

[Kyle]After a long commute home to the boat in Toulon, I had to hit the ground running for our next trip. The forecast was for a switch from big tailwinds to big headwinds right around the time I was to get home, so I wanted to get as much of the tailwind as possible.

Leaving Toulon and preparing for Monaco - we'll need that courtesy flag!

We did fine leaving Toulon harbor and up until the next corner, where we turned right into the teeth of the building wind. We had 27 miles to go before we could turn the following corner and swing the wind back away from the bow, where we like it. We were also fighting a current so there was no benefit in turning off the wind more - if we did this we'd simply be going backwards! It took us all night to bash through those 27 miles. It was a long, miserable night. To add to the pounding, shaking, and low speeds, the weather was also spitting rain about half of the time.

I had originally hoped to make it to a protected anchorage by St. Rafael by about 3am, where we could catch up on some rest and wait out the rest of the blow until milder tailwinds kicked in midday. By the time we had made it through our 27 miles, it was already daylight. The wind had also made its predicted shift right about then. We were tired, but I only had a few days off of work, so we decided the best thing was to keep sailing right on up to Monaco.

After the corner, our sail was lovely summer sailing the whole way. It was painful, but we had so little time that we had to sail right past LOTS of places we wanted to see: St Rafael, St Tropez, Antibes, Cannes, Nice. At each one, a cluster of sailboats meandered around while in between, super yachts and mega yachts raced to the next place on their itineraries. (Mega yacht owners to super yacht owners: “Oh, you have a super yacht. How cute.”) It was all so beautiful. The little blue harbors were all backed by giant mountains of granite and marble covered with a pleasant mix of warm weather foliage that was heavy on flowers. As we passed Nice, with its busy airport, we started seeing a lot of helicopter traffic, mostly shuttling between the airport and Monaco.

Monaco stands out along this coast because it looks like Park Avenue has been wedged in between a mix of villages and villas on either side. The entire little country is jam-packed with mostly high-rise apartment buildings at the density of major capital cities.

As we approached, I asked Maryanne if she managed to obtain a Monaco courtesy flag (the one conspicuously missing from our compliment). With all that she had to during the past week, like building the passerelle, purchasing a Monaco flag had fallen off of the bottom of her list. Undaunted, she quickly dove into a locker and produced the materials, which she then spent the next hour or so hand sewing into a very high quality courtesy flag (She had decided pulling out the sewing machine was not worth the effort). Monaco has a very simple two-color design, so it wasn’t too difficult, but the quality was very good with nice, straight hems and even little loops sewn in for attaching the corners. It’s honestly nicer than most flags I’ve seen in stores. {Maryanne: Kyle is so sweet! This is just the second flag I’ve ever made, the first being a single yellow rectangle of the Q flag. With the seams an iron would have really made things easier, but we only needed the flag for 24 hours and I didn’t think anyone would have been inspecting it too closely – so I sewed it on route – just in time!}

First sights of high rise Monaco - and the Oceanographic institute

We arrived in Monaco just before sunset to the older and smaller of the two marinas: Fontvielle. What an incredible setting for a marina. On one side, it was bordered by the district of Fontvielle, which has the feel of an upscale American condo development, on the other, soaring way above the tops of even the largest masts was a vertical cliff topped by the cathedral and the palace grounds. At night, the cliffs are illuminated with colored floodlights for an even more dramatic effect.

Even though it was late and we’d just finished a 26-hour sail, we decided we just HAD to go out to the Casino Monte Carlo. Since a jacket and tie was required, I donned the Prince Charlie (Kilt) and we set off to walk across the country to the casino on the other side.

It seemed like it should have been straightforward enough. We immediately encountered a couple of problems. The first is that Monaco is not on a grid system. Since there are only a handful of roads, I assumed this wouldn’t be too much of a problem. We would just navigate by pilotage. This is easier when there’s a sun or some stars available for reference, but I’m still pretty good at finding things with my “I think it’s that way” method. Since Monaco is such a steep country, many of its roads look like Lombard street in San Francisco; very confusing. I still had a pretty good idea of where we were going, but Maryanne gave me a look that said she was less confident. Confidence regarding where we were going was something she wanted a high level of since she was dressed for the casino and wasn’t wearing the most comfortable of walking shoes.

The other problem was the cliff. There were no roads nor path at the base of the cliff and a sign at the entrance to the tunnel punching through clearly indicated no pedestrians; our only option became to go up, up and ever up. Once on the other side we could see the casino just beyond the newer, giant, marina, but there was still the question of how to get there. The Grand Prix had just ended a couple of days earlier and crash barriers and stadium seating blocked access to all ‘normal’ paths and crossings. We wandered this way and that for what seemed like a long time, looking for gaps in the barriers to reach our goal before we finally spotted a unusually small sign with an arrow indicating the casino was down and to our right (even though we could see it above and to our left). We descended the indicated stairway to find a marble lined tunnel which passed under the road, and joined up with elevators that discharged us onto the street about ½ block from the casino.

A late night foray into the unknown

Kyle at the Casino entrance wishing that it was his car parked outside!

On arriving at the casino via the grand entrance, the first thing we noticed (apart from everyone taking pictures) was a whole string of top end sports cars parked right out front (and hilariously, one mini cooper - how did that guy get to park there?). We paid our cover charge and went in. The casino is very grand and beautiful (no photography allowed, unfortunately. We couldn’t even find postcards of the inside), but it was surprisingly subdued. I’d expected such a famous place would be jam packed with people waiting for their chance at the tables, but there could not have been more than 100 people inside and only 8 tables in a relatively small, but grand, hall. Beyond was a second hall of quiet slot machines (no bells, no dinging, not even that much flashing! Just the restrained sounds of buttons being pushed).

In the main hall about half the tables were completely unoccupied (those with the high minimum bets) we went to the bar and purchased a couple of drinks (After both considering a Martini, shaken not stirred, Maryanne had a tequila sunrise and I had a whisky to match my outfit), but heck, you only live once right? The drinks were about €20 each, but to their credit the bar tender glugged generous portions – mine seemed to be at least a triple.

Back on the labyrinthine walk we had on several occasions remarked we were expecting it to be equally difficult to find our way home; the drinks certainly weren’t going to help with that!

We returned to the main hall and observed a few games. Most people were bandying about huge amounts of money (plenty of €500 notes being thrown on the tables in exchange for chips or even for direct bets). One guy changed his €10,000 chip into a €5,000 and a bunch of €50’s, about half or which he lost at the next spin of the wheel, all without the least hint of concern at all. I felt a bit phony asking the croupier for €50 of €5 chips. We played a hand full of numbers and mixes and lost on all. In the end, I tossed our last chip on the table and asked the croupier to put it on number 14 at the other end of the table for me. He used his pusher stick and moved it to approximately number 24 (oh well, no better chance of winning than number 14), soon afterwards another croupier at the table tidied up by moving it to one of the corners on the the grid, giving us 21, 22, 23 and 24 at lower odds. The marble struck 22 and €40 worth of chips in a neat stack were slid over to us. I briefly considered investing the €40 in another game, but then I realized those chips were real money that I could use for something lasting longer than 3 minutes (like a three hour train ride), and thought the better of it. I hadn’t really expected to come away rich, particularly at roulette, which has relatively poor odds, but I put on a bow tie, placed a bet at Monte Carlo and had the croupier slide me back a stack of chips. That was the full experience as far as I was concerned and I was quite happy. I didn’t need to spend my next seven paychecks trying to win enough for one of those cars.

We watched others do a lot of that instead until the hour started getting to us, then we decided to brave the walk back home. Outside, we found it drizzling. In no time, that turned into rain that quickly became bad enough to send people running for shelter in buildings and under awnings. We looked at each other and telepathically agreed to dive into a cab.

Kyle prepares for his invite onto one of the Grand Prix teams for next year - apparently if the bus can do it, so can he!

Even the cab ride was cool. About half of the way back was on the grand prix route. Since it hadn’t yet been dismantled it still looked like the grand prix route. It was pretty cool to go whizzing by crash barriers and zinging under big banners. The other cool thing was the tunnel to Fontvielle. It turned out not to be a tunnel at all, but a whole subterranean road system with turnoffs, intersections and even roundabouts. No wonder they didn’t want us walking in there.

The next morning, we worked out that our first 6 hours in Monaco cost us around $400. Ouch, that’s not sustainable.

Writing Postcards and sipping coffee outside the Casino

The sun woke us up later the same morning much earlier than we would have liked. We weren’t about to waste our giant marina fee sleeping, so we made coffee and headed out to get some pictures of the place in daylight. There was much less trial and error getting to the casino. We found all of the Lamborghini spots occupied by delivery vans. We sat at a café next door and watched the world go by while sipping espresso and Perriér Menthe watching Ferrari after Ferrari drive past.

Shopping Malls and the Cathedral - very grand

Exploring the top of the cliff, and the Palace

We headed back via the palace cliffs, which also held the Oceanographic Institute, the cathedral where the entire past royal family is entombed (including Grace Kelly) and what must be the most posh neighborhood in the whole world. From the tops of the cliffs, we could see Footprint down at the Marina. She really did look tiny amongst all of those giant boats.

Views from the cliffs - and Footprint sitting waiting for us to return

[Maryanne]Monte Carlo was to be a highlight of this trip and a destination I had been very much looking forward to ever since I understood it to be a possibility. The country and town (hard to distinguish between the two) have the feel of a grown up Disney Land. Everything is clean and perfect. There are no crumbling buildings, street litter, or graffiti. There are lots of public park areas with beautiful planting, and plenty of sculpture, fountains and other artwork. Many of the buildings have amazingly ornate paintings, mosaics or gilt work, along with beautiful balconies with cascading flowers, so each home seems very special. Even the only hospital we saw seemed like an elite and very grand resort from the outside.

A tidy town with lots of attention to artistic detail

All the boring things needed for day to day life (your basic high street stores, etc.) were hidden away underground and seemed accessible ONLY if you knew where to look for them. The street maps we had of Monaco seemed useless pretty quickly; the whole city/country is built in 3-D with major pedestrian walkways and even giant malls and supermarkets all underground cut well into the rocks – on the maps we had, only the roads and surface features seemed to be marked, and it was not even clear if these roads were always above or below ground… All made for good fun. We didn’t get to spend nearly as much time as we’d have liked there, but we DID make it there and we did win at the casino (OK, it might not have been more than the total we bet, but we did win). How cool is that!


kate said...

THAT is very cool, is what that is! I loved reading about your casino visit - congratulations on winning at roulette! I love that you got to experience having a croupier (and a CROUPIER, not a mere dealer from Vegas, sniff sniff) push a pile of chips towards you with his little wooden stick (I'm sure there's a fancy word for that). And I love the picture of Kyle in his kilt by the Ferrari (Lamborgini??) - somehow, I can't imagine a Scottish millionaire picking up his Italian sports car, but you look quite dapper. Alas, there was no picture of Maryanne from your special casino night...? I'm so glad you were able to make it to Monte Carlo and take in the sights, even if it was squeezed into fewer days than you would've liked. It looks gorgeous - and yes, a bit Disney-esque!

Mommy Dearest said...

I am SO jealous! All these wonderful touchstone experiences. You don't need to gamble in Monte Carlos all the time, but you've done it once and successfully at that. Kyle, it's good to see you in your kilt again. Like Kate, I would have loved for you to turn the cameras on your beautiful wife that evening. What a wonderland place. Sigh. I'm so happy for you both.

SV-Footprint said...

Kate - that would be a red Ferrari on one side and a white Lamborghini on the other.

Kyle might be more likely to turn up in a Smart Car (or on foot, as we did), although I think he was drooling a little; OK more than a little.

SV-Footprint said...

Carla... Of all the people we knew you were at the top of our thoughts in Monaco - we just know you would have loved to have been at the tables there! We were tempted by the Black Jack tables but didn't feel confident enough (and the minimum was much higher than the roulette).

We didn't mention there were also a couple of pretty grand dining rooms within the Casino; we looked in on them but didn't dare sample them - maybe after a lottery win we'd go back and spoil ourselves properly - turning up in a nice rented sports car too!

Hope you get there one day, in the mean time you can badger Kyle for more details next time you see him. We loved it and it ranks as one of those great memorable life experiences for sure. Heck, I even wore lip-stick :-)