Saturday, May 26, 2007

Logbook: Nice - Monaco Grand Prix

Nicemonaco1My drive from Agel to Nice last Tuesday was so easy that while I had “planned” to stop for a day or two along the way I wound up just driving straight through. The highways in France are so well marked and maintained that the only thing you really have to pay attention to are the toll booths. Actually, that one thing is pretty significant because there are a lot of them: If you drive the highways in France, get in the habit of keeping lots of cash -- especially coins -- handy! Anyway, the only downside of my pushing on to Nice is that I arrived two days ahead of my hotel arrangements, and this is the beginning of “the season.” I decided to try my luck with the place I had booked starting Thursday and -- with my usual paucity of directions -- drove into town and looked for “The (Two) Star Hotel.” I think I might have been okay if not for the vast amount of road construction that has caused practically as many closed streets and detours as you can have without actually shutting down the town. After a decent effort, I found a parking deck that I knew was in the area, left my car and navigated to the hotel. The very nice, very French “Madame” at the desk was very apologetic -- manifested in more or less bitching me out for not calling ahead! -- and phoned a friend of hers who has a similar budget hotel a few blocks away. No worries, there was room at the inn! So, I walked over and checked in, then went back to the car, grabbed my gear and returned to my slightly funky but clean little room for my dram!

Because my friend Kay will be flying into Nice in a few days to join The Voyage for a couple of weeks, I had promised her I wouldn’t do very much “pre-exploration” before her arrival. So, I spent Wednesday doing a bunch of chores and working out some logistics going forward. When I moved into “The (Two) Star Hotel” on Thursday morning, I did some iLife and even more logistics planning. (You would be surprised how long it takes to do “planning and maintenance” on The Voyage! I know I am continually astonished!)

Nicemonaco2On Friday, I got motivated pretty early, walked to the station and caught a train to Monaco. You see, I recently discovered that the famous Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco was being held this weekend and I just had to take advantage of this serendipitous scheduling! After a 20 minute ride, I got off the train and followed the signs -- and crowds -- into the heart of that exotic, sleepy little country. Because Friday was an “off” day for Formula One -- Thursday is “practice”, Saturday is “qualifying” and Sunday is “race day” -- all of the stands were open for viewing some other minor racing events. I made the most of it by walking all over the place, checking out each bleacher at every turn. To my surprise, the course -- and the country for that matter -- looks just like I have seen it on TV so many times over the years. After about five hours of climbing up and down the steep roads and steps in the sweltering heat and sun, I was completely exhausted and made my way to the station and on back to Nice. Now, while I had checked out the possibility of getting a ticket, I immediately opted against it when I found out that they cost €400... about $600! Instead, I decided I would experience the race “old school” by walking around town on race day, stopping at various overpasses and alleyways that afforded tiny glimpses of the track and dropping in at some of the cafes and bars offering TV coverage.

With that plan in mind, I spent yesterday recovering from my heat exhaustion (Okay, it wasn’t really that bad... I also did some chores, etc.) This morning I started putting my race day plan into action by going to the station to catch the train again, only to find a mass of humanity on the platform that defies description. As the train arrived, people pushed and shoved to get on until there was literally no space left. I’m not really a “push and shove” kind of guy, so as I saw the doors closing on people with their faces pressed up against the glass I listened to the little voice in my head that said, “Let it go.” I stepped back and let the train go. Funny how these things work out, I checked the schedule and saw that the next train in that direction was due to leave in about five minutes. According to the timetable, it wasn’t supposed to stop in Monaco but something told me today might be an exception. I asked the conductor if the train would stop at Monaco and he replied with something to the effect of “Today, all trains stop in Monaco!” So, I got onto a practically empty train car, took one of the many available seats and enjoyed a spacious, relaxing ride. Sure enough, the train stopped in Monaco... Only about ten minutes after the previous sardine can! (For those of you who are taking notes, this is a good one to add: “Let it go!”) From there, I went on to execute the rest of my race day plan with similarly fine results. The photos do a pretty good job of showing the story of how I once again walked all over town, joined other “no ticket” die-hards “looking in from the outside” and had a really, really great time. In fact, I can’t think of a better -- or cheaper! -- way of enjoying the Monaco Grand Prix!

Nicemonaco3One little highlight I’d like to share: Just as the race was starting, I called my good friend -- and fellow Formula One fanatic -- Ken. As he and his boys watched the race start on TV they were able to hear it “live” over the phone. (For those of you who don’t know, the “sound” of Formula One is at least half the experience.) It was a really sweet moment, but what happened next was even better. When I hung up the phone, a beautiful young woman asked me -- in French -- if I spoke English. I replied, “Uh... yeah.” She said she thought so because she overheard my phone call with Ken. I wondered for a second what was going on because, frankly, beautiful young women generally don’t engage me in chit chat unless... Well, you can figure it out. Anyway, it turned out that she is an American college girl studying for a semester in Nice. (Query: Do all American college girls come to France for a semester?) Her boyfriend is a huge Formula One fan so she decided to check it out and had a million questions which I tried to answer as best I could. I explained the “big picture” of Formula One and a little of the history of the Monaco GP. I showed her the track map and gave her some idea of what it’s all about. After a few minutes, I realized it was all pretty much going over her head. So, I handed her my phone and said: “Call your boyfriend. Tell him you are standing above Ste Devote, watching the cars climb up to Casino. Let him hear the sound and tell him you wish he was here. That’ll pretty much do it.” She did, and it was another memorable little moment in time on The Voyage of Macgellan!

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