Saturday, 8 October 2011

Monte Carlo - the French Connection

From the previous post: "As I slept off, the next day's agenda brought a smile to my face. I could literally hear the high pitched whines of very powerful engines."

Each day of this trip was so exciting, that even just waking up was enough to get the adrenalin pumping. Today, first we set off for a drive through some of the beautiful coastal areas around this place. With 25 kilometres of coastline surround Juan les Pins and Antibes, this was but a mere glimpse into what attracted humans from the 5th century BC to this resort town.

Sea, Sun, Sand

I have to say that it was a pleasure to be in a place where the sea was calm, cool and simply inviting everyone to enjoy its shimmering wavelets.

Calm waters of Antibes
Also it was a weekend, so more people were out and about, swimming, fishing, yachting or simply soaking in the sun on the clean beaches, though quite a bit of the coast is rocky. After enjoying the fresh cool breeze here, we headed towards Château Grimaldi. It is also home to the Picasso museum.

Château Grimaldi
It was definitely ancient, but very well preserved and in pristine condition. The place was quite laid back and no one seemed to be in a hurry to go anywhere. Which was such a pleasure and contrast to the fast paced lifestyle of a city.

Sea wall at Antibes
I found the history of this place quite enchanting. From the time that the Greek colony was set up 1500 years back, to its fall and rise again. In between, this very sea wall had been part of the town fortifications in which the town people lived a life of safety during the troubled ages.

As I walked through cobbled alleyways and squares it reminded me of an Victorian era gone past. While the mind plugged in a patina of glamour, reality may have been quite different in that period. However, some of the essences continued to linger.

Lively Saturday market, Antibes
As I had mentioned in the previous post about the Friday market, which was temporal in nature, so was the Saturday market that I reached now. It was busy with shoppers looking to buy products ranging from flowers to vegetables to herbs and pastes. There was some fabulous olive pastes that were heavenly to taste. I did pick up some Herbes de Provence - which is a mix of savory, fennel, basil, thyme and rosemary among others. It is quite nice to flavour fish and can be used in vegetable stews as well.

From here we headed to a small cafe. The coffee was delicious. As was the conversation. We then walked towards Gare D'Antibes - the railway station. It was a lovely walk on paved thoroughfares enjoying the sight of small restaurants on one side and the sea on the other.

Cute railway station
While I had heard about the European railways, I had never experienced sitting in any. So this was my first opportunity to see and be in one of these. The railway station was small, cute and efficient.


The train was nothing like what I had seen or been in before. Twin decked, it was an interesting ride. After a point, the novelty of being in the train wore off. But the views kept me extremely interested.


I snapped this picture, just after we passed a small town called Villefranche-sur-Mer. All along the ride, I could see beautiful undulating landscapes, azure waters and people engaged in paying homage to the sun.

Monaco / Monte-Carlo

Again, through sheer serendipity, I had blithely come across the time when the magnificent Grand Prix was to be held at Monaco / Monte-Carlo. This was where I was headed now. Monaco is the smallest (by size) and most densely populated country in the world! And it was as simple as buying a train ticket to get into the place, without any border control hassles.

It was much later though, that I would officially get to meet Albert II, the Prince of Monaco, when he visited Muscat during the Asian Beach Games in which I had been part of. He is an avid sportsman and quite involved in various sports related activities.

Since 1955, the streets of Monaco have witnessed the Monaco Grand Prix - widely considered as one of the most prestigious automobile races in the world. It is also one of the toughest Formula One race tracks, with a tunnel, incredibly narrow and tight turns and elevations.

I got there too late to actually get to the grandstand, as the race had already started. However, I did manage to get quite close to the barricades beyond which these powerful machines were being driven by men with amazing talent.


I soon realised, why many people were walking around with ear mufflers. I happened to be standing right next to the race course barricade when some of the Formula One monsters drove by. All I could hear for the next five minutes were the ringing tones in my ears, as these whining machines can produce sounds with sufficiently high pitch and decibels to permanently damage your eardrum should you choose to keep listening continuously. But the sheer power. Wow. As these machines went roaring by, it was enough to get almost all the muscles in my body quivering. Decadent as the sport may be, now I understood why people get so thrilled about watching it.

Force one truck
As I was walking past the area where the cars were transported to, assembled and then dis-assembled after the race, I noticed the Indian Force One team presence. Now I also understood why Vijay Mallya's UB group jet had been parked at the Nice airport and why his huge yacht was moored at Monaco.



After all this excitement had abated a bit, it was fascinating walking around the place, enjoying the statuesque beauty of the buildings and the place itself. I visited the Prince's Palace of Monaco, which contained many beautiful sculptures, statues and commanding views of the surrounding areas.

François Grimaldi, Monaco Palace
The statue is of François Grimaldi who, as history goes, very cunningly had disguised himself in the attire of a monk, got into the castle, drew his sword and led his army to victoriously capture the castle. As I approached the location, I saw a young child very curiously gazing at this statute, which does look quite real. I found this scene so interesting that I had to grab the chance and shoot a picture.

Interestingly, in all these days in France so far, I had not come across any of my Indian brethren. It felt different. Until now. Right on top of the hill, in that very place comes along one of my fellow countrymen, who was very audibly informing someone back home that he was in Monte Carlo at the Grand Prix. I have always failed to understand, why we have to be so garishly show-offish. And I certainly believe that it is important to respect the culture and customs of the place where we are in. Soothing calmness is something I have come across in various places in and out of India, never in the cities though. And I have grown to love it.

It was now evening, time to bid adieu to this lovely little country-state and get back to the charms of France.

Continued in the next post.  

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