Monaco Grand Prix

Every October there’s a Breeders Cup race held in Far Hills, New Jersey. It’s a steeplechase event, and there are a number of smaller races held throughout the day leading up to the main event. Each fall (or nearly every fall), I put on my best tweed, bow-tie and other preppy accoutrements and trek to Far Hills for this event. If we’re lucky, there’s sun and grand catering displays with food and full liquor bars. We eat, drink and catch up with old friends for hours. After the final race has been run, we slog our way exhausted and inebriated through the mud back towards the exits. As we near departure, the same thought always seem to pop into my head… “goddamn, I have been here all day and I didn’t even see a single horse.” This is much how my experience at the Monaco Grand Prix was to go.

On my first night back in Paris, I was having drinks with an old friend at a cafe in Saint-Germain. She was planning on heading to her house in the south for the weekend, and suggested I come with her for the Grand Prix.

While people often make plans they aren’t serious about, I never joke about going to the south of France or about travel. When I got home that evening, I promptly logged on to airfrance.fr and booked a ticket from Orly (ORY) to Nice Cote D’Azur (NCE).

Sunday May 29th, Air France Flight 6234 with service from ORY-NCE.

Orly airport is a breeze. Prior to the monstrosity that is CDG being constructed and thereafter making everyone’s lives inconvenient, ORY was the main airlink between Paris and the rest of the world. It’s the airport my mother arrived at on a TWA 707 when she came to study abroad in Paris many years ago. It’s a small airport, and while most of the traffic (at least from the West terminal) is intra-France flights operated by Air France, there are quite a few intra-Europe flights, and a couple of longhaul widebodies lying around (I saw two Fly Tui 747’s sitting on the ramp as I waited for my plane).

As I said, Orly is a breeze. I began timing myself when I exited the cab in front of the terminal. I sortie’d the cab, entered the terminal, purchased a pack of gum from the Relay shop, checked in via kiosk, printed my boarding pass, cleared security, bought a small vittel and took a runway-side table at a cafe near my gate in a mere seven minutes.

The lesson to be learned…do not EVER check bags if you can help it. Life is so much easier when you can avoid the fees, hassles and lines that come with checking luggage.

The flight south was on an Airbus A318/319.

Airbus A318/319 for ORY-NCE

We boarded a bit before 11am, and departed as scheduled at 11:30am.

I was in seat 2F. The aircraft was an all-Y configuration (Economy aka Coach as a general class is known as Y…Business is generally C or J and First is F or P). This aircraft featured Air France’s “new and enhanced” intra-euro coach seat.

Just as an aside here…whenever an airline tells you they have “enhanced” a product or “made changes they think you’re going to like,” be afraid…be very afraid.

Air France’s version of “enhancing” their seats, was to install a new, lighter seat on their short haul aircraft. This lighter seat allows Air France to burn less fuel and therefore to save money. In order to be lighter, the seats have significantly less cushioning, and as an added bonus are not capable of recline. In return for this “enhancement,” Air France saves money, and their customers pay the same (or higher fares) for an inferior product. You have to love the way they spin these things.

The flight was only scheduled for 1hour and 20minutes block to block, so it was no big deal. I finished the non-fiction book Unbroken. While it drags a bit in the post-WWII section, it’s well worth a read.

I moved on to Across The River and Into The Trees. It’s not Hemingway’s best work. I say that as someone who considers Hemingway to be overrated in general.

I recently saw the new Woody Allen movie Midnight in Paris. In that movie, the Hemingway character constantly mentions how things must be “true.” The repetition is to comedic effect. Prior to this movie highlighting it for me, I had never realized how often Hemingway uses the word “true” in his writing. It must have appeared at least twice per page for most of the balance of Across the River and Into The Trees.

The approach to NCE is one of my favorite approaches anywhere. The airport juts out into the sea and looks like a small turf aircraft carrier hugging tight along the shore.

NCE as we turn onto final approach

The entire approach is over water and you can often look out the window and see boat masts passing just under the engine cowling.

Sailboat passing under

Thanks to not having checked luggage, I was out the main cabin door and on my way to Cannes in moments.

Cote D’Azur

I had landed in Nice (or close to Nice rather), but I had to meet my friend in Cannes. Transit in the south can be a bit of an issue. Cabs are fantastically expensive (a cab from NCE to Cannes can run up to 80 Euro), trains are inconvenient (a cab from NCE to the Nice Train Station would run close to 20 euro, then you need to pay for the train to Cannes and wait for it), so acting on the advice of a friend, I opted to try AirportXpress. They offer a direct coach bus service from NCE to Cannes for 15.60 Euro. The trip takes 30-45 minutes and is fairly pleasant.

AirportXpress bus

The bus deposited me right in front of the Hotel de Ville in Cannes and I waited around five minutes for my friends to come and gather me.

WW1 memorial in Cannes

 

Cannes

My friends arrived, and we decided to have lunch at the Carlton Hotel beach club. The food was rather good (I had steak tartare) and the service was surprisingly quick. A member of our party changed her order, and the new food was out of the kitchen and onto our table in less than 10 minutes. When one thinks of the south of France “snappy service” does not often come to mind, so this was a welcome surprise.

After an afternoon of drinking rose, we readied ourselves to head to Monaco.

The A8 is the main highway in this part of the Cote D’Azur, and it can be a pleasant drive on days when traffic is light. Luckily, this was such a day.

We dropped the car off at the apartment in Monte Carlo, and ran into problem number one. In their infinite wisdom, the powers that be in Monaco had decided to turn off some of the public elevators.

If you are not familiar with Monaco, it is a postage stamp sized country of rapidly changing elevations. As a result, there are a number of public elevators and staircases to help people get up and down quickly.

Since this municipal helping hand had been chopped off, we were forced to take a circuitous route down a number of staircases and two of the still functioning elevators.

Eventually, we made it to the port, where we were faced with barricades and a veritable labyrinth of steel and fence.

We persevered on through these obstacles and some notably vague direction until we finally found the party we had been looking for. It was being thrown on a rather large yacht docked in the port. As it turned out, I had met the boat’s owner the previous summer in St. Tropez, small world.

As the party began to thin out, several guests discussed options for an apres-party party. However, we were warned that both Jimmy’z and Billionaire had been horror shows all week and should be avoided at all costs. As such, there was to be no continuation to this evening. On towards 2am, we disembarked and began to stroll away from the harbor. As we began the long climb up the stairs of Monaco, a simple and familiar thought popped into my head “goddamn, I have been here all day and I didn’t even see a single car.”

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