Before I start, just to clarify that this is not a travel guide but more so my personal travelogue – an account to keep ones sanity. In the last handful of years most of my travels have been work related, the usual dash here and a quickie there, and they have never been as elaborate as one might desire.
The travel bug bit me at a very young age, so young that I can hardly recall! And I was and still am a true believer in – ‘you learn more by travelling a 100 miles than by reading a 100 books’ (In the traditional sense, as with the advent of information technology it has diluted to an extent)
The last leisure travel was sometime winter last year, a 3 days wild goose chase around the Scottish Loch’s on a Chelsea Tractor………… it was absolutely fantabulous, no aims objectives plans targets, one of those boyish, lets drive where the wind blows trips, something that only boys can understand and enjoy.
Leisure travel I guess is what travelogues are more about, and since I stopped doing them, I stopped writing. Hence i have been trying my best to mix business with leisure lately. My work takes to a number of interesting locations hyperfrequently, but the irony is a typical trip is an early morning rush to the airport, being driven away to a hotel , a quick meal, some meetings and brain storming sessions, the usual evening wine and dine, and back to the hotel. The second day is a hectic drive around the locale in business mode, 5 to 6 quick stops and back to the hotel and some home work – or should i say hotel work….
The 3rd day is another rush to the airport, and the same old waiting game at the lounge, until destination home.
So all in all the most that I have taken away from all my trips to numerous locations are memories of hotel rooms!! Big rooms, small rooms, big tv small tv, good WiFi bad Wifi…… no WiFi ………. Dial 9 ‘Where on earth is the mini bar???’ so on and so forth ……Surprising but it is true, I would not be able to differentiate Praha from Buda and Pest, or Safi from Hurgada or for that matter numerous other locations.
It is a pity, but none the less a pity with a silver lining, or so I fantasize. Because when i do find time to revisit them in leisure in the future, I intend to make the experience as fresh as a Salmon reeled right off the Glen.
Nostalgia of my erstwhile Leisure trips has now forced me to implement some leisure time into most of my trips, even if it is a walk around the hotel!!….. Some of them are in exquisite locales mind you. I love water and choose waterfront hotels as much as possible, and an after supper walk on the promenade by myself is my love and hate leisure time now a days, hate it because its not long enough but love it because its personal unwinding time well spent.
March 17th 2008
Got up at the clang of the dong and was on a taxi enroute to the airport at 0500 hours. Fresh spring breeze, grey skies (typical London), daffodils and bluebells peeking out of every green patch, to top it up cherry blossoms scattered across the side walks, London is an eye candy come spring………….scratch …….. but that isn’t what I am here to write about.
Drives to the airport on its own usually don’t deserve to be written about. It’s a component of the complete package, and the package is what deserves to be penned. This is about another trip to the Côte d’Azur, across the channel, over to the continent, above the Alps and onto the shores of the Mediterranean. Any flight that takes you over the Alps on a clear day is an enjoyable flight… period. The corrugations of the peaks and the valleys, the lakes, the scenery, they all give you a sense of peace and calm, its like a mind defragmenter, it isn’t long enough to bore you and it isn’t short to go unnoticed, it always lands you fresh to face the storm, now that you’ve had your potion of lull.
I am a window man when I fly, I hate the aisles seat, and I abhor the middle seat. Window seats give you access to both worlds and they are worth fighting for. Some people like the aisle seat because they eat and drink more or require the conveniences more frequently, or may be they fancy chatting up the trolley dollies, or are people who think they’ll win the lottery if they get off the plane first. But …. middle seats, sheer bad luck to be allotted one, I wouldn’t know of a person who would request for a middle seat at the check in, I doubt if they exist.
Window seat to the aisle to the terminal, NCE airport. Nice….. I don’t mean the adjective ‘nice’, as in a nice flight till now; I mean the noun, the place, south of France. Flying out onto the Azure Mediterranean sea and banking back on to the strip right on the shores, excellent views – for window seats only!!
Nice was as usual bright and sunny, fresh in her spring morning hues and smelt like a princess out of a bath, a little less than a tropical rain forest in bloom but more than a bunch of assorted wild tulips from central Asia.
Off the flying can of sardines and out of the ant hill, a west bound turn takes me to Cannes, Marseille and the glory of the French Riviera, and all the way to Spain, Portugal but today since my work is in the Italian Riviera, we go east bound…… east bound first to Monaco via the A8 Autoroute. The ‘Give and Take’ of the taxi ride to Monte Carlo is about € 80-90 and 30 odd minutes. There are also other modes of transport like regular Train services as well as Buses, and for those who fancy a ride in a whirly bird; there are regular chopper rides from Nice airport to the Monte Carlo Heliport.
This trip is more so different for me, from most other trips, as for a change i don’t stay in a hotel, instead i use my business associates apartment in Monte Carlo. Monaco is a Principality smaller than a square mile! This small olive oil producing principality saw its fortunes turn in the late 19th century with the railroad connection to France, the Casino and more importantly down the line Grace Kelly. If not for her it might have been a completely different story.
It still maintains its heritage, every where in Monaco you will still notice large earthen pots, and stone grinding wheels, used as flower pots to decorate the gardens and public squares, they are the pots that stored olive oil, and the wheels that produced them, when it was the only viable economy they had. Lets not go back into history beyond that for the time being as that would take us to the stormy stories of Pirates at sea and the story of the Rock.
We get off at one of the zillion underground-overground-don’t know what level you are on-parking spaces available here. There’s not much you can fit in horizontally on a square mile can you, hence Monaco is a vertical world of real estate.
Monaco is like a block of Emmental cheese, full of holes, what is a road and a public square on the surface might be someone’s roof and have a hole underneath with apartments in it or parking spaces, a garage on rent here is available at about £50 plus minus a week, and most part time residents use these facilities to maintain their cars here. The manager meets us at the entrance for a quick sweet greeting as we make our way into the 15 floors of apartments up and 9 floors of parking down building.
2 levels down and 5 minutes later we are back on the road on our own set of wheels, it’s a bright and sunny day and with much business ahead, we hit the road. Taking the Autoroute A8 through France and into Italy where it becomes the A10 Autostrada.
The Italian Autostradas were the first high speed surface transport systems built in the world, started in the early 1920’s under Mussolini…. literally I must say. Reconstruction, maintenance and new work still being carried out even today. In the chaotic way that the Italian mechanism operates, they have managed to uphold a very fine tradition. ‘Tailor made roads for pleasure drives’ as I call some of them. Specially the ones in the northern parts of the country are great driver’s delights; I can assure you a long drive on an Alpine stretch of tarmac will do you more good than a bottle of Centrum. Some of my favourite drives are on the IT-CH and the IT-FR borders. Especially if you are on a set of good wheels ….. the raw analogue roar of a V8 pumping power when you drive through an Alpine tunnel or the squeal of the rubber hugging the curves up a hair pin is better than any…. any digital sound system with multiple sub-tubes connected to mega amps. It still does the trick for my goose pimples, and some of these tunnels can be as long as double digit kilometres.
(Grimaldi (It) Menton (Fr) and Monte Carlo (Mc))
We pull off at Grimaldi for some work, it is the town from where the present monarchy of Monaco have their origins, thereby deriving their surname. We are here to review a cluster of houses on the hillside, nearly levelled to the ground by the allied bombs during WW2.
Anyways not going much into the business side of things, after 2 hour, we are on the road again looking to catch a quick bite of local flavours. Pasta with Pesto with garden fresh basil, and a beef steak with local olives later we head towards our second stop.
Airole – a small village on the SS20 (E74), the mountain road that takes you to France and back into Italy towards Turin. On reaching the village we halt for an hour for work, enjoying the sound of the rapids on the river Roya along side. An amusing instance was when the resident caretaker mentioned that he has had to order more grass turfs from France to replace some patches near the swimming pool!!! He narrates that some wild boars from the Mercantour National Park, which is just across the river on the boundary of the property, had paid a visit some time back.
The funny bit is that hunting is not allowed here as the property falls in the buffer zone of the park, but if the Boars cross the road which lies on the other side of the property (100 metres), they become food!! Better luck next time Boars, you’ve been marked.
It was nearly tea time so we decided to drive up to the village of Olivetta for a quick stop to review an option and then head along the river into France, to the closest French railhead in the town of Breil-sur-Roya for a coffee. Breil is a small alpine French town good for a summer week end break, with its own small lake and a railway station one can not miss, the building is painted bright red all over.
Having finished most of the days work, we drive down to the Mediterranean, to the city of Ventimiglia for a chat with our Architect at her office in the town centre.
Historically this town was a roman garrison, and still has its own Roman amphitheatre and Roman arch bridges, but what’s more important is that it was one of the major bottlenecks for poor Italian workers moving into France after the war.
The French set up one of the most elaborate health check systems at the railway post at Via Gallardi, purposely to reject most of them and halt the exodus into their territory.
The immigrants who travelled from all over the famished parts of Italy, many of them having sold their land to buy the one way train fare and some food for the trip. Once rejected found themselves penniless, with no money to buy a train ticket back home………. if they hadn’t sold it already. Left with no option, they spread out on the hill sides around the area, finding jobs in the olive groves and the flower cultivation industry. This place signifies mankind’s will to survive in more than one way; it is a place with a large warm heart and a heavy soul, and it gets all my due respects for that.
The main road along this part of Italy, all the way from Genoa to Menton in France is called the Autostrada dei Fiori – the highway of flowers, the region is also referred to as the Riviera dei Fiori, and it owes a lot to all those immigrants who toiled on its hillsides cultivating flowers of various kinds down the years. Sadly the flower cultivation industry here is facing a slow economic death, the children of the hardworking immigrant settlers having found jobs in larger European cities now.
Also if you ever visit this area, not to be missed is the open market on Fridays, stretching along the towns high street and along the sea, it is said to be one of the biggest in Italy, probably the world. It takes place throughout the year each Friday, and people from all around the area, the Italians, the French, the Monegasque (sometimes you can even find Swiss and Germans) drive down here and are seen stocking up.
I have never ever done the market from end to end ……………….. it is massive, I am not much of a planned shopper either! Impulse works just fine for me.
It is already dark after the meeting and we decide to have a nice meal before we close for the day, the problem is, it’s a Monday and most fancy restaurants are closed on Mondays here, hangover after the hectic weekends job I guess. We drive around to find what’s open and find a small family run Pizzeria right next to the amphitheatre. An aperitif and a hearty meal in, we head back to Monte Carlo for the night. It has been a hectic but fruitful day, so we decide to go home, driving up the Boulevard des Moulins, we park our car in front of the apartment block, understanding clearly that we need to move it by 0800 hours the next day. It is a no parking area and the traffic wardens will be on duty come 0830 hours. Monte Carlo is a night city and as the city ticks on we discuss business over a few drinks at the apartment, until we switch off and go horizontal at around 0200 hours.
Part 2 later. Its all written up but something tells me that I should not make it too long so as to make it difficult to be read in one sitting.