If the joy of saying; 'we are off the Cannes' was rather nice yesterday, it was eclipsed today but telling the kids that we were catching a short train to Monaco. We are all feeling a bit self satisfied; like James Bond without the car, or the girls, or the assignments. Actually, we mustn't feel anything like James Bond now that I put it like that.
I was very keen to get out about about in Antibes in the morning and as the children are a little like slow moving boats in the morning, we abandoned them with food and the sunny terrace and computers, and went for a walk through Antibes in the morning air. After Cannes, I'm really convinced that good luck led us to this town; I just think it is wonderful and if anyone is considering the south of France, you could do much worse than hanging out in Antibes. Having said that, I'm not sure about the beach - and because the beach doesn't feature in our plans, it is not a big deal to us. Summer is for another adventure.
It was New Year's Eve and the town of Antibes was heaving. There were people lining up at each and every boulangerie and charcuterie, and at the fish stall, and everywhere really. It being a Saturday and all, I figured that this was just the usual Saturday shopping frenzy - the French and food after all - but Paris, later, put a more sinister twist on it, suggesting (probably rightly) that nothing would be open on the morrow and people were stocking up. This suggestion was made much too late for us to do anything about it - and indeed later in the day when we went to do some shopping, everything was closed like a clam. But to return to the morning. All bright sunshine and people doing their business. Old men eating oysters for breakfast, drinking some kind of digestive, at the local fish shop, dogs lining up patiently with their owners in the boulangerie and charcuterie (that must be agony for dogs), well dressed ladies with their shopping trolleys having a quick coffee and chatting to the cafe store owner on their way home. This is a town. It is touristy, no doubt, but it is also living and breathing, with everyday life going on in earnest. We made it to the Marche Provincale at last and it was wonderful. This market runs every day but Monday and is as serious a market you can get. There is a fish monger who has a long line running for his wares - you choose a fish and then he magically guts and scales and presents in beautifully wrapped for you; like a gift. There is a wood fired pizza place, again with a long line; many vegetable stalls with lushly presented vegetables. (We like to think that fruit is the star of any market show, but the French are all about the radishes - gorgeous pinks and whites - and the potatoes.) There was a potato man who just had about 10 different kinds of potatoes, a mushroom man with the same variety, a spice stall that had at least 10 different kinds of salt and 10 different kinds of pepper corns and all things beside. A few cheese stalls that had one or two cheeses each, clearly very serious cheeses, and then quite a lot of stalls with large bowls displaying all kinds of tapanade, and marinaded vegetables and stuffed whatnot. All smelled great. We hadn't come prepared to shop and we regreted it badly. In fact, we were notionally seeking a pair of shoes for me (the shoe thing has not quite worked out for me on this trip). We turned off and walked along the beach for a while, and then went back into the softly coloured alleys to buy breakfast for the kids, and possibly to find shoes for me. The breakfast was no problem - the boulangerie was very busy and that looked like a good sign. This bakery has goblets fashioned from bread, and bread trees, and everything looked so good. No sign of the pain au chocolat so there were crossiants only. And a photo of Picasso crammed up on a shelf. If only we could speak French ...
Coming back into the open square where the other market happens - the clothing market - we saw some shoes that might work, on a little table. In we went. I apologied for not speaking French, and the tiny, old woman would have none of it; sat me down immediately and found the right size for my foot. I had managed to haltingly stumble out 'quatre. zero.' Then she removed my shoes swiftly and, with a shoe horn, had me in the new shoes as if she were stroking soft butter onto bread. It was really extraordinary. The shoes are great, but I think I just bought them because of the service. So I wandered out in some lovely shoes.
It was time to go to Monaco.
True to form, the children were in pajamas when we arrived home, and it was fully 12noon before we could get them out of the apartment (I bet the shoe woman could have them going in a jiffy). We got to our station - a lovely building that is painting Venetian red - bought our tickets and discovered there would be an hour and a half wait for the next train. Bloody French lunch hour. So back into town for a walk and some food. More dog sighting, balloons, old drunk guys chatting to themselves in the sunshine, Paris's ominous warning about the dearth of options for new year's day, and then to the train. Happily, the children suffer train fever as badly as I do, so we were in sync in terms of having to get back to the train well before it was due.
French trains are comfy with lots of seats. We found some, and were happy to see that many people had also bought along their chiens for the ride. This, like our drive of yesterday, was a breathtaking journey along the coast. Worth the price of the ticket, plus some. Really, the most glisteningly blue place in the world, with ugly names like 'Biot' and 'Eze' (Niccolo thought that was great). And then we were pulling into the station at Monarco/Monte Carlo and were wondering if we would be a car chase soonish.
Monaco is a little like Hong Kong, but smaller and prettier. But it is a town latched onto an impossible hillscape. This was difficult for Myles later in the day when we were walking high up in the town through the streets and we suddenly came to gaps in the buildings only to discover that we were about thirty stories up on a road with little support and a tiny fence to optomistically keep you from stepping into air. The rest of us thought is was enchanting. Myles was all wobbly and anxious.
But initially, we went to the port. Anyone care to see millions and millions of dollars worth of boats bobbing about in sunshine? Here is where you want to be. There was the obligitory Marche de Noel in the port, with an ice rink, and something we had not seen before - a ride in which you are placed in a plastic ball that is then blown up with air and you run, in the ball, around a circuit. Zelda and Niccolo couldn't pay money fast enough to enjoy this pleasure.
We walked up the hill to Monaco Ville. Monaco Ville is a little mini town at the top of the hill on the right side of the Monaco if you are facing the sea. I had no idea this was a town of two faces, but there you go. Monaco Ville is like toy town, it is hardly credible that people actually live here. Everything is so perfect and clean, and olde worlde. And at the end of this little utopia is the Prince's Palace - all pink in some lights, and yellow in others with a rather odd, Disneyesque extension on one side, and a guard pacing the ground as though he had lost a contact lens.
We weren't invited for tea. So we bought our own from a little shop called La Pampa. I was charmed, enchanted. If only I was four foot, and thin, and wore an apron with a heart shaped bib, I'd be perfect. But alas ...
We left this strange place, but not before we learned the secret to the Grimaldi rule. Apparently, the first Grimaldi, took the throne when he dressed as a monk 700 odd years ago, and knocked on the door of the palace. The former rulers were clearly pious and possibly charitable and they let him in. He did something then that secured him the crown (it might have involved slaughter) and they have ruled merrily ever since. No wonder we weren't invited for tea.
We decided to walk across the port to the heart of Monte Carlo. This is all glittering hotels that block the view of some really beautiful apartment blocks and villas. There must have been much fist shaking when that all happened. The beach is really nice, clean like crazy with little kids playing soccer under a sign that banned the playing of any and all balls. Then we walked up the public staircase to the town above - this was some climb and Niccolo was in two minds about completing it.
Then we walked through this breathtakingly rich township where everyone we passed was wearing real fur and daintily carrying a Chanel shopping bag. There was some concert being piped onto the streets; Christmas lights everywhere, all the shops glittering with hyper expensive clothing, and one shop with a dog in the window - live (gave me a fright) - watching the passing parade.
We learned from the tourist office that there would be no fireworks until midnight. The woman in the tourist office looked at us with some pity when we suggested there might be an earlier display for 'families'. We slunk out. We checked the train schedule and there would be no trains that would accommodate us and any desire to watch fireworks. Hotels, we fancied, would be beyond our budget. So we bid farewell to this somewhat creepy, fairytale town and took the train back to the very sane Antibes.
No wonder the Monaco royals are all mad. It must be a very odd place to grow up, and a rather dispiriting place to rule over. There were pictures of Princess Grace on what felt like every corner doing something for the people of Monaco, cutting a ribbon to a new road, breaking ground with a golden shovel for a new motel, peering over the shoulder of some privileged child reading a book and so on. You'd take to the drink as soon as possible.
Myles and I considered going for a drink in the town, but it turned out we were not in the mood (not being either royal or from Monaco). No shops were open either, when we went for both a drive and a walk. It was to be a quiet night with one can of beer and the remains of a bottle of quite good local white wine.
Aren't we the last of the red hots?