Another Trip into Darkest Europe

Once again your intrepid explorer ripped a page from his busy schedule to delve into the nether regions of Europe. This time I headed East along the Autovia del Mediterraneo travelling through Granada, the Costa Blanca, and past Valencia, Tarragona, Barcelona, before finally arriving in France.

Being English, upon entering France I auto-locked the car doors, checked wallet and shades, and only then began exploring the wine sodden areas of southern France. Passing swiftly by Montpellier, Aix-en-Provence, the port city of Marseilles, and I was soon driving along the famous French Riviera. Alongside the coast I passed Cannes, Antibes, St. Tropez and a host of other places with mouth-watering names, imagining the glitterati taking a casual petit déjeuner on a cool stone-flagged terrace overlooking the beautiful deep blue of the Mediterranean.

East of the Riviera the grand mountains of the French Alps dip their tails into the Mediterranean, and that’s where you can find Monaco, nestling on a small wrinkle of land. It’s small, sneeze and you miss it, it’s really that small; one of those places with a name that’s bigger than the place itself. Anyway, Monaco being my journey’s destination, I side-slipped off the Autovia, climbed the shoulder of one of the Alps and dropped down the far side into the world’s smallest principality: Monaco.

First impressions of Monaco …. Money, obscene amounts of it. Everything about the place shouts “Money”. I expected the garbage cans to be stuffed with unwanted euros and dollar bills. Those who claim the streets of London, or New York, are paved with gold, well, they have obviously never trekked around Monaco for a day. After Monte Carlo, London and the Big Apple are passé. This is a place for those seriously in love with money.

There are more super expensive cars than you can shake a stick at. Standing on a street corner near the port in Monte Carlo was like watching a drive-by car show; Rolls-Royces of every colour and style, cabriolets, coupés, saloons, vintage and every year in between. Bentleys, too many of them too, with their prepossessing radiator grilles and rich shining colours. Aston Martins, Ferraris (predominantly in glaring reds and yellows), Maseratis, plain looking cars that could pass for older style Fiats, Porsches (for the poorer relations), Jaguars (including a beautifully restored Inspector Morse style in British Racing Green colour), and one Cadillac, representing European thoughts on American motors of late. Taken altogether the streets of Monaco will provide a visual overload for a flash car junkie.

Second impressions: New generation scooters (generically called motos) and motor cycles jostle on almost every square inch of the narrow roads not occupied by mega-expensive hi-speed tyre rubber. Scooters of every different brand imaginable with enough screaming colours to make you shy away like a startled horse as they zoom towards you when the traffic lights turn green. Now I know why the Monte Carlo start was so named. There isn’t far to drive anywhere in Monaco, but every red-blooded Monégasque wants to get there first!

Everyone drives a moto. I saw nubile young things just about wearing expensive looking wraparound somethings made out of two colourful hankies sewn together, mustachioed young rocker dudes more suited to throbbing Harleys, suited lawyer types balancing sensible black briefcases on their knees, even black dressed old grannies careen along in groups, cackling like a scary host of motor driven witches. I’m sure Prince Albert has a favourite moto he uses to pop to the boulangerie for a stick of freshly-baked warm bread.

There should be a weekly competition for the strangest sight spotted on a moto. My favourites of the week include: people talking on cell phones while weaving in and out of nearly stationary traffic; smokers driving and doing their thing; an older gentleman cruising alongside a busy main thoroughfare delicately sipping from his steaming espresso and glancing at the folded newspaper in his lap! But the best moto action of the day was provided by a harried, middle-aged male rider having a typically Latin argument with his attractive Lollobrigida type mini-skirted passenger, complete with much arm waving, finger pointing, and forehead wiping with a large white handkerchief, completely oblivious to the stares, smiles, claps and whistles from admiring pedestrians and other road users. A refreshingly marvellous sight!

The marinas… I cannot even start to think about the marinas without developing a stress headache and a green tide rising before my eyes. The marinas will have to be a part of my second troll of the memory banks.

I’ll leave you with a question or two. Which European car manufacturer drapes beautiful blonde females, wearing Chanel suits and accessories, around the upholstery of every car they sell in Monaco? and your second, token question: which shop sells the outrageously expensive looking black sunglasses ubiquitous in Monte Carlo?

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