Before leaving to Africa again next month, and the wifey not joining me there until sometime next year, she coaxed me into a quick holiday to the South of France. Deciding to combine business, pleasure and F1 madness, we stayed over at a former fellow African expat friend’s place in Nice and I started plotting to convince my wife to forego the beautiful (yet crowded) beaches of the Riviera for a day and go visit the walhalla of F1: Monaco. All in all, it wasn’t a big problem to convinve her to take the short trip to Monaco (about 30 mins from Nice), as long as I had my credit card at the ready 😉 .
I’m not easily impressed and am one of the most chilled out guys you’ll ever meet, but I was giddy with joy like a kid in a candy store when we arrived in Monaco and walked up to the pitlane. My excitement reached ridiculous levels when I noticed that the tire tracks were still visible from where my F1 heroes lay down rubber exiting their pit boxes. Despite the merry go round, ice cream stands and cheap pizza restaurants in between, I could almost see and smell the F1 cars that a mere month ago were screeching down the pitlane.
Monaco baby yea!
The next challenge came into convincing my wife to do a pseudo trackwalk. The angel that she is, she gladly accepted on one condition: that we grab some drinks first. My mischievous mind immediatly went into overdrive and innocently suggested that cute little place on the corner there….none other than the famous La Rascasse bar of course! A couple Coronas later and cringing when the waiter arrived with the bill ( it turned out to be quite reasonably priced) we set off on our track walk along the pitlane. Monaco might pride itself on its glitz, glamour and image of playground for the superrich, they have enough sense not to chase away the simple non-millionaire tourist away with ridiculous prices though I’m sure you’ll find prohibitively expensive bars in Monaco if you want to.
First up: Ste Devote! I had some trouble getting my bearings as Monaco looks so different in real life and without the barriers defining the track. The corner is in fact sort of a roundabout, with a statue of William Grover-Williams winner of the inaugural 1929 Monaco GP. Though at first I found it hard to believe this was really Ste Devote corner, the bit of leftover kerbs was a gentle reminder of the F1 madness in the principality.
Then it was up the hill on Beau Rivage towards the famous Casino square, and I was absolutely amazed at the elevation change…this is one steep hill! In fact, the track already starts going upwards in the runup to Ste Devote, and really peaks high onto the twisty section. The pictures capture it a bit better than what you see on TV, but it still doesn’t do the elevation change justice.
Beau Rivage looking up and down
I can tell I was sweating quite profusely when we finally got up to Casino square, passing through the quick left-right to stumble into what must have been Jay Leno’s collection of supercars. Ferraris, Aston Martins, Porsches, … they all were lined up as the street was blocked off for a Jewish wedding at the Terrace of the hotel garnering quite a few onlookers.
Sadly at this points my wife’s poor little feet in high heels started to give in (damned high rise to Casino square! and yes that’s her in the pic) and my stumach was rumbling so the track walk was to get cut short here. Of course not before I parked my wife in front of the Jewish Wedding and had a quick look over to the run down to Mirabeau and the famous Monaco bump. I had a little goosebump (pardon the pun) moment right there, and could not stop thinking about Senna and how he’d drift through there in his glory days. I’m not a spiritual guy at all but I was really touched by memories of Senna right there at that spot, I could almost see that Mclaren’s snap happy backend storming through there with the genius at the wheel.
Casino Square to Mirabeau
Sadly the shortened track walk cut out the Loews hairpin,Portier and the Tunnel. Amazingly when discussing my trip with my grandmother today, she told me of how she went to the Monaco Grand Prix of 1972, to see our compatriote Jacky Ickx drive (he finished 2nd in a Ferrari that year). I begged her to dig through her 5 million foto albums and find me some pictures, which if she ever does will duly be posted on the blog. She said she stayed at the Loews Grand Hotel, so must have had some pretty sights for sure!.
But let’s get back on track into Tabac where, unsurprisingly there still is a ‘Tabac’ right there on the corner. (a ‘Tabac is pretty much the only place you can buy smokes in France, it also usually carries drinks and magazines – but is not to be confused with a ‘normal’ kiosk). I never realized just how tight this corner really was until seeing it with my own eyes and only now fully understand the level of commitment and huge pair of cojones the drivers must have to attack Tabac like they do.
Right after Tabac there’s the super quick swimming pool chicane, again a testament to how ballsy you need to be as an f1 driver to get through here unscathed. While watching from TV, I always found the first sector of the track the most interesting, but having seen it with my own eyes now I’m really impressed with how commited the drivers must be to sweep through the final sector. Below you see the swimming pool, not quite what I imagined, as it is not so glamorous at all tbh.
In between the swimming pool and Rascasse we stopped for dinner. I guess you need to be a celebrity or wave platinum credit cards around to get treated decently in restaurants in Monaco. Our food arrived in a reasonable time and was tasty but definately not worth what it cost, the wine was excellent though. So until that point all goes well but then we were staring at our empty plates for about 45 minutes. My wife barely managed to stop me from taking the plates to the kitchen myself and tell the waiter I wanted my share of the tips for doing his job. A table of obvious bigwig regulars had arrived, and all of a sudden we were invisible to the waiters as they all flocked to that table. Fuck that, we’re all paying customers and deserve equal treatment.
Rundown to Rascasse
So yea bad culinary experiences aside, we go past Rascasse which I already discussed and again I was surprised by the elevation changes not visible on TV as the track slightly starts edging upwards again as we enter the ‘Schumi’ spot where he so (in)famously parked his car to block Alonso’s flying lap back in ’05. Anthony Noges is almost unrecognizable as like Ste Devote it is broken up by a roundabout but again the little strip of kerbs gives away it’s F1 fame. Onto the home straight, this ends my hotlap of Monaco without the barriers.
Though excited as hell I finally got to see its mythical streets, Monaco itself is little more than yet another concrete monstrosity found all along the Mediterranian coastline. Massive hotels, flashy lights, posh people, I did not really care for it; I’ll take the small time charm of places like Beaulieu, Villefranche and Tarifa anyday above these kinds of snobvilles. Monaco has all the glitz and glamour you can imagine, but it is not pretty. It’s like a hot supermodel that blows you away upon the first glance, but when you get your dick back in your pants and look closer you realize there’s really nothing there.