Saturday, 26th May 2012 – The Journey
I should explain, we were only going for race day itself, because 1) people had commitments that precluded us travelling before the Saturday (stupid people and their stupid lives), and 2) we are poor (stupid us). So we did not have the extra expense of qualifying tickets; who wants to pay to watch cars sitting in the garage, anyway?
It is half past 6 in the morning when my alarm wakes me. I did not realise this time of day existed. I’ve had two hours sleep but I’m out of bed quickly, like always when you know the day will be a little different. Morning ritual completed (personally I sacrifice a lamb, but please let me know your morning ritual) and the taxi is here in good time to catch the train (we aren’t flying, see point 2 above). The taxi driver is as talkative as Kimi Raikkonen at a funeral during a staring competition in a library with tape on his mouth and other examples like that. Basically, he didn’t speak, is what I’m saying. That’s good though, because taxi drivers generally talk bollocks, and often racist bollocks. I’ll be the only one talking bollocks here. Maybe a little racism too, if you’re lucky.
Anyway, we arrive at the local train station, meet up with the family and now we are really on our way. Our first train picks us up and spits us out in a beautiful, peaceful, almost completely empty and largely unheard of village… oh hold on a minute, no, sorry. It took us to London, obviously. We promptly changed station and jumped on the Eurostar. We didn’t literally jump onto it of course, that would be ridiculous and completely impractical with cases.
A surprisingly short while later and we have passed through the tunnel..ahh, out of the darkness and into France.. no wait.. hold on a minute.. this looks like England still? We can’t have crossed the English Channel (“la Manche” in French) in just a minute, surely? I mean how big is the Channel? Is it basically just a river which maps exaggerate? Has anybody actually measured it?
Some time and much confusion later and we have crossed into France without drowning. Great success. We arrive in Paris but have no time to indulge in its charms. If you’ve never been to Paris it is famous for its Eiffel Tower, art galleries and homeless people. It’s a beautiful place, for sure.
To get to our next station we have to make use of Paris’ excellent underground railway system. It has many features in common with London’s, actually. The threat of terrorism, trains, lots of people and many disapproving looks. It does differ in certain aspects, of course, for example you will notice London’s underground system smells like a men’s toilet which is cleaned twice a week. On the other hand, Paris’ smells like a men’s toilet which is cleaned once a week. An important difference. It’s all exacerbated by the fact Paris is much hotter, naturally. Despite these facts everybody has somewhere to go in life and when the train arrives it is a rugby scrum to get on. This is a contact sport folks with a bonus for pickpocketing unsuspecting tourists. Thankfully, I was very suspecting. The temperature, smell and presence of other people makes it an uncomfortable journey; luckily it is a mere stepping stone at 5 minutes.
We get on our last train from Paris, a five hour or so slog to a region just outside of Nice called Cagnes Sur Mer. We get off the train at the major train station in Nice at 11pm local time, quickly find sustenance like a Nordic God, and go to the taxi rank outside the station. France has a reputation as a wonderful country of culture and this is immediately demonstrated as we are welcomed by the locals, who seem in high spirits. Unfortunately, on this occasion those high spirits were vodka, tequila and rum. Yep, the local drunks are having a good night. Williams said it, “Ghettos are the same all over the world”. So are big cities at night.
Anyway, just the apparently small matter of a taxi to the accommodation. We are forced to get two separate cars and our driver is unsure of where we are going. No problem, the driver in front knows, and tells her to follow. As soon as she gets into the car she says “I cannot follow, they go so fast, they drive like crazy”. She has no sat-nav system, sense of direction or basic driving ability. She criticises the other taxi drivers for going too fast but drives around 20mph on a dual carriageway type of road, without a seatbelt on, and drives round corners at 10mph in 2nd gear getting passed by everybody on both sides. She repeatedly gets out of the car to look at bus maps. We got the worst taxi driver in Nice. I wish I could believe it was a con; I would prefer that form of dishonest intelligence to absolute honest stupidity. 50 minutes and 60 euros later we arrived at our destination. The rest of our party had been there for half an hour. I like to believe that taxi driver is still trying to find her way back to Nice.
Sunday, 27th May 2012 – The Monaco Grand Prix
It’s midnight, the beginning of Sunday, and everybody is happy the villa was worth the day’s travelling. Very luxurious, but not much time to absorb it since an early start is a necessity, so it’s straight off to bed. It’s up early again and we head for the local train station, a short walk from our digs, but the destination this time is much more glamorous and intriguing: Monte Carlo, Monaco. We grab a bite to eat from a takeaway before we jump on the train, and happily, Monaco is only 10 stops away, less than an hour.
The train is already reasonably filled up as we depart Cagnes, and gets completely rammed after it passes through Nice (incidentally, if the train’s had still been running, last night’s taxi ride/tour of France would have cost around 3 euros each by train. Ouch). But the train is full of F1 fans And better still, I’ve got a seat. But any thoughts that these are “my people” is quickly dispelled as I hear another Brit talking about who he wants to win. Jenson and Lewis. Because they’re British. Come on man, put some thought into it. (Okay, there’s nothing wrong with “patriotism” in itself if you want to call supporting a British driver that, other than being boring, predictable and illogical, but I always feel it’s an indicator of worse things).
But anyway, the train winds along the French coast passing through tunnel after tunnel, until eventually we come to a place called Cap-d'Ail. I feel excited for the first time because I know from the train station information screens that this is the last stop before the principality. We head into darkness for the last time and here we are! Monaco baby! Or, at least, its underground train station. Literally thousands of people get off the train and the station is packed. I immediately remember reading about the Hillsborough disaster in law. Thanks for that, brain.
A quick pit-stop at the toilets and then we join everybody else, heading in the same direction, towards the light, and more importantly, towards the sound. “Is that the F1 cars”? We all seem to think, but no, too early, it must be a support series. Nevertheless, they sound fantastic already; great engine noise and a lot of backfires. Out of the underground and here we are, Monaco baby! It becomes immediately obvious how strange it is that this small part of the world hosts such an event, you can hardly move for people and the armco barrier is right in front of you. Sadly, the catch fencing is all covered up so you can’t see through it, for obvious reasons. That didn’t stop people from finding/making rips in it, and getting boosts so they could film over the fence. Whatever atmosphere is, this race has it.
We make our way to a street in the hope of finding where our ticket area is. As we walk up the street towards “Le Rocher” (it’s the cheapest standing area) plenty of blacked out cars, sandwiched by Police, ferry what must be important people past us, with the French Police clearly being paid for each time they use the horn. We get our tickets ripped and here we are! Le Rocher, baby! What is immediately clear is that “you get what you pay for”. The view from Le Rocher is less than great, it’s basically a road which the further you go up, the worse the view gets. You definitely need to get here very early to get a decent view, which we definitely didn’t. Even more painful is that the people in the hotel/apartment near us, with balconies overlooking the track, didn't even bother to come out! Torture! One guy came out for a minute then went back inside. Probably to watch it on TV
Nevertheless, the atmosphere was still very good, and the sound incredible, and eventually we found a reasonable position overlooking Anthony Noghes, where there was also a large TV screen (although obscured by trees). As for the race itself, even from our limited position it was obvious it was a procession, even if a very skilful and nice one to watch. I think the race needed rain, which unfortunately only came at the end and soaked us all as we were queuing for the train back!
As for Monaco the place, we revisited it on another day of the holiday. It is sort of incredible when you see the confines of the track, the cameras just don't do it justice. The place is certainly ridiculous and I think a little pretentious, I really wouldn't want to live there if I had all the money in the world. But the same thing that makes it ridiculous also makes it a completely magical place, and when the Grand Prix circus rolls up, and it really is a circus at Monaco, I don't think there is anywhere better to be.
Edited by Rainmaster, 06 June 2012 - 01:48 AM.