MONACO: It’s a rich man’s world
We had arrived on the French Riviera. As we wound our way down from the alps we called out the steadily climbing temperature each time we passed a town clock: 6 degrees, 10 degrees, 14 degrees, 20 degrees (a mighty cheer went up then), 22 degrees, 25 degrees and finally 28 degrees.
Summer had found us around the same time we saw the glorious blue-green Mediterranean in the distance.
We had two nights to play in Monte Carlo and, a bit woolly from a whole day of driving, we looked down at the door of our hotel. Milling around on the footpath were young men and women dressed in tuxedos and a rainbow of glittering silk ball gowns.
We refused to get off the bus.
The longer we stayed there unwilling to budge, the harder it became to do so. We looked down at our travel clothes, mismatched from the layering we had done to keep ourselves warm at high altitude, hair wild and crazy-curly from the fog and damp, a scattering of crumbs, and possibly even a trace of drool from a little travel nap along the way.
We were not elegant, or rich, or beautiful – how could we step down into the midst of those rare creatures who looked like they had stepped from the pages of Vogue?
Exasperated, Laura reminded us we had just as much right to be there as they did – that normal people come to Monte Carlo too. Someone cracked a joke or two and finally we climbed down and, averting our eyes, stumbled inside.
A glamorous, wide staircase wound up to the next level and I shouldered my backpack with a sigh and trudged upwards. I was stiff and weary and feeling out of my depth. Then I heard a beautifully modulated voice ask if I needed some help. Extending a perfectly manicured hand for my scruffy pack, stood an elegantly dressed young woman with a dazzling smile, a long blonde mane, a handful of Chanel shopping bags and a small white dog tucked into the crook of her arm.
Kindness from such an unexpected source puts a spring in my step as I thank her and decline, practically bounding up the stairs to reception.
We were in Monte Carlo. Monte Carlo!
Outside our door there was a glittering little harbour filled with the yachts of the rich and famous, and ahead of us … a night at the famous Casino – Monte Carlo.
Now dressed in our travelling best we stood outside the brilliantly lit casino watching the constant stream of Ferrari’s, Lamborghini’s, Porsche’s and even a breathtaking silver Bugatti, the world’s most expensive car, pull in. The base model for these beauties will set you back $1,700,000, with the sports model selling for a cool $2,400,000. It was car lover’s paradise.
We tore ourselves away for a short walk to look at the Monaco Grand Prix circuit’s most famous hairpin bend. The prestigious Formula 1 event had been held just the weekend before and signs of it were still everywhere – including breakfast menus that ran to more than $1000 euros per person at the roadside cafes.
As we stood getting a feel for the circuit we watched incredulously as the driver of a Rolls Royce parked in the middle of the road, right on the hairpin, hopped out, and walked off towards one of the casinos. To our amusement police came running from every direction, waving their arms until they convinced him to move the car to a more suitable location. It seems being outrageously rich does not always guarantee you a free pass – even in Monte Carlo.
The inside of the casino was spectacular and it felt like all we needed was 007 to stroll through the door to make the visit complete. Sadly he didn’t, although I did meet a dashing George Clooney look-alike who graciously explained the intricacies of roulette to me.
We ended the evening with a superb cocktail at the magnificent old world mahogany bar that sparkled in the casino’s dim light. It was magic. I hummed a verse of ‘As Time Goes By’ in my head as I slowly sipped my martini (shaken not stirred), breathing it all in.
Feeling more like ourselves again, we joined in a rollicking rendition of Abba’s ‘Money, Money, Money’ on the way back to the hotel. I know you know the words:
“So I must leave, I’ll have to go – to Las Vegas or Monaco – and win a fortune in a game, my life will never be the same…”
Of course dreams such as these only come true if you dare to take a spin of the wheel.