by Michelle Arthur
Most think of the glamour of Monaco when they think of that sparkling gem of a Principality along the French Riviera — the history of their Formula One auto race, grand casinos, magnificent museums perched high on cliffs, Michelin-starred dining and designer boutiques. No denying that exists. My trip there took a different turn.
It actually started while living in Southern California. I was invited to attend an advertising client’s event at the Newport Beach Bayshore Marina docks. We’d only spoken on the phone before that. As soon as we met, I knew this was not your ordinary boat party.
Whether it was his swagger that was as titillating as his yacht company’s size or his dashing looks that kept our conversation flowing as fast as the Champagne, is beyond me. Our paperwork business was handled in record time. Then it was on to fancy hors’ d’oeuvres and a lasting memory of his sparkling smile and waving from a yacht stern as he drifted out to sea at sunset.
Being an Indianapolis native in the United States, I always thought it was our Indy “500” auto racing connection that made me dream of a trip to Monte Carlo someday. Now I had another incentive. The annual Monaco Yacht Show was in September that year and so was that man’s company. The plans began.
At first it was simply buying a flight to NYC’s LaGuardia Airport. Then it was getting a flight to Paris. Next paycheck was the next leg, another flight to Southern France. Surprisingly, by purchasing individual tickets, I could get better airfare overall.
Once in Nice the adventures really started. Of course the language barrier proved challenging, and being a young woman traveling alone added to it. Still the excitement of being on foreign soil soothed any worries.
The mood lighting at my first hotel was so dim I stumbled over a chair leg and landed flat onto the marble floor — not nice! I’d forgotten how the French prioritize romance. Note to bring candles for extra light next time.
I awakened to children’s laughter through a cracked window from the school grounds below the hill and wondered if they were becoming bilingual. Scratched rest for taking in the sights.
A taxi took me to the charming Juan-les-Pins Hotel Belles Rives for a drink by the bay on the Cap d’Antibes between Cannes and Nice. This is where the famous F. Scott Fitzgerald rented a villa and wrote TENDER IS THE NIGHT.
Afterwards, I decided strolling to the Musée Picasso (formerly a Grimaldi Castle built in the 14th century) would be ideal. After all, it was only a short walk and I could better learn their culture on foot. Except I took the wrong way and landed at the famous Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc built in 1869 for writers. Flip the numbers and scenes from UNDER THE CHERRY MOON were filmed there in 1986 by its Director Prince.
A vintage motorcycle zoomed by, returned, and circled around me. Had it been a man, I might have resisted from fear, but it was a cheery young Italian girl who asked if I needed a lift. I hopped on the back and the two of us, with our long black and blonde hair blowing in the wind, zoomed towards Pablo Picasso’s current museum and his former home for 6 months. It was closed for extensive renovation when we arrived. I jumped off her bike anyway not wanting to obligate her to take me elsewhere.
Even roaming the grounds and observing their signage provided a glimpse of this famous artist’s life next to the Mediterranean Sea. A taxi pulled up beside me an hour later and asked if I needed a ride. Merci…except he wanted to stop several times to have others join us. Those passengers later tried to stiff for their share of the journey, but I made it back to my humble hotel in Nice.
The Monaco Touism Office had run a full page ad in a fashion magazine years prior which promoted a free helicopter ride from Nice. I’d snipped it out to save in my wallet for years. Despite the offer had expired, the next day I convinced a travel clerk to honor it.
Decked up in a crisp brown pleated cotton dress with silk blue scarf, I felt ready for the high life. Actors Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp’s film CHOCOLAT’s impact lingered for me past box office sales. So did the lavendar-smelling liquid soap from the ladies room at the heliport which landed down my pressed attire. No time nor ability to change or else I’d miss my flight.
I scurried to the helipad and as my scarf flew up, I screamed thinking it would mix with the spinning helicopter blades. Had a Cinematographer been available, the composition would have been strategically aligned. Lady in heels running to a helicopter with scarf flying inches from the blades. I yanked the silk around my neck tighter and jumped in.
Later using the scarf to cover vertical soap stains, I tried to be as graceful as possible stepping toward the Monaco Yacht Show amongst 24,000 visitors from 40 different countries. Heavy accents and cigar smoke filled the air.
Brand new Lamborghinis and Ferraris were on display at the MYS entrance. Gently admiring one, a man yelled at me with a camera. It appeared he wanted my photo, so I placed my hand on the sportscar. “Nooooo, no!” he shouted and motioned me to move over. Money over matter, got it!
With that I showed my credentials and entered into a kingdom of superyachts from around the world. Port Hercules had never seen the likes. Although my new client friend and I had been in touch, he didn’t expect me there of all places. I wanted it to be a surprise like my new cherry lipstick found on the counter of the heliport.
Suppose he did not want it to be a surprise as his eyes lit up in shock to see me across from him at his trade booth. After exchanging pleasantries, he reached out his hand to shake mine. That is, his left hand which was adorned with a wedding ring about the size of a bicycle tire!
Funny how he wasn’t wearing it when we met, nor did he ever mention a wife, and I assumed she did not exist. But she poked her lovely fair head around the corner and I quickly disappeared. That was the last time we spoke or saw each other.
Moving on, I wandered around Monaco checking in at Sainte-Devote Chapel which honors the patron saint of Monaco. Relaxing outside on a park bench, suddenly a bus pulled up beside me and opened its doors. The potbellied driver didn’t say anything and I simply hopped on. I had no idea where the bus load was going, yet I wanted to see more.
As we traversed around steep cliffs, at one point my bus window was an inch from the rock. How he could navigate so closely to the cliff walls on those curvy old roads was miraculous. The bus emptied at the next stop. Out of terror was my guess.
That stop just happened to be the entrance to the exhibition hall for the 25th Anniversary of the passing of Her Serene Highness Princess Grace at the Grimaldi Forum. What a delightful surprise since I had no clue it existed!
Seeing film costumes from this Oscar-winning Actress turned real Princess of Monaco was as educational as tracing her life with framed magazine covers or viewing her household artifacts. A mesmerized crowd roamed the numerous halls and I eventually roamed out to nearby gardens.
Those paths ultimately delivered me in 10 minutes, like a fairy flitting through vines, to be smack in front of the Place du Casino.
I’m not a gambler, but I’d say the adventures I encountered on this trip were some of the most significant of my lifetime. Look forward to returning someday.