A Bucket-list day in Monaco

Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at 14:34

First, a confession: I don't really have a bucket list. But I know a bucket-list item when I see it, and for me, visiting Monte-Carlo and walking the GP circuit was one of them. 

Not only that, but I think our day in Monaco was one of our best days yet of this vacation. From the moment you step off the train, Monte-Carlo feels different. The hallways in the train station are lined with marble, the streets are almost Disney clean and the people seem friendlier. We like where we're staying in Nice, but Monte-Carlo is a lot of things that Nice (and Paris) are not: Clean, relaxed, uncrowded, safe, fresh! It even smells better. The sidewalks aren't crowded, the drivers are courteous (they voluntarily stop for pedestrians!) and the people are polite and friendly. None of the hurried pushing and shoving that seems so common elsewhere and it seems like there are Police on every corner watching over it all.

We had a fun time visiting the Musee de Oceanographique which after the hike up the steep hill was a welcome air-conditioned break. Lots of interesting fish and sea creatures, plus a fabulous view out to the Mediterranean and over the Monaco port from the "Panorama" on the roof of the building. From there we walked to the Palais and took a quick tour through. 

Next we went back down the hill to the main port/marina area that had a kids fair set up where the GP pits are placed. You could see the pit markings and tire tracks left by the F1 cars. I was the only one that wanted to walk the entire GP circuit (it's the #1 reason I wanted to visit Monaco!) so I went to do that while the others did a bit of shopping. 

For me, it was a real car-geek thrill to walk the streets of this famous race course. Another friendly tourist took my photo at the distinctive Loew's turn (is there a more distinctive turn in motorsport? Corkscrew @ Laguna Seca maybe...) As I walked through the tunnel under the casio I could only imagine the howl of multiple F1 engines through that darkened enclosure. To see the slight turn and the drop that must be navigated at 190+ mph while adjusting to the sudden light change - what a challenge! 

Overall, I think what struck me most about the course in person vs. watching on TV is the extreme narrowness of many parts of the track and the magnitude of the elevation changes. The charge up the hill after the pit-out is much steeper than it looks. From low down in a racing chassis the left turn at the top will be nearly blind. Punctuating my walk around were sightings of more exotic cars than I could count and I was too slow to photograph them either - McLarens, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and even some pedestrian Porsches.

We were all in agreement about how genuinely pleasant we found Monaco to be. Food and drinks were reasonably priced, restaurants were not crowded and the people (tourists and locals alike) were polite and  courteous. We'd definitely like to go back some day. My really big bucket list item is to follow F1 for a season, travelling to all the races and touring in between. That one's a ways off, but today was a great day that I'm very grateful for. 


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