12 March 2008


The clouds are crying again. Endless tears, and quite violent. And so it’s made me cry... Today, Monday, was going to be my day. My pilgrimage day. My trip to Nice, on my own, with my memories, my travel diary to write down all my feelings and emotions about it, and my camera, to finally take digital pictures of the place that holds most of my childhood memories (I do have a few pictures from my 2004 trip, but they were taken on film – I hadn’t entered the digital age yet). However, even just lying down in my warm bed before getting up, I could tell that this was going to be a ‘bad’ day (un jour sans, as we say in French). At first, I didn’t have the strength to wake up properly and get up to say goodbye to B before she set off to work. But when I finally did, I nearly fell over as I was so weak and dizzy. I said ‘Bon courage’ to B, then looked out the window and saw the grey sky. Another crap day... ‘Oh it will probably get better later, don’t worry.’ Yes, I thought, but perhaps I won’t...

I went back to bed but couldn’t fall asleep again, so after an hour, I gave up and got up for good. I didn’t feel any better. When I got into the lounge, what I saw made my heart sink. Sheets of rain, and a blocked view, yet again.

I sat at the table before starting eating my breakfast, and all I could feel was exhaustion and sadness. Then I tried to stop feeling miserable and said to myself that realistically, I would not even be able to walk to Monaco's train station, near the Casino, let alone traipse around Nice. In any case, I wouldn’t be able to take pictures, the weather being so awful, so there really was no point. And even if the sun had shone and the sky had been blue, I would have forced myself to be reasonable and stay in the flat, at least in the morning. Because if tomorrow I feel like I’m feeling right now, travelling back to England will be nearly impossible. So I must gather some strength.

Tonight, hopefully, if I’m not feeling too bad, we’re going to see a soon-to-be French cult film: Bievenue chez les Ch’tis. In its third week, it’s already immensely successful. Fingers crossed, not many people will want/be able to see it today at 6 p.m., and we’ll have most of the room to ourselves. It is Monday after all, and 6 p.m., even for the rich Monegasques, is too early to leave work and have a leisurely couple of hours in front of a big screen...

EDIT: The room was only half full and we had a great time. We laughed out loud many, many times and came out feeling like we had had a good abs workout! I definitely recommend the film to all Francophiles out there – but especially Francophones, as the language is very hard to understand, even for French people!


What a pretty, picturesque village! And at this time of year, it is very quiet, so wandering around its streets was most enjoyable. We started with the 10th century castle, well worth the 3-euro ticket as the views from the top are breathtaking. Especially when the sun shines, which, amazingly, it did today, for about an hour, just as were walking up and down the village. THANK YOU! I got tired quite quickly, though, so after admiring the views from various meandering streets, we took the car and drove to the centre of Monaco, where we had planned to watch a film. But it wasn’t to be – the queue was huge, B completely put off, and myself disappointed but glad to go home to a warm cup of tea and a nice sofa to lie down on. The film would have to wait till Monday evening.

9 March 2008


This is the picture-perfect view (courtesy of B) I would have been able to photograph this morning, had the weather been idyllic. But today, if I had taken a picture of the scenic view from the balcony, you would only have seen white. It is foggy like it has never been. We can’t see further than 2 metres away. No yellow or orange specks on the trees across the hair-pin bend today...

So we stayed in all day, processing, editing, deleting photographs (for me) and making a photo album (for B). If we had been able to set up the wifi connection on my computer, I would have started creating a photo album with MyPublisher too (either the three weddings we went to in September, or our honeymoon in Sri Lanka), but we are not internet-connection savvy and so after many trials and errors, we gave up. Never mind. At least I have now edited three folders of pictures – yippee! Only 24 to go!

Down and up

Specks of yellow in the trees on the opposite side of the corniche – could these be lemon trees?

When I’m ready to go out, the clouds finally containing their tears, it is midday. I start my one-hour journey by walking down towards the town centre of Beausoleil and Monaco. I follow the first hair-pin bend and arrive at the specks of yellow: they are indeed lemons. But right next to them are also mandarin trees, orange spheres dotting dark-green and brown leafy branches. Fruit trees on tiny terraces, lodged between the road above and the paths below, no houses, just rocky and pebbly balconies, with the force of life growing on them. Such a surprising sight!

The morning traffic has finally died down. The view I behold when I round the next corner is breathtaking. The sky is lighter in places, so I can finally distinguish the sea. The line of the horizon is black, then the white clouds take over and lead to further, dark-grey dense cotton balls. The sea is peppered with white boats. Above, the cliffs and hills of the coast, with tall apartment buildings, not very pretty but typical of the area, in tones of yellow, ochre and light pink.

When I get to the escalier de la noix (walnut stairwell), my calf-tightening and knee-breaking journey begins. I go down the stairs carefully, as the surface might be slippery. It has been raining hard and each step is sloping down a little – a treacherous combination. When I reach a crossroads of sorts, I choose the wrong path and end up trespassing on to someone’s grassy alleyway and more terraces of lemon and mandarin trees. I retreat and get back on to the tarmac. My shoes and trouser hems are soaking wet, the chill from the ground going straight up the front of my legs, travelling to my arms, sending a shiver down my spine right back down to my heels. Brrrrr. Shouldn’t have made that mistake.

When I finally get to the bus stop, I can see The Casino. The famous casino, where millions of visitors come to lose their money, very few making winnings and departing straight away. I was one of the latter, though, nearly ten years ago. I came with my grandfather in September 1998, having never been to Monaco before, despite my years of coming to the area. My grandmother had just died, and so we did things that we had never done before, the spirit of my granny hot on our heels, following our every move from way above, or so we felt. He gave me 50 francs and off we went to the slot machines. After putting a few one-franc coins, I suddenly found myself with an overflowing plastic goblet. My granddad said: ‘Oh you should see your eyes! You look like Picsou [Scrooge McDuck]! I can almost see dollar signs in your pupils!!’ I put a bit more money in the slot machine but I wasn’t getting anything in return, so I said ‘No more, I’m stopping, that’s it. I have made money, that was my intention, I’m not trying any more. Let’s go.’ My granddad was impressed. I got 120 francs back from the man at the tills. That was a 70-franc gain. I was very proud of having resisted the urge to play all my coins. I am no gambler. I am a saver. No surprises there. (Incidentally, when Monsieur l’Anglais and I went to Las Vegas two and half years ago, I didn’t win a thing. Luck doesn’t follow me everywhere I go, at least not the financial kind of luck...)

From the Casino stop, I take the bus to Fontvieille, the financial and commercial district of Monaco, where B and R work. Monte Carlo is the richest part of Monaco, with the Casino and the grandest hotels and houses, and sprinkled with lavish boutiques such as Dior, Vuitton and Dolce & Gabbana. Larvotto is the area with all the beaches and further buildings hiding sumptuous flats and expensive shops. La Condamine is the northwest section of Monaco, which includes the expensive-yacht-filled port. Finally, Monaco-Ville is the part that boasts the palace. It is the old city, placed on a rocky promontory extending into the Mediterranean, known as Le Rocher (the Rock of Monaco).

B and I meet up in front of her office and go for lunch at La Salière, a very Italian restaurant at the port of Fontvieille, with staff who speak at least French, Italian and English, some German too, and that serves a selection of four or five main dishes which changes every day. It makes choosing my lunch very easy (I tend to agonise for hours over several types of dishes – I don’t have that luxury today). I go for the asparagus and blue cheese risotto, B for the grilled seabass with tomatoes and potatoes. Within minutes, our dishes arrive. That is the other advantage of serving only a few dishes at each meal – they are nearly instantly ready, the busy businessmen don’t have to wait and you can endlessly say ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ to satisfied customers (there is enough time between 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. for probably four or five seatings!). It makes complete commercial sense, bravi!

After lunch, I walk B back to her office building, then I walk up the stairs to the next street level and look at a shop called Loisirs Créatifs – scrapbooking items, paints, paper in all colours, pens, paintbrushes, books about painting and scrapbooking, and many other arty items. A nice little shop. I then go to its counterpart – the Loisirs Créatifs Maison, back down the next street level, a few metres away from B’s office. Candles, hand creams, pots, vases, photo frames, rugs – a bit of everything for the home. If I wasn’t flying, I would buy a thing or two in here...

After ambling around the small shopping centre a two-minute walk away, I’m at a loss. Not a nice little café in sight! It’s raining again, it’s a bit cold, and my only options are a smoky café in the shopping centre (there is no smoking ban in Monaco, as yet) or a café outside in the cold. I’m a bit disappointed.

I start walking away from the shopping centre, hoping that there will be more choice near the port of Fontvieille. I walk towards the port of Cap d’Ail, through empty streets and unable to dodge the raindrops, and finally spot a café: the Brasserie Le Cap, part of the Marriott Hotel. This will have to do. And it’d better be open. I pass by the swimming pool – desolate, grey – then the empty terraces, the tables covered in rain puddles, sad, longing for sunshine and people sitting behind them, and I finally reach the entrance door. It’s open!

I sit down and order a green tea. It turns out to be very strong and a lot less enjoyable than I have anticipated. Nonetheless, finally sitting down, resting, in the quiet (only three tables are occupied!), reading and writing my travel diary, the green leaves perk me up and the tiredness manages to leave me alone for a while.

At 5 o’clock, I leave the café and go to the 10th floor of B’s building for a quick tour around her office. From now on, I will always be able to picture her at her desk, where R sits, where her boss’s room is and where her other colleagues are in the room compared to where she is. I am starting to know a bit more about my friend’s life and it feels nice and cosy.

We drive back home in yet more rain – the Monegasques panic at the first drop, and the traffic is at a standstill near enough immediately – and sit down to a long-awaited cup of tea. Toes to toes, we are facing each other on the sofa and finally catch up. The last time we were able to talk for uninterrupted hours was in August 2002, before B jetted off around the world on a cruiseship, with R in the top offices of the kitchens, a welcome kind of déjà vu (this is how and where they had met 5 years before). Now we’re making up for lost time and it feels wonderful.


I hesitated a little before I included this picture in my post. The view is most atypical. Probably because I'm not supposed to do too much, it's raining (you understand – if the sun was shining, I would be walking everywhere and exhausted for the rest of my stay here). It was 17 degrees on Monday and bright sunshine. Today: 13, low clouds, rain. The sea was ink-black yesterday afternoon. I had never seen it this colour before, in the 50-odd times I saw it in my life. This morning, it is light grey, reflecting the sorry colour of the sky. In fact, I’ve just looked up again and I can no longer distinguish the sea from the sky (you can just about on the picture). The earth is at one with the heavens. And it’s still raining...

After reading my book in bed and listening to B’s music on her iPod station, relaxing, musing, I thought some more about my trip yesterday.

‘Hey everybody, this is the land of my childhood holidays!’ I wanted to shout to all the passengers when we started descending. ‘Hey, listen all! I know this area so well! You’ll see, when we get closer to the airport, suddenly we’ll go out towards the sea and the view will be breathtaking! It’s my favourite part of the trip! The beautiful Med!’

I shed a few tears, overcome by emotion. I hadn’t flown to this part of France for nearly four years...

However, to my astonishment, we arrived at a strange angle, and so instead of circling wide towards the sea just before we could see the landing strip, it was as if we were heading straight for the north of Africa, passing the south coast of France on our way to, dare I say, more beautiful, certainly more exotic, landscapes. For a long time, all we could see was the blue of the sea (along with some jellyfish, if you had the imagination of the brats at the back of the plane) and the white of the boats bobbing seemingly gently below us. Then suddenly, mountain peaks appeared, white as coconut ice cream, their edges rugged, grey, raw. I had never seen the Alps while hovering above the sea. The best of both worlds right here, one below me, one ahead of me, nearly reconcilable. I was mesmerised. Apparently, we went as far as Menton and Monaco, then we started flying lower and back towards where we should have headed in the first place – Nice airport – going along the coast. We passed Cap Ferrat – so distinctly a cape when you’re flying above it! – the port of Villefranche, the Promenade des Anglais, and finally the strip of land where the plane could be put down, after a two-hour journey. Within minutes, we were at our gate, disembarked, and five minutes later my suitcase was rightfully mine again. B’s partner, R, arrived as I was busy looking at Stelios and the man next to him, both being welcomed by a handsome French man, and all was well in the world. I had made it safely to the land of my childhood holidays. My present holiday could start!

Ironically, an English voice on Riviera Radio was the first sound I heard when I got to R and B’s flat. ‘What is this? I’ve come to France and I hear an English voice on the radio?!’

‘Ah! This is Riviera Radio, for all the Brits who’ve settled in the area.’


But indeed, the ads are all about buying and renting flats and houses, with a splendid 360-degree view of the Med, a huge balcony and two or three bedrooms, of course at an exorbitant price. For a minute during our scenic drive from the airport to Beausoleil, I imagined myself living out here, but now I understood why B and R hate the whole Monaco experience. The glamour is only superficial (though the wealth of the people is quite real). It is a million light years away from my life and what I like in Life...


At first, it felt a little like being in a farm, stuck with herds of strangers. I just wasn't reassured. It all felt cheap and cheery and 'what does it matter if we crash and you die?' An old Indian woman next to me in the queue about to board the plane had told me, just ten minutes before, that Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the founder of EasyJet, was going to be on the plane with us – she had seen him hanging around. I suddenly remembered this interesting information and told myself that surely if the boss is going to be on board, they will have triple-checked everything and so we would be fine. In any case, my lucky star is always there with me. Nothing to worry about. I have never had any problems travelling, it wasn't going to start happening today.

The first flight of my life was when I was six months old, ironically to Nice, just like today (though, of course, from Paris, not London, and [perhaps shockingly] in the care of an air hostess – not because my mum was one, not because I was an orphan or in foster care – no, simply because those were the times when you could entrust your infant with a hostess to deliver her to her grandparents at the other end of the country, which thus freed you to set off on your own travels, whether it be India or Senegal or any country in between). So yes, I was practically born on a plane. I'm used to flying. I must have flown more than 100 times in the thirty-one years I've been using this means of transport. It's just that, this afternoon, I didn't like the feel of the whole experience.

Now that I've read a few pages of my book (Alias Grace) and an article about Petite Anglaise (alias Catherine Sanderson) in the Daily Telegraph, and chatted a little to my neighbours (thankfully, by some sort of miracle, there was a seat towards the front of the plane and I didn’t have to sit down right in the middle of the twenty-strong group of secondary school students, acting like brats), I feel a bit more settled. It's not the nice, relaxing, quiet atmosphere of a British Airways plane, but for 56 pounds, it will do I suppose. I'd like to snooze for a while, but I don't seem to be tired enough.

People keep buying stuff – mini pizzas, red wine, bottles of water, scratch cards, tea, chocolate bars, lip gloss, collagen eye masks... You wonder why they bother getting cheap flight tickets to then buy lots of expensive extra things they don't need. I, for one, made my own salad last night and, along with a yoghurt, a banana, an apple and plastic fork and spoon, stuffed it in my already-bulging travel bag. Admittedly, I did buy a small Toblerone bar and a packet of Polos when I arrived at the airport, for a grand total of £1.42. Reasonable, wouldn't you say? Go low-cost airlines! At least, thanks to the likes of Stelios, we have a choice: fly as cheaply as is possible, then spend, or not, extortionate amounts on tat. Oh and it's quite safe – I arrived unscathed in the land of my childhood holidays, in and around Nice. I am ready to start my pilgrimage proper.