Sunday, 3 July 2011

Royal wedding fever and 'Break-in news'!

One week since our last blog and so much to report! And not all good! The morning of 28th June dawned and we set off in the Smart for a two hour drive to Monaco, the principality in the news currently for its Royal Wedding last weekend. The journey was interesting – once we got beyond Nice it was all tunnels and toll booths as they demanded more and more money to cross the border into Britain’s favourite tax haven, where, apparently, Princess Di owned a house following her divorce. Can’t blame her, it is small (fewer square footage than Central Park), but perfectly formed with every delight for a wealthy playboy or playgirl! Rather more elegant and overtly classy than Cannes, it is set on the side of a mountain and tiered from the sea to the mountain road at the top where Grace Kelly drove her car off the cliff. It was a place preparing for a wedding, all £45 million of wedding, and it showed. Flowers, palm trees, flags, more flags, huge lighting gantries for the concert, barriers around the Palace and everywhere was selling a postcard replica of the special stamp that had yet to be issued. For just one euro we had to buy one! Photos of the happy couple smiled at us from every shop window, and it was all very familiar from last April! The place clearly has more real history than Cannes, with the Grimaldi family in charge since the 13th century, and the injection of Hollywood stardom in the 1950s still apparent with black and white photos of Princess Grace appearing around many corners! We had a light lunch (affordable amazingly), and then took the little tourist train ride, just like in Grasse, around the city (well, country actually), enjoying the craziness of the traffic from the relative safety of the train. Past the casino, as featured in several James Bond movies and the funhouse of princes and kings, round a section of the famous Grand Prix circuit and up the hill to enjoy a fabulous view of the biggest yachts I have ever seen (even bigger than in Cannes!). The Royal Palace is very much centre of the action, smaller than Buck House but with castle turrets and a very public square in front, which was being decorated up for some special occasion or other! Tourists everywhere and sunshine all the way. We had a lovely day, finishing up with a very messy icecream before leaving, but not before Victor drove the Smart (rather too quickly) around another section of the Grand Prix track (you can see where it starts from the markings in the road) with me attempting a running commentary as if on the television! It was 5pm on a Tuesday afternoon and this meant a slow crawl up the hill to the motorway.

That night was oppressively hot and in the morning I vowed to have my haircut that very day before I died of heatstroke! That is how I ended up in the local village (small town really) of Fayance, in a tiny hairdressers shop and a sixty year old man razor cutting my hair to within an inch of its life! Weird experience when you cannot even chat to your hairdresser – not even a ‘are you doing anything special this weekend madam?’ My little French did not really cut it, so he cut my hair instead, in almost total silence! It is okay, and a good deal cooler but I think I will prefer it when it has grown a little! Thursday was another lazing around camp day, doing some handwashing, preparing meals, reading books, playing our first game of boules, a quick swim, you know the type of thing. The original plan had been to drive to a beauty spot in a gorge about an hour away, but we decided to postpone that until Friday – maybe a big mistake!

Friday and we were definitely taking the drive. Others had recommended it for the amazing views and rock formations and we couldn’t miss out. It took a while to get there in hot sun and sure enough it was all very promising as we drove up and up the winding mountain road to the relatively flat bit at the top, army land with warning notices not to enter as danger from tanks! About one o’clock we were just looking forward to our lunch that was packed in the picnic bag in the boot, when we came across a well known beauty spot called Balcons de la Mescla. Very excited, we both leapt out of the car, me armed with my beloved camera (but nothing else), locked it up and disapeered behind the undergrowth to a stone set of steps leading to a walled vantage point to gaze down onto the azure blue river and lake below with tiny multi-coloured canoes scurrying along like tiny catapillers. We look the obligatory pictures of each other with the view behind, and then after only eight or so minutes, climbed back up the layby. Immediately we could see that the passenger window of the Smart was smashed in, tiny green bits of glass like emeralds scattered everywhere and the remaining glass like a huge ugly scar in the window frame. Victor was aware of a woman running downhill, but more concerned with the car, ran to it to find, of course, that my handbag was gone from the front seat along with the Garmin GPS. My precious Jarrolds handbag with its bejewelled handle (only £30 but I loved it!), and more importantly two passports, my drivers licence, mobile phone, credit card, debit card and my trusty diary with the phonenumbers of just about everyone I know! Gutted! Luckily Victor had his phone and credit cards on his person, and immediately called the police. Once they were assured no-one was hurt, they said they could not come out to us, but we should drive to a little town about an hour away, down the twisty gorge scenic route (no other choice) to the Gendarmerie to report the damage and theft. First we had to clear out most of the glass while concerned tourists came up to sympathise and gaze in horror. The lady seen running off, actually returned with her husband and actually gave me a cheap biro as I had nothing to write down what was stolen, so if they were the culprits they had some nerve! We will never know. To cut a long and sorry tale short, the first Police station was shut that day (!) but the lady on the intercom told us another town to go to, and this one did have some officers on duty, who were patient and helpful, filling in the usual forms and supplying us with a document to use as ID, both when here in France and to get back into the UK. It took most of the afternoon though, and we arrived back in camp pretty miserable and exhausted, spending the rest of the evening calling Vodaphone and the banks to cancel the phone and the cards. So don’t try and call my phone – I no longer have one! The car should be fixed by a Smart dealer about an hour away sometime next week so that we move on to our next destination, but even this is uncertain. So there you have it, we broke basic tourism rules and paid for it. Victor has now bought me a new holiday bag and I am slowly filling it up again but it will take a while for me to get over losing my diary. Still, no-one hurt thank goodness.

So we have had a fairly quiet time since then, thank goodness. Our proposed trip to Nice has had to go by the board, but today we went to a Festival de la Pain (Festival of the Bread) at the local Village which was really fun – but I will save that for the next blog. Keep safe all. Until the next time....

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