Friday, 29 August 2014

Cannes and Monaco - where the rich play

What's all the hooha about? I took a tour to find out. Leaving Nice on the cote d'azur we mini-vanned our way along the coast, past the beautiful bays with the luxury villas, spying Bill Gates home in the distance, Bono's place further along, a dead banker (killed by financial mafia) lived in yet another before he died; burned to death in his bathroom.

Most of the other villa owners seem to have super lifestyles and if I had their wealth I wouldn't be wasting it on casinos or luxury yachts. Maybe just a luxury car would do it for me. Still, I'm unlikely to truly understand that sort of luxury cote life.
Cannes is west of Nice, Monaco is east.

At Cannes we wandered along the beachfront, past the conference centre/palace where the film festival is held. The real red carpet entrance wasn't available - they're renovating it for the next season. Then there was  the famous La Croisette Boulevard with the luxury hotels, cars and restaurants.

The Carlton Hotel is large and distinctive and I had a wry smile as I thought back to the days when I was corporate sales manager of the Carlton Hotel in Auckland. At the time, that hotel was the largest 5 star in NZ. I arrived there after Michael Jackson had left and just as the hotel was about to go into a steep decline through toxic mismanagement. It marked the end of my career in travel and tourism - a shame as I enjoyed that industry.

The Cannes Carlton is a different kettle of fish and certainly not in decline. Outside were parked only luxury cars belonging to guests and, of course, there were passers-by like me who couldn't resist photographing these cars, most of which seemed to belong to rich Arabs. Our tour guide drove us past a 2m€ Bugatti, parked next to the owner's luggage car, a luxury 4x4. It's obscene really.

Cannes is small. It focuses on tourism, the film festival and conferences but there's not much else and so lacks a real residential life. People who live there serve these industries.

Monaco scrambled to put on some decent weather for us but finally got there. Even tinier than Cannes, it has separate 'neighbourhoods' such as the Old Town, Monte Carlo (the business district). This country is so tiny you can go around a roundabout and travel from France to Monaco in a second. The roundabouts even indicate when you cross from France to Monaco. I found that bizarre. I also found some of the rules for residency and citizenship bizarre too but extreme wealth makes for insane rules and restrictions to keep us riff-raff out.

We learnt how to distinguish which residents had citizenship, which ones only had residency, which ones had blue-blood, simply by their car registration plates. You must be a landowner to live there. Therefore you must have many millions to do so. The workers have no rights to live in Monaco - they must commute from 'the rest of the world' each day, whether that's Italy or France. Some of the workers would, however, have been stationed on the luxury yachts moored there.

This principality has a royal family - the Grimaldis who live in a palace. Call that a palace? What a let-down architecturally. All money and no flair, boring. Same for the homes of the royal family-nothing impressive from the outside there so I didn't even bother to take photos of them. Coming from France and having visited Italy I think I know what a palace should look like.

The ostentatious changing of the guard was downright silly; less colourful than England and less humorous than Greece. More like bored policemen - maybe they were. They had a line of cannon and a pile of cannonballs. Just who they would have fired at beats me.

I did like the colourful alleyways in the old town, and the food was the best of our trip. It was cooked correctly and had flavour. Waiting staff were run off their feet but weren't always very welcoming or attentive. You need to have lunch early or you'll never get a seat. Beware of smokers. They are tolerated everywhere and it always made our pit stops for food or drink highly unpleasant. Europe is much less 'evolved' than New Zealand.

Naturally I would have liked a James Bond  moment inside or outside the casino but it's all rather sordid really. Yes, you can enter the Monte Carlo casino (in theory) but you must pay to go to a cloak check and I doubt our attire would have got us farther in than that so I did a U-turn and walked straight back out. Other tourists didn't mind tramping up the shoddy red carpet to the entrance. The architecture is cool but the outside ambiance is not.

More Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Bentleys parked outside. It's not discrete or classy. Just crowded and noisy and full of traffic. By the way, there is more than one casino. Passersby vied for space to do selfies of themselves and the cars. It just confirmed to me the whole place is a sell-out to tourists (a tasteless theme park) and rich people with little taste. Disappointing, well I had to find out.

Laura probably enjoyed our tour van travelling along the Formula One track/streets. Others may have enjoyed cocktails under brollies but those drinks were super expensive.

What does Monaco do well? There's the garden by the Oceanographic Institute. It's pretty, has sea views and interesting statues.

I was disappointed our day did not allow time for us to visit the Cousteau Oceanographic Museum. That looked like something of quality and substance to do but you need at least an hour and a half for that. I resorted to photographing a shark sculpture outside which was promoting an exhibition on sharks. I'd go back just to visit that but the rest doesn't bear repeating.
It's an item on the list ticked off.


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