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My Adventures Touring Europe in 1982 (21) South of France, Monaco
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South of France / Monaco
Wednesday, July 21
This morning, we had breakfast at dawn in a luxurious dining room. Our bedroom had been empty, with only a few paintings on plain white adobe walls, so I was pleased to see how the dining room was decorated. “I heard you taking a shower last night,” said Gayla. “How could you do that, with no hot water?” Everyone within earshot gave me a funny look. “You took a shower???”
“Sure. It helped me go to sleep,” I told them.
We had to load up immediately after breakfast, so I didn’t have time to explore the villa. I was really disappointed about that. But Johannes said it was mostly private rooms, so I couldn’t have seen much of it, anyway.
We set off to the French Riviera. I’ve heard so much about this place – the ultimate playground for rich folks! However could we afford it? Would our accommodations be as grungy as they were in Amsterdam?
It turns out they weren’t. We were put in student dorm rooms, with 5 beds desks crammed into each one. The rooms were bright and airy, up several floors in an apartment building. It was fine for staying a night or two, but I think I’d have problems living here and trying to study.
The Riviera itself has a very sterile look to it. Though it has a few Romanesque type buildings, it is mostly high rises on the hillsides with palm trees. It looks like Los Angeles. Unfortunately, I took very few pictures – shucks!
The other area where things were skimped was dinner. We had it in a college cafeteria, and the food was very ordinary; chicken and macaroni with some vegetables. The French have a world-renowned reputation for cuisine, but it is also very expensive, so this didn’t surprise me much. On this tour, the best food has been in Germany and Italy. Italians also have a great reputation for cooks without the big price tag, and my high school choir teacher has often said a German last name automatically adds 50 pounds to a person’s weight.
Our local tour guide greeted us when we assembled in the cafeteria. “Welcome to France. I wish to let you know everything you’ve heard about this wonderful country is true, especially what they say about French men being incredibly romantic. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to enjoy them, because this is France’s busiest season, so they’re all working too hard to indulge in romance. As an attempt to make up for this, here is a rose for all of you.” He walked around with a basket of yellow roses with red tips, and handed one to each of us. We laughed when he gave one to the men as well.
During dinner, I was joined by a couple of German guys. It was so great to relax and flirt again! This certainly helped make up for not meeting French men.
After dinner, we headed for the beach. The air was very warm, just like Southern California, so it was ok to lay out on the sand even though the sun had already set. Gayla approached me. “Let’s escape this group and go to the Ritz Carlton instead. I’ll buy you a glass of wine,” she offered.
“Ooh, la la!” I exclaimed.
The Ritz Carlton was only a short walk away. We sat at an outdoor table, and Gayla ordered two glasses of wine, which came out to 70 francs ($5 each US). Then we both relaxed like rich ladies, Gayla in her pleated maxi skirt and peasant top, and I in my shorts and t-shirt. “I should have changed into the dress I bought in Athens,” I said. “I feel out of place here, dressed like this.”
“It’s no big deal. Look around and see what the others are wearing,” she told me. I did; nearly everyone looked casual. “I’ll bet most of the people here are doing the same thing we are; just hanging out,” she went on. “By the way, thanks for putting up with me. I know I haven’t been the easiest person to be with, on this tour. I really want to apologize for how I acted that night, when we went to the Meteora Monasteries.”
“That’s ok,” I answered. “I can’t say I blame you. If I’d been left up there all by myself, I would have freaked, too! I almost got left behind when I got lost in Munich, and that was scary enough, even though I had access to Eurail!”
“This group is the pits, isn’t it? They party all the time, they don’t care about culture, and all they do is complain. I don’t know why they even bothered to come to Europe!”
I decided not to point out that she complained even more than they did. “Uh – I guess they’ve been hassling you because you’re a conservative Christian?” I ventured.
“W – what makes you think I’m a conservative Christian?” she stammered.
“Well – you are, aren’t you? I’m surprised you even drink. The first time I saw you do so was at the Plaka.”
“I don’t go crazy over it like they do! But that doesn’t mean I’m a conservative Christian. I actually get hassled a lot by them back home in San Bernardino, because I’m with Eckankar. They’re always trying to convert me, and it drives me nuts. Is that what the people on this tour have been saying about me – that I’m one of those?” she ended with a sneer.
“I haven’t heard anything. Not that I’m around them that much; I mainly hang out with locals. What’s your favorite country so far?”
“Greece. That’s what I came for. What’s yours?”
“Austria, though I came mainly to see Switzerland, so I still have that to look forward to. However, I also really liked Denmark and Germany. I’ll say Sweden too, though I saw very little of it. Actually, I like all of them. I have to admit, Greece was a disappointment, but there were parts of it I liked too, like Delphi, Hydra, and the way I bargained for the dress I bought. Another letdown was how boorish the men are in Southern Italy. But still, I’ve had the time of my life here.”
“In spite of this awful group?!” Gayla was shocked.
“I told you, I don’t hang with them. I’m thinking maybe I should move to Europe. It’s a great place to meet guys; maybe we could get married, and live in some mountain loft in the Austrian Alps where we’ll ski and raise goats.” I laughed.
“Yeah, European guys have a special quality to them, don’t they? The love of my life was a Norwegian man. I met him shortly before my first divorce.”
I was puzzled. “Divorce?”
“Yes. I’ve been married and divorced twice.”
She definitely wasn’t a conservative Christian, was she?
“I just knew he was the one for me, but I didn’t have the courage to act on it. He wound up marrying someone else. He’s still married to her, and in that time, I went through another marriage and divorce. To this day, every man I meet, I compare to him, and none measure up. This goes to show that you should always follow your heart. I’ll regret this for the rest of my life.”
“How long did you know him?” I asked.
”Well – I fell madly in love with someone too. He was this really charismatic counselor at summer camp, who played guitar and sang like John Denver. He’s from a beautiful town in Mendocino County. He wasn’t the least bit interested in me, so I had no choice in the matter. He got married 3 years ago, and it broke my heart. One thing I can say though, is that I only knew him about a month. That’s two weeks during two summers. So I really didn’t know him. Can you truly know someone in two months? After all, aren’t you supposed to date at least a year before getting married?”
“Uh – you have a point there,” she conceded. “But I still can’t help how I feel.”
“Neither can I,” I agreed. “I guess it’s easy to fall madly in love with someone you don’t know.” We both laughed.
Thursday, July 22
This morning, we visited the perfume factory. Perfume making is a HUGE art. Because of the tremendous amount of flowers that have to be gathered at just the right time, plus all the work involved, it is very expensive. That’s why people buy cheaper versions, like eau de toilette, body splash, and talcum powder. Real perfume is so strong, you only need tiny amounts, but it doesn’t keep long, so you wind up wasting the bottle. The way I see it, you might as well buy the cheaper products, anyway.
This afternoon, we went to the beach again (only, it was the first time for me and Gayla). It was as fabulous as the one in Naples; blue water so clear you can see your feet when you’re in up to your neck, and almost as warm as bathwater. The women were sunbathing topless here, just as they did in Naples, but at least here I wasn’t hassled for wearing shorts and a t-shirt on the street. I brought that up, how strange it was for women to sunbathe topless in Catholic countries like Italy and France. “I thought Catholics were conservative,” I said.
“It’s the countries that are conservative, not the religion,” Johannes answered. “My home country of Austria is Catholic, too.”
“Still, I find it strange.” I told him about the experience I had in Naples, when I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt and harassment flipped on and off like a light switch depending on whether I was standing on pavement or sand.
Johannes shrugged. “It doesn’t make sense that sunbathing topless in America is illegal, when a lot of bikini tops are so skimpy they leave little to the imagination,” he answered.
I looked down at my own rainbow-crocheted bikini top, and realized it just about fit that description. “Oh well – you have a point. Why not?” I took it off.
The women gawked at me, and the men, embarrassed, looked the other way. “Hey, it’s not like I can do this at home!” I explained myself. “I don’t know when I’ll be back here, so I might as well enjoy it while I can!”
“That took a lot of courage,” Johannes said approvingly. “Good for you!”
Evening, we went to Monte Carlo. We all got dressed up for the occasion; I wore the dress I’d bought in Athens, and got lots of compliments. On the way over, I sat with Margo, and we talked. It turns out even though she now lives in LA, she’s originally from Chicago, like most of the group. Her parents divorced 5 years ago, when she was sixteen, and she had moved to LA right after high school graduation. She told me it upset her that kids in California had to grow up so fast, and how young girls can’t even have girlfriends because they’re too busy competing for boys. She said the social scene was actually more conservative in Chicago! I was surprised; I thought Chicago was the capital of organized crime.
“I’ve lived in California all my life, so I can’t really compare it to anywhere else,” I told her. “However, I’ve noticed the way people relate here is very different. They’re much more into getting to know someone, rather than just hopping in the sack. The Germans are, anyway; I can’t say the same for the Italians and Greeks.”
“Yeah, they’re sure sleazy, aren’t they?” she agreed. We both laughed.
We arrived at the casino, and filed in. The place was opulently decorated; I could see why we needed to dress up. The group headed for the money exchange counter, but I saw a really pretty woman sitting at a café table, and went over to her instead. I have huge qualms about gambling. I don’t consider myself a lucky person, so it has never appealed to me. Plus, I’d heard a horror story about a guy who shot himself because he’d walked away from a slot machine where he hadn’t won anything, and someone came up behind him, put in one nickel, and hit the jackpot.
“Hi,” I greeted her tentatively, not knowing if she spoke English. It turned out she did. She was Italian, and her name was Livia. We both ordered ice cream, and sat talking while we ate it. I told her about my various experiences touring Italy.
While we were talking, an old man came along, interrupted us, and tried to put moves on her. “I’m waiting for my boyfriend,” she told him.
“No problem. I can stay here with you until he comes,” he said, sitting down.
“Sure, if you really want to deal with him,” she answered, giving him a pointed look. He took the hint and walked off.
“Good for you!” I complimented her.
“I get so sick of these slime balls, don’t you?” she asked me.
“You bet! I was getting it all the time in Southern Italy and Greece.”
A few minutes after we finished our ice cream, her boyfriend came. She grabbed my tab and handed it to him along with hers, and he walked over to the register to pay for both!
“Thanks! That was really nice of you!” I said to them both, when he returned.
“No problem at all,” she answered.
“My pleasure,” he added, “especially seeing as you kept her company.”
After they left, I walked around the casino. Except for the sounds of the slot machines, it was very quiet; the people were dead serious. I couldn’t understand why, since the odds of winning were extremely slim. I understand in Reno and Las Vegas, people make a party of it; they get drunk, so they don’t care how much they lose. Some even brag about losing!
Mary saw me walking around, and approached me. “Aren’t you going to gamble?” she asked.
“No, I don’t think it’s a good idea,” I responded.
“Why not? You don’t have to win. All you need to do is stick one franc in a slot machine, then you can tell the world you gambled in Monaco.”
Wow – I hadn’t thought of that before.
I went over to the money exchange counter. “Je voudrais 7 francs de jetons,’’ I told the clerk.
He gaped at me. “You speak French?”
“Yes, conversationally,” I told him.
“You’re with that American tour group, are you not? You’re the only one who came up to me speaking French! I thought Americans didn’t bother to learn other languages!”
“Well – actually French is the only foreign language I can speak conversationally,” I admitted, embarrassed.
“That’s still impressive. Lots of people don’t bother. Anyway, we don’t use chips here; you can just use francs. Do you have any?”
“Yes I do.”
“Good luck! Hope you hit the jackpot!”
I pulled seven francs out of my purse and one by one, fed them into a slot machine. A couple of times, I got back 2 coins; I gambled those, too. I wound up losing 11 francs, which is about $1.50 US. I guess that’s a small price to pay for being able to brag about gambling in Monaco!
Once I’d exhausted my allotted funds, I found a couple of English women from London. I hung out and talked with them until it was time for us to go.
“Did you gamble?” Mary asked me, on our way back to the dorms.
“Oh, yes! I got wiped out!” I answered.
“How much did you lose?”
“Two thousand one hundred – lira!” I announced dramatically. We both laughed.
“I lost, too. I won’t tell you how much,” she said.
Listening to everyone’s conversations, I discovered no one had won anything. That’s why I’m so leery of gambling; the house always wins. I can’t understand how anyone can get addicted to this vice!
Friday, July 23
Today, we set out for Switzerland. At last – the moment I’ve been waiting for!
We loaded up and set out. Half an hour later, a gasoline odor permeated the bus. It turned out when Lakis had fueled up earlier this morning, he had forgotten the gas cap at the station. He turned the bus around to retrieve it. This put Johannes in a foul mood, since it would make us late. Late for what? All we were going to do when we got there was check in and have dinner at the hotel.
We stopped for lunch at a charming café in the country. They served genuine French cuisine – and at a reasonable price, too! We ate outdoors, at picnic tables scattered in a warm sunny field.
We set out again. Ten minutes later, Amy announced she had forgotten her purse in the field, and we returned so she could get it. This put Johannes in an even worse mood, but he remained tight-lipped.
Lakis put on cheerful French accordion music as we ascended into the mountains. We passed through a tunnel. A few minutes later, we passed through another, then yet another.
“This is the highway with 109 tunnels I told you about,” I overheard Anna say to Mary. Shoot – I wasn’t aware there were that many tunnels in the world. Well, yes I was – it’s just that I’m used to only one or two, like they have in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Some of the tunnels were modern, and some were carved out of stone. The highway twisted and curved, but I was too fascinated to get motion sickness.
Eventually we left the tunnels behind. Clouds gathered, and it began to rain. By dusk, we reached Switzerland’s border.
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© 2013 Yoleen Lucas