I kicked their ass
Aix-en-Provence to Cannes, France to Monaco, to Lago di Como, Italia (Lake Como, Italy)
After we all had breakfast together here at the Aix-en-Provence Hostel, I said my goodbyes to Jack from London; Clint, a kindred spirit; and the girls I didn’t really get to spend much time with; Amanda, Abbey and Kat. I got on the road heading east to Nice. Along the way, I saw signs for Cannes, so I said what the hey, I should drive though. So, I took the exit and headed towards the water.
Holy cow, what a site. I’ve been to many a beach front resort before in the US, Canada, England, Australia, and New Zealand. This one puts them all to shame. For one thing, the water was a brilliant blue, azure I think, hence the name of the region – Côte d’Azur. The sky and the water were so close in color sometimes, it was difficult to distinguish the horizon. I drove by big pretty hotel resorts one after another, mega yachts and cruise liners one after another, and pretty people one after another. There were plenty of not so pretty people as well though so I felt better. I’m not much of a beach person, never have been as I burn too easily, but I really wanted to stop and lay out for a while, but the traffic was horrible and I wasn’t really sure how long it would take to get to my destination today, so I made a quick exit. I got to see Cannes; that was good enough. I was grateful for well-marked roads on the way in and on the way out, which got me back on the Autoroute quite easily.
The freeway skirts the Mediterranean coast for quite a long distance so I had this constant azure companion just to my right, which made it hard to keep my eyes on the road. Then the signs for Monaco started showing themselves, as I knew they would. I had been contemplating what I would do when that happened and as it turned out I didn’t have to worry about it because the car seemed to have a mind of its own and it just sort of crept to the right at just the right moment, and into Monaco I ventured. Oh wow, Miss Maggie was in Monaco of all places.
The freeway is way up on top of the cliffs so the road into Monaco goes down the mountain via a few switchbacks. The view from the top was magnifico, to the east and to the west. The royal palace is on top of a big rock that sticks out toward the ocean a bit and has a 360º view of the ocean and Monaco itself, with mega yachts and cruise ships docked on both sides. As I headed down into the town, I couldn’t help but marvel at the winding condo lined streets; it was… I don’t know, I can’t think of a good adjective to describe it. I almost wished I had never seen it, it’s not good to know that such places exist. But it was enticing. I was also surprised at the lack of traffic. It’s Sunday though, so… But Cannes’ traffic was horrible.
Then, of course, I came around a bend and there it was… the Monte Carlo Casino. Not a Vegas gaudy recreation, the real one, the original, the one James Bond frequents. I stopped to take pictures and started to move on, but that silly car, it kept stalling, so I pulled into the parking lot to sort things out. No really, yeah, that’s it, it kept stalling. Then something called to me…. “play me, play me…”. At first it was a whisper, then it grew louder.
Now, I don’t know much about casinos or gambling… yeah OK, I couldn’t keep a straight face either. Anyway, I was a little nervous but I walked in. I had to check my bag, give them my passport and pay a 10 euro entrance fee. Then I walked into the table game rooms. I have to say, it was a little disappointing. I’ve played a lot of casinos around the world and this is supposed to be the golden whatever. It was OK, nothing spectacular. This place didn’t look so tough.
So, I figured I’d show them what was what and make a little withdrawal from this most hallowed of gaming cathedrals. I found what appeared to be the only 21 table open for business on this Sunday afternoon, which I think was just open to appease the tourists. The real action would probably be tonight. The table had a 50 euro minimum bet, so I sat down at third base like I owned the place, and pretended in my mind that I’m a secret agent, and forked over my buy in and started doing my thing. 20 minutes later, after a little counting, pressing my bets and a little bit of luck, and only having played 3/4 of the shoe, I toked the croupier a hundred euros and cashed out for several hundred euros more than I started with. I kicked their ass. If only I had been playing 500s instead of 50s. Oh well. I took their money and ran. The croupier was nice enough, but the boxman was kind of snooty towards me and the cashier was downright rude. I didn’t care because I kicked their ass. So, now I can say I beat the Monte Carlo. Yeah, I know it could just as easily have gone the other way, but I KICKED THEIR ASS.
Got back to the freeway, and into France, just fine thanks to well marked roads; the well marked roads that all the losers paid for I reckon. It wasn’t long till I was in Italy. There seemed to be an almost immediate and noticeable difference in architecture and even geography between France and Italy. One small village on a hillside after another.
My blue friend at my right joined me again as I had to go through oodles of tunnels on my way to Genova where I would change to a northerly freeway. All in all, it had to be 70 plus tunnels. It kind of gave me a headache, all the dark then light, then dark… That and the Italian drivers.
Cameron, you warned me about it but I was still shocked. Now, the Germans are fast, but at least they’re orderly about it. I hate to generalize, but the Italian drivers, in addition to being fast, are just all over the place. The autostrade have marked lanes, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Several times, I saw four or five cars and a motorcycle or two occupying three lanes. Worse than the car drivers were the motorcycle drivers, oh man, they’re just the craziest freaks in the universe. You really have to keep an eye out for them.
Everyone makes lane changes with just inches to spare between them and other cars, at 110 kph or more on a fairly winding freeway and through lots of tunnels. After a while, I got the feel for it. It just flows. It gets to the point where everyone is anticipating each other’s moves ahead and behind, and it really flows. You can’t be jerky though or change your mind about anything, you have to follow through and just get in there, it takes determination and concentration.
Once I got to Genova I got the A7 I think, north to Milano. After those tunnels and winding roads and the work out, this nice straight and flat road was a welcome change. I was able to get the speed up a bit and start to cover some real ground. I got to Milano in short order but I guess I missed the ring road and wound up going through the center of the town, again. Jeez I hate that. I was headed for Como which is northwest of Milano so I tried keeping the sun to my left or in front of me.
OK, this is nuts. In the city of Milano, the streets don’t have lane markings, so everyone just makes their own lanes and these imaginary lanes merge and split and criss cross and end and begin again, it’s mayhem I tell you.
It’s like a bunch of bees in the hive just going about their business trying not to bump into each other. You can’t be a timid driver in this hive, you’ll get eaten alive. I guess I was crazier than all of them though because I was taking pictures of it.
Eventually I started seeing signs on the other side of town pointing to Como. I wanted the A9, but settled for E something or other, it was fast enough so I played it out. My hostel is in Menaggio on the west shores of Lake Como (Lago di Como). Once I hit Como, I followed the signs to Menaggio and drove a really crazy narrow road for 20km.
The scenery was gorgeous; a very large lake surrounded by large hills peppered with villages on the water, up high on the hills and in between. The road I was traveling was essentially a one-lane road, which accommodated two-way traffic. I see how much road is ahead of me and what’s coming at me and sometimes, there’s just no way we’re gonna make it, there’s just not enough room. I just know we’re gonna smash our side view mirrors together and scrape our sides but somehow we just barely miss each other. The road winds from one town to the next. The sun is almost setting behind the mountains about 8:00pm and the other side of the lake has a great orange tint. Oh jeez, don’t hit this truck… how did I miss that? Finally, Menaggio, and the La Primula Youth Hostel was pretty easy to find.
I think this was the longest driving day I’ve had yet, I did have a couple of diversions though, profitable ones at that. I checked in, settled in and took my computer out to the porch overlooking the lake and wrote about my awesome day. It’s dark now and the lights in the towns across the lake are glittering, beckoning me for a visit.
Oh yeah, and I kicked their ass.