Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix 2011

The principality of Monaco is gearing up as it prepares to host the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix 2011. It is considered to be "the slowest but the hardest of the Formula 1 championships." From May 26 to May 29, those daredevil racers will be competing for this event with precision, or one miscalculation on those narrow streets can cost them their lives. The drivers' skills are deemed to be more important than the cars as this is a demanding track with tight corners, hairpin turns, shifts in elevations, and a narrow course. The cars used in this circuit are specifically designed and adapted for the unique course.

It is also known as the Circuit de MonacoThe circuit is on the city streets in the neighborhood of Monte Carlo and La Condamine, around the harbor of Monaco. It was in 1929 that the inaugural race was held, after the idea was proposed by Anthony Noghes, who was, then, the president of the Monegasque car club.

The past winners of the Formula 1 Monaco Grand prix are, first, William Grover-Williams, then followed by Schumacher, Senna, prost, Fangio, Graham Hill. In the list of casualties are Luigi Fagioli (1952) and Lorenzo Bandini (1967). 
Casino Monte Carlo - the streets around Casino Square, right in front of it, are part of the circuit route.
Setting up for this event has been going on for the last 6 weeks. With just a couple of days left, almost everything is in place. The Grand Prix company sponsors' names are all over, on draped advertising banners.
Bleachers have been put up for the big crowd expected to attend this year's event. 

In the meantime, spectators have these cars to drool on, admire, and pose to have their pictures taken, in front of the Casino Monte Carlo.

Attending this event needs some considerable planning. First is to get the tickets, then the hotel accommodations, restaurant reservations, and transportation as traffic is blocked and detoured. Walking is always an option.

Tickets at the highest price of 4,485.00 euros are sold out, with just a few left on the lower- priced tickets. There are still some internet sites selling at last-minute, reduced rates.

As for the hotel accommodations, here are some of the choice locations:
Located next to the Casino Monte Carlo - Place du Casino (Casino Plaza) ,  the Hotel de Paris Monte Carlo is a five-star, luxury hotel. It is right on the circuit and getting a room with a terrace will give you front-row sitting, to watch the grand prix. 

The Hotel de Paris was built in 1864. It was designed to offer the visitor the best that their brand of hospitality could offer, and it continues to excel, making it an art that has won them several accolades in providing "prestigious hostelry." 

Located between the Casino Monte Carlo and the Mediterranean sea is a four-star, luxury, convention, resort hotel - the Fairmont Monte CarloPart of the grand prix circuit runs under the hotel.

The initial hotel property built on the spot where the first Monagasque railway station was situated, opened it's doors as the Loews Hotel Monte Carlo, on August 22, 1975. Architects Jean Ginsburg, Jean and José Notari, and Herbert Weisskamp came up with a technically, challenging design that called for it to be built, partly, on pillars about 15 meters high. The heating and airconditioning of the hotel is from a sophisticated system that draws water from the Mediterranean Sea at 40 meters deep, where the temperatures are between 12° and 20° all year round. It was the largest hotel in Europe with 619 guest rooms and suites, plus the reception areas, meeting and function rooms, and restaurants and bars. This helped shaped the tourism industry in Monaco and business tourism, as well.

In 1998, it was renamed Monte Carlo Grand hotel when it became part of a private consortium. In December of 2004, it was rename the Fairmont Hotels & Resorts when it was taken over by an investment partnership between the Halifax Bank of Scotland and Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia (KIngdom Investments). In March of 2005, it changed its name to Fairmont Monte Carlo. This became a flagship hotel for Kingdom Investments, which partnered with Colony Capital to buy the Fairmont Hotels & Resort chain, with global holdings of all the Fairmont, Raffles, and Swissotel chains. It has undergone a forty-five million euro refurbishment to make it what it is today.

Hotel Métropole Monte Carlo on 4, Avenue de la Madonne
The Hotel Metropole Monte Carlo is another five-star, luxury hotel, just a stone's throw away from the casino. To celebrate the event of the season, it has designed a grand prix atmosphere using the colors black and white. Their hotel service is the epitome of old world charm and glamour coupled with modern amenities. Treat yourself to a gastronomical experience with chef Joel Robuchon's culinary devises as he comes up with imaginative and sophisticated dishes.

Right next to the hotel is the Métropole Gallery. Just opposite the Casino Gardens, it houses 80 boutiques, cafés, a mini market,  and a variety of restaurants along Avenue de Spélugues. 

Le Meridien Beach Plaza on 22, Avenue Princesse Grace 
In the whole of the principality, this is the only hotel that has its own private beach. Just like the other hotels, they have facilities for conferences and conventions, and special wellness treatments.  They have chic indoor restaurants, and outdoor settings on the beach front and an exotic bar designed in Bali style. For food and wine lovers, you can sign up for cooking classes and wine tasting. 
And after everything - watching the grand prix, having your spa treatments, shopping for some luxury-goods, discovering culinary delights, if you still have time and energy left, you may want to go clubbing at JIMMY'Z! Who knows, you might end up right next to a famous jet setter.

Monaco is a world-class destination  with beauty, glamor and sophistication, at a pricey tag.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Welcome to Nice Cote d'Azur- the Gateway to the South of France

Welcome to the south of France, also known as the French Riviera (Côte d'Azur). It is the French Mediterranean coast made famous by Monaco, Cannes, St. Tropez and the less glamorous places like Eze, Antibes, Cagnes sur Mer, Villefranche sur Mer, Nice and other scenic coastal towns.
When traveling by air, the gateway to the south of France is Nice. The landing approach from the Mediterranean Sea gives you a chance to get a breath-taking aerial view of the French Riviera, on a clear day.
Aeroport de Nice Côte d'Azur 
Daily flights from Paris are scheduled to arrived here every half hour. International flights from major European cities, Moscow, New York, North Africa and the Middle East bring in the added international tourists, with Nice as their point of entry or their final destination.

Once out of the airport, you can either choose to go to the center of town by train, or by airport express bus. If you will be staying at a hotel, inquire about their shuttle service from the airport to the hotel. Avoid taking the taxi which can be very expensive, especially when you are given an unrequested tour around town. If  you have a car, you can go on the A8 autoroute or take the coastline thoroughfare to enjoy a leisurely drive, with the coastal view of the city of Nice.
Park somewhere and have a lovely walk on the Promenade des Anglais, the beautiful waterfront.
It's a long stretch and you have a choice of being on the beach or on the concrete, waterfront walk. Where ever you go, be sure to keep an eye on your valuables, better yet, don't take them with you. Sadly, there are those who prey on the tourists.
Access from the palm-tree lined main street and sidewalk to the beach is to go down on a set of steps, just like this.
  Be prepared for your walk on the pebbly flat stones, a mat to lie on for sunbathing, or a cushion to sit on,  just next to the azure blue waters of the Mediterranean. This is the French Riviera where half-nude sunbathers or swimmers are part of the beach scene. 
When walking on the wide sidewalk next to the beach, the buildings and business establishments like the hotels restaurant, museum, shops, and the market (the lower-rise building) are all waiting for your patronage. Depending on your travel budget, there is something for everyone.

I like visiting markets, anywhere I go. Here we are at the famous Nice market - 
along the Cours Saleya in Vieux Nice (Old Nice)...

next to the Basilique-Cathédrale Sainte-Marie et Sainte-Réparate de Nice.
Set up under the tents, the main attraction is the flower market...
 plants  for indoors or outdoors...
 and more varieties of flowers and plants for spring color. There are also stalls selling cut flowers, with services for providing floral arrangements for special occasions.
Plus other things - spice mills, spices, marinated olives, fresh fish, pastries and bread, pre-cooked food. There is a small food court under the tents.
Around and near the market area are more eating places, with a price range of moderate to moderately expensive; and more shops, boutiques, and cafés.
Turning around by the Nice harbor and heading back on the other lane, this wall mural caught my eye.
On the coastal road, there is a casino. If you are inclined to playing, be sure to set a budget and quit when it's all spent. Or, quit when you are ahead. This place can be fun or catastrophic for your wallet

Architectural features:
That logo sure looks familiar!
This coastline beach attracts thousands of tourist each year.  Because of this, there was a hotel construction boom sometime ago. The architectural style became more streamlined and functional after the II World War ended.

Juxtaposed with the older buildings in Beaux Art architectural style, 
the street row of buildings took on an eclectic look.
It's a mixed zoning - business and residential.
This is one of the most beautiful residential buildings.
Hotel Negresco boasts of an interesting history and elite clientele. 

It was in 1893 that a young Romanian, Henri Negrescu, son of an innkeeper and a Gypsy violinist, made his way to Monaco. He worked in the restaurant industry and eventually his hard work paid off. He became a director of the restaurant, Helder. He also developed a loyal following of people in high society. He moved to Nice to manage the restaurant at the Municipal Casino of Nice and the Casina of Enghien-les-Bains. His work in these prestigious places afforded him the opportunity to meet his future investor - Alexandre Darracq (1859-1928) and the Dutch-French architect - Edouard Niermans (1855-1931) for his ambitious hotel project. To complete his team, Niermans chose Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923) to do the metal framework of the proposed glass dome - the Salon Royal. The size of this  project was history making in the French Riviera.

Finally, Hotel Negresco opened to much fanfare on January 8,1913. It attracted an international clientele of heads of states, members of the European royalty, and famous socialites. It was acclaimed as "the most sumptuous of luxury hotels."  It's success came to a halt when the the first world war broke out (1914-1918), Henry Negrescu, who was a "Knight of the Legion of Honneur" offered his hotel to be used as a hospital. He unselfishly paid for the running and upkeep of the hundred-bed hospital with his own money. When the war ended, Henri was broke and he died in Paris in 1920.

After it was bought by a Belgian company, it continued to be on a slump. In 1957, Monsieur Mesnage and his daughter Jeanne, took over the hotel. Jeanne, who was to become the wife of Maitre Paul Augier, had passionately envisioned bringing the great stages of French art with a collection of fine art to adorn the hotel for the guests. And she did!  Madame Augier, with her artistic flare, continues to add to the art collection and heritage of this place. 

The hotel has been used as the setting in several movies. It was a favorite destination of the rich and famous during the winter season. It has undergone renovations in keeping up with technological advances. The façade, the lobby and  the Salon Royal have been fully restored. Hotel Negresco is now listed as a historic monument. A visit to this historic hotel will bring you back to the days of grandeur, dating back to almost a hundred years.
Driving in Nice can be circuitous, due to the one way flow of traffic in some streets. 
If you miss a turn or lose your bearings, it's easy to get back on track with  signs like this, especially when looking for a parking lot. But do have a map - it's always handy. 

We have just gone up and down the coast. There are other places to visit inland, like the museums exhibiting the works of Chagall, Matisse, and other artists. There are churches and other historical landmarks. On the roundabouts are interesting sculptures that, sometimes, make you think. 

From Nice Cote d'Azur, you can make side trips to the celebrities' destinations along the Mediterranean coast or visit Grasse - the center of the perfume industry; St. Paul de Vence and Eze Village - medieval villages; or Villefranche-sur-Mer - a fishing village.

I wish you a delightful journey to the south of France.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

ln the South of France: Le Trophée d'Auguste, La Turbie

Driving around in the south of France can lead you to some interesting discoveries. 
When heading to the village of La Turbie  from Eze - the place that garnered headline space when Princess Grace of Monaco figured in an accident on September 13, 1982, that cost her her life, a Roman trophy is unavoidably noticeable as you travel the winding road on the Grand Corniche.

La Turbie is located on the Alpes Maritimes, close to the Italian border, with breathtaking views of the hills, the Mediterranean Sea and overlooking Monaco.  The medieval village of La Turbie grew around Le Trophée d'Auguste (The Trophy of Augustus) which was built by the Romans in 7BC.
In the quaint little town center of La Turbie is a series of stores and other business establishments that will take care of the many needs and capricious whims of both the local inhabitants and the tourists.
The shops are close to one another, easily accessible by foot, after you park your car. 
Your time will be wisely spent just leisurely walking from place to place, including exploring this little town.
Still inhabited today, these living spaces - which are right behind the town center, are beautifully preserved with a provençal-style façade.
Some doorways and pathways around this walled city are lined with flowering plants and trees, giving it a bit of green landscape inspite of the limited area.
Some one figured out how to grow a grape vine, attaching wires from the wall of their house to the house across.
From many points, the Roman trophy can be seen, literally in the backyard of this neighborhood.

This is a view of Monaco at the end of a scenic road that leads to the entrance of the monument, so inviting to be visited, next, as it sits on Monaco Bay. Monaco, though not a part of France, is only a couple of minutes away and is a famous destination among the rich and famous jet setters, and the curious tourists.
The Trophy of Augustus was a monument built to honor Augustus' triumphant exploits.

During the Middle Ages, this monument was redesigned to be used as a fortress. In the 1705, Louis XIV successfully blew up this place, for reasons unknown to others. At the start of the 20th century, it was crumbled and reduced to an unrecognizable pile. Some of the limestone blocks that scattered on the ground were used to build the eighteenth century church of St. Michel for the village. 

From the 1913-1915, the Herculean task of rebuilding what was once a magnificent  monument was undertaken by Jean-Camille Formigé, with the funds donated by an American benefactor, Edward Tucker . The restorers succeeded in rebuilding part of what this monumental trophy must have looked like, originally a "circular pantheon design with a pillar-supported dome and set on a gargantuan slab-base."
Also known as the Trophy of the Alps, the trophy was erected on a paved foundation, situated on the highest point where the Alps meets the sea. It is a spectacular view from afar, and up close it rises to a height of 36 meters, today.  
The interior structure was re-built with limestone blocks.
The cylinder shaped design at the top had pillars which provided foundational support for some of the twenty four columns that were rebuilt on the circular floor plan, sans the dome. The round, cylindrical shape is called an aedicule. It was originally built with a staue of Augustus set on the top part of the dome, then, estimated to be about 50 meters high. On the left side, bottom corner is the railing of the stairs that visitors take to get to the top to get a panoramic view of the land, the sea, and the sky.  
Designed on the popular and classical architecture of the Greeks, the columns were made in doric style - simple and strong.
The material used for the sculptures, capitals, and inscriptions was Carrara marble.

A pair of this bas-relief (low-relief) adorn both sides of the inscription. These sculptures represent the "trophy of arms with two barbarians in chain at the bottom, and "the vanquished and the subjugated." 
The inscription reads "To the Emperor Ceasar Augustus, son of the divine Julius, Pontifex Maximus, proclaimed emperor for the 14th time, and invested with the seventeenth Tribunician Power, from the senate and Roman people, because under his leadership and auspices, all the Alpine people from the Upper Sea (the Adriatic) to the Lower Sea (Tyrrhenean) have been subjugated to the power of the Roman people." The monument was restored facing Gaul (France).
As beautiful as this place is, I cannot help but reflect on its history, imagining the fate of the vanquished and the subjugated, perhaps, so barbaric and gruesome. And yet, today, it is the beauty of this place that stands out in our travel diaries. 

From here, the next stop is what you see below from the view up in the trophy, Monaco.


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