The Splendida docked in Marseilles at 8am – it’s almost time to disembark. Last night we received notification of disembarkation times and were surprised to read a disembarkation time of 9.45am. “Assemble in the Aft Lounge and await further instructions” stared at me from the memo placed under our door. Passengers would be disembarked at 15 minute intervals by coding….we were code Green. Given we docked at 8am we thought we’d be off the ship by 9am and on the road to Monaco by 10.00am so our plans to stop at St. Tropez and Cannes would now need to be revised.
We sat in the Aft Lounge for about 30 minutes and then decided to mingle with the code Red group being ushered to the allotted deck for disembarkation into the Baggage Hall. Ty had watched the luggage being unloaded onto the dock at 7am so we couldn’t see any other reason to keep us waiting. Group tours disembark from a different deck to ‘do your own thing’ passengers as do the passengers leaving the cruise ship. So it wasn’t an issue of crowding or causing excursions to run late.
Off the ship, luggage collected, we moved to the taxi rank. The line wasn’t too long but we expected a short wait. Suddenly the Japanese man behind us pushed between Ty and I, waving his hands excitedly then proceeded to aim his camera at something he found interesting on the other side of us. I looked to see what was so exciting given we were standing in the middle of a massive concrete quadrangle with nothing to view but a continuous stream of taxis. “Ahh, he’s very excited about the Mercedes taxi that had moved up beside us” I whispered to Ty and continued with “you’d think it was made of gold or something the way he’s bouncing around surely he’s seen a Merc before?” At the same moment the family of 7 that were next in line rushed for the Merc but the rank coordinator called them back and tried to get them to take the people mover behind the Mercedes. After much shaking of heads and hand waving the family squashed their luggage and themselves into the Mercedes. As they drove away the scene inside the taxi looked disturbing, the younger children of this middle eastern family were literally squashed between the back of the front seats and the back seat passengers, seat belts and keeping children firmly seated does not seem to be a priority here nor does there appear to be a maximum number of passengers rule. The kids would be sitting on the floor or standing. Guess the adults wanted to travel in a Mercedes and this must have been their one and only opportunity to do so!!!
Finally, our turn and we didn’t care what car turned up as long as it took us to the Hertz Depot, it was now almost 10.30am. Our driver seemed pleasant enough, spoke a little english but we didn’t really engage him in conversation, there was no overwhelming smell of stale cigarettes either. Ty told him our drop off point was the Hertz Depot behind Saint Charles railway station. “Oui” he said and we were off. Weaving in and out of traffic at a fast pace we made from the Port to the station in very good time….as we approached the station we reminded him that we needed to go to the rental car area in a street behind the station. “No, I only go to taxi rank” he stated. “We need to go to Hertz, that’s what we told you at the Port” Ty replied. “No, taxi rank Saint Charles only”. There was no point in arguing for whatever reason he wasn’t going to drop us at the place we needed. As we unloaded the bags Ty asked how we get to Hertz from here (we’d driven there a week before so we knew the general direction but not walking) the driver pointed towards the station and said “That way”. Funny and really annoying that he couldn’t take us to Hertz given a taxi happily picked us up from Hertz to take us to the Port without issue!! Sad to say we weren’t too fused on Marseilles the first time we ventured in and this driver only helped to heighten our dislike. Perhaps he got out of bed on the wrong side or just couldn’t be bothered with foreigners…who knows.
More time was now being wasted whilst we walked to Hertz….firstly we had to enter the station and find our way out the other side. The main station doors opened and we entered this large empty area, one end was being renovated so that was a no go area, to the left there were escalators so we took the escalators which took us to the main concourse area…trains and people everywhere. We stood and took in our surroundings, both of us becoming frustrated with the situation. Ty spied 2 men dressed in official uniforms leaning on a table chatting so he went over and asked for directions to the rental car companies. They looked at Ty quizzically but, thankfully, another man joined them and he understood what Ty was asking and gave directions. Out the back doors of the station down the road to the next street turn right at the next street turn left…it was another 10 minutes before we reached the Hertz office. By then we were very hot and tired of dragging our luggage up gutters, down gutters, between parked cars and drivers that wanted to park their car where we were walking (no footpaths here) as well as trying to dodge puddles of water that had formed in potholes; I was a little aggravated but when you’re on holidays in a foreign country these things happen….it’s all part of the experience…right??
The process to collect the car took a little more time than expected as the car they were offering had a 1.2 litre motor with a diesel engine and we had hills to climb….this poor thing wouldn’t have managed the first hill out of Marseilles. The car Ty accepted was a Ford CMax, manual and diesel. Luckily the Hertz assistant offered to go and bring the car up rather than explain where the car was parked….it could take us the rest of the day to find the car and load up the luggage and leave town. We were thankful for his offer and accepted graciously. Just as well, it was 10 minutes before he returned with the car!! I must say all the Hertz staff we dealt with in Avignon and both times in Marseilles were extremely helpful and very pleasant.
At 11.45 we drove off in the general direction of Monaco via St Tropez only 2 hours later than we’d hoped to be leaving Marseilles. The temperature was already in the high 20’s with blue skies all around….a great day for a drive around the French Riviera. We opted to take a couple of toll roads, to speed up the travel time, as well as the roads winding around the sea to get those fabulous views however we found that even those roads headed into the hills so no water view was clearly visible.
We knew we’d almost arrived at St Tropez by the slow traffic ahead of us, we inched our way into this coastal town placed on the map by the rich and famous many years ago and the St Tropez holiday tradition of the well known faces and bodies continues to this day. Unfortunately, I probably wouldn’t recognise one of them if they were sitting next to me, I’ll never be able to say “guess who I saw in St Tropez?” Nor take that spur of the moment pic magazines will pay a motza for….no, your writer missed out on a celebrity radar when they were handed out. Must have been shopping that day!!
After doing a lap around St Tropez, crawling in bumper to bumper traffic, looking for a parking space somewhere other than the marina car park we decided a car space at the marina with a short walk to the hub was better than this. This town was buzzing….the marina car park was bursting at the seams but we managed to find a space…
Alighting from the car we took in our surroundings so we would be able to find the car on our return. Nothing worse than losing your car in a crowded car park! Ty knows all about that and we don’t have 40 minutes spare today to look for a lost car!
We strolled along the edge of the marina looking at the cruisers moored beside old fishing trawlers and marvelled at the amount of money some of these luxury craft cost. As we turned the corner at the far end of the marina we stopped in out tracks….’oh my goodness’ I exclaimed ‘look at the people, it’s crazy’. The footpath from the marina to the main tourist area was lined with craft stalls and artists plying for trade either selling their paintings or offering to paint your portrait. As you can imagine there was not a lot of room for one or 2 pedestrians let alone large groups so we spilled out onto the road.
Before I left home one of my sisters had told me about a little wall clock she has seen in a shop in St Tropez and now wished she had purchased. Isn’t that always the way, we really like something we see on our travels, we can’t decide whether we should buy it or not, we walk away still indecisive, we come home…’damn, I wish I had bought that little item now’…. Given this is me on a regular basis why should my sister be any different. So we said, ‘ok, if we find the shop and the clock is still there we’ll buy it for you and send it home’. What a silly idea…first of all Lianne described where the shop was – ‘it was a little shop that sold teapots near a coffee shop on a corner in a quiet street off the main tourist street’. Any street name or address? Name of the shop? Well you would have asked those questions too! ‘No, I can’t remember, we could try and Google the streets’. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘we’ll see if we can find it – won’t promise anything though’.We decided to take a walk around the back streets away from the crowds and see if we could spot this little shop. We found a number of knick knack come homeware type shops and strolled in to explain what we were looking for….the shop owners were very pleasant, well most were very pleasant, as we explained the item and as they shook their head in the negative. Eventually gave up and wandered back to the crowded waterfront. Time to shop for souvenirs, have a Movenpick ice cream and make our way back to the car to continue the journey to Monaco. One thing about St Tropez that you probably already suspect is the souvenirs are very expensive. I collect fridge magnets, amongst other items, from each place I visit…they don;t take up much room in your luggage! Generally the price ranges between 2.95 and 4.00 euro for your basic fridge magnet. St Tropez magnets started at 4.00 euros, the humble shot glass was from 6 euros – a supersized increase on the base price of 1.95 euros that you normally find. Yes, of course I bought a fridge magnet…
We were only in St Tropez for several hours, certainly not enough time to get a real feel for the town but first impressions for me – it had nothing more special than other coastal towns I’ve visited. It lacked the pizazz I expected. The stories of St Tropez just conjures up so many amazing pictures….I didn’t really see anything that amazed me – oh except for the crowds. May need a revisit at some stage:)
We left St Tropez and followed the coast road around through St Maxime…which was a very pretty town, it appeared uncluttered, if you know what I mean, not choked with traffic and the beach front looked very inviting. This looked like a place where I would like to spend some time – sit on an apartment balcony overlooking the town square and out to sea writing my blog and adding another chapter or 2 to my book I’ve been trying to write for a number of years…
By now we were very late for our planned arrival on Monte Carlo so we by passed Nice. It will have to wait for another time. We did see a few interesting things on our drive. Two which deserve a mention was a Golf Polo with a motorbike tied to it’s roof and a little Fiat towing a mini caravan with a fully inflated rubber dingy tied to the roof of the caravan – both were bigger than the car.
We finally drove into Principality of Monaco around 5.30 pm which was very exciting for me as Monaco had been on my travel list since I was a young girl. Partly because of the romance of Grace Kelly and the Prince coupled with the Monaco Grand Prix. Yes, you’ve noted the Grand Prix is on in May and I’m here in August….so I still have to fulfil the rest of my dream of attending the race….God willing I’ll be able to do that one day as well. For now just to be driving into Monaco is a dream come true.
The views driving into Monaco didn’t disappoint, they’re spectacular with the horseshoe shape of the mountains enclosing the harbour. No long queues of traffic for miles crawling into the town, as in St Tropez, just a quiet drive down and around the mountain.
Our hotel was easy to find…I had booked us into the Port Palace Hotel directly across from the Marina situated on a section of road that becomes part of the Grand Prix race track in May. Hotels in Monte Carlo are not cheap but I knew that would be the case and if you want to stay in Monte Carlo you have to be prepared to pay a higher price.
After much research the Port Palace was a standout for me for location and the middle of the road price, just over $600 Aussie dollars per night for a deluxe suite.
OK, moving away from the dream and back to reality – the driveway into the hotel was quite a tight turn. Now picture this, it’s Monte Carlo, a very expensive hotel, we’re driving a Ford c-max, the marina alongside us harbouring multi million dollar cruisers and yachts, a bright yellow Lamborghini parked under the hotel driveway awning and a Maserati parked in front of that..Ty has to manoeuvre the fabulous non luxurious c-max onto the driveway without connecting with the very large pots alongside the hotel entrance, the valet standing beside the entrance and guiding him in or the luxury cars in front of us. He completed the manoeuvre without any incidents and in one turn. The valet was impressed and asked if he wanted a job as they’re looking for people with extremely good parking skills. In those several seconds Ty dreamt about the Lamborghini’s, Maserati’s, Porsche’s and other amazing cars he’d get to drive before I stepped into his dream and reminded him being a valet may not pay enough so the lifestyle would suffer and things would be very expensive in Monte Carlo. No, he’ll just have to look and dream…it’s good to have dreams!
Time to stop dreaming, hand over the keys to our not so luxury car and head into reception so we can check into our very expensive room. As we walked away I wondered where they would hide our rental car…doubt it would sit proudly on display under the hotel awning. No, it would be whisked away as quickly as possible so as not to damage the reputation of the hotel….I was beginning to feel sorry for the car.
Our room was spacious with king bed, double wardrobes, lounge suite, dining table and still plenty of room for moving around and the bathroom was extremely large with a spa bath, separate shower room, double vanity area and separate loo. I would highly recommend this and would not hesitate to stay here again. Oh except for the Grand Prix, as much as it would be a great vantage point and you could almost touch the cars as they whiz by, the 8,000 euro for 2 nights price tag turns me off that idea. However if there’s anyone out there that would like to pay my accommodation for the 2 nights at Grand Prix time I’d happily accept the offer and write a report on it – my birthday is in May as well – just a couple of days before the race. Of course Ty would have to join me couldn’t go to the Grand Prix without my better half!!!!
The room had a great street view of the marina and the boats…I will enjoy staying here for the next couple of days. Tonight we’ll find a place for dinner, go for a walk to explore our surroundings. Tomorrow we start our tour of Monte Carlo in earnest!