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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Opportunities Unbound


Whenever we travel we usually encounter the unpredictable events and occasions that make the process of picking up and going elsewhere -- aka travel -- fun and, well ... unpredictable.

Some can be fairly moderate things, like the quality of a hotel or the timing of something. Sometimes it's more severe such as health. And many's the time when something just isn't going the way you wanted ti to go...and these are the times to cut bait and move on.

The Casino at Monaco
As I have been posting for the last few weeks, my wife and I took a long overdue voyage to Italy, which ended up with side trips -- entirely planned -- to France and Croatia.

I've documented elsewhere the mishaps which occurred, of which there were, thankfully, very few. As I sit here writing, occasionally looking out the window at the France countryside from the top level seats in a TGV train, I can't help but think back to the last couple of days and how they reflect the need, even with the most careful planning, to be flexible in order to make the maximum out of the experience.
Crowds in the Cafe de Paris

I am probably going to incur the wrath of jetsetting international socialites and the ultra wealthy, but one such change we made was because we found, *gasp*, ourselves bored by Monte Carlo. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of things we would have liked to explore and enjoy, but having gotten ourselves to the spectacular seaside enclave of Monaco, we made our way to the Place de Casino, walked around for a while being frustrated by the mass of tourists -- dumped by a massive Carnival Cruise ship docked...wedged...into the harbor -- who were milling mindlessly about and around the square, before we were able to enter into the Casino itself (a visit I'd imagined for much of my life). 
The Cruise Crew

Inside the famous Casino de Monte Carlo, which is quite beautiful, we discovered the main room of the casino )we do not gamble nearly enough to merit an invite to the inner sanctum) was underwhelming. Perhaps it is a response to being intimately familiar with the excess of Las Vegas, but the Casino was distinctly subdued. No massive football-sized game room, the largest room in the building held only a handful of subdued roulette and card tables, which, in my opinion, were not nearly energetic enough to be considered "fun". The slot machines, contained in another room to the rear of this one were themselves subdued, giving the entire affair a tired, almost bored atmosphere. The dealers and croupiers themselves looked bored or self-absorbed, often engaging in conversation with each other rather than entertaining the paying guests. Perhaps it is different at night when the wealthy come out to play.

A street in Old Nice
Which would YOU prefer?
I sat in a for a few rounds of roulette, using monies won from the slot machines, essentially making my entire play on the house. (Pun intended.) A half hour later, and casino's money being successfully retrieved by the roulette wheel, we decided enough was enough and once again braved the square along with hundreds if not thousands of Carnival Magic cruise-ship passengers. 

(Yes, I get the irony. I have taken a number of cruises in my time, including this trip. There is something to be said for such a vacation. But if a shipload of passengers from a Carnival Cruise ship invaded the shining streets of Beverly Hills there would be Hell to pay, I'm sure.) (My point, and I do have one, is that the visitors should be sized to the port. The presence of a massive cruise liner in Monte Carlo did genuinely impact the resort's atmosphere. That a ship of its size blocked some of the spectacular view, no question. The Magic not only dominated the harbor, it overwhelmed it. Then, the presence of such a large number of casually dressed passengers also created a cheapening effect on the town square. I am not being a snob, since I could never afford the luxuries of the city for myself, but did have my own long-held James Bondian image of Monaco negatively effected by the throngs -- there is a huge gap between the expectation of a luxurious and somewhat decadent town square...and a tourist trap with money as its primary attraction.) 

A Square in Vieux Nice
Street in the Old Town
So, after a half hour of being ignored by the waiter in the sidewalk bar, and changing our dinner reservations at the Cafe de Paris from 8 pm to 7, then realizing even at that early hour we'd still have to kill more than an hour, we alerted them that we wished to cancel dinner altogether, and headed back to Nice.

In effect, we found the real Monte Carlo to be boring, and decided the best course of action for ourselves would be to cut bait and make up plans for the rest of the evening as we went along, and by being flexible we kept ourselves open to the options. In this case, we wandered from the door of our hotel into the Vieux Nice area until we found a little cafe run by a husband and wife, serving delicious food and affording a true sense of life on the French Riviera. It was significantly cheaper, certainly more atmospheric, and I would venture to say much tastier than what could have been a frustrating and annoying thing to do simply because it should be done. I have little use for being seen simply because there's a place to be seen.

It's that point of flexibility -- and knowing what you want out of life -- which is essential to making any trip a worthwhile one. Even if most if your plans proceed flawlessly, there's a risk to keeping a schedule with such ironclad efficiency that you miss the other opportunities which may avail themselves-- and that would be a shame indeed.

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