Monaco – my home away from home

By Irina Starkova

I moved to Monaco in July, having been to the Riviera a handful of times in the run up to my move. I am from London, Russian by birth, but had lived in the UK since I can remember. I worked in a testosterone-fuelled office in Canary Wharf, with a good job, but unsurprisingly long hours. When I decided to move, the reactions from my family and friends were mixed.

“But what about your job?” was the most repeated question. Yes, I had a good job in London, with lots of travelling, but the daily drudgery of waking up before sunrise and squeezing myself onto a steaming train carriage like a tinned sardine on the District Line made me ask myself whether it was really worth it. I really thought about how much I really enjoyed frantically racing to work in the rain, dodging traffic and leaping over puddles whilst clutching a Metro newspaper over my head to
protect me from the rain.

I think that it was probably during one of these commutes that I categorically decided – yes, I think this is a no brainer. First off, no commutes, secondly, more sunny days and being near the sea, thirdly, I can finally switch climbing the corporate ladder to actually pursuing the career that I really wanted. But initially it is hard to picture yourself out of the frantic and fast paced mentality of the City.

The first time I visited Monaco was in April this year, before the season really kicked off. I landed in Nice airport and caught a taxi to Monaco. A twenty minute journey set me back almost EUR100, which slightly dented the initial budget I had allocated for my weekend trip. Having said that, I was lucky enough to stay at the Hermitage hotel in the heart of Monte Carlo, moments away from the Casino and Cafe de Paris. The hotel was akin to something out of a Scott Fitzgerald novel, with white marble floors, fresh pink peonies, neoclassical paintings and the clicking of the latest designer stilettos, blow-dried hair and sparkling gowns clustered in the foyer.

I arrived in the evening and went for a drink at the Hermitage bar overlooking the sea, helping myself to a glass of champagne. After that I headed to the Sabor di Vino for a quick bite, which turned into a ceremonious (it always is in Monaco) conveyer of their finest selection of antipasti with a bottle of rose of course. I love French food, so the mountain of hams and cheeses was the perfect antidote for my usual ready made meals in London. After dinner, I made my way down to Buddha Bar across the road from the restaurant for a cocktail and a dance. My initial thoughts were that it would be like Buddha Bar in London, but that presumption was quickly dispelled. It was surprisingly busy for April (as the season doesn’t really kick off until the Grand Prix) and it was a Thursday night. Looking around, I saw several six foot blondes swishing past me wearing sky high heels parading their latest designer dresses and handbags. I joined my friends at a table where they were already halfway through a magnum of champagne and before I even had a chance to survey the surroundings I was presented with a glass which was swiftly topped up by the attentive waiter.

The next day, feeling a little worse for wear, I went to a champagne brunch on the roof of the Fairmont. As the champagne flowed, I tucked into a spot of brunch from the well stocked buffet of sashimi, Caprese salad, steamed sea bass and macaroons for dessert, coupled with the spectacular view of the sea. I think that it was on that day, chasing the hair of the dog(!), my decision on Monaco had been made for me.

When I arrived back to London and took the busy Gatwick Express train back to Victoria, I realised that this would probably be my last month in London. I swiftly wrote my resignation letter and gave notice to my landlord. My colleagues were slightly surprised by my decision, but then started popping into my office congratulate me and gush about how lucky I would be with the weather and the proximity to the beach.

Once I was informed of my last day at work, I booked my flights for the 4 July which is also Independence Day, it felt quite symbolic – I was finally freeing myself and bringing a big change into my life. I already had somewhere to live when I arrived, so I spent the first month finding my way around Monaco. Simple as it looked to get from the Port to my house, a walk which I know now takes me 10 minutes flat, would turn into an hour long hike up the steep meandering streets of Monaco in 35 degree heat.

Another thing I quickly discovered was the pace of life, which compared to my life in London was the pace of an escargot. I discovered this quite quickly when I took a break from work one day to run some errands only to find that everything was shut for lunch – yep, everything from the pharmacies, the post office, tobacco shops. Something practically unthinkable in London, but here a two hour lunch break is the norm. I have since adjusted my day and incorporated a lunch break into my schedule too, though at first, it felt alien to relax and have lunch without having my eyes peeled to a computer screen or wolfing down a Pret a Mnger sandwich during a conference call. In Monaco as in France, lunch is a sacred thing – a two hour lunch with a glass of wine is a daily ritual, so I have since embraced this way of life. And now I can enjoy my Caprese salad or tagliolini on the Boulevard de Moulins and indulge in some people watching too. The people in Monaco still fascinate me, especially the women. The main nationalities in Monaco seem to be either French, Italian or Russian middle-aged women with a few nips and tucks, tottering along with their dogs.

July and August are the busiest months of the year here. Sometimes, having my morning coffee I would see four ferries drop anchor outside the marina (as they are too big to dock in the harbour itself). Soon after, a swarm of eager sandalled tourists, clutching their bulky SLR cameras would follow the well trodden ant trail around the famous Monaco Grand Prix track. I must have obscured many a photo of the famous “S” bend by the Fairmont hotel whilst making my way down the hill past the happy snapping tourists.

The beaches in the summer are also another draw for holiday goers in Monaco. Of course, there is Larvotto beach which has several nice cafes and restaurants lining its shore such as Note Bleu and Miami Plage, perfect for sipping a cold lemonade among a throng of Tamara Eccleston lookalikes, sunning themselves in full makeup, styled hair, dripping with diamonds. However, my favourite place to relax and enjoy the sea in the summer months is Mala Plage, which is a crystal clear, albeit pebbly beach, nestled between two cliffs in Cap D’Ail. Ostensibly, escaping the glitz and glamour is nigh on impossible in Monaco, however Mala beach is a much more relaxed and less touristy alternative. There are two restaurants on the beach and plenty of loungers to enjoy the summer sunshine with friends.

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