Europe 2013: Grand Prix Race Circuit

Author Pat Krapf on the Race CircuitThe next day, we slept in late. Both of us were coming down with bad colds, so we stopped at the hotel concierge to inquire about doctor appointments. We hoped he could prescribe something to prevent them from getting worse. The concierge wasn’t even on the phone for five minutes before he hung up and gave us directions to a clinic. The doctor could see us in thirty minutes. An hour and a half later, we had been diagnosed, had visited a pharmacy to fill our prescriptions, and were on the beach, hoping the antibiotics would knock out the “beginnings of bacterial bronchitis.”

Prince’s Palace

Prince’s Palace

We hiked the hill to the Prince’s Palace and arrived at noon for the changing of the guards, which we had missed the day before. Afterwards, as we headed down the incline toward Saint Nicholas Cathedral, we spotted an eatery with an inviting outdoor patio and inquired about seating, as the restaurant looked busy. We found a table toward the back of the patio, away from the tourist traffic trooping up and down the hill. Dave ordered squid ceviche, and I ordered a shrimp and mango salad. As an adolescent I lived in Trinidad, and there I tasted my first mango. Ever since then, I have been addicted to the fruit. However, I prefer them in their green stage, not ripe, as ripe ones are too sweet for my liking. A native Trinidadian taught me to eat them the way the locals do. The recipe is at the end of this blog post.

Port Hercule

Port Hercule

We polished off our drinks, and feeling better since we had eaten, we shopped for souvenirs in Monaco’s old town, aka The Rock, where the palace and cathedral are located. Finished browsing the shops, we began our descent from the hill to La Condamine to walk a portion of the Grand Prix race circuit. La Condamine is the second-oldest district in Monaco and is known for its wide deepwater harbor (Port Hercule) and the expensive yachts moored in its bay.

Formula 1 pits

Formula 1 Pits

As we approached the Formula 1 pits, Dave paused to talk to a mechanic tinkering with a Ferrari’s engine. Disinterested, I snapped photos of the harbor. I hadn’t yet been bitten by the racing bug. Fifteen minutes later, I looked back to see a small group gathered around Dave, so I took a stroll through the marina to admire the yachts. Twenty minutes passed before he finally appeared at my side, ready to continue our walk of the Grand Prix race circuit. We passed Nouvelle Chicane, the tight corner the Formula 1 cars would take in a few days, and soon came to Larvotto Tunnel, which runs under the Fairmont Hotel and leads to the Fairmont Hairpin, a very famous hairpin bend that is incredibly tight. Track cars are never slower than they are there, Dave informed me.

A couple of blocks from our hotel, we took a break from the long walk and the hot sun at Miami Plage, where we sipped icy drinks and people watched, not at all surprised by the number of topless sunbathers or the two young women who paused near our table to adjust the beach towels wrapped around them. They wore thong bikini bottoms but were carrying their tops. We got a chuckle out of this.

Right about then, Dave’s cell phone chirped. It wasn’t an international call as we expected but a news alert from an app he had downloaded on his iPhone. He handed his phone to me. The lead story in The Guardian read: “Man killed in deadly terror attack in London street. Fusilier Lee Rigby, age twenty-five, was hacked to death by two terrorists on May 22, 2013…” I didn’t read the rest of the story. Not then. Such brutality, when all around us were beauty, tranquility, and laughing people having fun on the beach or enjoying a good meal. Three days later, French soldier Cédric Cordier would be stabbed in the neck while patrolling a shopping center in Paris, France. The police would treat the attack as a terrorist act. We sat in silence for a while, then walked the beachfront to Le Méridien for a nap.

Monte Carlo casino

Monte Carlo Casino

In the evening, we caught a cab to the Monte Carlo casino. The building itself was impressive but the interior not as grand as I had anticipated. The real attractions were parked in front of the casino—almost anything exotic that you could imagine, from Bentleys to Ferraris. Across from the casino was the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo. We entered the majestic Baroque lobby with its marble colonnades, crystal chandeliers, and relief sculptures. Decadent, I thought, and was glad we had dressed the part, especially when I saw a woman who was carrying her toy poodle and complaining in a heavy French accent that she couldn’t find the “other collar, the one with the real diamonds.” The man with her rolled his eyes to the ceiling. I looked up as well, but for a different reason: to admire the domed turquoise-colored glass window in the center of the lobby. We were about to ask for directions to the hotel restaurant when a bouncer type swooped in and wanted to know if he could help us, but first he ushered two couples in torn jeans out of the hotel tout de suite. The bouncer informed us we were “half an hour too early” for our dinner reservations. I never realized being early was a crime. Taking the comment in stride, Dave asked to be directed to the nearest bar inside the hotel.” The service in the bar was equally snooty, and I wondered how dinner would go.

Le Grill had incredible views of the principality, and the blue and gold decor was attractive, but the night wasn’t warm enough for them to open the retractable rooftop. Disappointing, but the evening would still be a memorable one. I was pleased to discover that, while attentive, our servers were not as snobby as the lobby staff, nor did they hurry our meal. We ordered foie gras for starters, the toasted brioche arriving one slice at a time as it was freshly toasted; the moment the last bite touched our lips, the next slice was placed on our plates. For mains, we ordered the rack of lamb, which was grilled to perfection and served with roasted potatoes. For dessert, Grand Marnier soufflés—pure heaven.

Next week, we leave Monte Carlo and fly to Lisbon, Portugal. But until then, enjoy this recipe for Mango Chow courtesy of my Trini friend who lives in St. Augustine, Trinidad, West Indies.

In memory of Jules Bianchi, who left this world too soon.

In memory of Jules Bianchi


Mango Chow Recipe

  • 2 unripe mangoes, peeled and sliced
  • 1/4 cup chadon beni, minced
  • 1/4 Scotch bonnet pepper, finely chopped
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Place the mango slices in a serving bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and toss well.

When choosing unripe mangoes for this recipe, make sure the fruit’s skin is green and firm with a slight give, not rock solid. I slice my mangoes into strips, and if I can’t find chadon beni in a Latin supermarket I use freshly grown cilantro. I always have some growing in my garden, as I love this herb as much as I love mangoes. There are many variations of this recipe as well. Some people add minced garlic, onion, or shallots. Others substitute Scotch bonnets with Trinidadian pepper sauce, habaneros, or any other hot pepper to spice it up. Some use lemon, but I prefer lime juice, and I use the juice of a whole one.

Next week: “Europe 2013: Belém Tower – Lisbon, Portugal.”

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