Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Monaco GrandPrix - Today is the Day!

May 28, 2016

Entering the harbor in Monaco for the GrandPrix Qualifying rounds.  It's a lovely warm and sunny day in Monaco.
No early wake up call today!   It was quite nice sleeping a little later.  I had good intentions of getting up early enough for a brisk walk, but my lazy side kicked in and I chose to work on my blog instead.  I was a few days behind and needed to catch up.  Sorry.

Around noon, I walked to the beach and hopped in an awaiting tender which delivered me to the 260 foot mega yacht which is to be our viewing stand for the Monaco GrandPrix.   Parked in the Harbor at a prime viewing spot, situated to see the Formula 1 cars zooming out of the tunnel at speeds of 200 miles per hour, them immediately slamming on the brakes to make a round-about turn, followed by accelerating on the straight away right behind the yacht.  Lots of excitement and action here.  And plenty of noise.  

Enjoying the GrandPrix qualifying round on the yacht.
Not 30 seconds into the qualifying round, one of the cars blew an engine right behind the boat.  Get this ... a crane was hooked to the disabled race car, which then lifted it from the track and placed it in the pit area adjacent to the track.  There are cranes strategically located around the track for the sole purpose of removing wrecked or disabled cars.  For some reason, I found that fascinating.  

Crane lifts race car off track.
The boat is about as expected ... over the frickin top!!   With three levels, full bars on each level, a music system blaring great music and plenty of tasty food, I was quite happy.  The yachts are anchored about 50 feet away from the dock and Tenders are not allowed to drop off or pick up passengers while the cars are running for fear of a car going off track and into the water.  Distance is our safety friend here.   So if one doesn't arrive to the yacht before the cars start to run, one waits until the cars are off the tract to get on or off the yacht.  Qualifying rounds began at 2:00. 

My dear friend, Gail.  As beautiful on the inside as the outside!!
Jac slept in a bit and didn't make it to the Tender in time to get to the yacht.  Instead, she had a horrible day poolside at the hotel.  That's Jac.  She turns lemons into lemonade.   I caught up with her at the pool a bit later in the afternoon to rest up before the huge grand finale party this evening on the yacht.  

The organizers of The Run to Monaco, Christo and Chris take a much needed break from the action and enjoy a bit of sunshine on the yacht.  Amazing hosts!  Thank you!
Bruce, Gail and I met in the bar for pre-party cocktails around 7:30 to await the 8:00 Tender to the yacht.  Dressed to the nines and ready for a fun evening, the organizer of the event stopped by to tell us a bit about the party.  The Tenders take us to the party, we ride home in a car.  Problem is, the earliest car to leave the party is scheduled at 11:30.  Taxi's were an option if we wanted to leave earlier, but we'd have to pay for that - a fee of 800.00 Euros and an hour drive back to the hotel because of traffic.  The more information we got, the less appealing the party sounded to us.  So we did what all "old people" would do ... passed on the party and had a lovely dinner at the hotel.  We kissed Jac and sent her on her way to the party.  She had a fabulous time and was one of the last to leave the yacht party.  (She's a chip off the ole block!)  It was sun-up before she finally got back to the room.  It was a wonderful party for the 25 - 35 year old group.  But the older people who attended told us we'd made the right choice. 

"Little People" at the yacht party added some interest.

Jac showed me photos of the party.  There were fire blowers and midgets - excuse me - little people running around the yacht.  A brass band played music and there was lots of drinking and dancing.   Like I said, perfect for the youngsters.

Sunday morning, GrandPrix day, we awoke to a clap of thunder.  Rain was pouring from the sky.  Race time came a bit early for Jacqueline.  I have to give credit where credit is due, she rallied and we went to the race.  Yes, in the rain.  Jac looked adorable in her dress and hat that she bought in London specifically for the race. 

 As for me ... I opted for a pair of white jeans, a tee-shirt and my Patagonia jacket.  If I was going to get wet, I didn't want to ruin the white pant suit that I'd originally planned to wear.  It turned out to be an excellent call.

Hey guys ... look where I am.  The Monaco GrandPrix.

Parked in the Monaco Harbor, this is a view of some of the other yachts and the grandstands.  Every balcony and rooftop on the surrounding buildings are jammed with folks.

Arriving at the Yacht in the rain for the Monaco GrandPrix.  It may have rained on the race, but not on our "parade."  We had a stellar time anyway.
Before the race began, the race car drivers were driven around the track on a flatbed to greet the fans.  Yachts were blaring their horns and and the crowds were going crazy, cheering on the drivers.
Espresso in one hand and a Bloody Mary in the other, Jac is rebounding from the party in perfect form.
Bruce and Gail watch the race.

Kicking off the race in style, Julie, Trish and Gail toast the drivers.
Jac with new friends, Katie (left) and Carmella (right).  Carmella is a United Nations Ambassador and Katie is her assistant.
As the race began, the rain came down harder.   The race cars were leaving "rooster tails" of spray behind them.  I have no idea how the drivers could see anything when getting hosed by the spray at 200+ miles per hour.  Amazing!  It rained until the last few laps of the race, when the clouds cleared and the skies turned deep blue.  I'll bet the guys who crashed on the wet pavement were a little miffed about that!!  I would have been.  And of course, there were plenty of crashes to keep the crowds entertained.  A guy named Lewis Hamilton won the race and afterwards celebrated with Justin Bieber.

Panoramic shot from the back of the yacht shows how the Tenders have access to the yachts when cars are NOT running.  The Panoramic shot makes this look like a curve when it's actually a straight away.  The race is moments from starting, just before the rain began to fall again.
Bruce, Gail and I left the yacht after the race.  I went back to the hotel to get packed for my early flight Monday morning.  Then we met for burgers in the bar, a delightful way to spend our last evening together.  

Jacqueline was the last to leave the yacht.   She came back to the hotel long enough to change into a cute black dress and her black heels and set off for a club called The Amber Lounge, a very exclusive and expensive place.  She was guest of someone she met on the yacht.  She must have had a great time, because I got a text from her around 4:30 to let me know she would be catching a later flight home.  She was having too much fun to leave the party to catch a flight at 5:00 a.m.  Of course, the mother side of me kicked in and I freaked out.  Is she going to be OK?  How will she get her flight changed?  Where is she going to stay?  She has to check out of this hotel in a few hours.  The worrisome questions went on and on.  

So I'm sitting in the Virgin Atlantic Lounge in Heathrow waiting to catch my flight to Atlanta and then on to Tampa.  I miss my travel buddy, but know she's having the time of her life in Monaco.  I would have done exactly the same thing at 25 years of age.  

I started this blog over a week ago with gratitude.  I'm ending it the same way ...  but adding immense awe to the gratitude.   This has been an epic trip for Jac and I.  How blessed am I to get to spend time with her at such a sensational event.  Thanks for being such a sport, Jac, and so much FUN to be with.  You were kind and patient with the "old people" and had fun with or without us, which brought such happiness to my heart.  Heck, we drove a Ferrari over one thousand miles across one of the most beautiful countries in the world, on challenging roads, at crazy speeds, and we made it without a scratch ... on our bodies and no unkind words.  (The car didn't fare as well.) We were entertained with parties and gifts and made so many new friends.  What's not to love about it?  The greatest gift was our time together - as the Mother and Daughter Run to Monaco Team.   I sort of feel like the two of us can conquer the world.  Which, by the way, Jac, with your awesome help ... I feel like we are conquering cancer together!!  Thank you for taking such excellent care of me last month during my surgery.  Your love and compassion will take you far in your future as a doctor.   

And Bruce and Gail, we have another incredible trip under our belts.  You're such a joy to travel with.  We seem to go with the flow ... with such ease.  You both make me feel so  inclusive and welcome in your group.  Bruce, you are such a sport!  Not many men can handle "two needy wives."  But you make it seem effortless.  I'm so grateful for your friendship and treasure our time together.  Thanks for coming on The Run to Monaco.  I look forward to our next adventure this summer in Europe as well as some fun times in Aspen! 

As for The Run to Monaco ... we're already making plans for next year!!  A week of parties and fun prompted an excellent quote from Jac, we're now on the "Run to Rehab!!"

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Monaco! Ready or Not, Here We Come!

May 27, 2016

Lunch stop at Marc Lanteri Alcastello.

Jacqueline and I got an early start today.  We've been a bit behind the pack lately and we wanted to arrive for lunch on time.   Or at least in the first wave.   

This morning, we head north west through the wilder parts of Tuscany, skirting the more extreme parts of the Apennines, driving through Barolo wine country, which is spectacular.  Terraced vineyards, orchards and hay fields formed a beautifully textured patchwork quilt design on the hillsides.  There was an occasional castle clinging to the side of a mountain, some of which were crumbling away from disrepair and neglect.  As we rounded tight switchback curves, tiny villages appeared, usually always circling a high church steeple in the center.  Wild poppies grew alongside the roadway, adding an element of color and beauty.  At many points, the narrow road was covered with a canopy of trees and even at high speed, the fragrance of jasmine filled the air.

The wilds of Tuscany looked like a patchwork quilt. 

We arrived for lunch with the first group of folks at Marc Lanteri Alcastello, a castle atop the vineyard, to quite a welcome.  A group of colorfully uniformed flag corpsmen welcomed us with drums pounding and flags waving. 

Our Flag Corpsmen Welcome to the Castle for lunch.

Bruce and Gail made it to lunch today.  You can see them in the distance taking photos of the Flag Corpsmen welcome show.

Bruce and Gail made lunch today ... for the first time.  They have had terrible GPS guidance problems.  I was happy to see them.   We headed up to the top of the castle for a fabulous lunch. 

Jacqueline drives in the mornings.  She pays close attention to the curvy road.  Amazing job, Jac!!

Jacqueline and I have a wonderful arrangement.  She drives in the mornings.  We have lunch.  She has wine.  I have none.  Then I drive in the afternoon.  It seems to work well for both of us.  Since this castle is located on a vineyard, the tables were lined with plenty of wine glasses for  three different wine tastings.  My Perrier was a particularly good year.  The plan was to eat and leave quickly, as we had another 4 hours to drive before reaching Monaco.  But the plan to leave early was foiled, as the servers took so long to deliver our food.  In the end, we were the last to leave the castle.  We had a four hour drive ahead of us, but I was excited to get behind the wheel.  We were on the road again by 3:30, this time heading to Monaco.

Our drive took us up narrow mountain roads.  Many times, we thought we were on the wrong road, as I would NEVER have driven MY Ferrari on roads like this.   We were dodging potholes and uneven pavement.  We stopped at a scenic overlook and heard the distant ring of cow bells.  We assumed they were on the surrounding hills as we had passed a small farmhouse a few turns back.  We took in the view and set off again. 

Our first glimpse of The Alps in the distance.
As I rounded a tight turn, standing in the middle of the road, was a rather large bull glaring at us.  I was happy to be driving a yellow car, as he looked like he was ready to charge. 

Burgers on the hoof.  They did not want to move!
This fellow had no interest in moving.  In fact, he was a bit menacing looking and we thought for a moment he may charge the car.
The car horn didn't faze him at all.   After the stare down, we just waited for him to move on only to find the rest of the herd around the next turn.  The cows didn't seem to be bothered by us at all.  In fact, they seemed curious.  They all wore huge cow bells that clanged harmoniously as they finally moved to the side of the road.  

After the cow incident, the rest of the trip was relatively uneventful.  I stopped just outside of Monaco for Jacqueline to drive us the rest of the way to the finish line.  From one coast to the other across the boot of Italy, we did every amazing  kilometer.  Christo told me, we were the first all lady team ever and couldn't believe we drove every single kilometer of the Run To Monaco.   Most of the ladies on this trip have been a bit whiney in the evenings, preferring shopping, sight seeing or spa visits.  Jac and I just want to be behind the wheel of that machine!!  What fun!!

We made it to the finish line at the Royal Riviera Hotel and were immediately greeted by the rental agency.  I pointed out the wheel situation where I scraped them against the curb.  They pointed out a scratch along side the drivers side that must have happened in a parking lot!  Dammit.  As well as some damage to the rear fins under the car that we took out on a speed bump coming in to Monaco.  Oops!  The rental car just became more expensive!  But so worth it!!

Dinner tonight in Monaco was a beach party at the famous Anjuna Plage restaurant right on the beach.  Best described as loud, chaotic, crowded and SLOW, which made for a very long evening!  There were women walking around with snakes around their necks.  Amazing, since they don't allow dogs. 

Beach party at Anjuna Plage.
The one and only wine they served was Rose.  Around 10:00, food started coming to the table in waves, first a box filled with raw, uncut vegetables, like whole carrots, cucumbers, whole tomatoes, hard boiled eggs, peppers and fennel.  It was a beautiful display.  I was so hungry, I jumped right in.  The next course was a salad, followed by a second salad of buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes.  The next course, chicken, was served at 11:30 at night.   Things kind of fell apart after the chicken course.  The waiter brought whole bottles of vodka to the table with bowls of ice and mixers.  That's when things got a little crazy.  We finally left the restaurant around 2:00 a.m. 

The Beach Party.  

We spent the evening with some interesting folks. Brad and his Brazilian wife, Kenya joined our table.  They live in Panama and the way Brad described his business, he must be a money launder.  Then Martin joined us, the 22 year old son of someone important ... whom I didn't know.   He was dressed in a cheap suit with slicked back hair, wearing a "Panama" hat, which Brad was quick to point out was not actually from Panama, rather Ecuador.  On the other side of the table, we had Sybil and her husband, Matthew.  Sybil is one of the Walton family heirs ... as in Sam Walton of Walmart.  She and her husband own a production company in LA.  She couldn't have been nicer.  In fact, when the party was ending, Sybil began gathering the leftover Vodka bottles and stashing them in her purse.   A brilliant idea.  To round out our table, we had Carmella and Katie.  Carmella is a United Nations Ambassador.  She lives in the UK, but is working on a movement in Australia to "save the reef."  Her speciality is water management.  She was incredibly interesting and had personality plus.  Katie was her assistant, who ordered an interesting "smoke" to the table. 

The Fruit Bong.

I suppose it was a fruity version of a bong with tobacco instead of marijuana.  She passed it around the table for everyone to try.  I passed for two reasons.  One, I don't smoke.  Two, I had a sore throat and didn't want to spread the love.  Anyway, Carmella and Katie drove a BMW four  seater to pick up members of our group who may have had trouble on the road with their cars.  They also were prepared with a list of attorneys and doctors in various regions ... just in case.  We had a great group of folks with us.  Unfortunately, it was so loud, conversation was not impossible, but difficult. 

Royal Riviera Hotel.
We finally made our way back to the Royal Riviera Hotel around 2:30 a.m.  Thank goodness we don't have an early wake up call tomorrow morning!  Nite nite. 

Hello Portofino, Italy

May 26, 2016

We set off this morning leaving Florence behind venturing into Tuscany.  The roads here were familiar to me as I spent a week with Stevie and friends at a Tuscan Villa in Cortona about a year ago.  But they were much more fun to drive in a Ferrari opposed to the previous trip's van. 

Lunch was served in this lovely little farmhouse.

After nearly four hours, we arrived at our lunch stop.  We were some of the last to arrive, but there was still plenty of food left for us.  Delicious pasta, rabbit and guinea foul.  The large flat top mountain, Pietra Bismantova, overlooked our farmhouse lunch stop. 

Pietra Bismantova.  Huge cliffs rise to the sky.

After lunch, we continued our drive to Portofino.
The drive was long and technically difficult, but so much fun in a Ferrari.  We finally arrived at the Hotel Spendido after 7:30.   Glad to have finally arrived, tired and thirsty, we quickly changed clothes and went to the bar for a much needed cocktail.   Strictly for medicinal purposes! 

Dinner at Hotel Splendid overlooking the Portofino Harbor.
The girls.  Julie, Gail and Jacqueline.
Mother and Daughter Trip.  YAY!!

Dinner tonight was on the outside terrace beside the pool.  It was a beautiful setting overlooking the Portofino harbor.  We've been here a couple of times on chartered boats, and I love Portofino.   What wonderful memories.  The third time around was just as special.  

Since there was no fancy entertainment tonight, and since I was exhausted (I keep forgetting I'm supposed to take it easy), I turned in early.  Turned out to be a big mistake - or a blessing - not sure which. 

Piano player and entertainer for the evening.
The party moved in to the bar where a gentleman in a green sequined jacket, played the piano joined by Gail and our new friend, Matthew, who kept everyone entertained with their music.  While I'm sorry I missed the singing and dancing, I sure enjoyed the early turn in. 

From the window of our room, we had a great view of some of the cars in our group.  

The next morning, I jumped out of bed at 7:00, put on my workout clothes and took off exploring.  I wanted to visit the harbor and Brown Castle again.    Portofino is such a pretty village.  The colorful outdoor shops were just waking up.  Merchants were sweeping away debris from the previous night's revelers.  The smell of cappuccino was lingering in the air and soooo inviting.

Walking up to the Hotel Splendido.

Rivas await passengers in the Portofino harbor.

Portofino is a very colorful village.

I love this view of the harbor from the Brown Castle.  The Hotel Splendido is up on the hillside.
After a walk through the village, I ventured up to the Brown Castle to have a look around.  The best views of the harbor are from up on the hillside beside the Brown Castle.  I took a few pics and headed back to the hotel for breakfast with Jacqueline. 

Breakfast at The Hotel Splendido overlooking Portofino Harbor.

Today, we head to Monaco. 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Greetings from Florence, Italy

May 25, 2016

Water taxi to "Run to Monaco" Start Line and Cars.
Venice is a beautiful city.

Water taxi through the streets of Venice.

My driver.  My sweet daughter.  My Jacqueline.
After a brief, but fun filled visit to Venice, this morning, we hopped in the water taxis to be taken to our cars.  I've never seen as many fabulous sports cars.  McLauren, Porsche, Audi, Mercedes, Lamborghini, Maserati and Ferrari were among some of the cars participating this year.  Jacqueline and I have a lovely yellow 458 Spider Ferrari.  

Forty Cars lined up at the start point of the "Run to Monaco."
The fanfare at the starting point was kind of spectacular.  A band was playing live music, food stands were serving everything from yogurt and granola to gelato and soft drinks.  Colorful sports cars lined the street. 

Panoramic shot of some of the cars.

Our car for the "Run to Monaco."   458 Spider.

Bruce and Gail's car - Red California.

Ladies ... start your engine!
We were all checking out each other's cars when the trip organizers announced that it was time to get in our cars and take off.  

Taking off through the confetti.  Monaco, here we come.
The roar of 40 sport car engines revving was almost as deafening as the sounds at a race track. Adrenaline was on full alert as we drove our cars across the starting point while confetti canons were spraying us with black and gold glitter confetti.  And we were off.

As we drove out of Venice, people lined the streets with cameras and flags waving us on.  We felt so important, when in truth, they just wanted to see the cool cars.  

Only a few miles into the trip, as we began to merge into Italian traffic, which in itself is quite unnerving, the group began to split up.  Some of us followed the wrong guy and circled the round-a-bout several times before getting on the right track again.  It felt like a scene out of European Vacation: "Look kids, there's the exit for highway A113," again and again until we finally took the  correct exit.  Once we were finally on the correct road, we were able to "air it out" pushing the car to crazy speeds.  By the way ... riding in a speeding Ferrari as a passenger is NOT relaxing.  I have an entirely new appreciation for my friend, Sharon, who accompanied me on a Ferrari drive across California last fall.  I was driving at crazy speeds then.  Sharon, I'm so sorry.  I'll never do that again.  It's just frightening.  While the driver feels quite comfortable driving over 100 MPH, the passenger is helpless and wondering what happens if a car pulls in front of us, or if a tire blows out.  A member of our group said, "Racing on a track is dangerous.  Racing on a highway is reckless." He's right.   And I had white knuckles from clinging to the door handle, to prove it.  As we were racing down the highway, an occasional bit of the confetti from the confetti canons would fly off a car ahead of us.  We left a confetti trail for miles.  

Formula 1 Race Track - Mugello.
Jacqueline drove this morning.  Our destination, The Mugello International Circuit Racetrack.  This track is owned by Scuderia Ferrari and used by the FI team for testing.  It's renowned as one of the fastest and most beautiful tracks in the world.  

Jac driving at Mugello.  Got up to around 140 MPH on the track.
We arrived at the track around 1:30, signed in, picked up a helmet and were told to get in our cars and head to the track for some laps.  So we did just that.  Off we go behind the pace car for the first lap and then they cut us loose.  Jacqueline had no trouble keeping up with the cars in front of us and would have passed several of them, but we were only allowed to pass in the straightaways, and there were not many of them on this curvy track.  But she was happy just driving fast and furious.  Three laps later, Jac and I got the red flag, which meant we had to go into the pit area.  Turns out, rental cars are not allowed on the track.  Guess we missed the fine Italian print in the rental agreement.  Oops!  Jac loved running the track and she was darn good, too.   Afterwards, we parked the Ferrari in the lot and worked our way to the lounge on the third floor, overlooking the pits, where we had a fabulous lunch.  After lunch, we wanted to get a jump start on the group and get on the road, so we went back to the car.  Our car would not start.  One of the Run to Monaco sponsors called the traveling mechanic over to check out the problem.  Turns out, we got more than our wrists slapped for running the rental car on the track, the GPS system on the car picked up our location on the track and through a system like On-Star, shut down the car, not allowing it to re-start.  Oops again!  Fun OFF!  The rental agency had to go into the OnStar type system to reboot our car allowing us to get running again.  We ended up being the last car to leave the track.  

The afternoon drive took us to Fiesole,  in the hills just north of Florence.  Our destination, Hotel Il Salviatino, which at one time was a 15th century Palazzo with gorgeous Italian gardens and the most fantastic views of the city's famous Duamo cathedral. 

Gardens of the Hotel Il Salviatino.
The narrow streets of Fiesole challenged us as bit.  At one point, we foolishly followed a red McLauren the wrong way down a hill, which was so narrow, we barely squeezed by, only to find it was a dead end and we had to back up the hill.  This is where I took out the wheels on the driver's side of the car against a curb.  Ouch!!  The wheel grinding against concrete curb is a horrific sound!!   We finally got turned around and made our way to the hotel.  Greeted at the door with a glass of champagne lifted our spirits and our energy level.  We quickly showered, dressed and returned to the terrace level for cocktails.  The dinner was delicious, but the entertainment was completely over the top.  While having cocktails, we noticed workers filling dozens of huge white balloons with helium.  We had no idea what they were for, and quickly forgot about the project.  Before and after dinner, a 50 piece orchestra, which consisted of mostly strings, performed my favorite Italian opera songs.  The orchestra and the singers were phenomenal. 

Bruce and Gail enjoying the orchestra.
Mark and Jac not into the orchestra.  

The orchestra and opera singer.
The orchestra took a break during dinner, but shortly afterwards began to play again.  As we were enjoying the music, suddenly the white balloons floated into the air carrying a beautiful lady dancing in the sky.  I'll have to post a photo here to show exactly how this worked, because I cannot describe it in an understandable way. 

Ballerina hoisted in the sky with balloons.  Amazing!

This may have been one of the most incredible displays I've ever seen.   The gorgeous ballerina was harnessed to dozens of helium balloons high above the orchestra.  The men controlling the balloons with lines would lower her to the man on the ground - on stilts, of course - and they would dance until she would be pulled away to the sky again.  Just a remarkable performance.  After the ballerina was safely back on the ground, all of the balloons were set free and illuminated with the spotlights as they floated into the nigh sky.  It would be worth getting married again someday, just to make an entrance like this one.  Jacqueline, what do you think?  This could be really fun and you're more likely to get married someday than I.   Anyway, the show was spectacular.  

After the show and one more nightcap, I literally crashed into bed.  The day was so amazing.  Spending time with Jacqueline has been such a wonderful gift for me.  I've loved every minute of it.  Even the times when I had white knuckles because of her driving speed.  The truth is I'm a darn good driver, ...  but her reflexes are faster than mine and her driving skills are better than mine, too.  She doesn't do anything that exceeds her comfort level.  The problem is ... if something happens out of the norm, i.e., a dog running into the road - which happened today, something bad can happen in a hurry.  Guess I just worry too much.  I do feel very comfortable with her behind the wheel.  But I still suffer from a bit of "white knuckle syndrome."

Tomorrow, our drive takes us to the beautiful Portofino.