Sunday, November 21, 1999

TR Monaco

Monte Carlo Marathon
Monte Carlo, Monaco
11/16 to12/12/99
Mallorca, Spain, France, Monaco, France, Italy, France, Monaco, France, Spain, Portugal, Spain, Mallorca (Part 1)

All those border crossings and I only got one stamp in my passport!
This was one of those trips where I had to pick one location to start and end and then travel by train and other means to all the in-between locations. Since the trip was to end in Mallorca where Nicole and Jason were to join me for the last week, I decided to start there. I flew into Palma, the capital of Mallorca, an island off the coast of Spain that is actually a province or region of Spain. After spending a night in Palma and doing a pleasant 7-mile run along the port I caught a ferry to Barcelona and received my first lesson in Spanish culture. In Spain nobody gets up or starts moving before 9am. The stores open from 10 am to 1pm, close until 4pm and then reopen until 8pm. The restaurants open from 11am to 4pm, close until 8:30pm and reopen until 12am. You shop and eat during those hours or you DON’T! I boarded the ferry at 1pm for an eight-hour ride. Since I wasn’t hungry I decided to wait for dinner –except there was no dinner. Lunch was served from 1pm to 3pm and the restaurant closed for the trip!
So I arrived at 9pm in Barcelona hungry and tired. I had no reservations and had expected to find a tourist office in the ferry terminal to assist me. Nope! And nobody who could speak English either to give me directions where to look. I found this the norm in Spain and Portugal. Very few people, even in the service industry could speak English and the majority didn’t even try to make an effort to help. If you couldn’t speak Spanish –tough! They just ignored you!
So I threw my sports bag over my back and headed for the lights of the city. I did manage to find a cop who understood enough English to confirm that I was heading in the right direction. Ten minutes later I found myself at the foot of the ‘La Rambla’, the main boulevard in Barcelona. At 10pm it was a beehive of activity. So I was able to locate a hotel and a place to eat dinner at 11pm. I soon adjusted to the Spanish timetable and ate my dinner around midnight each day.
The next morning I did my final training run down La Rambla and up Montjuic Park (a mountain overlooking the city), past the Olympic Stadium and all the way to the top to the Montjuic Castle. Little did I realize that this hill training was going to be useful. Barcelona is a neat city. It has a good metro and is easy to get around. There are lots of things to see and do. I took the standard city bus tour. But what I discovered in Spain was that it was better to take the tours that allow you to get on and off as often as you wish. They were cheaper and most of the streets are old and narrow which meant that the buses couldn’t go down them and could only take you close the major tourist attractions and you had to walk anyway. Besides the La Rambla there is an old section of the city called the Gothic Quarter that has many old buildings including of course the Cathedral, churches, the Parliament and City Hall. And spread throughout the city are many buildings designed by a Spanish architect named Gaudi. Man you want to talk about weird! He must have been on psychedelic drugs when he designed them. I could try to describe them but you must see them to believe it!
I only had two days in Barcelona and it was not enough. But it was time to catch a night train to Monaco. That was an interesting trip! I traveled by coach car to the French border where I had an hour layover before catching a second train with sleeper cars. I was the first to arrive in the 4-sleeper couchette. An Aussie from Tasmania was next. Then two very pretty, young Spanish ladies arrived. I was surprised and they were shocked to discover that they were assigned to a couchette with two men. They immediately called the conductor to complain but there was a problem. They only spoke Spanish and he only spoke French. So the ugly, linguistic-handicapped American came to the rescue! With my basic French and limited Spanish I became the translator. But the problem could not be solved since the train was full and there were no other sleepers available. So we all went to bed fully-clothed to ease the girl’s minds. By 2 am the Aussie was snoring like crazy and the girls were swearing in Spanish (I don’t know any swear words in Spanish but I do know that they were swearing!) So by 4am the girls gave up, took their suitcases and sat in the hall outside our cabin. By 6am I had joined them, partly to escape the snoring but mainly to enjoy the scenery as the train traveled along the Cote d”Azur.
Finally I arrived in Monte Carlo at 9am, stepped off the train and ran into a colleague from the 50+ DC Running Club! There were a few members there so I managed to get updated on news from the US and more importantly had someone I could talk to – in English!
I had been to Monte Carlo before but only visiting so I did not realize how snobbish and uppity that place is. There is oodles of money everywhere- Rolls Royces, expensive jewelry stores on every street! I checked real estate prices. A 3BR condo on Princess Grace Dr overlooking the sea is a cool 30,000,000 FF or $5,000,000 US. There are no convenience stores. If you want to buy bottled water or a coke you have to go to one of the four supermarkets in the principality which are only open about eight hours per day. Thankfully the locals can drive about four miles in any direction to France where they do have convenience stores and bars, etc!
Because it was off-season half the restaurants were closed and the ones that were open were on reduced hours. And most of them would not let me in! The week before when I was in Dallas, I went to Wal-Mart to buy a heavy and warm jogging suit to use as warm-ups for races. Since there is a good chance of losing them, I bought the cheapest and ugliest suit I could find-for $14.99. I had brought it with me but did not pack a separate jacket since I planned on using the warm-up top if needed. Well a cold front came though Southern Europe and the highs were only in the low forties for the first week so I was using that top every day just to stay warm. With that top, a pair of faded jeans and dirty running shoes I looked about one level up from a street person. So every time I tried to get into one of their fancy restaurants they took one look at me and politely said “ Excuse me sir but our restaurant (half-empty) is fully booked”! I was forced to eat in small casual diners or bars all week but they were half the price anyway.
Finally race day! The marathon started on the main road in Monte Carlo in front of the casino, went east along the coast and up and down the coastal mountains. We ran through Monaco into France, through France and into Italy. This is the only marathon that runs through three countries. I counted the country/marathon as Monaco. About three miles into Italy we turned around and retraced the route back to Monaco to finish in the Louis II Stadium. It was a very hilly course but the scenery was awesome as we ran along the Cote D’Azur. The weather was cool which helped so I was able to finish in 3:33:35, which was very satisfactory for that course.
After the race I had difficulty finding a place to eat and ended up eating a hot dog at a small carnival located on the seashore! So I spent my last night in Monaco and decided to head back to Spain the following day (Mon). I had to be in Lisbon by the following Friday to meet Nicole who was flying in to join me for the weekend while I ran the Lisbon marathon.
My plan was to go to Madrid for 3 or 4 days and then on to Lisbon –all by train. I was disappointed to discover that I had to go all the way back to Barcelona to catch a train to Madrid? So I caught a day train from Monaco to Barcelona with a two-hour layover in Marseille. I had hoped to explore Marseille and have a great bowl of boulaibasse. But the train station is in a very rough/seedy part of the city and after walking around for a half-hour looking for a restaurant with boulaibasse, I gave up and went back to the cafeteria in the station. Then it was on to Barcelona to catch a night train to Madrid.
I then discovered that I had essentially wasted about $100 by buying first class Rail Passes. Most of the trains in Spain and Portugal didn’t even have first class coaches or sleepers on them. So I was forced to purchase a bunk in a 4-person couchette again. One of my companions was a young American on sabbatical from Silicon Valley, another was a Spanish student who lived in Madrid but was working for the summer in Barcelona. Since he spoke English, he was a goldmine of information on what to see and do in Madrid and where to stay. Our 4th companion was an older Spanish chap whom never said a word but –yes- snored all night!

I am going to end this portion here. Otherwise this report will be too long to keep your interest. So get some rest and stay tuned for part #2!

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