An adventure in Monte Carlo

What happens when a mom ends up in Monte Carlo with two toddlers in tow? [This article first appeared in the Sunday edition of Deccan Herald]

I have it all chalked out, to the last detail. After a quick breakfast, we’ll head to the Oceanographic Museum, then to the palace and be back at the hotel in time for lunch. I announce it to the family in a no-nonsense tone.

But even the best made plans go awry. My troubles begin right at the beginning. Getting a two-year-old and a five-year-old ready by 9 am on any day is an effort worthy of a Nobel prize. I’m about ready to tear my hair out, whatever is left of it, as we finally head set out in a taxi towards the museum.

A month earlier, when a business trip to Monte Carlo came up for my husband, he had a brainwave that it would be great for us to tag along. Can you even imagine how it would be? Think of yourself on the French Riviera, rubbing shoulders with the glamourous and the famous. Carried away in his excitement, I had nodded. Hadn’t I seen Sean Connery as James Bond, cutting a swathe through the casinos? The very thought had brought a smile to my face. I was truly stirred.

Monte Carlo, in the tiny principality of Monaco, is a scenic delight with winding roads carved out of steep cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean. The taxi ride along the cliffs conjures images of a suave man driving an Aston Martin DBS. But the sound of paper tearing quickly brings me back to planet earth. My children are busy fighting over a packet of crackers. Even when the driver makes a sudden sharp turn, they are unperturbed as their battle reaches a climax. I scream when it appears that the car is teetering on the edge of the cliff. The driver gives me a befuddled look in the mirror and continues his Grand Prix run. When the taxi finally comes to a shuddering halt outside the museum, I open my eyes cautiously. I could have sworn Nancy Sinatra’s smoky voice was singing ‘You only live twice’.

The signs outside the museum are mostly in French. When I brandish my guidebook like a Beretta a la Bond to the ticket collector, she’s all smiles. What ensues is a parody of mime and accentuated English, and we’re ushered into a large hall. The Musée Océanographique boasts of a large collection of sea animal specimens and fauna. The sheer variety of marine life on display reflects the passion of the museum’s founder Prince Albert I. My garrulous girls are dumbstruck as they stare wide-eyed at the skeletal exhibits.

Just when I’m beginning to enjoying the peace, my five-year-old speaks up. “I need to go to the bathroom.” Her sister, who senses a diversionary tactic, joins in tugging at my hand. As their decibel level slowly increases, I get a pointed look from the security guard. I look around but see no signs that are even remotely relevant. “Madame…,” the sphinx-like guard points to a doorway. Convinced that he’s the local version of the MI6, I use the facilities and quietly slip out with the girls.

Walking past beautiful gardens and Monaco’s crooked streets with stunning vistas, I lose track of all time. Suddenly, the Palais du Prince appears almost magically in front of us. When my younger daughter shouts in glee, I quickly turn to her, eager to bask in her joy. But she’s looking at an ice-cream cart. She wants all the flavours there, the whole caboodle. For all the time she takes to decide, the palace may not have been there in front of her. Exasperated, I end up buying the girls a cone each. Gazing forlornly at the palace, with sticky fingers and a pounding headache, I wonder if I’m ever going to make it inside. The slurping and licking noises behind me continue for a while.

“Let’s go back to our hotel room and watch TV,” declares my older girl. “I see a taxi there.” She points to the far end of the road. The siblings engage in a visual lock with each other, and turn to me. I know I’ve lost the battle at this point.

Holding onto the stroller handle and grabbing her hand, I race like a mad woman, with no pretensions of being the debonair Brit. Gritting my teeth, I open the door and plonk myself onto the back seat, kids, stroller and all. I don’t know if it’s the supercilious curl of my lip that does it or the entreating look on my daughters’ faces, but the driver simply nods his head and we are heading back to our hotel. Even as I’m a tad disappointed, a velvety voice whispers to me “Never say never again.”

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