2019 European Vacation: Day Three in Monaco for the Formula 1 Grand Prix Practice

If you’d have told me as recently as January that I would want to go to Monaco for a Formula 1 race, I wouldn’t have believed you. Thanks for everything, Drive to Survive.

When we learned that the Monaco Grand Prix was slated for the exact dates we would be in the area, I immediately researched how to buy tickets. There was much to learn! Where do we sit? What if it rains? What can we afford? Do we know anyone with a yacht?

Spoiler: We did not know anyone with a yacht.

For our first Grand Prix experience, we opted to go to a practice day instead of the actual race. Part of it was a financial decision (adult tickets were $90 each, kids 15 and younger were free!), but part of it was because we would be in Italy come race day, and we didn’t want to undo plans and rearrange everything.

But first, breakfast. Chuck was our resident boulangerie shopper. He went to the bakery each morning to order quatre croissants.

The train ride to Monaco lasted all of 45 minutes and cost around €8 roundtrip per person. We had already fallen for Antibes, but we were about to crush hard on Monaco.

Our initial and lasting impression of Monaco is that it’s the most beautiful city/country in the world. It’s completely perfect, other than the fact that the majority of the world cannot afford to live there.

The streets are spotless. As in, no garbage remnants, no cigarette butts, no tiny pebbles along the curbs. Everything shines and sparkles.

I imagine we looked like lost children wandering the streets of Monte-Carlo, trying to figure out where we entered for Tribune T, taking in all the glorious sights of team gear and apparel for sale, wondering where all the alleyways and side streets led… Eventually, we found the Fan Zone, where Chuck and the boys raced for Aston Martin Red Bull.

The first practice was at 11 a.m., and we wanted to be seated and ready since our seats were across from the pit lane. That meant we could see everyone (drivers!) walking to their cars.

Serendipitously, our seats were directly in front of the only American-owned team, Haas. We were giddy!

Directly beneath the “44” for Lewis Hamilton in the red jumpsuit is Ferrari driver Charles LeClerc, a young Monégasque who’s rising in the ranks of Formula 1. This was to be a meaningful race for him but unfortunately the stars weren’t aligned in his favor. It was still cool to see him from our seats!
This is McLaren driver Carlos Sainz Jr. in the orange cap.
Haas driver Kevin Magnussen was quick from the steps to his car! I got better photos of his teammate Romain Grosjean, who lingered in the pit to chat and smile.
This is the photo I’m most proud of! Directly below Max Verstappen’s head, you’ll see a handshake of goodwill between Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner (husband of Ginger Spice) and former Red Bull driver now Renault driver Daniel Riccardo. If you watched Drive to Survive, you’ll appreciate this handshake.

The giant screen in front of the pit lane gave us a view of the entire practice, thankfully! When you’re in the stands, all you see is what’s directly in front of you, and since the cars move so quickly, you can’t blink!

I have a soft spot in my heart for Team Williams, who have been in the bottom for the last few years. Team Principal Claire Williams is the only female principal in all of Formula 1, and it was her father who started the company in the 70s. He’s wheelchair bound now but still attends races and events. I’m rooting for Williams. I hope they re-emerge as the champions they used to be.
Charles LeClerc, No. 16

People were camped out in balconies, tree lines, and slopes, wherever they could find a free spot to watch the practice.

I’m sure there are celebrities in there somewhere, unless they are all on yachts. It makes sense that the Cannes Film Festival and Monaco Grand Prix fall during the same few weeks.

After the first practice, we walked around more of Monte-Carlo. Since the city/country is less than one square mile, we can say we literally walked around an entire country in an afternoon.

I dare you to find one piece of litter in Monaco.

I’m going to need a wall of plants, please.

A walk around Monaco means you’re constantly walking up or down a hill. The country is on the side of a mountain, so everything layered and stacked.

In between buildings you can almost always catch of glimpse of the circuit.
In between the two Formula 1 practices was a Formula 2 qualifying race.

On account of the Grand Prix, the casino was closed. It’s a shame since Chuck wanted to gamble a minute and I wanted to enjoy the view from Café de Paris. I guess we’ll just have to go back!

McLarens and Ferraris were everywhere.

There were also tons of landmarks and signage honoring Princess Grace.

All the stairs in Monaco prepped us for Cinque Terre.
Caught a view of the pool, pit lane, and our tribune!

Seriously, is this real?

Guess which balcony is my favorite?

One stressful thing happened while we were in Monaco: We couldn’t get cash out of an ATM, which made me think there was something wrong with our cards. It was also impossible to use the data on my cell phone, so calling our bank wasn’t working. (Monaco has its own WiFi, which visitors have to pay for. I didn’t know this!) Thank goodness we found a Starbucks. I used their WiFi to contact the bank, which assured me all was well on our end. It must have been that the ATM was out of money or there was something faulty with the machine. While I decompressed in Starbucks, worrying that we’d have to make whatever euros we had on hand last the day, Chuck found another ATM that worked. All was well.

We went back to our seats for the second practice at 3 p.m.

If you’re able to zoom in, you can see our reflections in the mirrored wall. We’re on the fifth row from the bottom, and you can see me holding the camera in front of my face.
That’s Haas driver Romain Grosjean in the center of the photo!

When the practice was over, we took one last stroll around Monaco, this time climbing the hill to the castle. The views were outstanding.

Literally spotless.

Monaco’s flower game was on point!

None of us were prepared to be blown away by Monaco, but we were all in love by the end of the day. Jeremy announced he’s moving to Monaco when he grows up, so I’ll be sure to let everyone know where he lands so you can visit him.

Back in Antibes, we grabbed pizza for dinner – ordering en français, s’il vous plaît – and went back to the apartment to put up our feet. We were sleeping in the next morning for sure.

So we went to Europe.

At some point during winter, Chuck and I started talking about where to take the boys on a summer vacation. We like to travel as soon as we’re done with school, which ends at the onset of Mother’s Day (a lovely gift I give myself). Also, traveling before Memorial Day weekend tends to save a little money and definitely cuts down on the crowds.

Our original thought was to take the boys to California since they’ve never been. Rent a car, drive the coast, venture into L.A. so Jackson can marvel at the Hollywood sign… It sounded like a good idea.

But then we started seeing unbelievable fares out of Chicago, which is where we planned to fly out of since we were going there for Jacob’s graduation. When a fare to London showed up at $398, we decided to jump on it. We’d fly roundtrip from Chicago to London and see what could happen in between.

Leaving Chicago

By mid-March, we’d made loose plans. We knew we didn’t want to stay in the UK since Chuck and I just did that in October, and we knew Easy Jet could take us almost anywhere in Europe for cheap. When a fare to Milan popped up for $67, we decided Italy was as good a country as any.

Milan, Italy

Then we started researching where we could drive to from Milan. The Mediterranean Sea was a four-hour drive from Milan. We thought, let’s go there! Why not! Let’s go to France! Is Spain too far away? Where else could we go?

Antibes, France

At the same time, Chuck and I had discovered “Drive to Survive”, a Netflix docu-series on Formula 1. On a whim, we googled races. Most of them happen in Europe, so maybe there was a race when we were already scheduled to be there.

Sure enough, the Monaco Grand Prix was scheduled for the exact week we planned to be in the French Riviera. We researched logistics and bought tickets for the first two practices. Unreal.

We had seats directly across from pit lane.

Our trip started to take shape by the end of March, but it was on the road to Nashville for the Mumford & Sons concert when Chuck and I wondered when the Cannes Film Festival was – because wouldn’t that be funny if the Cannes Film Festival was during the same time as our vacation to southern France!

Sure enough, it was.

After France, we went back to Italy and explored two towns that make up Cinque Terre’s five towns. Stunning, stunning.

We finished the trip with an afternoon in London and caught a flight back to Chicago the next day. We wore ourselves out, but every second was worth it. Yes, we are already talking about where to go next.

Outside Buckingham Palace. Yes, the Queen was in residence. No, she didn’t wave to us from the balcony.

I took an obscene amount of photos (of course I did!), so it will take a week or longer to sort through them and upload posts that fully describe the trip. Since this blog serves as a scrapbook for our family, I will include all the highlights. I did the same thing with our Iceland trip in 2017 and our UK trip in 2018, and I still enjoy going back to read those posts.

Stay tuned!