The last time I set foot on a plane before last week was on Valentine’s Day 2020. I stepped off a flight from India by way of Dubai. As a sign of how different the world was, I wrote an extended essay about my trip, and never once mentioned Covid-19, or as we referred to it then, the novel coronavirus.
(It did touch my trip in one notable way; while I was in the air from Dubai to Bangalore, the Indian government closed its borders to travelers from China, which forced my hosts at Iron Pillar to cancel the LP annual meeting that was the primary reason they invited me to visit India.)
In the months that followed, I had to cancel trips to London, Hamburg, Singapore, Madrid, Portugal, and Sao Paulo. While I didn’t miss sitting in airplanes, and especially airports, I did miss the novelty of seeing new places.
Then last week, fully vaccinated, I boarded an airplane for the first time in over 16 months for a trip to Monaco, to speak at the Ritossa Family Office Summit. I had never been to Monaco, and knew little about the principality, but based on the reactions of the various people I talked with about the trip, it seemed to be a popular destination. My conclusion was that rich people love Monaco. I would learn why after I spent a few days there.
I was fortunate enough to have the chance to travel with my business partner, Jeff Abbott. Long trips are a lot easier with a friend who can look after you, and the added benefit was that Jeff, unlike me, spoke French, and had visited the area before. Here’s a photograph of Jeff and I trying to wake up during our layover in Munich:
We arrived in Monaco on a Sunday afternoon, well before the start of the conference. Partially this was because I wanted to adjust to the 9-hour time zone shift before the conference, and partially because I got a great deal on our airline tickets, provided we left the US on a Saturday, rather than later in the week. This gave me a number of days to see some of the sights.
For example, Monaco is famous for its Formula One racing circuit, which actually takes place on the streets, not a dedicated racetrack. You may remember it from its appearance in Iron Man 2. Other than race times, the circuit is one of the main streets of Monaco, and there are signs of its racing heritage everywhere.
The most prominent features of Monaco are its hills and its harbors. The hills make San Francisco look like Nebraska; I learned that I couldn’t trust any maps because the city is a bit like Minas Tirith from the Lord of the Rings–the streets are like concentric rings on different levels and there is no easy way between them. Meanwhile, the harbors are the center of Monaco’s yachting culture, and thus of Monaco itself. When we climbed up to the Prince’s Palace (home of the ruling Grimaldi family since 1297) I was able to take a selfie that showed both of these features:
Here is a closer look at the other harbor, which must have been the one for the common folk, since the yachts were notably smaller.
The largest yacht we saw in the other harbor was the Lionheart, a 295 foot ship worth an estimated $150 million. Alas, I didn’t get invited on board.
In addition to Monaco itself, we also visited Èze, a village and castle atop 1,400 foot high cliff overlooking the Mediterranean. It was the sort of historical monument that looks like something out of a Disney movie…which is not surprising, since Walt Disney spent a lot of time there, and likely derived inspiration from it.
After a few days, it was time to end the tourist part of the trip and get down to business. While at first I found it somewhat surreal to be in an enclosed space (the Fairmont Monte Carlo) with so many other human beings that weren’t blood relations, the unfamiliarity quickly faded. By the time it was my turn to speak, I was back in my element:
This is the first time I’d worn a tie since I was best man at a wedding 15 years ago! If you want to see my five-minute talk (one of my best performances, if I do say so myself) you can find the YouTube video here.
Of course, there’s always time for a few laughs as well:
It was all over far too soon, but I’m looking forward to returning to my traveling ways the rest of the year, with trips to LA, Miami, and Oslo likely on tap (plus my family vacation to Disneyworld, which is Jason’s high school graduation present, deferred a year).