Sunday, 29 April 2012

Eating Maggots in Monaco

I'm not proud of where I'm from, not Britain, the north of England nor Blackburn. It was purely an accident of birth and, having travelled a bit, I know there's nothing special about any of those places. But if someone has such pride, far be it from me to piss on his chips, or his frogs' legs, or his pizza, or whatever his national dish is. Please remember this - it's important for later.

I arrived on the outskirts of Monaco, which is only a kilometre or so from its centre. Monaco is tiny. I entered a tunnel and it was immediately obvious that this isn't an ordinary sort of place. Most countries build tunnels as a necessity, to bury through a pesky mountain that's in the way, and even then they keep them as small as possible to reduce costs . Not Monaco. Today's tunnel was merely a bypass, and a bypass that contained at least two roundabouts. Roundabouts in a tunnel? Mental. Anyway, the bypass did its job a bit too well. It spat me out the other side of the country making me miss it entirely. I heaved the bike around and found another way in.

I cycled around for a while looking for the casino as a nice location for my official photograph but I couldn't find it. I'd been here before, about twenty five years ago, and so I knew I wasn't missing much. I've never really understood why a casino is associated with wealth, exotic cocktails and sophistication while a betting shop is associated with poverty, alcoholism and tiny biros. At heart they're both the same, although admittedly it's hard to imagine James Bond in a bookie's. Monte Carlo's casino is just slot machines and spinning wheels. It's Blackpool's Golden Mile in an Armani suit.  

Bugger the casino. I found a lovely location for the photo, the new breakwater on the harbour.

It was also time for my Eat Something Silly I've Never Had Before challenge. Surveying all the opulence before me, the speedboats the size of houses, the million dollar apartments, the Pradas and Versaces, I reached into my bag, took out a packet of maggots and ate them.

Now, you might consider this to be cheating but I see it as a contingency plan. I assumed that there would be a few places on this trip, the ones I could cycle through in ten minutes, in which it would be difficult to find something I'd never eaten before. Enter Dean. Dean is a Nerja padel friend. That's someone I play padel with, rather than someone I go paddling with. There's an important difference. Dean gave me a packet of BBQ-flavoured maggots for just this type of occasion. They're deep fried - not live - I'm not a monster. And so I ate them, took my photograph and - job done - cycled out of Monaco to visit my cousin Vicky and her fella, Richard, who live just the other side.

Vicky used to work for Riviera Radio, the only English language radio station on the coast. She's freelance now but still arranged to interview me at the radio station in Monaco the next day so that details of my trip could be broadcast to thousands of uninterested, gin-soaked, retired Brits (apart from the four lovely ones who Facebook-befriended me and who never touch a drop of gin, probably). But as an upshot of that, a young and enthusiastic puppy dog of a bloke from Monaco's television station wanted to do an interview with me for the telly the next morning.

We met at the harbour again. With beard and straggly hair, I looked like one of Jesus's disciplines, framed by all the things that would have caused my boss to yak on about camels and eyes of needles. Then the puppy dog interviewed me. There was pride in his questions. He clearly loved where he was living. He was a servant of Monaco. The first few questions went alright. "And what do you do in each capital?" he asked. "Well, one thing I like to do is eat something I've never eaten before. In France I had an andouillette and in Switzerland I even ate a marmot," I replied. And then it came. "And what did you eat in Monaco?" he beamed, probably imagining my munching down caviar, or oysters, or a big bag of diamonds.

Oh dear.

Could I be honest? Had I really cycled ten thousand kilometres to arrive in his magnificent Monaco to eat a handful of maggots? Is there anything less associated with Monaco than maggots?

"I had barbajuan," I replied. Luckily, the day before, Vicky had sourced a Monegasque pastry, stuffed with bette, a special leaf, but, to all intents and purposes, spinach. The barbajuan was lovely but I've eaten pastry before, and I've eaten spinach before, but diplomacy states that sometimes it's simply better to lie about eating invertebrates. I didn't want to hurt him. Besides, maybe a non-maggot-loving billionaire watching this on the box would be intrigued by my ride and sponsor me a million pounds. Or pay squillions for the film rights. Yes, of course. That's exactly how you become a billionaire, giving away tons of money to an insect-eating tit.

It turns out I was right. No one and his cheque book got in touch.

If you're interested, I'm also carrying a black, shrink-wrapped Chinese egg that curiously has no sell-by date. Roll on San Marino. And food poisoning.

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