March 23, 2008
A bird’s eye view of life
A big day for me last week; my 60th birthday. It’s an odd thing, being 60. I really can’t believe there is such an age and if there is, how could I possibly be that old? I certainly don’t feel any different to when I was 30.
Well maybe I do a little. I’m aware of not having quite so much energy and of being more cautious about the way I treat my body. I can still leap across a stream but the landing somehow seems harder now, and perhaps I should worry about twisting an ankle, being laid up for weeks and not getting all those important jobs done.
The other strange thing is I realized only a few months back that for the whole of my working career, retirement at 60 was biggest single upcoming event of my life, but at no time had I ever given any serious thought as to what lay beyond. Was it that I was so tied up with a career there was no time to consider what happened after it finished, or was it the fear that everything I knew and understood was going to come to an end, to be replaced by the unknown?
Each of the decades in our lives carries a significance accompanied by fear, mainly of getting old. Even the transition from twenties to thirties marks the end of what we considered youth, though from my viewpoint 30 is now amazingly young. I have trouble coming to terms with being older than people of 50, an age I used to consider terminally ancient.
Now the date has come and gone I feel I’ve been reborn; that life has restarted for me. The fear has vanished, to be replaced by an eagerness to get on with a new life, career or whatever.
To celebrate the event my mother and her partner came to visit; to help celebrate my birthday and to escape from the cold winds, rain and snow of March in England. To be in one’s late 80s and still able to travel across Europe, to enjoy meals in restaurants and a stroll along a sunny beach; now that puts my transition to retirement into perspective. Hey, I could have 25 years to go; just think how much can be done in that time. So we spent as much quality time together as possible, enjoying the beauty of the Riviera and the pleasure of each other’s company.
The highlight of the week was my birthday treat; dinner at the Vista Palace. For those who don’t live on this coastline you can see from this photo that the weather hasn’t been all glorious sunshine. Maybe we haven’t had the icy blasts that those in northern Europe have to endure, but a lot of cloud with more than usually frequent rain.
The Vista Palace Hotel – often known as the “V” – perches on a rock towering above Monaco, with spectacular views across the city. By booking a few days earlier we were able to reserve the best table in the restaurant, right in the corner with a panorama on two sides. In one direction lies Monte Carlo and the French coastline; in the other Menton, Ventimiglia and Bordighera. As dusk falls the lights of the city gradually replace the coastline, providing the impression of being suspended in a helicopter rather than actually being attached to land.
Now I’m no connoisseur of restaurants; I like to eat well but generally feel uncomfortable with high prices (whoever is paying) and excessive flummery. But for me the “V” hits just about the right spot. Definitely at the higher end of my price range – think €100 per head as a rough guide – but with courteous and friendly service, not the snooty obsequiousness too often found even in inferior establishments. We all thoroughly enjoyed our meals – I won’t go so far as to rate the food itself but I’d be happy go for a return match any time.
Because I only recently moved house and have no spare bedroom for visitors, Mum took a room at a local hotel; the Solemare in Ventimiglia, in the old port area. This part of town is a delight; quiet, unspoilt and a pleasant place to walk along the lungomare (promenade) or stop for a modest meal at one of its several restaurants. There are no hotels in Ventimiglia above three star but the Solemare is perfectly acceptable, with modern decor, comfortable rooms, friendly service and spectacular views over towards Monaco, with nearly all rooms having a seaward-facing balcony. The port area itself, only reached through a tunnel, is often overlooked by visitors heading for the weekly market. It has a special charm, lacking the bustle of the main town centre and yet to be overwhelmed by modern Riviera development. Here the fishing boats still lay on the beach, and as there is no through road the levels of traffic are low. A fifteen-minute walk along the coast takes you to Calandre, one of the few sandy beaches anywhere in this region and well-loved by the few who have discovered it. Because of the southern aspect and the hill behind it, this strip enjoys a special micro-climate of its own; warm whenever the sun shines.