the travels & travails of an escaped lab rat


Monaco has been my home in Europe since I started working abroad in 2006.

Ideally situated on the Mediterranean and nestled at the foot of the Alps where France meets Italy, Monaco has proven an excellent jumping-off point for numerous adventurous day-trips and forays into the surrounding area (with Nice, Marseilles, San Remo, Genova, Milano, and several smaller towns and villages all within explorable driving distance).

Monaco enjoys nearly 300 days of sunshine and experiences extremely mild and pleasant weather, with average daily lows and highs hovering between 13 and 20 °C for the year.

Most people know Monaco’s a small place, but I don’t think that they understand just how small it really is. At less than 2 square kilometres (1.95 if I’m being exact), the city-state of Monaco could easily fit into the contiguous area occupied by Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens in London (2.53 square kilometres) and would practically rattle around inside of Central Park in New York (3.41 square kilometres). It is the second smallest country in the world — Vatican City being the smallest (at 0.44 square kilometres).

Monaco has a population of roughly 33,000, nearly 80% of which are ex-pat tax-exiles/refugees. The principality’s policy of not levying income tax on individuals makes residency in Monaco a sought-after status (and pushes rents and real estate prices into the stratosphere, as there are only so many physical places to live in such a small geographical area).

Intrigue and gossip are the national pastime and sport. Monaco has no significant natural resources, save for rich veins of extraordinarily wealthy individuals that can be found concentrated in luxury condominium block formations by the seaside.

If it sounds as if I’m getting down on Monaco, I’m not. I really like it here. It’s just that I feel the need to impress upon you all that Monaco just isn’t a place like any other.

Here’s an example of what I mean: Say, after an evening of fine dining in Beverly Hills, I was walking up to the valet to retrieve my car. I could say, “It’s the Bentley,” and they’d smile and run off to fetch it for me. In Monaco, if I said, “It’s the Bentley,” they’d look at me blankly unless I added, “…the black one…” and it would help even moreso if I also offered, “…the one with the fuzzy dice hanging from the mirror and small nick on the left-rear panel.”

Normal in Monaco is simply not “normal” anywhere else.

And despite all its glitz and glamour, Monaco is still at heart a small town. You can’t help but eventually bump into everyone who lives here, given enough time. The Monegasque (native citizens of Monaco) are a very friendly people; Monacoians (non-permanent, non-citizen residents of Monaco) are a bit more transient (and mercenary) in their demeanor.

Living in Monaco is like having a bit of the surreal off-handedly injected into every facet of day-to-day life — interesting and just a little unsettling all at the same time.

Still, it beats the crap out of having to shovel snow just to get to your car every morning.

Bond…James Bond.

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London: Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea.

Possibly the single greatest contribution by the British to the culinary world since the invention of the sandwich.

First, let’s get some of the history and technicalities out of the way…

Although she is usually credited with the “invention” of Afternoon Tea, it is probably more accurate to say that Anna, Duchess of Bedford, introduced and popularized the custom rather than originating it outright — most likely adopting it from the French and adapting it to suit British customs.

Prior to the introduction of Afternoon Tea, the typical mid-18th century British family had two main meals a day: breakfast and dinner. Breakfast was taken early in the morning and consisted of ale, bread, and beef. Dinner was a long, massive meal, served at a fashionably late hour at the end of the day. “Taking tea” became a way of sneaking in some sustenance during that large gap between formal meals (no surprise there as to why the custom caught on and became so popular so quickly).

Originally, Afternoon Tea centered around cakes and pastries served between 3 and 5 p.m. in a parlour around a low table. In the latter part of the Victorian era, working families would return home late, often tired and very hungry; the Tea for these families would be served between 5 and 6 p.m. around a dining (high) table and would consist of heartier munchies, including meats, bread, butter, pickles, and cheese.

Thus, there are two basic types of Tea-taking named after the kind of table the tea was served on: Afternoon (or Low) Tea, and High Tea. Many confuse and interchange the two terms, but they refer to two different menus. Contrary to how it sounds, it was the Afternoon — Low — Tea that was enjoyed by the leisure class and the High Tea that was taken by the working class.

Generally, modern establishments serve Afternoon Tea, and they serve it between 3 and 5 p.m.

There are three basic variations on Afternoon Tea: Cream Tea (tea, scones, jam, and cream), Light Tea (tea, scones, and sweets), and Full Tea (tea, savories, scones, jam, cream, sweets, and pastries). Usually, the courses are served in the following order: savories (light sandwiches or appetizers), scones (with jam or preserves and clotted cream), and pastries (cakes, cookies, shortbread, and sweets) — all accompanied by tea, of course.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way…

There is no shortage of excellent shops in London for loose-leaf tea. I’m a traditionalist; I like to make my purchases from Fortnum and Mason, who’ve been selling tea and accouterments from the same location since 1707. They also serve a decent Afternoon Tea, but I prefer to take my tea in quieter surrounds.

For years, my usual spot was a corner table in the Promenade at the Dorchester. It was, in fact, the site of my very first-ever Afternoon Tea in London. I still frequent the Dorchester, but I’ve found a new favourite at the Lanesborough. I had heard of the Afternoon Tea at the Lanesborough from colleagues for years, but never managed to get around to try it until work started to put me up in the hotel whenever I was in London for business. There’s no getting around the fact that the Afternoon Tea at the Lanesborough is an expensive indulgence, but in my opinion, it’s probably the best Afternoon Tea service in London at present.

As an aside, I shot the photo of the Lanesborough interior back in 2008 when they were doing renovations on their tea room; the renovations have since been completed, and I did have a shot of the new decor but I can’t seem to find the most recent photo.

I just cannot do with out mah cuppa.

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Afternoon Tea - Fortum & Mason - Exterior (2008)++Afternoon Tea - Fortum & Mason - Interior (2008)++Afternoon Tea - Fortum & Mason - Interior (2008)++Afternoon Tea - Fortum & Mason - Interior (2008)++Afternoon Tea -  The Dorchester - Exterior (2008)++Afternoon Tea -  The Dorchester - The Promenade (2008)++Afternoon Tea - The Lanesborough - Exterior (2008)++Afternoon Tea - The Lanesborough - Temporary Tea Room (2008)++

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