James and Me
James and Me
“The name is Bond. James Bond.” As I re-watched one of my favorite James Bond films, Casino Royale, it occurred to me that James and I have quite a lot in common! While I have not swum with the sharks in Jamaica, obliterated world enemies or, donned beaches in custom-made bikinis, commonalities remain:
Love for the adventure, the unexpected and intrigue;
Belief that many possibilities exist though you may have to chance it; and
Allure of glamour and extraordinary and exotic places.
In 24 movies, from 1962 to 2015, Bond saved the world from greed inspired mercenaries, targeting the global economy with schemes to control gold, oil and diamonds; plotting the destruction of land, sea and air; wreaking havoc by seeking destruction of satellite weaponry systems; or, effecting devastation through germ warfare. High tech gadgets, thrilling casino nights, diabolical enemies, advanced weaponry and car, boat and ski chases were all a part of his thrilling escapades.
From my perspective, things couldn’t have tracked better. From New York, Miami, and New Orleans to Lake Como, Sienna, and Vatican City; and, from Chantilly, Monte Carlo and Monaco to Vienna, Berlin and St, Petersburg, I’ve traversed much of the same territory as Bond in 23 of the 24 film locations. Here’s a look at our map:
Get the picture? These film locations are within the most incredible and captivating places in the world. I would say For Your Eyes Only, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and Casino Royale showcase three favorite sites that the two of us have ventured to explore.
Corfu, Greece, one of the easiest, most pleasant places in the world to reside and the second largest of the Ionian Islands. Corfu is a UNESCO Heritage Site, popular, still, with both royalty and celebrities and, permeated in history and Greek mythology. As it happens, it is believed to be the Island of Scheria or Ithaki, the Island of the Phaeacians, where Homer’s Odysseus arrived on one of his last stops. Here, I was most absorbed by the Achilleion Palace in Gastouri, built in 1890 by Empress of Austria, Elisabeth of Bavaria, as a summer palace and in homage to the Greek god and hero, Achilles. On the monarchial grounds, spectacular gardens, a statue of Empress Elisabeth, Achilles-like statues, marble pillars and, the black and white patio tiles are preserved. Many of the interior features remain the same as in the film, For Your Eyes Only, such as the regal décor, unique lamps mounted between the windows of the upstairs room where the casino was located, flowing curtains, and huge, glass doors leading to the patio. The vantage points, exterior to the palace, are the most magnificent views in Corfu, exposing outstanding perspectives of Corfu City, the island, and to the north, the Adriatic Sea and the Albanian Coast.
As I entered and ascended the crimson, royally carpeted steps of the Achilleion Palace, I was reminded of scenes from the movie: The gown-clad Melina Havelock, heroine, seated at the roulette table in the middle of the room. Agent 007 winning at Chemin de Fer (Baccarat) against Lord Bunky in the back. And, later, Bond mentally maneuvering while dining magnanimously with Aris Krisatos, KGB agent, who seeks to command the ATAC communication system which controls atomic warheads. The memorable dinner dialogue began: Waiter: “Apertif, please?” Bond: “Ouzo, for me, please.” Kristatos: “Ena ouzo, ena whisky jorispago parakalo.”
Cascais-Estoril, Portugal, “International Spy Nest of World War II.” At Estoril’s Hotel Palaćio, the spy hub of the Allies during war, in its Bar Estoril, you can still order a “007 Martini.” Bond’s recipe: “Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, a half measure of Kina Lillet. Shake, not stir, until its ice cold, and then add a large, thin slice of lemon peel.” Oh, oh, watch out!
Just like many others, Estoril brought out the secret agent in me. I was fascinated to discover that Hotel Palaćio was the place where Ian Fleming, journalist, writer and British Naval Intelligence Officer, was assigned in 1941 to gather intelligence on Serbian born, triple agent Dusko Popov, also known as “Tricycle” due to his infamous romancing skills. The game they played involved meeting, drinking, and gambling, all the while exchanging secrets. I investigated the same domain as Allied spies, displaced kings, queens, dukes, duchesses, princes, princesses and other royals from France, Spain, Italy, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Albania and found them to have truly been “refugees living in splendor.” It is here that Fleming first conceived his infamous character, James Bond, and proceeded to write his first James Bond Novel, Casino Royale.
Estoril, a seaside resort town along the Portuguese Riviera, between Lisbon and Cascais, is also home to Casino Estoril, known as the greatest European casino and visited by Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. There Popov, Nazi Resister Bloch, and Bond engage in a high-stakes game of Baccarat when Countess Teresa “Tracy” Draco enters. Ultimately, Bond falls in love, marries this “femme fatale “ and joins her Corsican crime boss father, Draco, in tracking down Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the leader of SPECTRE. It’s Blofeld who kills Tracy on their wedding day, leaving Bond tragically loveless until the advent of Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service opens with Bond driving from the coastal village of Cascais in an olive green Aston Martin. Quite befittingly, Cascais exists as one of the richest communities in Portugal, noted as the resort getaway of Portugal’s royal family. I adored the scenic yacht harbor- a few paces from the town’s quaint shopping and dining area, Guincho Beach, Boca do Inferno, the cliffs along the Atlantic shoreline and the Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais. To the north of Cascais is Sintra, another charming UNESCO Heritage Site, established on top of the Sintra Mountains, and the home of Palaćio da Pena “fairytale” Castle, striking in red, pink, yellow and blue, and the National Palace of Sintra. A better sanctuary than these coastal towns of Cascais-Estoril for spies, ex-royals and, even people like me, is undeniably unimaginable!
Montenegro, the “Black Mountain.” Well, unlike Bond who enters fictitious Montenegro on a Japanese patterned bullet train, recently christened with his “license to kill,” I arrived in the real Montenegro, after disembarking on the Adriatic Coast of Split, Croatia, travelling south through Dubrovnik and into Kotor by car. (Major scenes from the film, Casino Royale noted as Montenegro, were actually shot in inexpensive Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic.) There’s a Hotel Splendide in the movie (Grand Hotel Pupp in reality), conceptualized based upon Estoril’s Hotel Palaćio; but, reassuringly, a luxurious Hotel Splendido also rests on the shore of the Bay of Kotor. The casino was Casino Pasha, not Casino Royale where Bond plays intensely against Financier Le Chiffre, defying sure death to foil his plan to regain funding meant to short-sell an aviation firm.
English Poet Lord Byron writes, “At the birth of the planet, the most beautiful encounter between land and sea must have been on the Montenegrin coast.” Geographically, Montenegro is the tiniest Slavic country, situated below Dubrovnik and Budva, on the shore of the Adriatic Sea. In 1992, it was pronounced the sole ecological state of its kind, worldwide, and it is the home to the Biogradska Gora Rainforest, with many uncommon plants and animals. Distinctively, Bojana River, which is the only river in the world that flows, simultaneously, upstream and downstream due to its natural formation, runs here. Montenegro features 250 days of sun, outstanding beaches, stunning landscapes, high-end resorts, cultural enrichment and deep history. It’s perfect. The Bay of Kotor, a gulf resembling a fjord and encircled by mountains, is popular as a filming site (i.e. Dark of the Sun, The Brothers Bloom, November Man, Mathilde), and is an enviable vacation destination.
I mentioned that my route into Montenegro was through Split and Dubrovnik. For me, the breathtaking Dinaric Alps, Dalmatian coastlines, landscapes, culture and cuisines were reminiscent of each other. The old towns of each were lovely and the hosting families gracious and anxious to share their way of life. However, a couple of remarkable exceptions in Split existed: The ruins of Palace of Diocletian and Galerija Mestrovic where the work of Sculptor Ivan Maestrovic is featured.
This time, I didn’t go on to Venice, as Bond did tracking Vesper Lynd and unsuccessfully, attempting to save her from her demise. Instead, I sailed away from the Adriatic Coast with the sun of one of those 250 days on my skin as I contemplated Bond’s philosophy: Elektra King: “I could have given you the world.” James Bond: “The world is not enough.”