|Sailing is not a Monaco thing!|
Bonjour my posse.
I have good news and bad news.
On the bright side, the studio WiFi connection started working the day after I posted my last story (it was probably me, doing the wrong thing, as I am not known for being a "techie".) The bad news is I went to Monaco today and I did not like it. Caution: If you like that place; vacation there in the summer every year; or dream of moving there one day, stop reading now. Major spoiler alert. You have been warned. Now back to our story.
Well, it had to happen. Every trip has a dud. Un toquard. Mine was Monaco, and I hit it on my third sightseeing day on the French Riviera. I went there by boat. It takes only 45 minutes to travel from la Belle Nice to the famous Principality of Monaco. It was a good and a bad idea. The boat ride was fun, and I got to admire the beautiful Riviera coast and gawk at the magnificent estates, owned by designers, rock stars, and other celebrities. This also means I was stuck there all day and could not get home once I'd had enough, after just a few hours.
|A modest abode seen along the French coast today...|
|Roughing it on the French Riviera...|
|The Christina O., formerly owned by Aristotle Onassis,|
and the most famous boat on the Mediterranean
Not all the day was bad. There were a few [fleeting] good moments. The heat was not one of them. It was brutally hot in Monaco today, without a marine breeze, and the place was suffocating.
The boat skipper was also our tourist guide and he explained on the way that there are three main parts to the Principality. If, like moi, you have ever wondered why people seem to refer interchangeably to "Monaco" or "Monte-Carlo" when referring to that little independent nation, you might find this interesting. If not, scroll down.
The most popular, is "the Rock." This is where you find the Royal Palace, the cathedral, and the Cousteau Museum (aka "The Oceanic Museum of Monaco.") They are all located in a very small town named "Monaco-Ville." It is perched way up there, above the harbor.
|The Royal Palace on top of "the Rock"|
The second part, is known as "La Condamine." It is basically the harbor area with some of the most massive yachts I have ever seen (and that includes the Saint-Tropez harbor, West of Nice, or its self-proclaimed American counterpart, Roche Harbor, on San Juan island, in the Pacific Northwest.) Le Husband would not even give the harbor a second look: There are hardly any sailboats there.
|La Condamine - The Harbor|
The third part of the Municipality is "Monte-Carlo," sitting on the other side of the harbor, and on top of another steep hill, directly across from the Rock. Monte-Carlo is well known for its expensive real estate, palaces, and world-famous casino.
There is only one beach in the Principality, and one has to go past Monte-Carlo to get there. It is pristine but entirely man-made (new sand is brought every spring so it maintains its good looks.)
|Monte-Carlo casino from the water|
There you have it. Imagine the picture. Two big, overcrowded hills, and a big harbor esconced in the middle. This is not a pedestrian-friendly town (and in my book, that's almost the kiss of death.) There are buses to take you from one part of the city to the other, but I foolishly tried to hoof it at least part of the time.
As you enter the harbor on the boat (and it is likely even more shocking from the water,) what you see is something like this. Over-crowded and over-built. Overhyped?
|Part of the harbor. Can you say: "Muchos buildings?"|
From up close, the harbor had a lot of this:
|All of this yacht's engravings were made in 24 karat gold. |
Why? It's the only metal that does not rust, of course!
Thankfully, I also found some of this (this one's for Junior!):
|Cute attack: The Monaco sailing school is off|
When we arrived, I headed straight for "The Rock." I kept thinking about the Alcatraz escape movie with Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage. Not a good thing as I was about to visit the place where the Grimaldi family has lived for generations. It was only 10:30 and I knew it would be packed soon. I climbed the hill for 15 minutes (did not want to wait for the bus.)
When I made it to the top, Monaco-Ville looked like this:
Two hours later, all hell had broken loose:
Ever the perfect tourist, I visited the Royal Palace (a few rooms are open to the public.) The rooms felt cramped and I could not help but smile when I walked through "the Hall of Mirrors." If you have ever seen its namesake built by Louis XIV in Versailles, you would have smiled as well. Let's just say this version was a bit underwhelming. Like a lot of people, I was interested in seeing the place where Princess Grace (aka Grace Kelly) once lived. It is impossible to travel around the Principality without being reminded about Monaco's most famous resident. There are buildings, and streets named after her. There are old black and white pictures of her life in Monaco displayed in the streets all over the city.
|This picture captures the future princess's arrival in Monaco|
on a steamer, in April 1956
If I had to find a nickname for Monaco-Ville, it would be "the Magic Kingdom." Is it the buildings' colors and shapes? The place is pristine. Not a gum wrapper in sight. It looks like Walt Disney was used as an advisor when they built the place. Illustration.
|Approaching the Royal Palace |
(the white flag indicates Prince Albert is in town)
|The Royal Palace and one of the 80 guards |
protecting the castle and the royal family
|The cathedral of Monaco|
Princess Grace and Prince Rainier were married, then buried here
|So perfect, so pretty... so Disney-like|
One visit I truly enjoyed while on "the Rock" was Jacques Cousteau's museum. It was built by Albert 1st (Prince Albert's grandfather,) who, like a lot of Grimaldi men, was a major environmentalist. That building impressed me a lot more than anything else I saw in the Principality today. Cousteau directed it for over thirty years. Like a lot of French people, I have great respect for "le Commandant Cousteau." During his 4th grade year, Junior worked on a presentation on the environmentalist's life and career, and I learned a lot while watching him rehearse for the big day. Imagine a grand building with a gigantic aquarium; a museum featuring ship models, giant whale skeletons, oceanographic research equipment; and a rooftop terrace with panoramic views. Voilà, les amis, some of my favorite finds. Hope you enjoy them too.
|Little toddler discovering the big ocean...|
|Ugliest fish I ever saw: La Rascasse Rose (Pink Scorpionfish)|
|Favorite fish: Le Sélène. Flat, fast, and hydrodynamic. |
Practically invisible in the water!
|The oldest submarine ever built "Bushnell's Tortoise" (1774): |
Was used during the American war of Independence
|Favorite room: Dedicated to environmental studies and models.|
Check out the giant whale in the back!
Before I left "the Rock," I decided to brave the crowds and have lunch. Someone at the museum recommended a "decent restaurant." As I sat there waiting for my order, I indulged in a favorite activity of mine: people-watching. Let me tell you, les amis. In a touristy place like Monaco-Ville, you see the whole [tacky] world go by. Some highlights.
The obnoxious family. They are enjoying a full picnic (complete with Tupperware containers, chips, a giant jug of water, plastic goblets) right on the steps of the Cathedral (the steps are small, so they were hard to miss.) There was a beautiful garden across the street. With benches. With a grassy area. Nope. Not for them. Better to have lunch in front of the place where Princess Grace is buried. [Don't ever believe what you read on people's t'shirts. For the record, Obnoxious Family was from Italy.]
The elegant couple. Lost in the midst of gaudy t-shirts, loud families, and miscellaneous headwear, the poor couple seems lost. These two are clearly considering taking off and running for their lives! They stuck it out.
Monsieur "Nicely coordinated." Too bad he picked the wrong color.
Madame "I-am-ready-for-snow-should-snow-arrive." Well, if that day job does not work out, she can always apply for a guard position at the Royal Palace!
Little did I know when I left "the Rock" after lunch that the enjoyable part of my visit was over. I rode the bus across the harbor, all the way to the other hill (the bus was a good call.) The famous Monte-Carlo, home of beautiful and wealthy people (the Principality boasts the world's highest per capita income,) was even more crowded and stressful. Add car traffic to the hundreds of people walking around in the heat, and you may start to get the picture.
It's always interesting to find out how the other half lives, right? A few shots.
|The most famous casino in the world?|
|Up close and personal...|
|Back of the Casino|
There were also exclusive designer boutiques (I spotted CHANEL immediately, as you may expect from this French Girl.) There were expensive cars, lined up in front of the casino and everyone (who was not "someone") was taking pictures of them. Porsche, Maserati, BMW, Ferrari, and even a couple of Aston-Martins.
|Dude, nobody is going to think you are James Bond, |
even if you pose in front of that thing!
I made myself a promise: If I ever come back to the Principality of Monaco, I will make sure to drive up to the casino in a vintage 2 CV. Wouldn't that be très cool? For those of you who don't know what 2CV are and why they became so iconic in France, I will be writing a story about them soon. In the meantime, imagine French Girl pulling up along the curb in this glorious piece of French engineering:
|The much-beloved "Deuche": It would get all the attention it deserves!|
Enough dreaming. It was time to leave Paradise and head back to the boat. Lord knows I did not want to be stuck there all night. I walked all the way back, downhill, along the loudest, hottest, most pedestrian-unfriendly road to make it. Once onboard, I chatted with other passengers about the Principality of Monaco and got the feeling other people had been equally overwhelmed. Someone said: "It's one of those things you have to do at least once." Right. Consider it done, then. One thing is for sure: When we finally pulled into the Nice harbor, I let out a big sigh of relief. I will be darned. La Belle Nice is starting to feel like... home!
|Picture of Monaco-Ville and the Harbor way back when... the good old days?|