Monaco has the biggest per capita police force in the entire world. There are closed circuit cameras everywhere. The entire city is closely monitored. This made Christi worried as we got dressed. With so many closed circuit cameras, there was absolutely no way to hide from the fashion police, a division that must surely exist here. We were both wearing pants purchased before we set off on our journey and they were way out of style now. Our shoes are practical camping kind of shoes, always totally out of fashion. Going out was risky. We could very well be arrested and deported for our clothing. But we’re risk takers.
We were delighted to see that one of the restaurants on the boardwalk served breakfast. Praise the Lord! We love going out to breakfast, and we hadn’t expected to see breakfast here. When we got our meal, we were sad to see that breakfast consisted of one soft boiled egg, toast, and a 16 ounce cup of tea, all for only $11.00 USD. So, yes, in this case, Monaco has lived up to its reputation for ridiculously expensive restaurants. And tax in restaurants here is 20%, which can add up fast.
After breakfast, we headed over to the historic district to do some sightseeing.
We couldn’t believe how nice the weather was. It was bright and sunny with no clouds in the sky. It was warm, but not hot. Talk about a nice change of pace from cold, rainy and gloomy Rome. We walked southeast down the boardwalk towards the mouth of the bay. At the end of the boardwalk, there is a set of stairs that takes you into what looks to be an old fortress. The round area on the right is now used as a theater.
The fortress is built on a sheer cliff, and these days is now a beautifully landscaped park with lovely views of the bay and the city. It is quite a lot of steps to the top, but there are many levels of pretty gardens, benches, and the occasional cannon and cannonball display. The second photo is of Monte Carlo, directly across the bay from where we were standing. Check out all the mega yachts. For scale, look at the cars on the quay and see how big the yachts are compared to the cars. And the yachts to the right, beyond the scope of this shot, are much bigger. From up here, it is clear that the marina is chock full
Once we reached the top, we followed the main road west to the Oceanographic Museum, housed in a beautiful classical style building. Across the street is a little sightseeing train. We wandered northwest a little, finding ourselves in a network of really old, narrow, straight streets of the medieval era. Every single building is perfectly maintained and painted a cheerful colors. The streets are cobblestone, everything is totally clean, and the landscape is perfect. It really does look like something out of a storybook.
We found a cafÃ© that was open and got some lunch, then backtracked to the oceanographic museum so we could take the train ride. The train ride was OK. It follows the Grand Prix racing circuit most of the way, which is kind of cool. There is a pre-recorded audio that gives you some interesting trivia, history, and points out the various points of interest along the way. The audio sets have multiple languages, so you just flip to the language you want. The downside is that the recording is not necessarily in sync with where the train happens to be, so most of the time you have no idea exactly where the point of interest is that corresponds with the information you are hearing. Much of the information in the audio is interesting, but must not be memorable, since we are trying to remember trivia to share with you and we just can’t remember anything.
From the Oceanographic museum, the train headed down the rock to the waterfront, followed the waterfront to the southeast end of the bay, and then headed up Monte Carlo hill. We drove by the casino, the opera house, and the famous Hotel de Paris that adjoins the casino, then past many more posh looking hotels, shops and buildings. The buildings are all upscale and aesthetically appealing (if not downright beautiful). There are no ugly, blocky, or poorly constructed complexes here. There are quite a few parks. Pedestrian walkways aren’t simply sidewalks paralleling the road, they are quaint gardens dotted with fountains and art, well away from the car traffic. These nice pedestrian walkways are everywhere, too. It is definitely pedestrian a friendly city. The endless line of retail store all seem to be very high end, such as Escada and Louis Vuitton. Everything is perfectly landscaped. Everything is immaculately maintained. Everything is spotlessly clean. It is all so perfect here, in every way. It makes Beverly Hills look like a total slum.
The way back to the rock was mostly through a network of tunnels dug underground, also part of the Grand Prix track. You can see one of the tunnels at the bottom left of the first picture above. Back on the rock, we went by the palace, the cathedral and some government buildings before returning to the base at the oceanographic museum.
Oh, and we neglected to mention that the road is full of hairpin turns and blind curves. Now that we have driven on it we understand why one of the grand prix drivers said that this route was like riding a bike in your living room. Oh, wait, that is something we learned on the train. See, we did retain something! The ride was about a half hour total and made no stops.
When the train ride was over, we went to the train station to meet our friends Andrea and Francesca. In trying to figure out how to get to the station, we found out there are all kinds of underground pedestrian tunnels and walkways that connect various areas so you don’t have to walk the long way on the street. These pedestrian tunnels are, once again, immaculately clean. They are made of marble and often mirrored. There are elevators and escalators to take you up and down the various levels tucked away everywhere. We suspect that if you know where the elevators & escalators are, you can easily navigate your way anywhere through town without actually walking an inch up or down hill. Quite a feat for a city built on a sharp hill.
Andrea and Francesca currently live in San Diego, however, they are originally from Italy and happened to be on holiday in Italy to see their families. Since we happened to be so close by, they came to Monaco to meet up with us. We were really excited to see them. We were still feeling low from the Stromboli incident. Seeing our friends really helped to lift us out of the mild funk that we hadn’t been able to escape from.
We stopped by Kosmos to drop off their luggage. This morning we had noticed a lot of activity around the boat, but we weren’t sure why. Now it was clear that they were setting up some kind of go cart race track next to our boat. How fun. We’ll have front row seats for the go cart races!
We quickly headed out again, taking Andrea and Francesca up to the rock so we could explore the historic district some more. We went to the Cathedral, where Grace and Rainier were married and buried. We think we have seen too many churches lately, as we have become pretty blasÃ© about them. This one has the usual high ceilings, limestone walls, and lots of pillars and arches. The floors are beautiful colored marble. The dome is decorated with a Byzantine style mosaic of Mary sitting on a throne with baby Jesus in her lap, with angels flying around them. We actually haven’t seen any Byzantine style art in churches in a long time, now that we think about it. The Greek Orthodox Byzantine style went with the Eastern Roman Empire, and is kind of rare to see in the Roman Catholic West. The background of the mosaic is all gold. It is pretty spectacular. There is a decorative row of Romanesque style pillars under the dome, another thing that is unusual. Romanesque pillars are small, narrow pillars placed very close to one another, and it was a short fad in the city of Rome that never really spread. There were several little chapels off to the side, each ornately decorated. This is a more tasteful church, so there were lots of statues and art about, but not so overly decorated as to be overwhelming. The main altar area is round, and all around the outside of the altar area, in the floor, are graves of the Grimaldi royalty, including Grace and Rainier’s.
The building on the right is the palace of justice and the one on the left is the national council. Sadly, the national council building is cut in half, but we assure you, it is old, doll house charming, and beautifully kept. They are right across the way from the cathedral.
Then we headed over to the palace. You can go in and tour part of the palace, but at this point it was late in the day and the tours were done for the day. Maybe tomorrow.
From the west side of the palace there is a great view of Fontiveille, the new section of town built during Prince Rainier’s reign just to the west of the rock. Almost all the land there is man made — we saw a little sign that said that naturally the mountain plunged almost straight into the sea with only the tiniest of shorelines. It is where the light manufacturing and hi-tech businesses are based. While the buildings certainly are modern and fairly nice, they are pretty blocky and not the glamorous and exquisitely beautiful buildings that you see in the rest of Monaco. Someone told us that Princess Grace tried to talk Rainier out of putting up these “ugly” buildings, but obviously, he did anyway.
In between the rock and Fontiveille is another bay with a marina full of mega yachts. Actually, it looks like there are one or two slips available here, surprisingly enough. The yacht from the movie “The Island” is berthed in there, the one Ewan McGregor’s character kept remembering.
We headed down the hill to look for a cafÃ© to get something to drink. Then we wandered around La Condamine, the section of town where the boat is parked. It is just as charming and nice as the other areas we have walked through. We passed a Ferrari dealer and the men stopped to covet the cars for a while. We eventually got dinner and had a nice evening getting caught up on each others lives. We went to a sushi place. It was only OK. We kind of had our hopes pinned on best sushi ever.