Côte d’Azur: Monaco

Monaco seen from the Jardin Exotique.

Monaco seen from the Jardin Exotique.

For the last full day on the Mediterranean, we took the train along the coast to Monte Carlo, Monaco. The train ride was beautiful, the tracks curving around coves and towns perched before perfectly blue water. I’d been to Monaco before in 2006 and was looking forward to seeing more of its decadence. While Monaco is enclosed on all sides except that of the ocean by France, it is an independent principality and Monte Carlo is its capital. Being such a small place, the city and the country might as well be one and the same, a lot like Vatican City. We first walked down from the underground train station to the harbor, where there were even more giant yachts than in Nice.

Mercedes outside the Casino.

Mercedes outside the Casino.

We then walked up to the opulent casino, although it wasn’t open until the afternoon so we didn’t go inside. Although I think I might have been underdressed anyway. While we were walking back from the casino’s terrace, a group of Mercedes from Germany pulled up at the adjacent Hôtel de Paris. They were all the exact same model and appeared to be in a rally. However, one of the travelers didn’t seem to be enjoying the glamorous life. As she got out of the passenger side with the map she half-heartedly tried to fold it before just crumpling the whole thing up and tossing it back in the car. Good to know that even the ridiculously rich still have arguments about navigation. We then went on a walk over to the Plage de Larvotto where we have lunch by the ocean. Like Nice, Monaco doesn’t naturally have a sandy beach, so sand is regularly brought in by a barge. There weren’t too many people as it’s just the beginning of sunbathing season, just a few people floating in the water or laying out on the sand. The water was crystal clear and we could see fish swimming just off the shore. After the beach, we visited the Jardin Japonais, a traditional Japanese garden that was very peaceful with its koi fish, red bridge, and rock gardens.

TOURISTES! For those of you foolish enough to not put on clothes before visiting the royal palace, there is a sign to remind you.

TOURISTES! For those of you foolish enough to not put on clothes before visiting the royal palace, there is a sign to remind you.

After a walk back around the port, we climbed up to Monaco-Ville to see the Palais du Prince, home of the Monégasque royal family. While the beach and garden had been fairly empty, this area was definitely crowded with school groups and tourists and even the ubiquitous white train that seems to run through every French town with a site to see. We watched one of the guard march back and forth in front of the Palace and then looked over at the ocean, still blue.

View of Monaco from the walk up to the palace.

View of Monaco from the walk up to the palace.

We then walked around to the Cathédrale where the members of the royal family are buried, including the American actress Grace Kelly who became a princess in the 1950s when she married the then prince Rainier. There were pictures of her everywhere in Monaco, usually connecting her to a monument or location. It’s obvious that her story, or at least her glamour, is still what a lot of people associate with Monaco. Not having gotten our daily quota of uphill steps, we decided to visit the Jardin Exotique that overlooks the principality from a rock. There were sporadic elevators, but it was mostly a steep climb and it was a relief to finally make it to the garden.

Cacti in the Jardin Exotique.

Cacti in the Jardin Exotique.

It turned out that the Jardin Exotique is completely composed of cacti and succulents. More interesting that the spiny plants was the view of the city and the ocean. I know I’ve probably mentioned the view more times than necessary here, but Monaco is such an aesthetic place that it seems appropriate to emphasize it. We had ice cream in the garden before heading back down to the city and catching a train back to Nice.

Expéditions Polaires Françaises (French Polar Expeditions) vehicle outside the Musée Océanographique de Monaco.

Expéditions Polaires Françaises (French Polar Expeditions) vehicle outside the Musée Océanographique de Monaco.

The whole day I’d thought it was my mom’s birthday because that was the date on my watch, so we celebrated that night with a Monoprix-bought feast. However, it turns out that my watch was a day late and her birthday had been the day before. At least that mistake will make it more memorable, I hope.

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