This is part of a series of posts about my family’s two week cruise in the Mediterranean in July, 2012. New posts will pop up every couple of days, or as they’re written, which as you might be able to tell, is a pretty slow manner.
After crashing really early on the first night (see the part about being exhausted), we awoke early to get off the ship for the first time. Our port was Cannes on the French Riviera, the Côte d’Azul. This wasn’t as much a seaport as it was a marina. The ship was going to drop anchor in the sea and we would tender in to the shore. Tendering in means we got on board smaller boats to ride to the docks. We would do this twice during the trip, and it was pretty neat. You got a good little ride on the ocean into your city, and it made the smaller ports accessible, which for the cruise lines opens a lot more options.
We met in the ship’s theater to get our assignments on shore. After a short wait, we were called to our tender and made our way to shore. Our itinerary for the day included a drive down the promenade in Cannes, a scenic drive through Nice, and a stop and tour of Monaco.
On shore we found our bus. The tour guide, named David (pronounced da-VEED) held a sign indicating which group he was assigned to, which was us. We got on and we started driving. The beaches were pretty nice. David made a joke about possibly seeing some topless ladies or something. We didn’t see any. We drove through the town (city?) of Antibes and through Nice, which has a legitimate airport. David said the Nice airport was about the size of Monaco—the entire country. That’s pretty hard to believe, but after doing some rudimentary measuring on a map later, I figure it’s not far from the truth.
The buildings are pretty great in this part of the world. It was a theme that would follow throughout the trip. But just the everyday apartments, businesses, restaurants and anything else in the cities were cool. They were colorful, interesting and totally different than we see in the western United States.
We got to Monaco and at the entrance I could see a soccer stadium off to the right. Also at the entrance is a roundabout with a Formula 1 car sitting in the middle of it. We were there about a month after the Grand Prix. Some of the streets have red and white painted curbs marking the track and turns. David made a big deal about the chicane turn, which was probably lost on 90% of the group. That might have also been because how he said “chicane” sounded a lot like saying chicken with an “sh” instead of “ch”.
We had two stops we would make in Monaco, The first would be at a huge parking thing built into a mountain. At the top would be the palace area along with the cathedral and residences of the royal family. We walked through there and up to the cathedral to wander through. This would also become a theme of the trip: big, pretty churches. In the cathedral were the burial plots of the royal family dating back quite a ways. Included in this was Grace Kelly, who married Prince Rainier a long time ago after meeting him while attending the film festival in Cannes. They had three kids: Caroline, Albert and Stephanie. Albert lives in the palace and Stephanie lives in a place near the parking garage.
As we approached the palace a lot of police started to make appearances. Someone was leaving the palace, apparently, and the police were sort of securing the road and making sure no dolts got in the way. It took a few minutes for a car to emerge, but one eventually did. David, who had been pretty fired up about this, was disappointed that it wasn’t anyone he recognized.
We then got some free time to eat lunch. We went to a neat little cafe right in the square and sat down. A couple of us had a solid four cheese grilled cheese (this was essentially France, and they know how to make a grilled cheese), others had crepes. I had a Pelforth Brune, which was probably the best beer of the trip.
At the edge of the palace square was a spot overlooking the marina. It’s an amazing view of fancy yachts and smaller sweet boats. You can also see three countries from that spot. Monaco, of course, France and Italy is in the distance. It was a pretty nice view and one that I think every person to ever have visited there has captured using a camera.
After leaving the palace, we headed to the main part of the city. We would park and walk up to the casino. This is where you saw it all. In fact, let me list what we saw and didn’t see.
Here is a short list of things you’ll definitely see in Monaco:
- Other really expensive cars
Here is a short list of things you will not see in Monaco:
- Other undesirable things
After a short walk from the parking area toward the Monte Carlo Casino, which, if you pay attention to its name you’ll realize is atop a hill, we were able to walk around the incredibly “Monaco” part of Monaco. It is extremely high end. We heard that real estate goes for about $3,000 per square foot. Around here, $100-200 is what you’d expect, depending on the neighborhood. I really saw more Ferraris in the couple of hours spent there than I had in the rest of my life.
We weren’t able to enter the casino, as it’s not allowed for anyone under 21 to go in. That was enough to deter us, even though there is probably a “show your brick of $100s” rule upon entering as well. We did try to look into the lobby of the Hotel Paris right next to the casino and were turned away by a doorman.
The foot traffic on the streets in this relatively small square is big. A valet from I believe the Hotel Paris even had a confrontation that we saw. He turned a corner in an expensive, “do not even think of touching this” car and came really close to a pedestrian. The pedestrian said something in French through the open window. The valet stopped, got out and a heated argument began. It was pretty entertaining to see. Unlike in the U.S., there were no people chanting for a fight. I got the impression it was just two empassioned French people and that was how they had a disagreement. I never got the feeling one was about to hit the other.
After wandering and admiring the expensive stores (NOT outlets, mind you), we had a few minutes to kill before heading back to the bus. The Cafe de Paris was easily the coolets, most popular spot to grab a drink. So we sat and ordered three Cokes and a bottled water. We knew going in it would be expensive, so we weren’t completely shocked to pay €6.50 per drink. It came out to about $40 for four drinks without any booze in them. But yeah, when in Monaco…
One thing I’d like to note is about the Grand Prix race course. I couldn’t believe the change in elevation they have on that course. Our hike up to the casino took us to the hairpin turn, which is a steep downhill and probably requires some awesome braking skill to navigate. There are rails, but the drivers could easily end up in a hotel parking lot with a screwup there.