Monaco was one of these places of which I had few preconceived notions, other than it draws those with money to spend. I mean, it’s known primarily for its gilded casino, Monte Carlo, and you don’t gamble if you’re on a budget, right? Either way, you can spend one day in Monaco living large or playing by the rules of a budget.
Which means precisely what you think it does: I, the cash-strapped entrepreneur and freelance journalist, didn’t gamble on this particular visit to Monaco, though I lived vicariously through my mom and dad and their friends who entered the impressive seaside building and dropped some greenery. Worth noting: It costs 10 euro just to visit the establishment, and you need to be dressed in “smart” attire if you want to get in (i.e. no flip-flops or shorts).
Monaco was our official first stop on the spring Enrichment Voyage after departing from Barcelona last Friday night, which brings me to this: Are you following our 50-day journey all the way around Europe? If not, I’m manning the EV Facebook page and Instagram account and hope you’ll follow both. I’m primarily posting images and short blurbs in real time about all of our amazing European ports, from Lisbon to St. Petersburg.
What I love so much about blogging is the tight-knit community it provides; I’d venture to say I can go anywhere in the world and find a friendly face who I know (albeit virtually). Vicki of Nicer than Nice is a shining example. We “met” through the Internet a few years ago, then lunched in person in San Francisco just days after she got engaged in 2010. So when I saw our voyage would be docking in Monaco, I sent her a note, to which she immediately responded that she would keep the day free and gladly be our tour guide. I’m not sure she knew what she was getting herself into!
Due to rough seas, we were a bit delayed in disembarking, but Vicki was right there to greet us when we finally made our way from the ship to the shore via tender. It was already overcast, and the forecast of 90 percent chance of rain did not bode well for our afternoon. But Vicki is such a ray of sunshine (true story) that a little—OK, a lot of rain—did nothing to ruin our one day along the Cote d’Azur.
Not only has Vicki lived in Nice, just a 15-minute train ride away, for 13 years now, but she works in Monaco and is fluent in French. This was key to us making the most of our 12 hours on land; had we not had a native speaker with us, particularly when it came to navigating the train, I’m sure we would have spent all day looking at each other and trying to figure out what to do and how to do it. Case in point: After Vicki got off at her train stop in Nice, we were en route back to Monaco to catch the ship and couldn’t even figure out how to open the darn train door! We (and by we, I mean my dad’s longtime partner-in-crime Neal) almost got stuck on the train—though sprinted to the next car to escape just in time—which would have put us clean over the border in Italy. I mean, there are worse problems to have than accidentally winding up in Italy, I suppose.
We started our morning by walking up the steep steps that would take us from the port up to the Rock and the Prince’s Palace. When Vicki told us they were steep, she was not joking. We were all huffing and puffing before even halfway there. If going to Monaco, I also encourage you to wear shoes with good grip, as even in my Merrells, I almost wiped out a few times.
Once atop the Rock, we opted not to go into Jacques Cousteau’s famous Oceanographic Museum and aquarium, though we wandered through the gardens and saw some nice sculptures and flora.
We made for the Cathedral instead, only to arrive and find that Prince Albert and his young bride, the Princess Charlene, were inside! It was a Sunday morning after all, and I guess the royal couple are pious like most in their position. At first we weren’t sure exactly who prompted a bodyguard to stand outside the door and prohibit tourists from congregating around the periphery, but Vicki went right up to the uniformed man and, in flawless French, inquired as to who was inside. Unlike in America where everything was hush-hush, he told her outright. Apparently, Albert drives around town freely and the Princess walks around at her leisure; it’s nothing like the iron-clad security we know in the States!
Also, can I just say how something about my mom, dad and I traveling internationally together just brings the royals?
It started raining then and there as we climbed even higher toward the Palace. We didn’t retreat indoors, though; rather, my group pulled out their trusty Semester at Sea ponchos, wisely purchased from the campus store earlier that day, and waited patiently for the changing of the guard to happen. The safety yellow slickers were a godsend for me, as it made it so much easier to keep track of my six restless little ducklings. Being a wrangler in a foreign country is hard, yo.
Only the changing was more than anticlimactic as they did it indoors, just out of our view, thanks to the downpour that started just before the 11:55am daily event. Oh well—always ones to make lemon out of lemonade (or beer out of rain in this case), we used that as an excuse for a mid-afternoon snack of pizza, libations and sugary-sweet crepes instead!