Thursday, September 5, 2013

Merry in Monaco

You may remember that I spent eight months working through the Rosetta Stone French course. Well, I'm not very good at speaking French, though I successfully ordered food and asked for toilet paper in one of the hotels, ha ha! The housekeeper knew what I said because she immediately handed a roll to me. Thankfully I didn't blow it and say something stupid like "I need to stuff more toilet paper in my bra." Well, maybe I did~but she was polite and handed me a roll of paper and I didn't hear any laughter as I walked away. Of course, my hearing isn't what it used to be, so who knows. At any rate, I was able to read everything which made menus and signs and train instructions easy to follow, and that was my goal. Yay for Rosetta Stone! 

Rick and I wanted to see Monaco, which has an interesting history. In the late 1200s, Monaco's fortress was controlled by Italy. In 1297, Francois Grimaldi disguised himself as a monk and, along with an army, seized control of the fortress in the name of the French Pope. It didn't take long for Monaco to prosper as a trading port during the wars in the ensuing centuries. The Grimaldis have ruled Monaco ever since, with the exception of a brief period during the French Revolution in which France took control of Monaco and imprisoned the Grimaldis until Napoleon abdicated his throne in 1814. Fifty years later, the Prince of Monaco (Prince Charles III) traded half of its land to France in exchange for its independence and a big chunk of cash. He also transformed Monaco into a vacation and gambling hotspot as well as a tax haven, a move which put Monte-Carlo (the most prominent city in Monaco and named after him) on the A-list for the rich and powerful. 

In addition to being the place to be seen, Monaco is well-known for two important events: the 1956 marriage of Prince Rainier III to American actress Grace Kelly, and for its annual Grand Prix de Monaco (Formula 1 Grand Prix Race). 

We were quite surprised at how small Monaco really is: only 2.5 miles of coastline, widths ranging between and 380 yards and .65 miles, and an area of only .78 mile. It has an approximate population of 36,000. I guess we imagined it to be bigger since it hosts the Grand Prix.

Because of its size, the housing consists primarily of apartments. 
Monte-Carlo is Monaco's epicenter for entertainment, gambling, and very ooh la la shopping (Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Hermes, etc.). It also houses a very high-end hotel, the Hotel de Paris 
which is across the street from the Casino Monte-Carlo.
The casino wasn't open when we were there, which was fine with us since we aren't gamblers anyway.  Even though it was empty, photos inside the casino were forbidden with the exception of the lobby.
It's too bad I couldn't take photos. The casino was beautiful! Oh well. We walked around to its back side.
The older I get, the less I understand modern art. Sigh. Give me a Monet, Renoir, Rembrandt, or Degas any day!
Even though I couldn't appreciate the modern sculpture, I did appreciate the spectacular views, especially this one of my handsome sweetheart.
I like this one because I caught the seagull mid-flight.
Next, we headed up the hill to watch the Changing of the Guard at Palais du Prince (The Prince's Palace). After seeing Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace in London, this palace seemed itty bitty. Of course, this is just the back side. I'm sure the front and interior are much more ornate.
At least there was actually something to watch during this Changing of the Guard. There were quite a few people in front of me, so many that I couldn't see over them to take photos. So I just held my camera above my head and kept shooting, hoping I'd get at least a few good shots.
This was the view from the palace.
In the center of town, there's a public recreational area complete with a swimming pool, a playground with all kinds of bouncy houses, and a go-kart track. See the street to the left of go-kart track? That's where the Grand Prix de Monaco starts and ends. It's the only Formula 1 Grand Prix race run on city streets. All of the others are run on dedicated courses. 
Rick loves this view. He wants to own one of those yachts. Since he isn't a prince or a sheik, it's not looking good. But he's willing to work on one as a servant to a prince or sheik, so maybe that's what he'll do after he retires. Not me. I'll be the royal dog walker. 
These are some apartments near the palace.
This is looking back at Palais du Prince.
Not far from the palace, we came across the Musee Oceanographique de Monaco, the museum which Jacques-Yves Cousteau directed from 1957-1988. We didn't go in, but we loved the building 
and its views.
A short walk away stands the Cathedrale de Monaco.
I can't remember what this type of pulpit is called, but it has a low ceiling above it to project the speaker's voice. This was once considered to be high-tech!
How's this for a fancy schmancy organ? It looked totally out of place in this cathedral, but at least the parishioners can hear it.
This cathedral is home to the graves of Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace. I took these for you, Mama!
Remember the photo in which I pointed out the street on which the Grand Prix de Monaco takes place?  Well, we simply had to drive over the start/finish line! 
Ta da! Now wasn't that exciting? Ha ha!

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