September 11th, 2013 – Sunny
MONACO + VILLEFRANCHE-SUR-MER
I couldn’t believe it when we saw the same group of inconsiderate/obnoxious tourist who injured J’s wrist (from Eze) on the same train traveling to Monaco! Luckily there were ample standing room on the train and J didn’t get hurt from them… Instead of getting off at the terminus station (Monaco), we actually hopped off the train early at “Cap D’Ail” (translation: Cape Garlic hahaha). From Cap D’Ail station we embarked on a 40 minute seaside walk into the Principality of Monaco. The enjoyable walk took us through quiet residential neighborhoods while we hugged the Mediterranean coastline. The only downside to this journey was the scorching heat… which was quickly alleviated by soaking my T-shirt in cold water from public taps along the way.
By the time we reached Monaco my T-shirt was bone dry. It was actually a stunning transformation when we crossed the “border” from France into Monaco (there were no fences or anything… just an inconspicuous sign). The contrast between the quiet unassuming village of Cap D’Ail and the thriving independent city-state of Monaco was jaw dropping. The first structure we encountered was Monaco’s soccer stadium Stade Louis II (we didn’t visit the stadium but apparently it was possible for 5 euros… I learned this as I am writing this blog Googling for the name of the stadium). We stopped next door for a quick bite to eat (and to rehydrate) and proceeded toward the first tourist attraction of the day: Prince’s Palace.
Prince’s Palace of Monaco was situated on top of a hill (Rock of Monaco) that took about 5 to 10 minutes to hike up. At the bottom of the hill was a shopping center (consider buying refreshments at Carrefour), a miniature zoo, and an antique automobile museum… On the hike up we were treated to a marvelous view of the petite city-state: A glamorous thriving city situated against majestic mountains to one side, and deep blue waters (and mega-yachts) on the other. At the top a spacious square separated the Prince’s Palace with “old town”, and the famous Monte Carlo harbor can be seen in the distance. Interestingly, my favorite view wasn’t of the over-the-top Monte Carlo Harbor but it was rather the more intimate Fontvieille Harbor/marina on the opposite side of the rock. (Instead of fighting with other tourists for a photo spot of the Fontvieille Harbour at the top… consider going to the playground area below: same view minus ALL the tourists).
The Prince’s Palace was minuscule when compared to other palaces we’ve seen in France. Even though photography was prohibited within palace grounds, we felt the palace tour was well worth the admission price… it was both entertaining and educational considering I had trouble differentiating Monaco from Morocco before my visit.
From Prince’s Palace we continued down a walking path that extended around the perimeter of the “Rock”, and within 2-3 minutes we were in front of a meticulously maintained church (Saint Nicholas Cathedral). As we climbed the stairs toward the church’s entrance guess who we ran into? (actually we heard them first)… the same group of irritating tourists from the train earlier today! (and on the way back from Eze Village!). Saint Nicholas Cathedral was where many of Monaco’s royalties were buried but there were really nothing exciting about its architecture… except the gigantic modern organ above the church’s entrance. Midway through our visit “that group of tourists” got kicked out of the church by a security guard for ignoring the nun’s plea for silence. (I know it is petty but it felt good 🙂
It always surprised me how little tourists were willing to venture away from a major tourist attraction because we were almost in complete isolation no more than 200 meters from the church. Monaco’s old town was similar to old Nice and Le Suquet but it was perfectly maintained… as if Monaco’s “old town” was constructed yesterday. We serendipitously stumbled upon the Canadian Consulate and it must’ve been the smallest embassy in the world haha. We spent another 30 minutes around “Old Monaco” and then headed back down the hill for some less expensive cafe options to rest our feet.
Throughout our travels in France we noticed a green beverage being consumed by locals and we never knew what it was… and I regretted why I hadn’t asked the question sooner. Diabolo (pronounced dia-bo-lo not diablo) aka Diabolo Menthe was a popular hot summer drink that combined mint syrup and either Sprite or Perrier, and to be honest it was better than air conditioners haha. Refreshed and energized we embarked on a 20 minute journey that took us half way across Monaco to the REAL Monte Carlo Casino (not the one in Las Vegas).
Throughout France there would be some graffiti even around the best areas of the wealthiest cities (Cannes) however there were zero graffiti around Monaco despite my best efforts to locate them. (I did find graffiti in Monaco, but they were painted on a mobile graffiti canvas better known as the regional TER train…). We passed the Monte Carlo Harbor on the way to the casino, and some of the luxury yachts were beyond my wildest imagination. There were multiple yachts that were over 4 stories tall, and a couple of personal “ferries” that even had helicopters on its helipad!!! (I double checked they weren’t coast guards).
After we witnessed such excessive wealth we barely noticed the Ferraris or the Lamborghinis that littered around the parking lot outside of Monte Carlo Casino. Hilariously enough, it was the mini cooper and a couple of Toyota Priuses that stood out in the sea of mega supercars. In my opinion Monte Carlo Casino was a tiny and pretentious gambling den that we could’ve skipped because it simply was inferior in every way compared to casino resorts in Las Vegas. It was getting late (around 4-5 PM) by the time we came out of the casino, and it was time to say goodbye to Monaco for Villefranche-sur-Mer.
Similar to Antibes, I immediately fell in love with Villefranche-sur-Mer. This quiet coastal village was filled with character and it was the perfect location to celebrate our last night in Cote d’Azur. We explored the winding streets of Villefranche-sur-Mer and outside of a few souvenir shops the village remained mostly residential. To celebrate our honeymoon we enjoyed a romantic candle lit dinner by the ocean. For the next 3 hours we reflected on our life journey, enjoyed the amazing cuisine, and admired the unobstructed beautiful seascape.