Sunday, 26 October 2008

16th October - Monaco

Thursday it was and the week seemed to be flying in. Monaco was on the cards today so after breakfast we headed off in the car. No stops on the way today; we wanted to arrive in good time to see things. Monaco had the best idea for dealing with those small, scary mountain roads; it basically didn't bother trying!! Instead they had a series of tunnels blasted into the mountains. I felt more reassured driving through them rather on narrow bending mountain roads which you drove on constantly feeling you were inches from death.

I was excited about visiting Monaco. Home of the Grimaldis whose history seemed to be tainted by misfortunes. There was of course the famous marriage of Prince Rainier to Grace Kelly in 1956. Sadly she lost her life in a car accident in 1982. She was the inspiration though for a lot of the glamour brought to Monaco. The Grimaldi curse continued though when Princess Caroline lost her husband Stefano Casiraghi who died in 1990 when he was competing in the World Offshore Boat Race. And the least said about Princess Stephanies ill fated liaisons with the bodyguard and chap from the circus the better.

We parked up in the centre of Monaco and headed to one of the sights on our list - Princess Grace Rose Garden. Built in her memory after she died in the car accident, the garden is near the centre of Monaco. Close to the entrance is a large bronze statue of a donkey and cart. The donkey represents sorrow I think, either that or she really liked donkeys!!!!

Looking up we also spotted an apartment block with it's own rooftop garden!!! How queer is that?

But back to the rose garden. The garden is set out with little paths that lead you through a huge range of roses, all carefully labelled. Smells and colours were lovely. A very fitting memory to Grace Kelly.

In the centre of the garden is a bronze statue with a pretty verse engraved in stone.

What is so special about a rose that it seems far more than a flower?
Perhaps it is the mystery it has gathered through the ages.
Perhaps it is the joy that it continues to give.

Monaco does not cover a huge area and the apartment blocks appear to have been stuck into every available bit of the hillside. Quite dense. Must have been a planners nightmare sorting that lot out.

You can see just how dense the building are; almost cluttered!! This is the view from the main marina.

There is a large hilly outcrop out into the sea and on top of that is Prince Rainier's palace and apartments. Nice views over the harbout. The palace is sprawling; it's like a town in itself.

Walking through Monaco you can see just how much time and care is taken by the local authority/councils to keep the place looking good. Grand flower beds with the odd wacky fish statue!!

And if they have to build a tunnel from the elevators that lead you out of the shopping centre they make sure it's as attractive as possible!! Fancy lighting leads you along this tunnel.

I'd mentioned in Monaco they don't shy away from blasting a hole in a mountain if they want a road to go somewhere. This picture gives you an idea of just how they do it!!! Who put that mountain in the way?

This next picture seems to sum up just how clean and organised the city was. Wonderful roundabouts planted out with no expense spared. I like the casual pose of the policeman too, obviously quite chilled and laid back by his tasks that day. Incidently Monaco has 1 policeman for every 100 of the population. No wonder its a safe place to stay.

It's a town that likes to show off its sculptures too. Not your typical soldiers or king statues though; strange statues placed in strange and unexpected places. After all these telephone kiosks did look a bit plain; they needed cheering up.

And just to advertise the wealth that clearly exists in Monaco, bronze is replaced by gold in some statues.

This is another view of the Prince's palace from the main marina.

And some more lovely apartments close by some rather tasty little boutiques!!!

How the rich live, an apartment with a parking space for your car and your boat.

The buildings were so grand and oppulent. This is the Monaco Opera house. I'd have happily stood and admired this even without the prospect of a ticket to see the opera itself!!!

It was a long and uphill walk for us at this stage but eventually we reached Monte Carlo. And what do people go to Monte Carlo for? The casino!!!! Imagine a chocolate box piece of architecture [Charles Garnier was the architect built in 1879] covered in pastel colours, gilt, cherubs and elaborate rococo trimmings and you've got Monaco's Casino.

It has a colourful history too with the ultra glamourous gambler Mata Hari. Not a lady to mess with when a fellow gambler put his arm round her waist and she clearly objected. Now most normal people would just have them told but not Ms Mata Hari who chose to pull out a gun and shoot him in the chest!!! Another great story was the story of the man who broke the bank in Monte Carlo - Charles Deville Wells. Despite being a crook he apparently legitimately played the casino for 3 days solid netting himself a cool 4 million francs! Nice work when you can get it. Post investigations showed no evidence of cheating despite his shady past. Hence his claim to fame as being the man who broke the bank in Monte Carlo.

Enough of the ramblings though....... here is the grand entrance to the casino.

And naturally the roundabout in front of it needs some eccentric metal and water sculpture.

Between the fantastic sights and buildings ..... and the rather tiring hike up the hill, we'd built up quite an appetite. And when you are in Monaco where better to eat than the Cafe de Paris. Une table pour trois s'il vous plait?

Lovely meal with Andrew opting for a more traditional selection of calves liver and bacon. Fish for Amber and raviolli with ricotta and spinach for me. Some truly great desserts to follow and a bill that would make a dent in your wallet!! Despite being the cafe to be seen and fairly up market it wasn't the least bit stuck up. The waitress that served us was one of the nicest, friendliest people you could ever meet.

Back on our feet and back down the hill we went, with some elegant window shopping on the way.

and more views of the main marina/harbour.

Andrew spotted this rather charming little apartment with a circular balcony. Thought it might do as a little des res for me!!! You can just see it on the left of the picture, about half way up.

Monte Carlo of course is famous for its racing too. That following weekend, the marina was due to be transformed into a racing track for the major Monte Carlo Go Karting race. Amber was really taken by it and if she had her way she'd have been on the starting line in one of those little karts. Judging by the noise though I suspect those innocent looking little karts could fairly travel at some speed!!!

A closer picture of the Palais du Prince. I must confess it's not as grand as I thought it would be. Personally I'd rather have made my palace in the Casino!!!!

I couldn't resist a spot of shopping and we stumbled across my favourite......... a great designer kitchen shop!!! Came out with a lovely tall Alessi Pepper Mill. Note another scuplture outside the shop!!!

and another scuplture handing from a lampost!!!

Sadly we had to wave good bye to Monaco and head back to the apartment. We swung by another wealthy hilltop village called Eze. Although it was getting dark you can imagine just how wonderful the views would have been.

Another full and exhausting day - our beds were a welcome sight!!!

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