You may not be able to catch a train from Nice to Monaco on a Monday, but it is doable on a Tuesday. After a quick stop at the market to buy some snacks we were off. The train ride was really short (about 20 minutes) so even with our morning dawdling we were still there with plenty of time to take in all of the sights our 20th country has to offer. Within 30 seconds of getting off the train you could tell you were in a ritzy place…and we hadn’t even gotten out of the train station yet! Everything was done with marble & mood lighting so it felt more like an upscale hotel or shopping mall then the rail stop. Once we’d exited into the sunshine the city/country’s beauty was already evident. There was a large port with a wide variety of boats (all bigger and nicer than ours…although that’s not a hard thing to be). To the right is a large treed hill with grand buildings on it’s top. To the left is a hill jam packed with many-storied, balcony-lined, impressive-looking structures that give off an air of elegance.
Monaco is the 232nd largest country in the world. It has a total area of only 2.02 km2. Over 30,000 people live in this small area. To put this into perspective, let’s compare it with the population density of Canada…if Monaco’s density was the same as ours it would have a population of 5…not 50 or 500 or 5000, but 5! Monaco is the name of the country and it’s capital and only city. The area is famous for wealthy foreigners who make up 80% of the population. This small country is a constitutional monarchy and since 1297 has been ruled by the House of Grimaldi. The current monarch is Prince Albert II, who got married in the other royal wedding this summer.
At the top we headed for the Musée Océanographique. This wondrous place is both a museum and an aquarium. We started with the dead things… The display with the marine mammal skeletons was undergoing maintenance but Justine enjoyed trying to identify them. She wasn’t half bad at it. The other rooms had information on the museum’s construction, boats (including miniature models), ocean research through the ages and marine animals. There were also a lot of displays on the Prince’s wedding, as this museum is very important to Prince Albert II (Prince Albert I was the one who created it). We were able to see the bride’s wedding dress without any line (unlike the massive one to see the dress from the summers other royal wedding).
The bottom floor was comprised of the aquariums. We have been to museums & seen lots of stuffed animals, but it was super exciting to finally see some animals that were still alive. This aquarium recreated natural habitats for it’s species and placed numerous fish and creatures in one tank to make everyone feel at home. This aquarium was different from the ones we’ve been to on the west coast. We got to see animals we had never seen before, just because they are found in the Mediterranean instead of the North Pacific.
All of the tanks were filled with numerous different fish species but often Justine was more interested in everything else in the tank. It must be her time at Bamfield and her invertebrates courses that made her fascinated by sea anemones, corals, sea stars, and sea urchins. Kristin just liked making fish faces at the fishies and identifying the ones from Finding Nemo.
Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, oh-o-o-o-o-o-o-oh!
The final thing we passed in the aquarium was the shark tank. It was really an everything tank. Not only were there 3 sharks but a mulitude of fish, a cool bottom dwelling dogfish, and a sea turtle! This was Kristin’s favorite part…she loves turtles! We sat in here for a long time just watching the sharks circle the top perimeter, the fish dart about and the turtle lazily float among them all.
The museum currently featured an exhibit on the dangers facing the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean Sea, which covers 2.5 million square kilometers, is facing many threats to it’s biodiversity. With school, Justine has learned lots about these issues and she was very pleased to see them addressed in an aquarium. Often aquariums and marine parks gloss over the threats many of these animals face in the wild. Some important issues presented were the overfishing of red tuna and many other fish species, increasing numbers of jelly fish as a result of warming temperatures and the harm we are causing worldwide to shark populations in our quest for shark fin soup.
We didn’t really want to leave the museum as the wind had picked up during our visit and the trees outside looked like they were seconds away from being uprooted & blown away. We found refuge in the garden that circled the hill’s point until the path lead us to the calm, sheltered side. Here we found the Palais Princier. It was very elegant, but also features one side that looks like a medieval castle. It’s an interesting mix that somehow works. Out front was a guard who marched one way, paused, turned, marched the other way, then repeated. What an exciting job! Justine didn’t really like his uniform, she said it didn’t match well. Kristin thought is was fine…at least he wasn’t wearing a Swiss guard uniform.
After decending the right hill we proceeded to go under and up the hill other left. On our way we had lunch. It was a really classy one that consisted of grapes out of a plastic bag (which we’d bought at the morning market), a baguette which we just bit directly into and a jam cookie that Kristin dropped on the ground.
So far we had found Monaco nice, but not terrifically extravagant or expensive…we clearly just hadn’t found the right area yet. It was up atop this hill that we found a world of classic buildings with white-gloved doormen and expensive cars out front. You might wonder why the rich flock to this particular spot…the answer would be this building:
Yes, that is the world famous Monte Carlo Casino. The idea for a casino in Monaco was the idea of Princess Caroline. The revenues from the proposed casino were to save the House of Grimaldi from bankruptcy. The initial casino struggled and Monaco failed to bring in the tourists. During the 1850’s a new building was created and the casino was given a name to make it sound more attractive to visitors. The name Monte Carlo was chosen in Prince Charles’ honor. Interestingly, up until recently, the casino has been the primary source of income for the House of Grimaldi and the Monaco economy. We went into the lobby but you had to pay to actually enter the gambling room. We weren’t going to pay to not play so we just peered in to view the lavish decoration…all marble, gold and plush velvet seating.
And kitty-korner to the casino is this beauty:
You may recognize this gorgeous hotel as the one where Selena Gomez’s character gets to stay while being mistaken for an heiress in ‘Monte Carlo’. If you’re not up-to-date on your Selena Gomez movies, well shame on you, but you’ll still recognize it as a truly beautiful hotel…one much to rich for us to stay at!
We waited until we were back in Nice and had had a bit of a lay-down before we had supper. We actually returned to the place we had gone the first night as it had good food and cheap wine 😉 Justine had her signature spaghetti with clams and Kristin munched on an omlette.
We finished our night with a small McDonalds McFlurry while checking out the Nice Christmas decorations. Then we harassed our cousin via twitter 🙂
Love, Luck & Leopard Print,