Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Three countries and five border crossings in less than 24hours!

Written 7th march 2010

That has to be a record for us, even if one of them is the second smallest country in the world!

As promised, the bright sun was shining in a clear sapphire sky and glittering off the deep azure sea when we woke up yesterday morning and after a mere three hours(!), we were suitably clean, fed and watered for hobnobbing with the rich and famous and mingling with the stars.   So off we set to Monaco.

With hindsight, obviously arriving by bus was never going to open any otherwise closed doors into exclusive lifestyles but the views along the fabulous coast road were definitely better from the large bus windows than they would have been from the small blacked out windows of a limo so no complaints :)

After an almost completely missable boarder crossing, we popped out of a tunnel into the dazzling light of the harbour where the sleek racehorses of the sea bob gently to and fro, glinting in the reflected golden glow of pure wealth.

With a ground area of 1.95 sq km and a population of 32,000 (of whom only 7,800 actually have citizenship), Monaco is the second smallest country in the world after the Vatican.  Although there are no border controls, they speak french and use the euro (despite not actually being in the EU), they do have their own flag, their own post system, their own international dialling code, a notoriously gossiped about royal family and a capital city, Monte Carlo, with is somehow defined within the jostling shops, hotels and high-rise apartment blocks which crowd into the tiny space.

It is a shiny-bright, clean tax-haven of a place (presumably there is some tax but a tiny percentage of a lot a lot is still a lot!) and on a sunny afternoon, if not pretty, it is at the very least, quite lovely.

We went first to the casino - well you have to! - where gloved and uniformed men with peaked caps discretely discourage scruffy mortals from approaching those hallowed portals

and past the famous Café de Paris where the aforementioned scruffy mortals drink ludicrously overpriced coffee in the hope that some of the midas magic will rub off on to them, and peered into its casino where same mortals sit feeding the slot machines in a zombie-like trance.  Not really for us...

We walked to the otherside of the casino for a view of the sea and on down into the harbour for lunch foraged from  a supermarket, sat on the harbour wall.

The boats ranged from tiny two-seat motorboats

to full masted sailing ships, to three story gin palaces complete with on board jet ski,

to sleek power boats which looked dangerously fast even when completely stationary.   And all of them glinted and shone and not so much hinted at great wealth as positively shouted it.

The most memorably named - always a good pastime - were Shark in Love of London (gift from banker to trophy girlfriend??) and Drizzle of Georgetown (as if they know what drizzle is in the Cayman Islands!!)

We had a coffee and a beer in a sunny harbour-side pavement café then with the sun setting behind the tower blocks - someway before actual dusk, such is the height of the artificial cliff... - set off once more to explore the streets and riding as many free public elevators as we could find.  They either go up or down with no stopping points in between so instead of a confusing panel of buttons, they just have one: start.  Easy.

Monaco is the only place I have ever been where in place of the signs telling you where the nearest McDonald's is, you know at every turn how far away you are from the nearest defibrillator - an indicator of the social demographic and lifestyle of the people who come here... - and the branch of barclays we passed was not called barclays bank, rather barclays wealth - need I say more...

We eventually made our way to the  top of the hill which is the palace quarter and through the maze of streets and gardens to the aquarium - highly recommended by the english bar-running lady but priced way deeper than the pockets of simple van dwelling folk.  With the sun now actually setting, we bid farewell to an unobtainable life of luxury and got back on the bus bound for reality.

This morning it was overcast again as we set off in our own little bus of dreams, back through Monaco, out into france on the otherside and onwards to Italy, by way of a last french sticky bun or two and the last McDonalds in France for the wifi. On a sunday lunchtime, this one was full of screaming children and was particularly horrible.  Not sure what wifi availability will be like in italy - and unfortunately 'real life' matters make it something of a necessity right now :( -  but I'm not sorry to be seeing the last of Macky D's!  

Avanti! (I think, don't actually know any italian as yet...) wifi or not, we are inexorably italy bound!

No comments:

Post a Comment