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