Thursday, October 3, 2013


We made our way to Monaco via a TGV high speed train from Gare de Lyon in Paris.  High speed trains are wonderful, but for one minor detail.  Don't try to look at the scenery up's all a blur as  it flashes past.  Just look out into the distance and you're fine!  Another word to the wise, don't jump out of your seat when another train flashes past you in the other direction.  You hear almost a sonic boom as the two trains fly past each other.  (This reminds me of a storybook math question from the 8th grade:   You're on a train traveling to Marseilles at 230 miles per hour.  You cross paths with another train going the opposite direction, also at 230 miles per hour.  How many feet high do you jump?)

Our journey took about 6 hours across France taking us along the western edge of the French Alps and to Provence and the Cote d'Azur.  We got to see snow capped mountains, castles, chateus and many many vineyards.  Finally, we reached Marseille and got our first glimpse of the Mediterranean.  Beautiful!  Now our train slowed down...winding its way between the mountains and the coast...stopping at cities we've only read about:  Toulon, Cannes, Antibes...until we finally arrived in Nice where we switched trains for the last leg of our journey.  That final train made a stop at Villefranche Sur of Carl and Heather's favorite spots.

You know you're in Monaco as soon as you get out at the train...that's because most train stations are concrete and tile...not Monaco, it's all marble and polished granite.  Took us a few bumps to get a taxi, but finally got one and were on our way.

Soon we are at our new home for a few days, the Marriott Cap d'Ail. The hotel is steps away from the Mediterranean and is actually in France.  As you leave the hotel you turn left and you're in Monaco and if you turn right you're in France....on the French Riveria, oo la la!

Lots to see here...the sea, the yachts, the city perched between the sea and the mountains, the architecture and of course the Art!  Seemingly everywhere you look you see beauty.  But of course, we first had to find a geocache!  Found one by the helioport and quickly got that piece of business out of the way.  (Note: many of our pictures are greyish...that's because it's been overcast and rainy since we've been here.  It's also been about 74 degrees so it's been quite nice for sightseeing.)

Our first objective of the day was Princess Grace's Rose Garden.  It's only a couple of blocks from our hotel so off we went.  Anticipation was high, as this is one of Mona's favorite spots.  However, the anticipation was quickly smote (Should that be smitten, smoted or simply smushed?) as the gardens have been dug up for rennovation.  ARGH!

We hopped the shuttle to the old city which is perched high on a plateau overlooking the sea.  This location used to keep the Monegasque safe; until pirates and the occaisional conqueror figured out how to breach their walls.  But still...this is where it all began and the palace,  the cathedral and a warren of shops and cafes is still here.  Streets are incredebly narrow, but cars, trucks, cycles and pedestrians share them with little incident.

We did some shopping, some "cafe-ing" and some touring...actually it's hard to separate the three.  We saw the changing of the guard at the palace and checked out the awesome views of the sea and surroundings.  We also visited St. Nicolas' Cathedral where Prince Rainier III  and Princess Grace are interred.

There are tunnels everywhere in Monaco.  As you would expect, most are for automobiles, but there are many other uses.  For instance, the train station is largely a huge tunnel carved into the mountainside.  Also, there are many pedestrian tunnels.  For instance, the tunnel shown below which connects one side of a plateau to a mall at the base of the other side of the plateau, near the Port of Fontvieille.

We've used this tunnel twice so far.  Once, to get from the Old City back to the hotel.  And then to get from the hotel to downtown for dinner.  You take an elevator built into the rock to get to and from the tunnel...elevator on one end, mall on the other.  

As I mentioned, we walked to dinner, using the tunnel.  On the way home we walked around the Port of Fontvieille looking at rocks, water and yachts.  Absolutely beautiful!

About 10:00 the next morning we scored some great seats at the Cafe De Paris which is adjacent to the Monte Carlo Casino.  This is a great spot to people watch, car watch and see some great Art from all over the world.  The view is constantly changing and you can almost get lost in time fact we spent several hours here...sipping wine and occaisionally getting up to see the details of a car or whatever it was that caught our eye.

Of course a visit to the casino is a must.  None of us won a million Euros, but Aleta was up a little and Monte got to order his martini "shaken, not stirred."

We headed back up to the old city and had dinner in a little cafe situated on a narrow medieval street and then we enjoyed some of the night time views such as the palace below.  It was quite a walk home but worth every step!

Next day we headed for Nice...about 20 miles east on the Riveria.  We boarded Bus 100 and paid our 1.5 Euro each and off we went.  This is a local bus that travels the lower corniche from town to town.  (There are three primary corniches (roads); one on the bottom of the mountains; one midway up and one near the top.  This bus took the lower corniche.)

The ride is beautiful with lots of beautiful views of the coast along with sightings of castles here and there.  Finally, our first view of Nice:

We got off the bus and headed for Vieux Nice the old part of the city.  Here you'll find narrow medieval streets and buildings that are centuries old.  Even though it's Sunday most of the cafes and many shops are open.  We wander through the streets and come upon a gala scene...flags, costumed people, church officials in their finest and a military band playing patriotic French songs.  It's a celebration for the saints of the local church.

We're told this fete could take hours so we move along.  One of the things I want to try is the local treat "socca"'s crepe like but made out of chick pea dough and it's about 2 1/2 feet in diameter.  We find a shop and I get to watch it's good, but give me a nutella crepe any day!

We found a nice little cafe for lunch.  I tried the Sardines Nicoise....ummm...not my favorite, but good.  But everyone else's dishes were awesome!  Hard to get bad food in Nice!

Finished our day with a night time visit to the casino area...great views at night!

It's about time for us to leave Monaco.  We've had a great time, but are looking forward to our next adventures!

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