Last weekend was my birthday and Linda surprised me by taking me down to the South of France and Monaco. I've always wanted to go to Monaco, lured by its reputation as a playground of the rich and famous, and because of its tiny-country quaintness.
The first time I travelled through Europe was when I had just left University. I had glimpsed the Monte Carlo train station out the window on the way from France to Italy and felt cheated to be so close and not visit the country; it was good to be finally seeing it for real.
We flew into Nice airport and the first surprise of my birthday was that we were going to catch a Helicopter to Monaco, arriving in the style of the millionaires that live there. The helicopter flight was fun, especially since I have not been on one before, and strangely low-fuss compared with taking and landing off in an airplane. The view of Monaco was spectacular as we approached it from the air. However, I think our shuttle driver felt cheated when he got us instead of the elderly Japanese couple who came in the helicopter with us, especially when he found out which hotel we were staying at.
On our first day there we mainly wandered around the town, venturing down to the harbour to check out the superyachts moored there, before wandering towards the old town where the Prince's Palace is located. From on the hill there is a great view over the town.
Later in the evening we headed out to see the beach, which was surprisingly nice and we wished we had worn our swimmers because the water was still lovely and warm. When we looked for dinner, however, we were a bit surprised by the general lack of restaurants that were open. Initially we suspected this was because we had turned Swiss, who are notoriously early to bed compared with the rest of Europe, but then we decided it was the Monegasque restaurants that were being conspicuously (fashionably?) late to open.
We wandered past the Monte Carlo Casino, marvelling at the exotic supercars parked out the front, and slipped into the public casino to try our luck. Unfortunately, the public part of the casino (ie: the part where you don't have to wear a suit and tie to get in) resembled an RSL or Leagues club in Australia, with poker machines and electronic roulette tables. I put 10 Euros in the STAR WARS machine and promptly lost the lot in 50c bets.
Deciding we weren't cut out to be high-rollers, we left the Casino and found a nice little restaurant looking over the harbour where we sipped on cocktails and nibbled on Tapas while checking out the yachts and funpark by the harbour.
The next morning we planned to go directly to Nice, but the train timetable conspired against us so we decided to take the opportunity to see more of Monaco. We wandered back up towards the Palace and strolled around the shops and streets of the old town until the time arrived (11:55) for the changing of the guard. The changing of the guard wasn't exactly of the same scale as at, say, Buckingham Palace, but was still good fun, not least because of the jostling tourists vying for position (like it was life and death) in the lead-up to the event.
After this we still had some time to kill and made the, retrospectively very wise, decision to visit the Oceanographic Museum. We had great fun there looking at all the fish and coral in the giant tanks, and took many photos of the fish. We finished up with lunch on the roof before figuring out we were now running late for our train and bolting back to our hotel to pick up our bags.
We sprinted along one of the many underground paths in Monaco (they don't have much surface to build on, so the city is decidedly 3D with many underground paths and lifts connecting various parts of the town) to reach the train station on time. As seems to be par for the course for us, the train was, of course, running quite late, so we then ended up just sitting there for ages waiting for it to arrive.
I've got to say I was a little let down by Monaco; it just didn't seem to have quite the glitz and glamour of a country with such a reputation for riches and excess. Still we had a great time there and now I can say I have been, and escaped without having lost it all at the Casino Monte Carlo.