Who has ever watched a James Bond film and not been taken-in by the urbane imagery of James Bond smoothly charming his way past villains and beautiful women in the Casino de Monte Carlo? Bond. James Bond. Shaken not stirred. Ah, were it ever so!
While Monte Carlo (the principal district of Monaco) does indeed house the world famous casino, most of us in the riff-raff tourist class do not ever see the inside. There is a €10 entry fee and a dress code requirement. Shorts and tennis shoes don’t cut it. Jackets are required after 8:00 PM.
Fortunately, there is also the “commoner’s” casino virtually next door that welcomes just about anyone. Check your backpack at the door, though, and do not make the mistake of snapping pictures on your cellphone of your happy family winning a fortune at the slot machines. I am speaking from previous experience.
In a past trip Henry Warner was hastily hustled into the backroom by two plainclothes employees who wanted to confiscate my camera. After a stressful demonstration that the pictures were only of my daughters, they let me go with a warning and my camera.
After arriving in Monaco by train, we started our sight-seeing with a visit to the Prince’s Palace, which is the official residence of the Grimaldi family, who have ruled Monaco more-or-less continually since 1295. For €8, one may tour portions of the palace, but pictures are not allowed. The tour is interesting and recommended if you are a history buff.
Henry Warner’s impression of Monaco is that it is likely to be the cleanest and best-maintained city you ever visit. Except perhaps for Disneyland. The gardens and parks are impeccably planted and cared-for, there is not a speck of litter visible, the buildings are all in great shape, the yachts are all gleaming, and contrary to just about every other European city, even the dog-poop on the sidewalks was missing.
After touring the palace, we took in some of the panoramic vistas available from the palace courtyard. We also visited the nearby cathedral, which is relatively modern having been constructed in 1875 on the site of an 11th century church. Monaco is a spectacular-looking city which rises steeply out of the ocean. We learned that Monaco, while having a reputation as a tax haven, actually isn’t. There are no personal income taxes collected, but there is a steep VAT and corporate tax rate. Monaco is also a “white list” member of the community of countries such as the UK and the US who cooperate in the sharing of financial information regarding tax dodgers. So don’t plan on opening your secret offshore bank account there.
Our next stop was the world-renowned Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, famously directed by Jacques-Yves Cousteau from 1957 to 1988. While the museum houses numerous artifacts and collections, we mostly visited the aquarium. Be advised that if you are touring the Prince’s Palace and the Oceanographic Museum, you can purchase a combined ticket at a slight discount to the individual prices. No senior discounts are offered, though. We were there on a weekday in the afternoon and the aquarium was packed with visitors.
By now we were all getting somewhat fatigued, so we took a happy-hour break of beer and wine, did a little more sight-seeing, then ate at a harbor-side restaurant in view of the tightly-packed yachts. Jill, Dawn and Rich all ordered the “moules et frites” (mussels and fries) in keeping with the nautical feel. Henry Warner ordered paella. We caught the 21H13 train for the four stop ride back to Villefranche-sur-mer, so it was a full day. We were all in bed by 11:00 PM.