Is there really a difference in such a tiny Principality?
8/14/12 - 8/15/12 94 °F
The next day (I have no idea what day of the week it is anymore) we leave Nice and head east toward Italy. Along the way though is a must-do stop, the principality of Monaco. It is a tiny "country", just 3/4 of a square mile in total - really just a small city. But it is probably the most "vertical" city/country in the world. As we drive into Monaco, we realize that the roads into and out of Monaco have become tunnels, with buildings built right over the top of them. Real estate is so scarce here, that they just build up since they can't build out. As our GPS shows that we are about to exit the other side of the country, we realize we haven't actually seen any of it while driving beneath its buildings. Monaco must be the only country in the world that you can drive across, entirely underground! We find the last turnoff that gets us out of the tunnels and onto the surface streets.
As we wander around the crowded port and down some streets, we gaze up in wonderment at all the buildings built practically on top of each other and up the cliffsides that surround this country. This place reeks of money. Every building and street is spotlessly clean. High-end cars are everywhere and yachts line the port. We decide to take the bus, as you can cross the entire country in 15 minutes. We are a little taken aback when the police board the bus and check every passenger's ticket. Two stops later it happens again. In fact, it happens about every other stop. We are boarded at least 4 times during our 15 minute tour. They say this city is very secure, with cameras on every street corner and such a strong police presence, that you can win a million dollars at the Casino and walk the streets in perfect safety. A little ironic for a place that is dubbed "a sunny place for shady people". I guess you can hide your ill-gotten millions here tax free with no problem, just don't forget to validate your bus ticket. Oh wait. They don't take the bus, they drive the official cars of Monaco: a toss up between Rolls-Royce and Ferrari (followed closely be Bentley). There are more of these than anywhere else I have seen. There is at least one of these on every single street in Monaco. I've never been able to see every model in the Ferrari line-up in one city before - I guess we won't have to go to Ferrari in Modena, Italy.
As far as the yachts, I am most amazed at the number of Wally's here. A brand that I had only heard of from it's one "concept" model that was about a hundred feet long and goes 75 mph, I recently learned Jim's company actually sells these, and they have boats in all size ranges. There are several of these in port, and along the surrounding waters.
We discover the difference between Monaco and Monte Carlo. Monaco is the whole "country", while Monte Carlo is actually a neighborhood in the city-state around the famous Casino. Speaking of which... the pictures and clichés are true. In front of the Casino is parked every kind of high-end car you can think of: Lamborghini, Bentley, a million dollar McLaren SLR, Mercedes SLS, and of course, multiple Ferraris and Rolls-Royces.
Inside, the Casino is stunning. It's somewhat reminiscent of the beautiful areas of some Las Vegas casinos, except it's genuine, it's really old, and it's truly elegant, not glitzy. Beautiful ceilings, crystal lined bars, gorgeous blue and white mosaics - it's the perfect place for us to enjoy a glass of champagne and pretend we're James Bond. We can only see the "American Salon", as the "private rooms" require a stricter dress code and an entry fee -- and they play funny games like Baccarat and Punto Banco. You have to pay them to allow you to lose your money. The tables we saw were minimum 25 Euro bets.
Continuing our exploration of the city, we climbed the steps to the Palace to say hi to Al and Charlie (Prince Albert and Princess Charlene would be appalled!) We were a bit surprised at the "plainness" of their Palace abode. Considering they are the "oldest monarch family"' you'd think they'd had enough time to spruce the place up a bit. The views over the city are grand though.
Time to get back in the car and head into Italy, only a stone's throw away....
Except, when we get into Italy, we don't get to see much of it. Here the terrain is more mountainous, but the highway is perfectly flat and level, about halfway up in elevation. How do they do this? They go straight through the mountains in tunnels and cross the valleys with bridges. We spend more time in tunnels, than in the light, with just a glimpse of the valleys below as we cross a bridge. Long tunnel, short bridge, long tunnel, short bridge.... it goes on and on like this for a hundred miles or so. Finally, we turn off at our exit, the little seafront town of Rapallo.
Rapallo was a brief stop, near the more trendy and more picturesque -- and more expensive -- Portofino. Home to multitudes of movie stars, Portofino is a tiny collection of pastel-hued buildings cascading down the hillside to the tiny port. Cliffside bluffs support several gorgeous villas, and large yachts bob in the sea below. It is a picture-perfect little harbor, made even more so by our boat ride that brought us to this hamlet.
But it was time to go. Next stop... a visit back in time to the Renaissance: Florence!