Sunday, January 4, 2009

Monte Carlo, Monaco (12/30/08)

We got up this morning and Chris & I got some food from the marche and the boulangerie for breakfast. We cooked eggs, and had the most amazing croissants...the best I have had in France so far.

We thought we could catch a train to Monaco around noon, and according to the train station's website the night before, we would be there in time for lunch since the trip was only 20 min. We walked to the train station, which was a good distance away. It probably took us 20 minutes to get there walking at a regular pace.

We bought our tickets at the station, and walked over to the time boards to check on our train. We were very unhappy to see that there was a strike going on (of course), and there wasn't another train for 2 hours. We really should have looked at the schedule board before purchasing the tickets. Since we had time to kill, and the Russian cathedral wasn't far away, we decided to walk over there for a little while. We used our Garmin GPS to figure out the best way to get over to the cathedral.

The Russian cathedral wasn't as big as I had imagined it. It was beautiful, but we couldn't go inside since it was noon. When planning things here in France, you really can't do anything between noon and 2pm since everyone eats lunch during that time.

We thought it would be a good idea to grab some sandwiches to eat while waiting for the train. We stopped at a boulangerie and bought ham and cheese sandwiches to share. When we got back to the train station, we couldn't find a place to sit. In the main hall, there was only a few seats, and people were like vultures with person would jump up, and someone else would swoop in and take it before we got a chance to take a step.

Eventually we had Chris go and ask if there was another place to sit, and he found out that we could go further into the station, near the tracks, and there were benches there. (Later we found out that there was another waiting room further down the track that was indoors and had pay toilets which cost 0.50 centimes).

We sat down and ate our sandwiches while watching trains come and go. The pigeons started coming over and we fed them our scraps. One pigeon was missing a toe on one foot, and missing the entire other foot. We named him Stumpie and we fed him more than the others.

After waiting and waiting, inhaling others smoke (even though the train station was supposedly smoke free), we found out our train track and we got on board.

Our train to Monaco was very fast. When we arrived, we found our way out of the station and walked over towards the port (there are actually two ports in Monte Carlo). We really didn't know how to get to the palace or to the casino, so we just walked around aimlessly for a little while. We could see people walking up the hill, so we thought that would be the way to go if we wanted to see the palace. After some searching, we found the path and walked up the hill.

Our first impression of Monaco was "this is it?" It wasn't nicer than Nice (ha), and didn't really fit our idea of ritzy Monte Carlo. However, when we got up to the Palace and walked around up on the hill over looking the nicer part of the area (the 2nd port), we started changing our view. We couldn't go into the palace, since Prince was actually there (we knew this by the flag flying high above).

Wandering around the tiny streets, we found a small cathedral and the larger cathedral. We also found a lovely garden to walk through with breathtaking views of the Med.

We had a couple of hours, and figured we should check out the Musée Océanographique. It was well worth the money to go through this museum. Outside, there was a yellow submarine that I just had to pose in front of!

The downstairs was an aquarium with a variety of fishes and animals. I really enjoyed the baby dogfish and the loggerhead turtle. The upper floors were part of the oceanographic insitute of Monaco with exhibits talking about global warming and exploring the arctic. There was also a room of death, as I called it, that was filled with whale bones and dead animals. Apparently, Prince Albert was quite fond of studying the ocean, but he was also into harpooning whales to research them.

It was getting late, and we wanted to get back to Nice for dinner. We decided to skip the casino this time (since I couldn't have gone in wearing jeans, and it costs money for you to go inside and gamble). We took the train back to Nice, which was easy and smooth.

For dinner, we went to Bistro Romain, which is a chain of Italian restaurants here in France. The food was excellent...I had the truffle and roquefort ravioli and Chris had the salmon gratin. The restroom was kind of scary, downstairs and unisex. There was a family next to us that ordered the carpaccio. For those of you who have never had carpaccio, it is a dish of raw beef, veal, or tuna, and at this restaurant, it was served with french fries. The mother ordered 3 dishes of this, one after the other, and the man and son ordered about 5 each! We couldn't believe that anyone could eat that much! The family wasn't overweight, nor did they look like they could eat that much food. They just acted like it was no big deal to eat that much. It was really wild.

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