Tuesday 24 June 2008

Breaking the bank

Saturday was our day for doing the touristy bits of Monaco and Monte Carlo. Given the rather small nature of the Principality, one day is really all you need to see all the sights. Eschewing the bus we walked down the hill and around the harbour, passing the gleaming white ships, some with jacuzzis and pools built in to their upper decks. Very few of the vessels could be classed as yachts although there were a couple of lovely wooden yachts amongst the fibre-glass and chrome.

We climbed up through the gardens to the palace and old town area, thankfully a bit quieter than the hustle and bustle of the main quay. The palace is fronted by an open square in which a band clad in starched-white uniforms played a fairly jazzy repertoire in advance of the changing of the guard. The sun was fairly beating down and we sought the cool shade of the trees that stood guard behind the cannon that lined the battlements, looking down to the smaller of the marinas far below. We nipped into the palace for a look round at the collected finery of the Grimaldi family. There was a rather odd portrait of Prince Rainier, Princess Grace and the children painted in a seventies sentimental "Sound of Music" style amidst the usual small, high, uncomfortable-looking four posters and ornate reception rooms. Little chance of stepping on an unseen bit of Lego in these rooms.

Back in the sun we meandered down the narrow streets, bumping into the odd Pampered Chef party as we sought out a restaurant for a light lunch. We settled for some salad and aubergine parmigiana then stopped in at the cathedral where the Grimaldis were married. Sharon was always a fan of Grace Kelly and loved the fairytale princess story when she was little so she enjoyed seeing the site of the wedding. Both Princess Grace and Prince Rainier now lie entombed, with the Grimaldi forebears, behind the altar.
Flagging in the heat, we sat in the park in the shade for a while, looking out to the blue Mediterranean and doing absolutely nothing. Ah, the joy of holidaying without children! There are a lot of impressive sculptures dotted about Monaco and, unlike France, a conspicuous absence of dog poo! We caught a bus back to the Hotel Hermitage and read and relaxed (hard work) before dressing up in our glad rags for the Gala Dinner at the Hotel de Paris.

We all paraded round to the hotel, stopping the traffic, for a drinks reception in the gardens, before entering the grand Salle Empire. Lesley got recognition for being a Level 3 achiever on her first attempt and Sharon duly took to the floor as the number one points earner. That's my girl! The food was good without being wonderful (given the Hotel de Paris restaurant is currently ranked number four in the world) as catering for the masses generally outweights quality. We did have a good dance afterwards, as an excellent band played into the night. The visit to the Casino after that was predictably lacklustre. It's a fine building but houses an activity that probably is better suited to smoke-filled bookies, wet March afternoons in Hexham or neon-lit Vegas warehouses. There is very little glamour about it: mostly tourists and shabby chic high-rollers soon parted from their cash, and croupiers that verge on being infamously rude.

Sunday was always looking like a dead day so we took advantage of the suite and sat in the sun or snoozed on the bed before taking a stroll to the east of the hotel. In truth, there is little to see other than apartments and closed shops with the busiest place being the Cafe de Paris, because it was open. After our expensive refreshments and a wander through the modern-art strewn park in Casino Square, we returned to our rooms and awaited the arrival of Lesley and Paul. For the final night we were allowed to do our own thing, with a 50-euro-per-head sweetener, so we tcuked into the wine and then sauntered down the hill, opting, on the recommendation of the Schultzes staggering up the way, to go to My Sushi. It was a fine choice as we each tucked into a box of exquisite raw fish and light rice, ordering more instead of a dessert. And wine of course. And more wine in a quayside bar as we watched Spain knock Italy out of Euro 2008 on penalties. And more wine back at the hotel. All in all it was a fine end to the four nights away.

Monday was more of a chore (see all the wine, above) although once you accepted that it was just going to be a day of iterating through waiting, queueing, sitting and flying, it was a question of being patient and getting home. We managed that. Michael and Marie were still in one piece, just, and without their great help we wouldn't have been able to enjoy ourselves the way we did so a big thank you to them!

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