Sun Cure in the Côte d’Azur.
 

All beach towns are alike; each non-beach town is non-beachy in its own way.  That’s our overall impression anyway after spending a week in the Côte d’Azur.  It is also an unabashed homage to a great Russian writer whose fellow countrymen-aristocrats and their European peers used to prance around this part of France in search of a “sun cure.”  We, ourselves, were not in need of any kind of cure, really; isn’t living in Paris a cure-all?  We simply had a week off in-between classes and we wanted to go to a warm destination where we could pass lazy days on the beach. 

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“Monaco very pretty”:  All that glitters is gold.
 

5 July 2008.  Being successful with our first visit of a nearby town from our home base of Cannes, we thought about staying at the Hôtel Little Palace for one more day.  All we needed to do was ask and we even got an 8€ discount for paying in cash.  The proprietress declared that “Monaco very pretty” once she learned of our itinerary.

 
 
 
|   Monacos beautiful but understated Monte Carlo station stands in contrast to many of its rundown French counterparts on the same line.
 

Riot was keen on going to Monaco partly because of the allure of visiting another country and partly because of its history.  Nez didn’t need much convincing beyond the fact that it had a beach and stars were known to decamp there.  The train ride there was short but the distance would have been too long for a small scooter (which we returned before leaving Cannes).  After passing the many small and sometimes rundown French train stations, the arrival, literally at the end of a tunnel, at the modern Monaco-Monte Carlo station was a pure delight.  Just as the station itself was candy for the eyes, the path (which we wrongly thought was the only path) into town through two towering rock faces was a powerful introduction.

 
 
 
  One of a few of the more modest pieces mooring in Port Hercules.
  Monacos ordinary Japanese Garden and its concrete neighbors.
 

We emerged at Monaco’s harbor, officially called Port Hercules, at the sight of numerous toys to the gods, berthed one after another.  There was even a stealthy looking one that a quick Google search easily found:  it’s called 118 WallyPower and reportedly goes for some $24 million, no takers yet though.  In the incessant heat, we gawked, not too openmouthedly, at the behemoth yachts.  “With a boat this big, I won’t even get seasick,” Nez remarked casually, “I want one.”  Riot responded that surely he would get her one; he even had a name for it.  The only open question was whether to add this to the 10-things-to-do-before-forty list alongside retirement (which, depending on how you look at it, is already ticked off).

 
 
 
  No swanky restaurant comes close to the ambience of our impromptu picnic spot.
  Children will try building castles out of any material.
 

We rounded the corner under a slew of construction and followed a covered walkway that hugged the sea.  On the other side of the divider we first heard the distinctive sound of the Ferrari engine before catching a quick glimpse of one, in classic rosso corsa, of course.  (Owning a Ferrari is already on the aforementioned list.)  We passed the plain Jardin Japonais, where picnicking was prohibited, and opted for a spot under a cluster of trees alongside avenue Princesse Grace to consume our lunch.  The streets seemed slightly deserted and reminded us a bit of Vegas and a bit Beverly Hills.  Monaco was clearly very densely populated and every inch of real estate, including the near-vertical hills, was put to use.  It was also very clean and we made sure not to make a mess with our meal of baguette, pâté, hummus, and Pringles as we sat on a concrete platform ringing a manicured patch of greenery.  We watched a father dropping his son off in a fancy car and saw a bleached blond, artificially tanned woman walking her tiny dog.  Based purely on unscientific observations, there seemed to be a noticeable increase in the number of fake blonds and fake breasts in Monte Carlo; everywhere else in the Côte d’Azur it was pretty much au naturel.  We finished our lunch and lingered a bit.  Our worry of being chased off by the Monaco police (reportedly the largest police force per-capita and per-area in the world) never materialized though a few more of the race red Ferraris did.

 

  The Church of Saint-Charles in a tranquil part of town,
where a wedding party was about to make its exit.

  The famed Monte-Carlo Casino under a constant state of
siege by symbols of wealth and tourists with cameras.

 
 

We did the obligatory time at the Plage du Larvotto on a finely pebbly beach, our first.  The sandy stretch of beach was further down in the paid section.  Nestled under the shadiest spot (Nez was clearly thinking of Riot) and next to a chic South Beach-like joint, we read and napped in the hot and humid air.  There was definitely a stronger Italian presence among the crowd the further east we traveled.  After a few hours, we decided to head inland to explore the city.  We took one of the many essential elevators Monaco implemented to deal with its extreme elevation from the beachside avenue up to boulevard des Moulins.  From there, we made our way up a little street and stumbled upon the Church of Saint-Charles where a wedding was taking place.  That was the closest we came to seeing a sliver of everyday life in this principality.  Next was a downhill walk to the Place du Casino, to gaze quickly at the Casino de Monte-Carlo (we would not have passed the dress code) and the lines of fancy cars adjoining the Hôtel de Paris.  No stars were sighted anywhere, unfortunately, but wealth abound.

 
 
 
  Reflecting the width of tiny Monaco:   From the ocean behind the Monte-Carlo Casino and the hills in the background.
  The source of the many sightings of unmistakable red driving objects all over town.
 

Down by the harbor again we grabbed a quick bite of grec sandwich by the Quai Albert 1er and watched the traffic cops diligently halting cars to let pedestrians cross the busy boulevard.  Behind us was an undersubscribed small carnival and behind that was a rousing teeny-bopper concert.  It was only then that we discovered the source of the multitude of Ferraris we had seen about town.  There were Ferraris waiting to be rented at very reasonable rates:  85€ to be a “driver” and 45€ to be a “co-pilote.”  “Drive a 360 Modena Spider on the F1 circuit,” the ad touted.  At the end of the ride, the beaming customer posed for a few photos with the prized, but brief, ride of his life.

 
 
 
  View of Port Hercule from the top of the train station at dusk.
  Thirteen stories down is another of the stations entrances.
 

By then we felt like we were done with Monaco.  It was true that there were other worthwhile sights we hadn’t seen but we were ready to leave its atmosphere of opulence.  Before we left, however, we had the best gelato of the entire trip at La Gelateria on rue Grimaldi by the entrance to the train station.  We had some time to kill before the next westbound train so we savored our gelato outside the semicircular glass and steel entrance with some vocal sea gulls begging for bits of our cones.  The best sight of Monaco arguably came in our last hour there.  We wandered the simple but cavernous station and pleasantly discovered that it had three separate exits that emerged on different levels, depending on your destination.  A map showed that it had some 13 levels, from where we came out this morning all the way up to the winding streets in the towering hills.  We rode the high-speed elevator to the top and enjoyed a magnificent view of Monte Carlo below, whose glow was just then coming to life.  From a great height, it was a beautiful thing.

 
















  
It took two tries to capture this shot of us
high over Monte Carlo; two seconds are two short
to run back to one's place before the shutter clicks.
 
 
DAYS   
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Day 2
 
Day 3
 
Day 4
 
 
Day 6
 
Day 7
 
Day 8
 
 
Dine Cote dAzur
 
Sleep Cote dAzur
 
A Matter of Numbers
 
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