15. Apr, 2016

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MONDAY 1-6-15

Today was Monaco day, the first of two. We had intended to get up early and crack on with it, but it didn't quite work out that way. I think we'll have to start setting the alarm clock. We had considered taking a packed lunch to avoid paying the reputed very high cost of food in Monaco, but then decided against it. It would be too hot to carry food around in a backpack, and besides, we were on holiday.

It's about a 25 minute hike to the train station, they had forecast a cloudy day today and fortunately they were right which made it a lot cooler. Because of their forecast I didn't take sunglasses, hat or sunscreen.

The tickets were about £20 for two returns, which was pretty reasonable, especially compared with prices back home. The journey took about fifty minutes before we arrived at the impressive railway station at Monaco cut in to the rock, rather like an underground station, except that you're over-ground and go down escalators to the surface, rather than up. Now although the forecast was for cloud all day, they'd already got it wrong, as by then it was clear blue skies and rising temperatures.

Out of Monaco station and in to ‘GramaldiLand’. It's a bit like Disneyworld, Florida, or LegoLand, not a real place with real people. It's ruled by Prince Albert II and his much younger South African wife, Princess Charlene, and doesn't she look soooo happy to be married to him? Not so much William and Kate, more like Charles and Di in the latter stages. As I recall she did a runner the day before her wedding. She was found and came back but we'll never know what the deal was to keep her there.

GrimaldiLand is a Principality and a bit like Gibraltar but posher and without the apes. Home to Spivs, criminals, tax dodgers and no doubt a few FIFA officials. Property prices are expressed in millions and fractions thereof. The marina is full of multi-million pound Super-Yachts, most registered in the Caribbean, the Isle of Man, Malta and other tax avoidance locations,  and there are so many of them that some are anchored offshore as there aren't enough berths in the marina. You don't get to buy one of those on PAYE.

Now I was aware that the Monaco Grand Prix was eight days ago, and with various changes we'd made to our schedule we are about eight days ahead of schedule, but I really had expected them to have cleared up by now. Not a bit of it. I was amazed how much activity there still was, it was as if we'd walked in to the middle of a construction site.

For Rosina her priority was to visit the Palace and cathedral, for me it was to walk around the race track route and see the casino. It was possible to actually drive around the Grand Prix route, quite a few motorists were doing it, including a couple of motorhomes,  in fact it was easier to drive than walk it, as we had to keep crossing the road to avoid restricted construction, or rather deconstruction areas.

We walked past the start point of the race by the marina, and then up numerous steep steps until we reached the Palace frontage. Well, it's not exactly Buckingham Palace, and the guard walking up and down outside wasn't up to our 'Guards' standard, but it was the kind of thing that would make Yanks wet their pants with delight.

From 'Grimaldi Towers' we wandered south down a back street to the cathedral. Now although not ancient, it was none the less a very nice building indeed. Inside there was organ music playing continually and up at the front behind the altar was a semi-circular area of tombs of previous Princes as well as Prince Rainier and Princess Grace side by his side, with engraved slabs on top.

From the cathedral we wandered through some very nice gardens high above Port De Fontvielle, or 'Paupers Marina' as I referred to it as, full of much smaller more traditional sailing yachts, as opposed to Port Hercule, the main marina for the seriously rich.

Back down the hill we went, before picking up the route of the Grand Prix. We passed the large pit area which was slowly being dismantled, then it was another deviation - lunch. Now we'd read about the very high prices in Monaco, and yes if you've money to flash about there are plenty of food joints there to take your money off you, but we found a very nice little cafe where we bought two filled crusty rolls, a coffee and a beer for about £10, and we got to sit outside and people-watch. There was even a free copy of the' Daily Mail' to read after munching lunch - depressing reading. The exception being the headline which was about a major advance in the treatment of cancer which is wonderful news.

After lunch we re-joined the circuit, where, soon afterwards we had a quick sit down in a very small area of raised seating right opposite the start line. We had joined a few fellow tourists most of whom were munching their way through the contents of pizza boxes purchased just a stones’ throw away. So here we sat, for free of course, in seats that would have cost a fortune to buy tickets for just eight days earlier. A few pictures taken, then onward we trudged until eventually we came across the famous Casino. It was on one side of a square, another grand building on another side, a large open-air restaurant on another and gardens on the other. Now I fancied a look around inside the Casino, and as I walked the video camera in to the building on 'Record' I was told very nicely by a doorman that there was no photography inside, which was a shame as the decor looked magnificent. He did tell us that we could leave the backpack and cameras at the property office and then look around if we wished. That sounded like a good deal except that when in conversation with the ladies on the desk it turned out we would need to show photo ID to get further in to the casino and as we had none with us, had to give up.

Further around the circuit we came across the tunnel which runs right under a hotel and the Rainier Auditorium complex, it's quite long too, but doesn't seem it at the speed the Grand Prix cars travel through it.

Just before walking through the tunnel we made a little detour to the 'seafront' where there was The Champions Promenade containing pairs of foot imprints of famous footballers. Among them was George Best, 2005, presumably with his original liver, and Diego Maradona, 2003,though it would have been more appropriate to have had an imprint of his hands, or 'The hand of God' as he referred to it, the cheating little sod.

Further on we stumbled across the Japanese Garden, a lovely peaceful spot with Koi Carp swimming in pools, waterfalls, a little red bridge, and black pansies in the border which The Chef enthused about.

We continued our trudge, followed by a quick close-up look at some of the Super -Yachts berthed in the marina. After this we treated ourselves to a lovely ice cream (I chose two scoops, one of Apricot and the other of liquorice, though what possessed me to choose such an odd combination is beyond me) before deciding that we'd done everything we wanted to do here which meant we wouldn't need to return tomorrow, and besides it was very hot.

By the time we got back to the railway station we'd done the Grand Prix circuit and so in we went. We caught a train about 17:30 along with lots and lots of other people. This must be the rush-hour and normal people were making their way home having done their days work in GrimaldiLand.

I have to say though all pee-taking aside, Monaco is a lovely place to visit, probably for no more than a day. They don't waste a square inch of space and there are plenty of lovely shaded public rest areas around it. But it's not real, it's a fantasy place, unless you're loaded of course, in which case it's a good place to flaunt your questionably acquired wealth.

This evening’s meal was a small cheese and ham salad, since we weren't too hungry after our lunch 'in town'.