Fast cars, luxury yachts and a good lesson in the end.
The title is particularly relevant to this trip. I was visiting Cannes and had made absolutely no plans to visit Monaco. And that’s really strange for someone like me who makes plans so detailed he could easily consult for the Army and plan out their most covert operation overnight. If you think that’s an exaggeration, check out some of the planning I’ve done for previous trips here and here.
So there I was, on a hot sunny morning at the SNCF station at Cannes, ready to board a train to Monaco, while desperately fighting this voice inside my head that’s screaming, “At least get a map!!”
Thankfully, the train journey was pretty scenic and helped further silence that voice. Maybe this was a good idea not planning this trip. Most of the journey let’s you catch a good glimpse into the lifestyle of something you’re not – rich. Dotted with luxury yachts, a sunbathing human suddenly seemed like a welcome sight! There really isn’t much of a beach along the coast. At least, not the sand beaches we’re used to. These tiny stretches were largely pebble beaches and it’s quite amusing watching people sprawled across them, head a few inches away from the road and their feet just kissing the water.
I’m not one to feel queasy easily and neither am I prone to motion sickness but the view outside my train window, comprising primarily of Ferrettis, Azimuts and the like, seemed to touch a sensitive spot in my stomach that was directly connected to my bank balance. So there was a strange but welcome sense of relief when my train reached Monaco station.
It’s quite a spectacular sight when you step out of Monaco Station. [The spelling error in the picture above wasn’t the result of a night of debauchery by the official in-charge of approving the final design. My panorama stitcher has a bad sense of humor.]
Walking down the station, you’re greeted by a statue of Saint Devoté, the patron saint of Monaco just outside the Church. We didn’t really get time to step into the Church, since my stomach was readjusting to the sight of Ferraris and Lamborghinis whizzing by like it was such a natural thing. Yes, the toys of the rich are a natural fixture at Monaco and I was already desperately looking for a barf bag to respond to my stomach.
Monaco isn’t very big, with an area less than 2 square kms. We decided to take a bus to the older side of the city, walk through the little lanes and eventually take a look at the Palace and the Cathedral. Monaco was bustling. When you turned away from camera-totting tourists, you looked at expensive cars and when you turned away from them you saw their counterparts – expensive yachts. But the prancing horses and bulls aside (the respective emblems of Ferrari and Lamborghini), Monaco was picture perfect. Everything seemed so art directed. Flowers in place, bushes trimmed, sidewalks sparkling clean, pedestrians smiling, the air crisp, the sun shinning bright and the waters soothing blue.
We eventually got off and strolled past quaint narrow streets that reminded me a lot of Paris. Little shops selling loads of touristy stuff, restaurants, noisy hawkers and smiling restaurant managers urging you to come inside for a quick bite.
We were getting hungry with all the walking and the fantastic smells of fresh seafood, so we popped into a place right at the end of Rue de L’Eglise. After a motley mix of waiters in Cannes, the ones in Monaco were a welcome break. They were some of the friendliest I’ve met, recommending dishes, posing for photographs (without being asked!) and cracking a few jokes about the owner and his wife. Of course, the waiters were all Italians, so that pretty much explains their attitude. The seafood was some of the freshest I’d ever eaten and we ordered everything fish and crustacean available in the kitchen!
After a lunch that was worth its weight in gold and a few too many bottles of Rosé later, we decided to continue walking or risk turning into permanent fixtures at the restaurant. It was the perfect antidote to a heavy lunch. We walked into the cathedral, which was nice but paled in comparison to my awesome experience at Notre Dame in Paris last year (you can read about that here.)
After a short walk around the Cathedral, we headed to the gardens just outside. The don’t seem like much from the outside but once you’re inside, they take your breath away. If you can tear yourself away from the wonderfully manicured little garden, take a look at the coast below. It made even non-swimmers like me want to step off the ledge and dive right in!
Further down the road, was the Monaco Oceanographic Museum. I was tempted to walk in and spend a few hours but my clock was ticking and I had to get my train back. Outside of the Museum, we were lucky enough to catch a Marc Quinn exhibition. Among other spectacular exhibits, the gigantic baby was riveting.
We took a long walk back to the station, through the F1 track and I swear I could hear the roar of the engines as we walked!
Time for a little honesty. Monaco wouldn’t have normally made it to my travel list. I knew it was a small little place loaded with a whole lot of money and observing the luxe life isn’t really what gets my travel engines going! But I was really glad I fitted a day trip in my schedule. Monaco is quaint, breathtakingly beautiful and strangely, I felt quite welcome and at home. I guess it’s because everyone you bump into is smiling. Everything seems in bloom. Everything seems perfectly in place. And as we walked back to the station, I quietly reminded myself that many of my preconceived notions about certain places and what they have to offer might be entirely wrong. And I will thank Monaco for that the next time I visit.
1. The train from Cannes to Monaco takes a little less than an hour. It’s the same one that goes to Nice and the last stop is Vintimille.
2. The ticket from Cannes to Monaco costs €14
3. Monaco is small enough to walk around.
4. If you want to visit the Palace and the Cathedral, you could take Bus 5 (Fontvielle-Hopital) if you don’t want to walk.
5. Monaco is largely a horizontal strip along the coast with Monte Carlo, where the casinos are located, on the right of the strip.
6. The Palace, Cathedral and older sights are along the left.
7. For more help, visit the official site.