Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Monaco: That Place with Lots of Rich People

Around 11am on Saturday, J. (20'), G. (19'), and I arrived at Monte Carlo, Monaco. The first thing I noticed in the enormous train station was that wow! there were escalators. I come from a smaller city where there are no escalators, since most buildings are one story, so already my day was off to a good start.

This was a view from the train station. THE TRAIN STATION.
I'll admit, I'm terrible at history and geography so I didn't really know much about Monaco. A quick wikipedia search tells me it's the second smallest country in the world and is ruled by the royal family, although France controls its military.

In about an hour, the Monaco royal guard changing ceremony would commence. So, our little MIT tourist group had to make our way from the train station to the palace on the other side of the country. At first, we took our time, soaking in the beautiful sights around us, enjoying the walk as Monaco is a pretty tiny and rather gorgeous country.
There are gardens on the tops of the buildings. Yay green roofs!

Then, we realized the city-state, decorated with its elegant architecture, with floating walkways that led to rooftops, second stories, and other parts of a building besides the ground floor, was in actuality a distracting maze. The map we picked up was deceptive in that although we picked the path of least distance, that path didn't exist.

I aspire to be rich enough to own a huge red poodle statue, but
I probably wouldn't use the money to buy a huge red poodle statue.
You can't just go in a straight line from destination A to B. Nope, you need to wind down sidewalks alongside roads, skip down a set of stairs, reach a dead end in the form of a glass wall that leads to the entrance of a top of a building, climb back up the stairs, trudge your way up another set of stairs, only to realize that to reach the palace, you need to somehow mysteriously make your way to the bottom of the city-state and then muster the will to hike back up to the top.

Quite frustrating when you can see the palace in the distance, and yet when you look down, you're still confused on how to get there. Also a tiny bit stressful when you now have half an hour before the ceremony starts, and changing of the guards is only a once-a-day kind of thing.



      STAIRS...

But, despite being used to MIT time in which everything starts five minutes late, we were actually a few minutes early. Or I guess you could also look at it in the way that the Monaco changing-of-the-guards ceremony is on MIT time, since it starts at 11:55am. 

We even have enough time to take a picture of the postcard-perfect scenery.  
There's the guard marching impeccably towards the palace.
The ceremony wasn't too long, probably 15 minutes or less. A band started to play and some high-ranking official started counting, and maybe 10 guards began performing synchronized movements with their guns and sabers. G. (19') and I agreed that although it was pretty interesting watching the ceremony, the guards were not totally in sync with each other. You could hear a small splattering of claps and observe movements that were seconds off from each other. To be fair, I might be extra sensitive to synchronicity from being in the orchestra, where everything depends on togetherness with other musicians, being perfectly on beat. But seeing the guards dressed in their perfect, white uniforms in front of the grand palace of Monaco was worth the rush.

Next we hit the tourist streets. To be honest, I was slightly disappointed. There weren't any boulangeries, and most of the "gelato" places were just regular ice cream shops with cookie-cutter stands that popped up every few steps. Although Monaco is near Italy and within France, since many international tourists visit (we saw a number of Americans, British, and Chinese), I think these tourist streets went for stereotypical France and Italy rather than genuine. Most of the tourist gear had to do with race cars because I believe there is a world-famous racing cup of some sort in Monaco. 
However, I know nothing about cars. I don't even know what car models my parents have. I don't even have a car. G. (19') on the other hand was in paradise. He really wanted a Ferrari jacket, and he got shots of almost every Ferrari that drove by.

Fancy yellow car.
Fancy red car.
Fancy grey car.
















The following situation occurred about 15 times since apparently there's a lot of rich people who own fancy cars in Monaco:

G. (19'): "I'm having a normal conversa--"
G. (19'): *GASP* "Is that a Ferarri X Year Y Model?" 
G. (19'): *proceeds to whip out phone*
G. (19'): *groans* "I missed it!"
Me: *points behind him* "Wait is that another fancy car?"
G. (19'): "NOOOOOO!"

There are a lot of really rich people in Monaco. Not just the ones who can afford luxury brand cars, but the ones who own the obviously-at-least-a-million-dollars-ridiculously-expensive cars. You could also tell that rich people lived in Monaco because of the casino. There is this one huge casino in Monaco that a coworker suggested for sight-seeing, not necessarily for gambling. Although you have to buy a 17 euro ticket, the inside is supposedly amazingly beautiful. However, my dreams were crushed because of my tennis shoes, which are apparently forbidden inside this high-class casino. I saw dozens of tourists turned away because of their footwear unfortunately.

The kid next to me: "NEMO!"
That's okay. We went to the aquarium and garden of animals instead. An interesting note about the aquarium: it's not too big, but the outside is stunning, reminiscent of Greek columns and classical aesthetics. Probably because it was built in early times (not that early) but when Prince Albert I carried out expeditions to kill sea animals and study them. At first, I was a little sad that he killed all these animals, but it was the only way to study them back then (late 1800s?). Also, he made a speech declaring that human greed would lead to the extermination of all these species, which is sadly prophetic of the present.

Pretty albino peacock, like the Monaco guards dressed in white.

We ate American dinner at Stars & Bars. The view of the mountains from the restaurant beside the port was incredible. The menus were ipads, which might have been a bit extra. I had a regular cheeseburger with fries. Overpriced at 17 euros? Sure, but the view was amazing. The music, on the other hand, was slightly disturbing. A DJ blasted music outside, and although I don't have anything against the song choices themselves, the way the songs clashed when transitioning and mish-mashing by fading in/out was quite dissonant.


Finally, at the mere hour of 20:00, we were about to head back to the train station. I voted for walking back and prolonging our adventure in Monaco, but J. (20') and G. (19') wanted to take the bus back. Defeated, I resigned to leaving at a reasonable hour when a miracle took the form of a kind lady at the bus stop. She overheard our conversation and pointed out that there was a city dance party that night, and only that night. You can't pass an opportunity like this! If there's one thing I gained from having EC friends, it's perhaps a sense for adventure.

Outside the casino where J. (20') and I were turned away for our footwear, a crowd of perhaps two hundred or more people enclosed an enormous stage. Some were tourists, some were families, and some were obviously dressed very well. On one side of the stage, a group of dancers dressed in grass skirts performed a hula, while on another side, a different Spanish group was preparing for their turn. There were Indian groups, teenager contemporary groups, even a talented and elegant pole dancer. Very reminiscent of the MIT One World tent party, except for a city. After the performances, all the dance groups descended into the streets and set up a few lessons so that the audience became participants in their informal instructing classes. I learned a few steps of cha cha and it was a lot of fun!

video video

Finally, at the late hour of 21:30, we decided to leave, as it would be an hour train ride back home.

An illuminated train station while we wait for the our delayed train to take us back home.
Next weekend: Eze? or Marseilles?


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