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  • Day944

    Walking to Monaco, Country #18

    January 26 in Monaco ⋅ ⛅ 6 °C

    🇲🇨 Monaco, Country # 18 🇲🇨

    Built on the side of an Alp, the principality of Monaco is the second smallest country in the world after the Vatican City, but it is the most densely populated and neither of us fancied trying to park there, even on a Sunday. Therefore, Will worked his magic with the Park4Night app and found two possibilities in France. The first was a 7 place motorhome aire which had a bus service to Monaco. Unfortunately, upon further investigation, we found this had recently been closed down. Option number two was a car park on top of La Tête de Chien, a Maritime Alp towering 550m above Monaco. The views are wonderful but there is no bus service, only a rocky walking track leading 4km down the mountainside!

    With Will having recently celebrated his 65th birthday and recovering from a minor operation and Vicky struggling with ongoing health problems, neither of us are very fit and we were nervous about the challenging route. Vicky downloaded a Monacan taxi app and we decided that we could use this as a backup option if need be.

    At 10am on Sunday we embarked on our adventure with all 2.2 square kilometres of Monaco layed out more than 500m below. The so called path was narrow and consisted of loose stone, earth and rock with the occasional signpost. We took it slow and made steady progress, soaking in the smells of wild rosmary and thyme.

    Monaco charges no income tax and it is estimated that at least 30% of residents are millionaires!Getting closer we began to see more details; private swimming pools, a helipad, the famous arches of the Grand Prix route. The sounds of the city began to reach us also; beeping machinery, the background roar of car engines and church bells all mixed together.

    Reaching civilisation once again, the first car we saw was a Monacan Porsche 4x4, although we were technically still in France. Winding down steep hill roads we came to a main roadway, with small signs stating that you were leaving one urban jurisdiction (La Turbie) and entering another (Beausoleil). There were no big signs saying 'Welcome to Monaco', in fact the only reason we knew we were crossing over was by looking at the border line on Maps.Me! Monaco is not formally part of the EU, but participates in the same customs and border controls and currency via its close relationship with France.

    Monaco's residential area is tiered and although there were high rises all around, their walls were made up of integrated balconies, meaning it didn't feel as claustrophobic as we'd feared. We soon spotted a public lift, one of many to help people get up and down the steep slopes. Using as many of these as we could find and inumerable steps, we made our way towards the centre via the Jardins Exotic, where well tended grass and palms grew and young children amused themselves in little playgrounds, while well dressed grown-ups looked on and chatted amongst themselves.

    We'd been descending for nearly 2 hours and Vicky's legs were shaking by the time we reached the small market place we hoped to have lunch at. Being a Sunday, people milled around the open air square, perusing yellow and red striped stalls selling fruit, veg and flowers. There was even one selling sea urchins and other shellfish under the shade of a portico. Looking back over the top of the richly painted town centre buildings, now occupied by well presented eateries, we saw a towering cliff and realised with trepidation that this was where we'd walked from! We couldn't quite believe our legs had carried us and put off thinking about getting back up!

    We've seen setups like Marché de la Condamine in a few cities; an indoor space housing small outlets that sell plates of cooked food as well as cheeses, cakes and cured meats, with shared tables in the centre. However, this was more compact and had a far more polished feel to it, being better heated, better presented and cleaner than the others. Despite the warmth, several diners wore full fur coats, which were often accompanied by large reflective sunglasses. We chose to eat at Maison des Pâtes, which seemed the most popular. Tasty spinach tagliatelle with creamy truffle sauce, water and loup de mer (sea bass) ravioli with pesto sauce and a red wine came to €26 - less expensive than the two meals we'd had out so far in France and very filling. We sat beside a family of 6, with 3 generations and the 'grand-mère' wished us a warm 'bon appetite'. Monaco's official language is French, but Monégasque, Italian, Occitan and English are also spoken widely.

    Following lunch we wandered up the ramp to the old town and the Prince's Palace; not as grand as one might think for the reining monarch in the world's richest country (if we are to measure wealth per capita). Despite its compact nature, it did have turrets, castellations, porticos and flags, with an array of canons and navy blue uniformed sentries standing bolt upright in individual white guard houses.

    The palace and old town are perched on a rocky outcrop, resulting in very narrow streets for pedestrians only, between the beautifully warm sienna rainbow of terraced buildings. Over the alleyways, wire arches supported Monacan crests, as souvenir shops touted their wares; Monte Carlo T-shirts and gambling chips, Monaco Grand Prix baseball caps and even a Monaco tea towel, which we bought to use in the van.

    It didn't take long to emerge at the Cathedral, which had a very grand white stone frontage with a red carpet leading up the stairs and two magnificent palm trees growing in the narrow strip of earth outside. Within, a walkway led visitors around the outside of a more austere space. We'd even go so far as to say there was a breeze block appearance to the stone walls, perhaps to highlight the importance of the marble grave stones of the departed dynasty, many of which rested in alcoves with a small, rectangular, stained glass window and shrine or effigy to accompany them.

    Becoming anxious about the climb back up, we decided it was time to go. We managed to find some public lifts, but others eluded us and we needed to climb hundreds of steps. We took many breaks on the ascent but there was a great view of the city to look at while we caught our breath, the sun having swung round to shine from behind us.

    After 2.5 hours Martha Motorhome finally came into view and we climbed gratefully in, to put our tired feet up and feast on chocolate! Ironically, after a day of mountain climbing, Will got round to applying for his Old Age Pension! We really enjoyed our day in Monaco. Our usual apprehension about visiting a capital was ameliorated by the rural hike either side of our city sojourn. We didn't visit the famous casino or the harbour, but feel we got a flavour for the city, which was a surprisingly pleasant place to spend a few hours, if you discount the aching legs from climbing all those stairs!

    If you'd like to watch a video of our experience, click on the link to go to the VnW Travels You Tube channel: https://youtu.be/yMcx210UI4g

    Having explored on foot, Will had the confidence to drive in the following day, 'just for the experience'. The narrow streets and complicated road systems, with their series of tunnels, turned out to be quite stressful, even without looking for a place to park. We passed some exclusive looking shops selling cars, clothes and jewellery; all things that many people desire but do not need. We think we were definitely right to explore by foot, on a Sunday!

    If you'd like to watch a 2 minute our drive through Monaco, click on the link to go to the VnW Travels You Tube Channel: https://youtu.be/VFaBLIDGnYg
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