Sunday, December 18, 2011

Day 3: France and Monaco

Did I ever tell you about my having summered in the South of France?  It was a wonderful few hours, let me tell you.  This picture shows as close as Declan ever got to the South of France.  We didn't take him ashore.  He doesn't even know we went to France.

 We checked him into the kid's club, signed a sworn affidavit that he was potty trained, and spent the rest of the day fervently praying that he wouldn't have an accident.  We tendered to the port of Villefranche.  We had signed up for an adults-only Disney shore excursion, despite feeling vaguely uncomfortable around people who take Disney cruises without any children. And there are a lot of them.  I also feel somewhat unenthusiastic about the prospect of a group excursion in unto itself.   Of all the places I've been in the world, I've never seen a bus full of tourists and thought "I wish I was riding with that posse". 
The tour group death march single file to the bus.  Don't be jealous, haters.
But on the other hand I've never been limited to a 10 hour window to explore a place either.  And the kicker is, if you are on a Disney shore excursion and the bus breaks down or there's a traffic jam or wildcat worker's strike, the boat will wait for you.  If you are exploring on your own and some Act of God keeps you from returning to the boat in a timely manner, it will leave without you, regardless of how many kids you have checked into the kids' club on board, or how cute said kid might be.  So we figured that at those ports where we leaving Declan on the boat, we would do the official excursion thing.
The view from our tender into Villefranche. 

We started off with a tour of the principality of Monaco, walking through the city of Monaco, Monaco. This is where I finally figured out what the heck the difference between Monaco and Monte Carlo was.  So Monaco is the name of the principality, and it is divided into 4 quarters one of which is inconsiderately named Monaco, and another of which is Monte Carlo.  We went on an audio tour of the royal palace of the Grimaldi family, wherein I learned that I have also been mispronouncing Monaco all my life. According to the Grimaldis, it should rhyme with "tobacco". Imagine the egg on my face.   So I hope that I have helped someone out there sort through the confusion that I have suffered through all my life, until such time as I vacationed in the South of France, in monAcco, monAcco.
The Grimaldi Family Residence
They might as well pronounce it utOpia, utOpia.  It is breathtakingly beautiful.  It has 0% unemployment and the highest life expectancy in the world (90 years!)   If you try to litter, a single white dove swoops down and catches the trash before it hits the ground. 
This is the church where Grace Kelly got married.  Shane asked me why on earth I would want a picture of this. 
C'mon, we're talking Princess Grace here!  Interesting tidbit: the Kellys had to pay the Grimaldis a 2 million dollar dowry to get them to take that heifer off their hands.  Go figure.

Out front of Jacques Cousteau's Musee Oceanographique de Monaco, Shane seemed to think there was no dignity in feigning encapture by an octopus. I beg to differ.

Onwards and upwards to Monte Carlo.  We were tremendously excited by the prospect of following in James Bond's footsteps and gambling here, and we were among the first in the door when it opened at 2 pm. I didn't know casinos closed.  You are not allowed to take pictures inside the casino, so here's a picture looking out the front door.
The Square outside the Grand Casino.  People gather around to see the fancy cars parked there.  I think the cars belong to the extortionist roulette staffers.

As soon as you go in, you are hit up for a 10 Euro entrance fee.  A small price to pay for glamour no?  Well the Grand Casino of Monte Carlo turned out to be a little underwhelming.  Sure there was beautiful woodwork and light fixtures, but it wasn't exactly hopping in there. There were about 7 table games, and then a small seperate room with silent slot machines. There was no harmonius G-chord chorus to be had.  No one was playing anything, just a few tourists wandering aimlessly like we are, wondering where the rest of it went.  I am getting an idea why they don't let tourists take pictures inside. If pictures got out, it might cut down the number of suckers willing to pay 10 Euros for a look at the place.  We discussed leaving as there weren't even any craps tables which is our favourite game, but I wanted to win my 10 Euro entrance fee back, so we sat down at the Roulette table.  Lucky for me it was a ten Euro minimum.  I played Red and won back my entrance fee, and  Shane played 27 for my birthday as well as 18 for Declan's, and he lost. He wanted one more spin, and this time he just played 18.  I was still complaining about him dumping my birthday when 18 hit and Shane won 450 Euros (circa 600 US dollars!). 
Make it rain!
We got up to leave immediately, forever endearing ourselves to the French croupier.  One woman actually rapped on Shane's chips, and then rapped very forcefully on the croupier tip box.  The international language of extortion.  Shane tossed in a 10 Euro tip and we slowly backed out of there. 

Next stop was the tiny medieval village of Eze.  Our tour bus climbed up the cliffside corniches until we hit the base camp, and then we hiked the rest of the way.  It was good to get out of the bus, as we were saddled with a tour guide with a chip on his shoulder regarding wealthy people.  Not the best person to narrate the sights in the South of France, which is positively lousy with the rich and famous.  He had lots of fantastical tales though, telling us that Bono, who has a house in Eze, apparently had his swimming pool paved with gold, like actual gold this year. That would buy a lot of mosquito nets, Bono!  We had to climb up 1400 feet above sea level to get the view, but it was gorgeous. Along the path up to the top were all these quaint shops and restaurants carved right into the cliffside.  The buildings in Eze date back to the 1300s.  When you get up to the top, the view takes your breath away, and then the French take 5 Euros away, to let you into the entrance of the Jardin Botanique d'Eze.  Sounds pretty good until you get inside and it's just a bunch of cacti.  Go figure.  We half expected to have someone come out and rap us with a stick until we tipped the succulents.

Then it was back to the ship, where we were quite anxious to find out how Declan's day went.  We found this prone figure in the nether region of the kids' club.
We let him sleep it off while we went and lost some of our Monte Carlo mad money on some Bingo. .  Then back to kids' club, where Buzz was still sleeping it off.  Could only rouse him with the observation that it was time for Dinner with Wendy. Had a lovely dinner, then returned to room to find elephant towel animal, and racked up another Norwalk free day on the high seas.

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