I have a fascination for micro-countries and so far, I have never been disappointed when I visited one. Actually, as I am writing this, I wonder if Djibouti qualifies as a micro-country? If so, I take it back, I love micro-countries, apart from Djibouti. I think I may have driven through Monaco with my parents as a kid, on our way to Italy, but that certainly didn’t count and I headed there after saying farewell to my friends in Portugal.
The first thing to hit me was the ridiculous number of yachts in the water. And few were cheap looking. In fact, many in the Port de Fontvielle were million dollar toys.
Across the rock, in the Port Hercule, is where I found the ten million dollar toys.
Are further from shore, in the deeper part of the port, the hundred million dollar toys. I even saw one, in the distance towards Nice, which probably couldn’t fit anywhere in the harbour. But I could only see a small portion between two condo towers, so I am not sure if it was one of the world’s mega-yacht, or a cruise ship.
Some of the yacht owners have spent so much on their boats that they are left nearly broke, and they have to be driven to the boat in a cheap $350,000 Bentley.
Those who were wiser made sure to leave themselves enough money for a helicopter.
As I walked away from the harbour, for a moment the city reminded me more of Afghanistan than anything else.
Then I realized all the crazy fencing was being installed not to stop wannabe terrorists, but for the Grand Prix, which was scheduled for the next week-end! The preparations are on a huge scale, all the fencing that you see on a normal Formula 1 track have to be installed on the city streets and, of course, all the seating, filming platforms, etc. But it must bring an enormous amount of revenue for the small – but very rich – country. I read that if you don’t want to watch the races from the bleachers, you can always rent a resident’s balcony (I assume you get use of the apartment’s bathroom!). Apparently, for the 4 days of the Grand Prix, the small balconies with so-so views rent for 8,000 euros. The luxurious apartments with grandiose terraces overlooking the race go for as much as 140,000 euros! In my book, that increases the commercial value of the apartment by up to 1.75M euros, just for one week-end of revenue potential! Of course, the apartment is probably worth $25M, so it does not make that big of a difference.
Monaco has many beautiful areas. Perfectly manicured walking paths.
The Oceanography Museum, the director of which use to be Commander Jacques Cousteau.
Due to it’s very limited area and mountainous geography, it’s a very vertical city. Sidewalks routinely turn into stairs, and there are numerous outdoors elevators that will take you up or down several floors (I once went up five floors at once).
The only small problem – apart from the cost – is that the city managers went to same school as the ones in Singapore, so everything is forbidden. And speaking of clean and safe cities, I don’t think I have ever been in a country as well policed as Monaco. Now, even though there is a cop on every block, I have been to many cities with 10 cops per block, but they are illiterate, untrained, unpaid and probably doped-up. Monaco’s cops looked very professional and were in constant communication by radio, probably with those who watch the 1,000 cameras keeping watch on the city. I specifically took note of the fact the street cops almost always waved hello to the bus drivers. In a micro country where the cops are everywhere and talk to the bus drivers, good luck going unnoticed if you are trying to do something suspicious. But, I don’t want to know what the per capita policing bill is.
I also decided to attend the daily change of the Guard at the Prince’s Palace. They let tourists get very close, so if you arrive at the last minute, like I did, this is what you will see.
When my girlfriend left Australia, I asked her to bring back some things that I simply wasn’t using often enough to justify hauling them around. That included a few dressy clothes that I was wearing too rarely. In reality, even though this has never been my style, quick-dry cargo pants and short sleeve shirts are great in Africa and South-East Asia. In Australia and New-Zealand, same but remove the shirt and go shopping barefoot. However, this doesn’t cut it in Monaco. I would have liked to take a look at the ultra famous casino – if only to have some drinks, since I am not a gambler – and I had a fine dress shirt to wear. Unfortunately, I was missing the dress shoes, the dress pants, the tie and the jacket. So I just looked at it, on the left in the picture, with on its right, the Louis XV, of the world’s rare 3 Michelin stars restaurant. As you can see, the parking lot is an indication of the wealth of the clientele.
Small fact to note, you have to show your passport to enter, since Monaco citizens are not allowed in. When Montreal first opened its casino, they had the delusion it would be this kind of casino, but it didn’t last. Now, it has become a normal North American casino, with hordes of sweatpants wearing people playing their welfare cheque in thousands of low value video gambling machines.
The downtown shopping centre, complete with a very casual food court in the basement.
You know you are in a rich city when you have road side billboards advertising insurance for private planes and superyachts.
The week-end preceding the Grand Prix, there was an event at the conference centre called “Top Marques”. Basically, a trade show displaying exclusive super cars, boats, watches, etc. I checked out the helicopter outside, but I didn’t go in.
I’m not really into cars and while I had seen fancy sports cars driving around all day, I had just assumed this was normal for Monaco. Getting closer to the show, I saw a lot of guys taking pictures of cars driving by. As it turns out, they were cars from the show being driven around. I was going to go but since I can’t even tell the difference between a regular off-the-line Lamborghini and a 2 million dollars exclusive car, I figured the 50 euro ticket wasn’t worth it. I could just go into any Monaco car dealer in town to see a regular Lamborghini for free (if you want to buy a Toyota in Monaco, you go to France to get it).
The problem in Monaco is that once you buy your million dollar car, you have to find a place to park it. I saw an add for a double parking spot for sale in one of the condo towers. Unfortunately, it was an in-line double spot, which means a car has to be moved to get the other one. That’s probably why it was being discounted at only 370,000 euros.
Needless to say, at these prices, the people who work at McDonald’s can’t afford to live there (although if they are actual citizens, they can get subsidized apartments for very low rent). Most non-citizen workers live in France, and some in Italy. This train was departing for Nice a little after 5pm, and it was packed. I took the train in the opposite direction, towards the Italian border, and it was just as packed. Most people got off the train 10 or 15 minutes later, in various coastal French towns. I went to the terminus in Ventimiglia, Italy. If you want to visit Monaco for cheap, that’s the place to stay. It takes only 20 minutes to get to Monaco (3 euros), and the hotel prices are a small fraction of those in Monaco.
So Monaco? Awesome, but next time I’m bringing my tuxedo!