We decided to take the train into Monaco from Sanremo. Some places exceed your expectations and some just miss. I had been looking forward to Monaco with visions of the Grand Prix, and James Bond playing baccarat at the casino. It is an independent country surrounded by France, and after the Vatican the smallest country in Europe so I had some romantic vision of the place.
When we arrived at the train station we could tell there was money in Monaco. It is also the richest country in Europe, of its population of roughly 40,000, 30% of them are millionaires due to its status as one of the worlds biggest tax havens. It is also one of the most densely populated places on Earth as it does not have much land to cram the millionaires into.
We walked along the waterfront admiring the harbor, and looking at all of the yachts. One particular ostentatious one stood out to me, and I wondered what billionaire owned it. The views of the harbor were nice and Ton took a lot of pictures as we strolled along.
After getting our fill of the harbor we decided to head over to one of the famous landmarks of Monaco the casino in the Monte Carlo district. We had read that it was difficult to get access to the building and we thought we would have to pay an admission fee to get inside. We were surprised when we got there to see that we could walk in and look at the main foyer and the slot room. Maybe because it was off season they were a little more lax with letting the plebeians in. In addition to taking some photos we took advantage of their very upscale toilets and they were free.
As we walked out of the casino Ton said lets find a real neighborhood with coffee shops and food stores for a light lunch. So for the next hour we wandered the streets looking for a real neighborhood with coffee shops and normal stuff and failed. Partly it might have been because it was Sunday and Monaco like France rolls the sidewalks up on Sunday, but we think at least partly it is because there are less of the cafe’s and little shops that we really enjoy in cities here. We ended up having a box of french fries at McDonalds for lunch (they still will not take our American Credit Cards!), not at all what we were looking for.
We did find the carnival that was in town and walked thru that for a few minutes. It was a big carnival and occupied a good piece of land on the harbor. The families were behaving just as they do everywhere in the world when they are in a carnival which is fun to watch.
Overall Monaco was a miss for us, and if I had to pick between Monaco and Sanremo to spend a week, I would pick Sanremo without hesitation. It feels like a real town with real people and has a much more interesting atmosphere than the cold richness of Monaco.