Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Weird-ass Monaco

Whilst I was in Nice I thought I may as well pop into Monaco, seeing as how it is only a half hour train ride away. I had visions of something incredibly glamorous and beautiful, even though I had been warned at work that it was very touristy. It is certainly a strange little place, only 1.95 square kilometres in area and has been ruled by the Grimaldi family since 1297, the world's oldest ruling dynasty. There are actually 5000 native Monegasques, as they are called, who pay no income tax and have the world's highest per capita income. It is no surprise then to hear that street crime is almost non-existent here and there is a very large police presence, I'm guessing the residents indulge more in white-collar crime than that messy assault stuff anyway.

Monaco was really a pretty city, the way it is perched all over the mountains, it was just too bad it was so hard to get around on foot. My first thought at the railway station was to try and get to the exotic gardens which have apparently 7000 species of succulents and cacti and a fantastic view from their position perched in the hills. Unfortunately I discover that the footpath to the gardens has been blocked off with no sign of any detour. So instead I headed for the castle built on the very top of a cliff looking out to sea.

My experience with Monaco was that it really wasn't designed with pedestrians in mind, in fact they seem to go out of their way to make it difficult for those foot travellers. Perhaps that is no surprise when you think of the inhabitants and their means of transportation. I mean if you owned a Lamborghini it's not as if you are going to walk somewhere when you could quite easily drive. What's the point in spending all that money if you aren't going to show off your incredible wealth.

So the only footpaths bordered the main highways where the Ferrari's zoomed along. Pedestrian crossings were also sadly lacking and so when you wanted to cross a road you had to basically dart out into the traffic and hope that the people cared more about their bodywork than the pleasure gained from running you down. It's not as if the roads were really all that fantastic either, they seemed far too narrow for the sheer volume of traffic they were trying to transport, but then the slower you are moving the more people can admire you in your ultra-luxurious car.

I think this was the first Grimaldi, ie the one who started the dynasty. He was standing outside the castle which was perched on the top of a cliff. That was really picturesque, though he looks pretty dodgy, not like any royalty I've seen, more like a monk or a failed wizard.

I found this lack of footpaths really quite strange though as the town really is quite small and beautiful and yet they have completely spoiled the ambiance with the clogged roads. Perhaps the problem is that I was expecting something more like Nice, which was great to walk around, but with better mountains, sadly disappointed though. I tried to walk to the Casino but ended up along some massive highway (kind of like the Eastern Distributor in Sydney) running underground and then I couldn't escape as there were no exits. So I ended up walking way past the Casino (without seeing it) and then having to worm my way back crossing major intersections with no pedestrian crossings. Maybe this is all a ploy though by the Grimaldis as they probably don't want riff raff clogging up their city, so they only cater to the super-rich who are actually going to contribute to their GDP.

Something which didn't help the pedestrianisation of Monaco was the fact that they seemed to be getting ready for the Grand Prix there. I'm not sure why they had the grand stands and fences up though as I visited about two weeks before the grand prix was scheduled for and it looked like they were already pretty set up. But because they were getting ready for the race they had erected massive fences along all the roads, meaning everyone was funneled into these tiny little laneways and then had no means of escaping if we discovered we were going the wrong way. After visiting Monaco I certainly have an appreciation for the drivers of the formula one cars though, the roads really are narrow and I don't think I saw a truly straight section the whole time I was there. You can see here one of the many Ferrari's which had arrived for the Grand Prix, they seemed to be the only brand name of car there, all the other spots in the pit lane seemed to be empty.

The gardens around the castle were really nice, it was here that they had properly pedestrianised things and it was really peaceful and incredibly lush. Who knows what this flower is? That's for all of you from the tropics now living down South, though perhaps Hibiscus will grow in Sydney too, if it grows in Monaco.

I liked this flower, also in the castle gardens, you can actually see where the pollen has fallen onto the petals. These gardens were really lovely and it made me think what the exotic gardens would have been like, but I just couldn't bear the thought of having to battle the roads all the way up the hill to get to them.

Princess Grace sure hasn't been forgotten in Monaco either, she was the actress, Grace Kelly, who married the king of Monaco and then died in a car crash about 30 years later. There are all these signs up around the place with photos of Grace Kelly and her various deeds performed as princess, like opening schools and that sort of thing. It was slightly strange that they keep dragging her up as she's been dead for 20 years now.

Random Japanese garden I discovered whilst trying to find the Casino. The parts dedicated to pedestrians in Monaco were incredibly nice, I just wish there were more of them. I now understand how native animals must feel watching their habitat being surrounded by major highways and how happy they must feel when the government builds green corridors to connect their islands of native habitat. It kind of made me wish the Monaco government would do that for us cheapo tourists, give us little garden pathways between the islands of non-highwayness.

One more photo of the pretty Monaco harbour, that big grandstand in the centre is set up for the Grand Prix, I guess that must be the finish line. It must be strange to go to a car race as a spectator sport. I mean it's not like you would actually see much, every couple of minutes a car would come past in a blur accompanied by an incredible racket. Maybe you go to see an awesome crash, but then you are liable to end up injured as well. I guess I just don't see the attraction.

Give me a bike race any day, where there you spend the whole day in the sun to see the riders whizz by in about 30 seconds (that's if you are standing on a hill, it's much shorter on the flat) but then in a bike race you always have the possibility of someone collapsing in some drug-induced fit, now THAT would be good!

1 comment:

Devin said...

We had Hibiscus trees in our back yard in Wollongong.
Hope you are enjoying yourself! Not long till you are home now. What do you have planned?