fauxklore (fauxklore) wrote,

The Cote d'Azur

I like gong away for my birthday. With it coming on or around Labor Day weekend, it's convenient to go away for a few days. I've also been trying to fill in some gaps in which European countries I've been in. Combine that with summer z-fares on United (discounted business class fares which are surprisingly little more than coach, though heavily restricted) and I figured that spending my birthday in Monaco would be a nice splurge.

So I took Friday off from work and flew Thursday night to Frankfurt, then on to Nice. I do like those rear-facing lie-flat business class seats on the 767. I also had a particularly amiable seatmate. Even the crew were friendly, asking about my crocheting. (I was working on finishing a piece of coral for the Smithsonian project.) Unfortunately, one arrives at Frankfurt, which is the second most annoying airport in Europe. (Charles de Gaulle in Paris is worse. I'm the odd person who doesn't much mind Heathrow.) Fortunately, I could escape to the business class lounge which is still annoyingly crowded.

Not only are there still no ATMs in the secure area, the ATM on the floor where one enters the B-gate concourse has switched to the chip system, making it unusable with American bank cards. I could have gone searching the rest of the terminal, I suppose, but I prefer just to kvetch about it. My flight to Nice was delayed about a half hour and Lufthansa's business class on this sort of short haul flight is nothing to write home about, but we made it there with no problems. And there was a usable ATM, so I got some euros, bought a bus ticket to Monaco and was on my way. (The train is more scenic, but one has to first take a bus to the train station, so it is less convenient and saves no time.) I had no trouble finding my hotel and settled in, showered, and was ready for a stroll around town.

My main walk on Friday afternoon was just around the Place du Casino and the surrounding gardens, which are lovely. There are several ornate buildings, including a few historic (and incredibly expensive) hotels. Monte Carlo is designed largely to separate people from money, so one sees, for example, the Lamborghini and Jaguar dealerships, various jewelry stores, Prada, etc., but not things like a drugstore or a hardware store. The Casino is amazingly ornate and palatial, but not actually lively, unless things pick up much after 10 at night. Remembering all of those novels in which people met their ruin playing chemin de fer (i.e. baccarat) in Monte Carlo, I stuck to video poker and low limit slots and ended up 50 euros ahead on the evening. (Some of that time was in the casino at the Cafe de Paris, which is slightly livelier, but feels shabby by comparison.) I also had dinner along the way at an unpretentious Italian restaurant.

I spent Saturday touring Monaco Ville, i.e. the older part of the city. I took a bus up (a good deal at 1 euro) and toured the Prince's palace, including seeing the changing of the guard. This is less elaborate than many similar ceremonies, but there is nothing disappointing about the palace itself. (Prince Albert II is, alas, engaged, so I won't be moving in.) I also saw the cathedral and the Oceanographic Museum. The museum part of the latter was not really very interesting to me, but the aquarium downstairs was nice. From the standpoint of eating and shopping, both Monaco Ville and the lower areas (La Condamine and Fontveille) are actually better than Monte Carlo.

Saturday night, I checked out the other two casinos (the one in the Monte Carlo Beach Hotel and the Sun Casino attached to the Fairmont). The latter was the liveliest and also had the unique feature of roulette machines. In short, it took me until a bit after 11 p.m. to lose my liimit. Apparently, birthdays do not exempt one from the laws of probability.

I took the bus back to Nice on Sunday and spent the afternoon doing a hop-on/hop-off bus tour of the city. Some people may mock these, but I find them a convenient way to get a good overview in a reasonable amount of time and I've taken these tours in various places in Europe. The main thing I wanted to see was the Chagall Museum and it was definitely worth a look. The other really impressive thing was the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas, the largest Russian Orthodox church outside of Russia. There is a long-standing Russian community in the area, and one often sees signs in Russian in Nice. One also sees some signs in Nissart, the local Latin dialect, which was in widespread use before the French took over in 1860. (Prior to that, Nice was effectively Italian, except that Italy did not exist as a unified country. One of the nicer places in Nice is the Place Garibaldi, for example, so you can see where their sympathies lie.) Apparently, Nissart is undergoing something of a revival nowadays and is even being taught in schools, despite having been suppressed by the French for many years.

There were no issues getting home and, in fact, I got upgraded to first class on the Frankfurt to Washington leg. Overall, it was a good trip and worth the exhaustion of a brief (but splurgy!) three days in Europe.
Tags: birthday, languages, travel

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