The Only Tourist in Monaco
Posted: Dec 6, 2003 8:55:40 PM
The schedule has become crazy. Tomorrow I wake up at 5 in the morning, and I won't sleep in a real bed again until Tuesday night. In that time I am travelling almost half way across Europe, from Barcelona to Andorra, back to Barcelona, overnight to Nice, then overnight again to Rome.
But that is in the future.
For now, a quick narrative on my trip to Nice, and another itty bitty little country near it: Monaco. Everyone in Nice was remarkably like the name of the city - I was practically dragged into a hostel by the owner, and it was a very nice hostel as well. Bed, private kitchen, private bathroom and shower, and all for 16 Euros, a remarkably good price. There were a few empty beds around, but I wasn't complaining, because I had to get to Monaco.
Monaco is the powerhouse of the rich and decadent in Europe. All of the expensive brand-stores and decadent luxury yachts radiate out from the country's cultural heart, the Monte Carlo Casino. It costs NZ$20 just to get in the door, and you have to be well dressed also. Guess which one disqualified me? Actually, I didn't try, because I don't gamble, but given the fact that I hadn't washed in a couple of days I think they could have determined that I was One to be Kept Out blindfolded.
Instead, I explored the natural history side of the country: one of the former Princes of Monaco was quite the nautical person, and he set up a truly incredible aquarium and oceanographic museum that is without a doubt the best underwater thing I have ever visited. It is perhaps one of the best museums that I have seen on this trip. Some of you will know my fascination with all things of the Deep, and this the museum had in spades.
Amidst the mass of 1.9 metre moray eels, upside-down bottom-feeding Cassiopeia jellyfish, lethal surgeonfish (the scalpel's in the tail), scorpionfish (completely covered in spines), stonefish (the most deadly fish in the world; a quarter of all human-stonefish incidents result in the death of the human), shrimpfish (which can be dried out, sanded down, and used as knives), giant box crabs (and I'm talking Giant here), lantern-eyes (their little glow actually produced by symbiotic light-producing bacteria), and of course my favourite underwater animal, the nautilus, not to mention the various sharks, stingrays, anemones, starfish, sea cucumbers, rock-urchins, lobster, and octopi, I was in seventh heaven.
In the Jardin Exotique, which has the world's largest collection of succulents and cacti, I began to appreciate exactly why everyone on the Med was so friendly. There have been floods a little north of the coast, effectively cutting off (or at least severely delaying) any contact from Paris, Lyon, or Bordeaux. This place was deserted. This explains why I was abducted in Nice, and why in all the time I was in the Jardin I saw no other tourists, and ten staff-members acting bored. I only interacted with one of said members, because there is a fantastic underground grotto that you can only visit on guided tours.
I was the only one on the tour. The guide spoke only French and German. Surprisingly, I discovered that my high-school French (coupled with a little etymological knowledge) was sufficient to communicate with the guide quite loquaciously, to the extent that after we finished he complimented me on my communication abilities. And for those of you who are wondering, no, he wasn't French. They would never admit that a foreigner could produce anything like capable French; he was from the French-German border.
I could write so much more, of course, but I never intended this to be a long report, so I shall have to stop here. For the last couple of days I have been looking around the fantastic Gaudi architecture in Barcelona with a new friend: Greta, from Slovakia, who has been protecting me from the various muggers hereabouts. For those of you not familiar with Gaudi, consider this: Gaudí's Barcelona works. They are better live.
For those of you who were wondering, the castle in the last report was indeed the one in another itty bitty little country, San Marino (my only impression of it: all the stores have nothing but alcohol, perfume, and guns). And the title of the Paris report is the name of the novel on which Alfred Hitchcock's amazing film 'Vertigo' is based. Something which was very appropriate today, as we climbed the Sagrada Familia.
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