(Written by Nancy)
First, thanks to all for the birthday wishes! I am sorry to report that we did not have any big 50 birthday bash (not yet, at least). I ended up with a bout of food poisoning or a stomach bug that hit on Tuesday night and was laid flat for three days (perhaps it was just my body’s way of saying no, no, no you cannot be 50 already!). Not really the way I wanted to spend my birthday but we’ll try to make up for it later when systems are back in full working order. Dave was forced to attend French classes on his own, which he really enjoyed (not) and thankfully my mom was here to take care of me the way only moms can do. But things are on the mend and I left the apartment today for the first time in almost 4 days.
Today was about glitz and glamour and cars, lots of fancy cars. We decided to take the train to Monaco and check out the sights. We didn’t know it in advance but the World Rally Car circuit was making a stop in Monaco for the weekend. According to Wikipedia, Monaco boasts the world’s highest GDP nominal per capita at $151,630. Monaco also has the world’s highest life expectancy at almost 90 years (which might explain the defibrillators we saw located in various streetside boxes), and the lowest unemployment rate at 0%, with about 40,000 workers who commute from France and Italy each day. Hmm, perhaps some employment opportunities here – though I don’t play cards very well…
Anyway, the train to Monaco was easy and fast. Getting out of the station in Monaco was a little harder. We wandered about inside the station for some time before we eventually stumbled out just above the port. We could see the water/port when we emerged so we decided to take the short walk down to have a look. This route took us past a Ferrari dealership, where Dave and about 20 other young Italian guys wandered about drooling – it was quite amusing really. (Ross, we needed you there to help Dave know what he was looking at). There is obviously a bit of money in the area between the cars and the fancy apartments – evidence of that high GDP and small population.
When we reached the port we could tell that there was some sort of event going on. This turned out to be the World Rally Car race – the pits were set-up right on the waterfront. We had to wander in and out of the pits to get a look at the boats in the harbour. It appeared that the race cars were out on the course as the pit areas only had a lot of tools and mechanics hanging about. We were surprised how easy it was to just stroll through and even thought that the event might have been something other than the big guys. Later in the day when we were up above town looking at the castle we saw many of the cars drive back in by ones and twos. By then, the pits were pretty busy and we would certainly not have gotten much of a look. It was clear from the crowds that there were some ‘famous’ drivers around, though of course we wouldn’t recognise any of them.
Next stop was lunch and a walk up to the castle. But not before Dave took us on a small diversion to look at the start/finish line for the Monaco Grand Prix. It was odd how small and indistinctly marked it was. It is just an ordinary street when the race is not on so I guess this makes sense. You don’t want a bunch of guys like Dave walking about taking pictures with buses/taxi and the like also trying to get somewhere (though that is just what he tried to do, wandering out in the roadway).
The castle and old town were sort of the typical village/castle on top of a hill, though most of the buildings in the old village were in very good condition, looking freshly repaired and painted. Views from the top were quite nice. There are lots of fancy boats in the harbor and even more harbor on the backside with more yachts. Monaco was founded in 1200-something and has been independent ever since. You can see how as the hills form a great natural barrier. There’s an interesting story about the first Grimaldi who disguised himself as a monk to capture it from the then-owners. He was eventually kicked out but the Grimaldis returned in the early 1400 and have been the reigning family ever since. We took some photos and wandered a bit, eventually ending up at the Cathedral of Monaco and took the tour inside. It’s quite an impressive cathedral. Many of the more famous rulers of Monaco are buried in crypts in the cathedral, including Princess Grace. The names were written in Italian but we found the one of Princess Grace.
We wandered around the square outside the castle for a bit but when we finally decided that neither Prince Rainier nor any members of the ruling family were going to come out for a chinwag, we decided to head back to the station. We had much better luck getting back in than we did getting out. I think Dave may have dropped some breadcrumbs.
I am sorry to report that as a result of illness we have not made a lot of progress on our wine study. We have been sticking to water instead this week. Research will continue again next week.
My mom’s visit comes to an end on Monday. We drop her off at the airport early Monday AM and then 5 hours later pick up Dave’s mom and nephew (Mats) for our next round of guests. My mom has been a good sport helping us figure out where to go and what to see and exploring the area. Hopefully we will stay healthy while our next guests are here so we can make more progress on the chocolates/red wine/croissants testing.