Monaco (which a tour-guide recording pronounced accenting the second syllable) is a 2-square-kilometer principality of which Monte-Carlo is just one district (the one with the casino). With the immaculate city and its residential towers backed by a high ridge of mountains enclosing and seemingly cutting it off from the outside world, this was by far the most picturesque port of any we’ve visited so far during the cruise. This rectangular harbor, Port Hercule, was filled with everything from fabulously luxurious yachts to small fishing boats. There were three cruise ships visiting that day, and only a dock big enough for one, so the other two sat anchored out in the harbor with tenders to transport passengers to and from the dock. Our ship was the lucky one.
Again we took a “hop on, hop-off” bus tour to get a quick overview. Everything is high-end hotels and shopping streets. Not so many BMWs, I noticed, but many more Maseratis and Bentleys than I’ve seen in any other city. Residents of Monaco pay no income taxes, but on the other hand are not allowed to use the city’s famous casino.
We got off the bus at the royal palace, the Place du Palais, high on the ridge to the south (left, facing land) of the harbor. We did a brief tour inside, guided by that tour-guide recording controlled by individual handsets (this seems to be the common practice in museums now), to see the bedrooms and reception rooms used by members of the royal family over hundreds of years, including the throne room where, among others, Grace Kelly became Princess Grace back in the ’50s.
Just as impressive in the city is a major Oceanographic Museum, founded by Prince Albert I over 100 years ago due to his particular interest in the subject. It has a curious yellow submarine in front of the building, and inside an aquarium comparable to Monterey Bay’s. Fun fact: there’s a species of grouper called the Grace Kelly grouper, because the actress was wearing a similarly patterned polka dot dress in the area at the time while filming something with Alfred Hitchcock. (To Catch a Thief?) There are also two big exhibit halls, one devoted to sharks, and a “petting pool” with little sharks you can reach in and touch! So I touched a shark.
We walked back around this old town peninsula, through a square where earlier we’d seen a large produce market, by now taken down, then down a shopping street and eventually north of the harbor to the famous casino and opera house. We’d read about a relatively strict dress code for entering the casino, but security seemed to be letting everyone in. There’s a 10 euro fee just to enter. The casino itself is not very big, compared to Las Vegas extravagance; a couple rooms of slot machines of various types, and one central room with roulette wheels and other tables. We allocated another 10 euros to play the slots, and left when we had only 68 cents left, captured on an electronic receipt that’s good for 30 days if we happen to return. It’s a souvenir.
Then we walked back to the ship, where we visited the ship’s “Martini bar” and I ordered a “007 Martini” (aka a Vesper, if I recall correctly). A double.