As we sailed away from Italy and towards France, I was just thinking of the strong somking culture in Italy. You see police cars moving around with the police officers openly smoking away on duty. The dock security smoke, the pedestrians smoke and people at work at tourist destinations smoke. It's quite a unique sight to see 2 police officers standing near their patrol unit smoking away. Oh and I love the Italian police sirens. They still have the old police sirens that you hear in the original Italian Job movie.
Today, we docked at Villefranche in France. The coast is too shallow for the ship to dock so we are moored a couple of miles away and we have to take a ferry from the ship to the port.
I had an option of seeing Villefranche, Nice and Eze in France, but I learnt that the country of Monaco is pretty close by and so I chose to go there instead. After about a half an hour drive, we crossed the French border to enter Monaco. Now Monaco is considered Europe's playground for the rich and famous primarily due to the Le Grand Casino in Monte Carlo and also due to the fact that Monaco's a tax haven...you pay no income tax, road tax, car tax nothing. So interested in becoming a citizen? To get the application form, you need to fulfill three basic requirements:
1) Open a bank account in Monaco and deposit 500,000 Euros.
2) Buy a residential property in Monaco. The going rate? 50,000 Euros per square metre.
3) Commit to staying in Monaco for 6 months 1 day per year. Now this is tough for celebrities, sports stars and all so how does Monaco check? Well, as long as your utilities are running and you are raking up a utility bill for 6 months in a year, it's fine.
Interesting fact: Did you know Michael Shumacher lost his citizenship as he broke the speed limit and raked up just too many speeding tickets?
Now coming back to the trip to Monaco, we passed through Villefranche and a place called Beaux (or something like that). Beaux and Moaco are the places where the world's who who have their permanent and/or holiday homes. The prince of Egypt, Bill Gates, the U2 band, you name them and they have a house here. So when you visit, the wealth shows. From an Aston Martin to a Rolls Royce, I saw dozens of luxury cars on the trip. I saw houses that were way up in the hills with an external lft going right down to the sea.
Coming to Monaco, the Monaco Boat/Yacht show is currently on so we were lucky enough to see the world's most expensive yachts on display. We saw close up, a yacht belonging to the Financial Advisor of Saudi Arabia. Now his yacht is more than 300 feet long and the name of the boa ('Lady something') is inscribed in 24k gold on three places on the exterior of the yacht. Now he is never sure when he is going to get time to use it, so he keeps it in Monaco and makes sure his yacht staff of 60 are always on call to receive him when he visits once or twice a year. How does he visit? On a helicopter...the yacht has a helipad. So those are the kind of yachts we got to see.
I also got to see the Circuit de Monaco, the track (which is essentially the normal streets) where the F1 Grand Prix happens every year. Was able to see te tunnel, the hairpin bends and everything. Next was a visit to Saint Nicholas Cathedral, The cathedral is unique as compared to the others as visitors can see all the tombs on the Monaco royalty that have been laid to rest here. Inside the cathedral, you essentially have a circle and in the inner rim you have the tombs and opposite the tombs on the outer rim, you have a statue dedicated to the royal or the person of significant importance who has been laid to rest there.
I moved on to see the Prince's Palace of Monaco. I was lucky enough to be early and see the Palace's change of guard ceremony take place. Now Monaco has the largest police force to citizen ratio in the world. Though Wikipedia mentions a police force of 515, on ground zero, I was informed that including the police force, the royal guards and everything, for 32,000 citizens, Monaco has a force of close to 1,000 officers.
We finally reached Monte Carlo to see the Monte Carlo Casino. This is where the country of Monaco makes its money. From Russian grand dukes to railway magnates, if you are somebody in Europe (and to a lesser extent, even the world), you gamble here. The place has been featured in the James Bond movies, 'Never Say Never Again' and 'Golden Eye.'
I felt very happy that I was able to see Monaco and see how a certain section of the world lives. Satisfied with seeing all of Monaco (almost literaly), I headed back to the ship. In the evening, I visited the Pig & Whistle pub where there was an Irish style St. Patrick's party today followed by a parade on the ship. Oh and everyday, the ship has a shooter of the day.' Today's was something called the 'French Kiss.' Contains Bailey's Irish Cream, amaretto and creamed de cacao white served in a yellow glass.
They had crepes for dinner which is one of my favourite dishes (rarely do you get them in Hyderabad) and I thoroughly enjoyed having them. The ship also has tons of activities for those who stay back on board every day such as salsa classes, 70 syle dance classes, Wii tournaments etc, but as I usually head out, I miss these activities.
This will be my last email for the trip. Tomorrow, we are docking at Toulon in France and I will be visiting the city of Marseille all day. Day after, we will dock at Barcelona in Spain. The highlight there will be the visit to the the Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, a church that has been under construction since 1882 and is not yet complete (current secheduled date of compltion is 2026). Check out the pics, it's one of the most unique building designs you will see. This will be followed by going for a Spanish Flamenco dance show.
And that concludes my cruise holiday. Thank you for staying with me and till we meet again...
UPDATE: Had to write something about day 7. We docked at Toulon which is a military port. I get out to my balcony to see this huge ship...France's nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle a couple of hundred feet away! I could have jumped over and swam to the ship, it was that close!
Also, on the last day our ship ran into a storm as the winds hit 111km/hr and fury of Poseidon showed in the waves rocking our ship. The captain had to make an all ship announcement that all open decks were being closed and we may have to anchor till the storm ceases. The lifts on the ship were creaking away. Quite an experience!