Friday, July 26, 2013

Cote d'Azur and Monte Carlo, Monaco

Europe Trip Post #4
Cote d’Azur and Monaco

5/24/2012, Thursday (Port: Villefrance, France)

Pictured below: The quaint, colorful, seaside town of Villefranche- along the Cote d'Azur, France

Celebrity Solstice, South of France: I jumped out of bed as soon as the alarm went off. I wanted to get up super early, I am guessing maybe 5:30-6ish? I peaked my head through the heavy, room darkening curtains ever so slowly to try and let Tyler sleep. The voice inside my head said "Ummm, holy cow, we are port side, cruising slowly along the Cote D’Azur approaching our port of Villefranche. Whattt! No Way!" Yep, that is pretty much how my brain operates in case you were wondering. No time to be quiet, too excited for soft voices, sorry Tyler. I ripped those curtains open and turned to tell Tyler to tell him “you have got to see this!” Sadly, him and most of the passengers on the ship decided to sleep some more. From leaning over the balcony and turning my head side to side and up and down I thought "where is everybody?" How can everyone be sleeping through this? I know I was not the only one up, it just felt that way at the time because I was so excited! I just wanted someone to be witnessing this beauty with me! This was a very special moment for me, my first morning on the Celebrity Solstice, seas as calm as a pool, temps in the high 60’s/low 70’s, looking into the jagged clifside of the French coastline dotted with little quaint towns.

Pictured below: What I first saw when I went onto the balcony


I took French for 3 years in high school and quickly became obsessed with anything French. I did a report on the town of Toulon which is along the Cote d'Azur. Before my first trip to Paris in 2004 people had warned me that I might have over-hyped Paris in my head and to prepare to be disappointed. Fear not! After visiting Paris in 2004 I fell in love with France, Europe, the culture everything. I had been waiting for this moment, to see the Cote d’Azur, something I study years ago, live and in person. And we could not have asked for better weather! I was practically ready to jump off the boat and swim to shore! Now to just wake up everyone else, I wanted to be on the first tender ride in!

Today the plan, according to “the book” was room-service on the balcony, catch the first tender in, take the train to Monaco (complete dad’s dream to see the Grand Prix), take the train back to Eze, and if time permits, see Cannes too since the film festival was going on.

pictured below: Breakfast with a view

Villefrance, France: We made the 2nd tender, not the first, but still impressive for my family! No lines/waits nothing, got right on. We easily made our way to the train station. We waited in the short line to buy our train tickets for Monaco. The man selling the tickets did not speak English, “SWEET! I get to use my mediocre French skills they sound way cooler in my head” I thought. For the past year anytime I was on a lengthy car ride I listened to my french CD's. CD's? Who has CD's? They were from high school! Anyway, while in line, I practiced in my head my numbers and conversations I would need anxiously awaiting my turn to step up and order tickets for my family. I felt like a proud 4 year old showing off my macaroni necklace! My turn was next; I bought the tickets and we headed to the platform. Cha-ching! 

At the platform the workers warned us that pick pocketing was serious, especially with the Grand Prix and Cannes Film Festival happening in the same week. We also were told there was a train strike going on. However, the train came quickly and it was standing room only. I gave everyone strict orders to watch their watches and money. The man next to us, had his wallet taken right our of his pockets while we were standing next to him! But we came out just fine.

The train ride was a short 16 minute ride along the coast line, yes I timed it. I loved this brief ride, wish it would have lasted longer! 

Monaco & Monte Carlo: We got off at our stop and immediately the hairs on our arms stood up, we all stopped and looked at each other and grinned… the race cars were roaring and ripping through the streets already! We could hear and feel their wrath of the Formula 1 engines even in the train station! It was going to be a good day! My dad has always dreamed of seeing the Grand Prix of Monaco. One thing checked off dads bucket list! He specifically picked this cruise because it would be in Monaco during the Grand Prix.

Pictured below: Vendors line the streets for the Grand Prix of Monaco

We followed the crowd like a line of ants out of the station anxiously awaiting our first sight of the race track, and BAM, we were hit with a mean dose of reality. Fences, fences, fences everywhere! They have the race completely blocked off so those without tickets could not see it. I could feel my dads heart sinking, he did not even have to say a word, I knew it. How were we going to turn this around? Such a tease to hear and feel the cars but not to see them.

I tried to redirect the attention to the first goal of the day, getting to the top where the royal palace of Monaco was, I knew that was a great viewing spot, just maybe we could see the race there? We started our way towards the top but due to the race many roads were closed and I was not sure how to get there. I timidly walked up to vendors to ask for help. I suddenly became very self conscious of my French; the vendors hardly spoke English. When I get nervous I have my “little girl voice” as Tyler calls it. It came out, full blown 5 year old voice. They did not really know what I was trying to say. I just nodded my head and walked along. I got some confidence and asked again. I realized 5 year old girl American accent trying to speak french was not going to work. Fake it until you make it, right? Now we are talking, making progress in the French department.

Pictured below: View from the top

We started to climb up the ramps to the top where the palace is located thinking we could see the race form there…. But…. Even the ramp had double high fences so if you were on the next level up you still could not see it! Eek!

Pictured below: Fences put up to block race views, tres triste :(

Okay now to plan B. We got to the top and wanted to see the changing of the guards so we decided to wait. What happens next I am sworn to Monaco secrecy. It involved goat blood, handshakes, poker, DNA, and the like. Kidding of course, but really I am not suppose to say what happened per the Monaco race camera guys, wink wink. My dad did some smooth talking and we got a P R I M E viewing spot, thanks to some very nice cameramen. Unfortunately the pictures from this are few, and are on my dads phone. I will try to get them on here. But for now this little picture will have to do:

iPhone video of the race:

Now that dads life was complete we could continue on with our regularly scheduled program. Next stop, trying to find THE Monte Carlo Casino. This proved to be quite the challenge. As I stated, due to the race, many streets were closed and detours all over the place. Nevertheless, we must continue on to find THE Casino! At every corner I had to keep asking for directions, usually police type people who were moreee than willing to help me, to make sure we were on the right track. At each corner they would say “ah, yes, just around that corner” hmm get to that corner, no casino, ask the next person “just after that turn” and so on and so forth. We knew that “just around the corner” really meant around 10 more corners. We could see the top of the casino but there was no direct path. In hindsight we should have got a cab. My mom and brother decided to wait for us at the train station.

Pictured below: taking a break from the walk to the Casino to pose for a picture with the city behind us. We dressed up because we thought that was required for Casino entry. That was not the case.

The streets turned from asphalt into a white marble looking material and the grass became greener, no seriously I swear it was greener.  We started seeing high-end designer stores and knew we were getting close. FINALLY, we see it! Ah ha the Monte Carlo Casino! Yes! But, we were not allowed in until 2 because of race activities, booo. So we waited and rested our feet on the nicest park bench I have ever seen. Finally the gates opened! Standing on the steps of THE Monte Carlo Casino overlooking THE Grand Prix of Monaco was surreal. Inside was even more amazing. They check everything in your possession when you walk in, phones, water, etc. so I have no pictures, sorry.

By the time we left the casino a moderate rainfall started. We decided to take a cab back to the station. Man, I tell you, that was the best cab ride ever! We had a nice, cold, plush Mercedes taxi with magazines, tinted windows, the works. We could have stayed in that cab for hours our feet were hurting so bad. We caught up with mom and Brandon.

Pictured below: One of the shops we passed. Only in Monaco can you go to a "Plane Store"

We worked our way to the train platform and I asked the lady working there (in high school French) when the next train would arrive. We were told due to the strike it would be at least an hour, but probably longer! So we found an open area and made shop on the platform with other cruise passengers waiting to get back. Finally the train arrived. What was a 16 minute train ride coming took over an hour going back.

Back on the Solstice: We never made it to Eze or Cannes due to the strike; and to be honest, we were tired. So we headed back to the ship for our first formal night. Tonight on the ship we saw the Solstice show, we thought it was spectacular. It was a Cirque style production. We also took advantage of room service and ordered warm cookies and milk. We ordered room service quite a bit- Tyler loves to eat. I blame him for the 9 pounds I gained! The food always arrived hot and promptly. Note, if you are ordering your breakfast for the next morning, when you pick a time slot, they always come at the beginning of that time slot.

Pictured below: town of Villefranche, cocktail night on Solstice, and the streets leading up to the casino. I told you the grass was greener!

Next up: Florence! 

Other stops on our trip:
Barcelona Day 1 (exploring on foot)
Barcelona Day 2 (hop on/hop off bus)
Cote d'Azur and Monte Carlo, Monaco
Florence, Tuscany, & Pisa
Naples, Pompeii, Amalfi Coast, Sorrento, Positano
1st Sea Day
Kotor, Montenegro
Venice, Italy Day 1
Venice, Italy Day 2
Dubrovnik, Croatia

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