Of all the microstates, Monaco surprised me most. I had low expectations. I’d planned for us to be there less than 24 hours, partly because all the hotels are astonishingly expensive. (If you want to save money, you stay in the adjoining French town of Beausoleil, but our goal from the start was to sleep at least one night in every microstate.) Also, a friend who lives in Europe had dismissed Monaco as a nothing more than a shopping mall for the rich.
Partly to avoid the astonishingly expensive hotels and partly because it sounded cool, I booked us into an unusual Airbnb accommodation: a power boat (maybe 40-feet-long) berthed in the harbor in the heart of the city-state. Two days before our flight, I had messaged Olivier, the guy who owns the boat. He advised me to get an Uber at Nice airport and tell the driver to take us the “Le Port Hercules a Monaco.” He would greet us when we arrived.
Things with Olivier got a little weird when I alerted him we were on way from the airport and should be arriving about 6:30 p.m. (the arrival time I had earlier predicted.)
“OK,” he wrote. “I understand I wanted to see you because I have an important dentist appointment at 6:20 p.m. so I may be able to be there to receive you only at 7:45 p.m. Will you go? Best regards, Olivier”
“Oh dear,” I wrote back. “I do not understand what you mean when you say ‘will you go.’ We have nowhere else to go beside your boat. What should we do?”
“I understand,” he shot back. “I think you will arrive before 6:30 p.m. these just that I think I be there to receive you at 7:45 p.m. if you do not mind.”
“Olivier, We have nowhere else to go,” I responded, seeking a tone for my WhatsApp message that would suggest gritted teeth. “I will be very, very sad if Steve and I have to stand on the dock in the dark waiting for you. That will not be good.”
Eventually, he messaged that he had moved his appointment “so no worries I’m here and I’m looking forward to welcoming you.” That too was a bit of an overstatement. Le Port Hercules, where our driver deposited us, is a large area with several entry points.
More tense messaging with Olivier followed, and when he finally showed up, he turned out to an exuberant young man who showed no sign of being in the grip of any dental emergency. (He claimed to have rescheduled the appointment, which he said was routine.)
His boat looked like the photos I had seen on the Airbnb website (save for the beat-up condition of the deck cushions.)After Olivier left, Steve and I enjoyed a glass of the Prosecco which Olivier had kindly left for us and reminded each other that we never, ever want to live on a boat — unless it was one of the megayachts like the kind that re crammed cheek by jowl into the docks of the Monaco port.
Those whoppers costs hundreds of millions of dollars, however, so a future residency on one is highly unlikely.
Although Olivier’s boat was cramped and chilly and the bed didn’t have a blanket, the location couldn’t be beat. In one direction, the casinos and high rises of Monte Carlo reminded me of Hong Kong. (Indeed we’ve read that Monaco is the most densely populated country on the planet.) In another, we could see the royal palace.The flag was flying so we knew that the current prince (Albert II, only son of the late Prince Rainier and Princess Grace) was home with his family.
The next morning, we strolled from the harbor up to the royal family’s neighborhood. We had coffee and croissants at a cafe facing the palace. It has a cozy air (as palaces go). Then we ambled through the narrow streets, as charming as any in Europe. Beyond the center of the old city, a cliffside park and plaza reminded me of the best viewpoints in La Jolla, except for the public restrooms. Steve reported the Monegasque ones to be the cleanest and nicest he’s ever seen anywhere. A bit later, we wandered into the austere but elegant cathedral where the one-time movie star, Grace Kelly, married the prince.To one side of the alter we found the site she was buried after dying in a 1982 car accident. Her husband lived for 23 more years, but now he reposes next to her.
One of the cool things about Monaco is that you can walk all over the country. Later that morning we visited the area around the grand Monte Carlo Casino; sadly, guided tours were canceled, due to Covid.But the streets around the place are filled with shops and businesses and markets, some mundane…some not.￼
I’ve been in plenty of wealthy neighborhoods over the years, but never in a country crowded with the super rich, as Monaco is. I have no desire to move there. But it was entertaining to visit.