Something I didn’t mention in Monday’s post about southern France was my good fortune to have met an Australian named Bas at my hostel in Nice. A PhD candidate whose intelligence, charisma and grounding belies his young age, Bas instantly became one of my favorite travelers I’ve met.
We got along so famously, in fact, that we ended up spending three days together, instead of just accompanying one another to the beach as we had initially planned. On our second day, we traveled to the second-smallest country in the world.
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Officially known as the Principality of Monaco, the tiny nation is entirely encircled by France, and although its proximity to Italy has resulted in a number of Italian influences taking root as well, it has an identity all its own.
Almost immediately after the bus dropped us off near Monte Carlo casino, we began seeing fancy sports cars drive past. The casino, which is surrounded by designer boutiques and expensive hotels, reminds me of what I thought Las Vegas would be like before I visited back in March.
Neither Bas nor I planned to gamble, however, so after a brief stroll around the casino grounds, we began heading east, toward Monaco’s beach. Although a couple stretches of the beach were very conspicuously walled off, it wasn’t nearly as exclusive as we imagined it would be.
Shockingly, this was the case even when it came to cocktails, which were priced at a flat 10 each – glasses of wine were just 5! Unfortunately, our waitress was too busy serving other guests expensive champagne that she forgot we had ever ordered, and we left.
By this time – we didn’t arrive in Monaco until about 4 p.m., having gotten a late start on account of a big night out the evening before – the daylight was getting dimmer, and since we wanted to make it to Monaco’s old city before sunlight, we started heading back west along Princess Grace Avenue.
The old city of Monaco, which is perched high above its yacht-filled harbor, looks something like a real-life fairytale, to the point where Mia, a Bulgarian expat we met looking out over Monaco from in front of the Prince’s Palace, likened it to Disneyland Paris.
As Bas and I headed down to catch the bus back to Nice, we both agreed that Monaco was one of the most unique places we’d ever visited, and that although we could easily have spent more time there exploring, we felt incredibly fulfilled by our day-trip.
For me, another big selling point of Monaco is that in spite of how exclusive it can seem, it’s accessible to basically anyone. Buses from Nice, routes 100 and 112, cost just E1.5 one way, and in addition to the low-ish drink prices I mentioned, Monaco is home to many affordable restaurants.
If you’re unsure as to whether a visit to Monaco is worth it, I can assure you the answer is “yes.” Although barely indistinguishable from adjacent countries on maps of Europe, Monaco is much more than an easy day-trip from France or Italy – it’s totally different world.
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