Europe 2016 diary: day 11

Tuesday, 8 November, 2016. 18:43

We got up a little lazily, and didn’t head down to breakfast until about 08:00 after having showers and dressing for a day in Monaco. The breakfast buffet served in the hotel restaurant was similar to others, but with a bigger selection of chopped and fresh fruits, and also pancakes. I had some muesli with fruit salad and yoghurt, and then tried the pancakes with maple syrup. They were luke warm and really not very good; thin and dense, almost more like small crepes. M. had some slices of bread with Nutella after some cereal. I also had a banana, since they were amongst the available fruits. The hot food selection includes sausages, eggs, bacon, mushrooms, and potatos, but I didn’t have any of those.

Saint-Charles Market
Farmer’s market near Église Saint-Charles

After eating, we set out for a day of walking around Monaco. First we headed over to Avenue Saint-Charles and the Église Saint-Charles, where there was a farmers’ market in the morning. This turned out to be quite a small affair, with just seven or eight fruit and vegetable sellers and a couple of flower stalls. They had some interesting things though, like really long skinny zucchini with the flowers attached. We walked through the stalls and then entered the side entrance of Église Saint-Charles to have a look at its interior, before exiting from the front to see the facade before continuing our walk.

This time we managed to get down to the waterfront, taking sets of stairs further north of the casino, near where the Grand Prix circuit turns around. We followed a walk along the shore, elevated a bit above the water level, into the road tunnel that the Grand Prix drivers enter here. The footpath goes partway though the tunnel with the road before diverting left out into the sunshine again near the shore. From here we had a clear walk along the shore to the harbour where dozens of huge and expensive luxury yachts are moored. Walking by these was impressive, seeing just how big and glitzy they are. A few had men on board polishing bits of metal or wood, but apart from that there wasn’t much activity to be seen. Presumably the owners were still asleep after spending all night in the casino or something.

Monaco Yacht Club
Monaco Yacht Club (right), and Port Hercules

At one point just after the Monaco Yacht Club there was some construction work and we had to duck off the pedestrian quay to the footpath along the road, but we soon rejoined the coastal path. It led us around in front of the amusement park we’d seen from the other side last night, but halfway along there was more construction and we had to cross through the park to the main road. This involved being searched and metal detected by security guards, since the amusement park was a secured zone for some reason.

Soon we reached the foot of the impressively steep hill of the Rock of Monaco. Near here was a bronze sculpture of a life size old fashioned Formula One racing car from the 1930s, with a driver standing next to it. Two couples were standing by it, taking photos as one of them climbed into the driver seat of the bronze car. We waited a minute or two so I could do the same thing, though I banged my knee on the bronze trying to climb in, and the cockpit was so cramped I couldn’t fit my legs under the steering wheel.

Monaco panorama
View over Monaco from near the Prince’s Palace

From here we walked up the steps leading up the hill to the square in front of the Prince’s Palace. These led through a small garden area and then up what was presumably an old access road for the castle, through an old 16th century gatehouse, and finally emerging into the square. It was some climb! We took a few photos, and then a large group of tourists arrived, so we scooted off to the souvenir shop on the far side of the square. This also sold tickets for tours of the palace, but it was currently closed for tours, until April next year, so the shop was empty except for two women who worked there. One was very helpful when M. wanted to try to find a T-shirt she liked, but unfortunately the best designs weren’t available in women’s styles, and the women’s shirts were uninteresting designs. I also asked the woman if there was a book with the artwork of the early 20th century style seen on many of the postcards, but she said there wasn’t. It’s a shame, as I would have bought it instantly, I liked the art style so much.

When we emerged from the shop, guards and police in the square were stopping the group of tourists from crossing various roads, effectively stranding half of them in the middle of the square with roads on all sides. We guessed the Prince might be arriving soon by car or something, but after a few minutes still nothing was happening, so we walked off into the old town area in search of some lunch.

Monaco Palace
Guard outside the Prince’s Palace

We thought the old town would be interesting and historical, like other old town areas. Well, I suppose the architecture and narrow streets were, but so many of the shopfronts had been turned into either take away sandwich shops, or fast food pizzerias, or souvenir shops selling the same selection of T-shirts, that it was just awful and tacky and overly touristy. It was a real disappointment, really. Nevertheless, we were hungry and there didn’t seem to much better options, so we bought a slice of vegetable tart for M. and a “cezar” sandwich for me, which was sliced chicken breast, salad, and cheese, heated in a sandwich press. They were actually both pretty good. And the guy who sold them to us gave us a bottle of water for €1.30 instead of the €2 he originally asked for, after M. turned out her coin purse and could only scrape together €1.30.

After eating we visited the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas, the main cathedral of Monaco. This is a gleaming white building outside, looking in excellent condition and fairly new (it was built just over 100 years ago, but looks newer). Inside it was expansive and beautiful too. Around the back of the main altar area are buried generations of the rulers of Monaco, including Prince Rainier III and his wife Princess Grace, formerly the actress Grace Kelly.

St Nicholas Cathedral, Monaco
Cathedral of Saint Nicholas

Next we wandered through the old town a bit more, trying to find if there were any bits that hadn’t been totally taken over by souvenir shops. It got a bit better far away from the palace, but not a lot. There were a couple of little side alleys with nothing in them but residences, which were somewhat pretty, but shop-wise it was either nothing at all, or wall-to-wall T-shirt shops. So we didn’t linger too long and took the stairs back down from the palace square to La Condamine.

St Nicholas Cathedral
Exterior of Cathedral of Saint Nicholas

Partway down the path forked and we took the other direction to the way we’d come up. The goal was Rue Grimaldi, and the Formula One shop there, which the lady at the souvenir shop by the palace had recommended to M. for more Grand Prix related shirts. We passed through Place d’Armes, which is where the second farmers’ market is held, but it had packed up for the day already. There were interesting ceramic tiles set into the small plaza, with glazed artwork of various fruit and vegetables.

Rue Grimaldi turned out to be the same street we’d walked along last night after dinner to get back to our hotel. We’d actually seen the Formula One shop then, but it had been closed. Now it was open and we went in. There were lots of scale model cars, the larger ones selling for around €4000! The clothing was right at the back of the cramped shop, and there was a weird smell in the shop which made it unpleasant. A woman helped M. with shirts, but once again there were no good designs in women’s shirts. They were virtually all Ferrari branded rather than generically Grand Prix themed. So we left empty handed.

Part way down Rue Grimaldi we again passed Marcello. Since we planned to have dinner here and it was open, we popped in to make a booking for a table at 19:00. I tried to form sentences in Italian to make the booking, but M. jumped in with French and answered a couple of questions from the guy, who wrote our booking into a book, which showed no other entries for today.

Car shopping in Monaco
Ferrari dealer

We stopped at the hotel briefly and then emerged again to walk over to the area around the casino again, since this was where there were more shops to look at. We walked down Boulevard des Moulins, looking at the fancy and expensive things. Many of the shops had Christmas decorations in their windows. We passed a ridiculous number of real estate agents, which apartments for sale, with prices up to around eleven million euro. Some apartments listed areas of barely more than 40 square metres, which is really tiny, and these were cheap at one to two million euro. I expect the really top end places with prices in the hundreds of millions weren’t shown, and you had ask discreetly about those.

Done with looking at ridiculously expensive shops, we walked back to the hotel to rest a bit before dinner. It had been a busy walking day, and we were starting to feel a little worn out by the travelling, so a short break was good. Rather than sit in our room, we went down to the hotel bar again. This time I tried a Biere de Monaco, apparently the only beer made in Monaco. I guess they only have room for one small brewery. It was light and quite fruity, with not much hops flavour. M. had a cappuccino.

After relaxing with a drink, I went up to the rooftop gym area of the hotel to take some photos as the sun set over the palace in the distance.

Sunset over Monaco-Ville
Sunset over the Rock of Monaco and the Prince’s Palace

Written later

We emerged for dinner just before 19:00 and walked back to Marcello. It was a fair way down the hill from our hotel, and we took a route involving two long flights of stairs, that we’d have to walk back up afterwards.

At Marcello, it seemed we hadn’t had to make a booking. There was only one other table occupied when we arrived, with a woman and two small children around five years old. Two men staffed the restaurant, and one sat us at a table near the back, adjacent to a wall full of packets of dried pasta and bottles of wine. There were only a out six tables in the place, spread amongst the various things that they sold as a shop. There were several large legs of prosciutto hanging on the wall of a thick column on the other side of our table. The waiter was very nice and asked if we’d like menus in English or another language. We said English would be fine.

I chose the insalata caprese for us to share as an appetiser, and then we both picked pasta for our meals. M. chose tagliatelle pesto, while I ordered the tris di tortelli with butter and sage, a combination of the three different types of filled tortelli on the menu: spinach and ricotta, mushroom, and a meat one which I think was pork. The waiter brought grissini, more standard than the ones we’d had in Cuneo, but made on the premises and crunchy and good, as well as a small square of slate with five or six paper thin slices of salami topped with crumbled hard cheese of some sort, with a couple of toothpicks stuck into the cheese. Because of the meat, I ate all of this complimentary appetiser. The cheese was parmesan like and went well with the salami and some bits of grissini.

When the insalata caprese came, it was accompanied by a small cloth sack of bread cut from white and grain baguettes. The tomato slices were huge, but had large empty holes in them between the ribs leading to the seeds clustered in the centre. On top were laid several slices of really fresh white buffalo mozzarella, almost dripping liquid in the middle it was so soft, and the whole was drizzled with olive oil and topped with fresh basil leaves. There was also a drizzle of balsamic vinegar on the plate. With this salad the waiter also brought bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar for us to add to our own taste. The salad was incredibly fresh and light tasting, very refreshing and delicious.

Tris di Tortelli
Tris di tortelli with butter and sage at Marcello

M.’s pesto tagliatelle came in a conical mound on a large shallow dish, and had visible bits of chopped pine nuts mixed through it. My tortelli came on a rectangular plate, divided into three zones for the three different types, and with a simple sauce of melted butter and some fried sage leaves. I tried a little of M.’s and all the pasta was really good. With the meal we had glasses of the red wine of the house, which was a lightish fruity palate with almost a touch of fizz at first sip. The wine bottles near our table were a sparkling red wine, which apparently had won best sparkling red in the world at a wine show in London! If we’d known that before we ordered we would have tried some of that. Oh well.

I’d read a couple of reviews online that said the ice cream was good here, so for dessert I asked what the flavours were. The waiter recited strawberry, lemon, vanilla, and gianduia, I chose two scoops, vanilla and gianduia. I couldn’t quite remember what gianduia was, but thought it was sort of nougat or something nutty. When it came and. tasted it, I realised it must be chocolate and hazelnut. It was good, but the vanilla was truly marvellous. Creamy and really strongly vanilla flavoured. It reminded me of the vanilla ice cream I’d had in Barcelona, which was possibly the best vanilla I’ve ever had. This was certainly up there.

By the time we finished eating, the restaurant had filled up and many other people were busy dining. It was yet another good find and another great meal for the trip. We rugged up for the cold night air and walked back to the hotel, though by the time we’d walked back up the two huge flights of stairs we were beginning to feel a bit warm!

We relaxed a bit and I typed up some more diary before bed time.

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