Monday, October 24, 2011

Lost in Monaco

Famous Last Words: It’s only a square mile, how lost can I get?

(Thought, shortly thereafter: It fits in Central Park. I’ve gotten pretty lost in Central Park.)

The problem, navigationally speaking, is that the place is on a hill. Well, several hills. And the maps they provide are not (yet) in three dimensions. (Some folks from the cruise reckoned that, in a few years, they’d have a “holographic map of Monaco” iPhone app. This would totally rock.) Because I look at the map, and it looks like I need to cross three streets to get from Point B to Point C. Seriously, the destination in question is directly across three streets. You do not simply cross three streets to get there. In fact, you can’t get there – not without a bus that circles half of Monte Carlo. Because those streets are on three different levels. When there’s a cliff between you and the next street over, the map loses usefulness. So, yes, lost. Pretty darn lost.

Overall impression of Monaco: OK, you know how people in the States are talking about being part of the “99 percent” (and wanting to tax “the one percent”)? Monaco is the “0.1 percent.” Maybe the “0.01 percent” or less. These are the crazy super rich, and this is their playground. You’ve got the yachts (which, apparently, are what all the men here have “mine is bigger than yours” arguments about), the casinos, the ultra-high-end shops, and the extremely conspicuous consumption. (Someone reported seeing a pair of shoes for over 2000 Euro (so multiply by about 1.3) – SHOES, people.)

(I saw a homeless guy sleeping on the street in Nice. I assume Monte Carlo exports their homeless to France. They certainly import their working class. Nobody working in Monaco could actually afford to live there. Saw a real estate shop advertising a ROOM – not an apartment, a room, a 40 square meter room, for 345,000 Euro. Can the guy parking cars in the casino afford that? I’m thinking not.)

My first impression of Monaco, though, was none of this. (Well, my very first impression was getting lost – I’ve decided the Tourist Information lady was not nearly as useful as she appeared, as I ran into several other folks from the cruise aimlessly wandering around the area looking for the elevator she told us existed.) My real first impression was the Oceanographic Museum/Aquarium.

Said museum was started by Prince Albert I in something like 1906. Cousteau was involved with the place for years. It’s all about conserving the environment (particularly the Mediterranean); getting people involved; and displaying the fish in a manner in which they are quite beautifully displayed and also appear to be pretty happy. The jellyfish who looked almost neon in a blacklight were stunning. (There will be photos, but they didn’t do it justice.) There is no doubt that a ton of cash went into this place, but this was cash spent for something good – preservation and education. Full marks for Albert and the Oceanography Museum. (OK, take away a half a point for the restaurant in the museum having fish on the menu – but I’d be willing to bet they are from sustainable populations.)

The other place I really wanted to see in Monaco (only got slightly lost finding this – conveniently, I hooked up with another couple from the cruise in the museum, and we found it together) was the automobile collection. “Collection” is the key word here – as a friendly sign on the wall explains, this is not an automotive museum, just a private collection of cars. (A private collection of cars owned by a dude with a crazy amount of money.)

Actually “cars” might not be the right word either, as the historical collection begins with carriages. (They even display some of the harnesses for the horses.) Then the collection works its way into the automobile era, with plenty of very early cars from the early 20th century and (eventually) beyond. By the time you’ve hit the 1960’s, you head downstairs to another floor, where, around the corner (behind the Mercedes McLaren) is all the speed cars – up to and including rally cars and a Formula 1 racer. All (well, except for a well-worn rally car) in absolutely perfect, shiny, I-wouldn’t-even-want-to-breathe-on-it condition. On the way out was an electric car that looked like a luscious aerodynamic machine built for speed. About the furthest thing from a Prius I’ve ever seen. Very spiffy collection (and, again, there will be photos).

Those were the first and best things I saw in Monaco (also passed a “Chocolate Shop and Tea House” which had great potential...). I mean, sure, there was tremendous cash on display in both of them, but even with the 100+ car collection, it seemed like the money was put to a decent (or, at least, understandable) purpose.

I will never understand the 2000 Euro shoes.

1 comment:

peg said...

Mental note: there's totally a market for a topo map of Monaco.