Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Road to Monaco

The Monte Carlo Casino
Finally, I visited Monaco! It was very similar to my trip to Andorra in 2015. When I visited Barcelona for an EMJD-DC Spring Event, I had an extra day. So I took a bus to Andorra and spent a whole day there before returning to Andorra. This time I had a free day after the conference. I also found a cheap return flight ticket (50 Euro Vueling) to Nice from Barcelona. From the Nice airport, you can get a bus (no 110) to Monaco. Purchase the tickets at the ticket office as the bus driver does not sell the tickets.  A return trip to Monaco costs 33 Euro. One way costs 22 Euro. So I purchased a return ticket.

Once you have your bus ticket, proceed to catch the bus at the bus terminal #3 right outside the airport. The bus is hourly. There is also a bus that goes to Menton with the same number (no 110). At least during our trip, two buses left at the same time, ours with the destination to Monaco, and the other to Menton (a city in French Riviera that comes right after Monaco). Make sure to get on the right bus. The bus drivers speak good English, and you will be fine.

Monaco is the smallest UN member nation since Vatican is not a UN member state. Before the journey started, the bus driver proceeded to ask from each of us where are we going. By doing so, he made sure that no one missed their bus stop. That is a pretty smart thing to do. I got down at the Monte Carlo casino with many others. The bus goes until the Monte Carlo beach. There was a tourist information desk in a short walking distance from the bus stop. There was a hop-on-hop-off bus. However, I did not take that and proceeded to walk across the entire country. Thanks to its small size, I managed to create a record of my own to have walked across a country for the first time! :D I discourage anyone from taking the hop-on-hop-off bus. It goes in parallel with the coastal line and does not even go to the Jardim Exotica (7 Euro entry fee). I easily walked to more places than what the bus covers. Also, why waste money on something useless? Monaco (combined with its towns such as Monte Carlo and Monaco Ville is entirely walkable). It also has a complete transport network of buses consisting of public buses.
Monaco is a rich country. A small 19 sq meter studio apartment costs 2,500 Euro per month as rent, excluding the utilities, as I found from an apartment agent advertisement in Monte Carlo. I paid 500 Euro for a studio of the same size inclusive of all the costs in Lisboa. I know people earn in Monaco much more than in Portugal, while not having to pay taxes. I had a good meal (bread, starters, entry, main dish, and dish), a menu option for 29 Euro (34 Euro including the glass of wine). It was a very crowded simple restaurant. Must be one of those on the cheaper side of the price spectrum as far as Monaco is concerned, I guess. I also found other restaurants that are more expensive.

There were several casinos including the Monte Carlo Casino and Cafe Paris Casino near the bus stop. Several shops selling luxury brands, and there was also a very nicely illuminated shopping mall with many such stores, giving it a golden feeling. As far as I noticed they did not have our cheap shops such as Zara and H&M. There was also a nice park with walking trails and a Japanese garden. I paid a visit to both. I avoided the Jardim Exotica as its entrance is not free. I visited the cathedral. Ok, if you are still reading the blog post, by now you would have identified that Monaco is not just casinos and shopping malls.

I walked across the beach until the end. I was thinking - where to get the bus now?! Luckily I found the bus stop of Monte Carlo Beach easily as I step out of the beach, completing my long walk. So did not have to spend time trying to locate it, or returning to the stop I arrived at. While waiting for the bus, a very old lady (in her 80s) came to me and asked me something in French. I told her that I did not understand. She immediately switched to English and asked me to tell her when the bus number 6 arrives. We immediately proceeded into a long conversation. When I asked her how many languages she can speak, she proudly answered: "oh, many." She happily recalled her life with three passports (born in France, 1 km from the bus stop, and having a husband with a Switzerland mother and a Switzerland passport - and thus having passports from Monaco, France, and Switzerland). Since she lives in Monaco, she has a Monaco passport and does not need to pay taxes. "That's the good thing about this," she claimed.

She also asked about what I am doing in Portugal. When I said I am studying, she proceeded to ask my age, and gave a look with a face, "Dude, that is too old of age to study. Did you fail your school or something?" lol. I tried to explain to her what is a Ph.D. I am pretty confident she knows what that is, given her exposure to the world (She has traveled as far as Hong Kong and her husband worked as a hotelier). But probably due to her difficulties in hearing, she did not quite catch what I said. Before I tried to explain her, the bus number 6 arrived. I stopped the bus for her and told her her bus is here. She thanked and greeted me good luck and proceeded to board the bus. I like nice people. They give you good memories that are hard to forget.

I returned to Nice to catch the last flight to return to Barcelona. I also saw the same two couple (looked like a young couple with the lady's parents) that came with me on the bus from Nice to Monaco. Previously on the bus, we shared a brief smile. The young lady came to me and asked something in Spanish, "blablabla, Moh-nuh-koh?" I understood she was asking something about Monaco. But not sure what is that she is asking about. I smiled and replied, "Sorry, I do not understand." I hate to say that. But unfortunately, I am not great at picking up with natural languages. :( She replied, "Monaco - good?" while giving a thumbs-up gesture. I said, "ah, yes, yes, good." giving back a thumbs-up, and asked her back, "And you? How was it?" She replied, "Yes, good! good!!" with a big smile. We all boarded the flight. I am happy to know that it is not just me doing this crazy travel of a same day return flight to Nice from Barcelona just to go to Monaco and return on the same day. There were 5 of us, including the young and old couple. I am not alone in this world. We are all similar in our uniqueness.

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