June 26, 2010
We stopped to see Le Cote d’Azur in Monaco. It was recommended by friends and we’d never been. Also, Monaco, tiny as it is, counts as another country – number 14 – and the last (sad) for our list!
This is a small country –- it is the second smallest in the world (Vatican City is the smallest). There are only around 33,000 inhabitants and 84% of them are rich foreigners who claim their residence there to avoid taxes. People from all over the world come here to gamble and tourism is the main industry (but the residents of Monaco are not allowed to gamble). This is a constitutional monarchy and ruled by the same family since 1297. France has tried to take it over a few times – but was ultimately unsuccessful. One thing I thought fascinating about Monaco was that, until a new constitution in 1960, women did not have the right to vote. OK, it beats Lichtenstein whose poor oppressed women didn’t get the right to vote until 2003 – but still! What is with these tiny rich countries that deny suffrage? Other countries that still deny women the right to vote include (thanks Wiki) Brunei and Saudi Arabia – both Islamic Absolute Monarchies where women are also not allowed to drive! Hmm… Monaco, rich as it is, is a great place to people watch. The citizens are styling and the buildings are all clean and beautiful. Guess they don’t want beach bums destroying the aesthetic – as you can see from the signs below.
We parked and headed up the hill to the main square of town, where the Prince’s Palace of Monaco and gardens are located. There were probably thousands of yachts in the harbor. We were impressed by the size of the castle and the obvious mixture of old and new styles. Walking onward, we passed the St. Nicholas Cathedral. Nearby a sign proudly showed that this was where Princess Grace had married the Prince of Monaco. Princess Grace must be a big tourist draw, since there were signs about her several other places in Monaco. This is where she walked with her son, this is where she drove her car, etc… etc…
We were heading for the Aquarium. I had read it was an amazing place and was not at all disappointed. The collection of fish was impressive. Turns out that Monaco is famous for Oceanography and the monarchy has taken a passionate interest in the preservation and management of the ocean. Sounds like a nice thing to do with all that money…. better than buying a ranch in Texas and pretending to be a cowboy.
The coolest thing about this aquarium was that it was also an oceanographic museum and housed in an amazing old building. We got to look at whale skeletons, old tools for diving and so much more – and in a magnificent setting.
One of the neatest things they had in the museum was a model of the very first military submarine ever invented. (The history of submarines is fascinating and you can read about it here). The Turtle was an invention of an early American, David Bushnell, in 1775. He invented it as a way to attach explosives to the underside of ships. It was powered by a hand crank and used against British ships during the Revolutionary War. At least he tried to use it – it didn’t really work as well as he had hoped and ended up being sunk by the British.
But hey, no matter, this thing is still super cool and paved the way for modern submarine warfare. Yay?
We took the time to wander through some gorgeous gardens and appreciate the views before getting one last gelato (so clear we weren’t in Italy anymore) and heading back to the car. We had a lot of fun watching some dressage from on high as well
We are sleeping in the car tonight – so let’s enjoy one last sunset…