A couple of weekends ago, pretty much the entire AIFS group piled on a bus, and we got to spend the day in Monaco and Èze.
(Also, our bus driver’s name was Pierre. Classic.)
Monaco was maybe an hour-ish away, and the ride over was rather nice – we passed through Nice and drove along the Promenade des Anglais, which is basically the Nice equivalent of La Croisette in Cannes (that road/walkway right along the coast/beach). So there was a stunning sea view, and tons of people walking along the Promenade, which made for some great people watching. A couple favorites include a guy dancing his heart out in the middle of the sidewalk with joggers and bikers paying him no mind and just swerving around him, and a father with a little girl (maybe 3?) who was pushing a toy stroller holding a baguette and a stuffed penguin.
The closer we got to Monaco, the richer everything seemed to look. It’s a mountain-y drive, and there are a bunch of beautiful, huge homes nestled in the hills, many of which have giant infinity pools overlooking the Mediterranean – must be a rough life!
We ended up taking a little stop along the way here for a photo op:
We were given little packed lunches from the cafeteria before leaving, and we had the somewhat confusing task of trying to figure out when exactly lunch was. We knew we’d be exploring Monaco for a few hours (including when lunch would normally be), but for some reason walking around such a rich little country carrying a giant brown paper bag with a sandwich wrapped in tin foil didn’t seem like the way to go. So I compromised by having the chips and cookies and an apple on the bus on the way there and saved my sandwich for the trip from Monaco to Èze. Shout-out to the cafeteria for packing me a delicious (and vegetarian!) baguette with cheese! Doesn’t get much better.
So we parked in Monaco, and Aude gave us a quick little tour around. We walked past the Museé Océanographique de Monaco and through these beautiful gardens to the Cathédrale de Monaco, where Grace Kelly was married and is now buried with many of the other Grimaldis. On multiple occasions when I have told French people that my name is Grace, they go, “Oh, like Grace Kelly!” Can’t say that’s ever happened to me back in the US, but I don’t mind the “comparison” (if you can call it that)!
The church was in the middle of a service, so we couldn’t go in at the time, but we had to head off to the Prince’s Palace to see the changing of the guards. We all gathered around out front, and watched as two guards swapped places. Seemed a bit underwhelming given all the fuss we had heard about it, and we made our way back to Aude, but she shooed us back.
Turns out there was a little bit more to it! All of a sudden there was a swarm (a herd? A gaggle?) of guards marching through the square towards the palace, and another flock of guards marching directly towards where we were standing. I definitely wasn’t convinced that they were going to stop and not march into us even though there was a rope separating them from us. The changing basically consisted of a lot of military shouting and precise maneuvering of their guns and the like. It was pretty impressive, but the best part was how the guard standing closest to us was on the brink of laughing the entire time!
We then had about an hour or so of wandering time before we had to meet Aude in front of the Oceanographic Museum, so my roommate Kailyn and I went back to the Cathedral and got to walk through. It was breathtaking, and imagining people going to such a grand church on a weekly basis was pretty difficult.
We then walked up and down another street or two, but Monaco (and especially the area we were in!) is pretty tiny, so that didn’t take very long. We wandered through the garden a bit more on our way back to the Museum. The water is impossibly blue – it looks absolutely fake. I’m convinced that they dump food coloring into it.
Another fun thing about the garden is that since it’s by the Oceanographic Museum, there are a couple statues out near the entrance that tie into the aquatic theme – and, though I don’t know if this was on purpose or not, sort of bring The Beatles in, as well!
We got to spend the next couple of hours exploring the museum, which was fascinating. The walls of the main level are covered with this statue/wall art sort of thing that makes it feel as though you’re trapped in a fishing net; I was not a huge fan of this, but it was certainly effective!
Also on the first floor is basically the petting zoo component – there’s a raised pool with a bunch of baby sharks that you get to pet. So I can now say that I have touched a shark! They’re smoother and kind of squishier than I expected. They also seem to really enjoy the attention – they’ll come up towards the top of the water and swim close to you so you can reach them. They sort of reminded me of cats bumping up against your leg so you can pet them and then wandering away.
The bottom floor is basically a giant aquarium. I’ve never been to one before, and I loved it. Their various colors and environments and the way the various fish move and interact with each other were beautiful.
The top floor has some sculptures and sea animal skeletons, which, as I think I mentioned before, is always sad and fascinating to me. There was a room with a bunch of shark skeletons hanging from the ceiling, and right as we entered, this light show began. It was probably the most dramatic light show I’ve ever witnessed – between the music and the narration (or, what I could pick up of the narration), it was extremely intense, which I got quite a kick out of. Very “the sharks are coming to get you and they are everywhere, but they are also beautiful and majestic, but seriously, watch out.”
After the light show was over and we recovered from the ferocity and the excitement of it, we found these tables with various shark skins and teeth that you could touch. It made me very uncomfortable and creeped out, but at the same time it was so strange and fascinating that I couldn’t not touch them. Some of them were quite smooth, while others felt almost jagged. I’ve learned that you never know quite what to expect when touching a shark. Hopefully a lesson I won’t have to utilize in the future!
Ending on that high note, we had to go back out to meet Aude and the rest of our group to head to Monte Carlo, where we walked up a lot of stairs to get from where the bus was to the main square and got to peek inside the Monte Carlo Casino. We had to show our passports to be able to enter the lobby, and after that you had to pay something like 10 euro to enter the actual casino. It looked very impressive, but I’m not exactly a gambler, so Kailyn and a couple other girls and I found an outdoor café near another casino and got some hot chocolate instead. It was thick and creamy and delicious and exactly what that portion of the trip called for. Turns out there’s not much to do or see in Monte Carlo if you’re not a gambler.
After that, it was off to Èze, a tiny medieval town perched on top of a mountain back in France. It was full of charm, character, cobblestone pathways, and amazing views – it felt more like a movie set, honestly. I kept expecting the cute little buildings to actually be set pieces propped up with wooden beams in the back.
We started off walking up a giant hill from the bus to get to Èze itself, and from there we climbed approximately 2,247 steps to get to the top of the Jardin exotique d’Èze (exotic garden), which, amusingly enough, was primarily full of cacti – kind of funny what’s considered exotic over here that seems so commonplace back in the US. The view was stunning, though, and was (probably) worth the crazy amount of stair climbing it took to get there!
We then had about another hour or so to explore before meeting back at the bus, so Kailyn and I walked through the Church of Èze and went into a couple of the little woodworking shops to browse around.
We had a little trouble finding our way back to the bus, however, after we made it back down the hill. Somehow we managed to go in a circle, which, during all of our various trips, we have discovered we are astonishingly good at (not to brag or anything). We finally found a couple other people from our group, however, and latched onto them and made it back to the bus on time.
The ride back to Cannes was pretty magnificent in and of itself – we were heading back during the sunset, and I managed to stay awake to see the sky transition between such brilliant shades of purple and red and orange.
So essentially – Monaco and Èze are amazing, and I feel so fortunate to be studying abroad in a place where such day trips are possible. The south of France is kind of spoiling me – not that I’m complaining!