Quick! What’s the smallest independent country in the world? Come-on, you Roman Catholics, speak up! The Vatican, of course, at .17 Square Miles (.44 Square Kilometers)
Ok, let’s keep it going. Second biggest? Monaco at .75 Square Miles (1.95 Square Kilometers). This summer I spend a wonderful afternoon on the gnarled, cobblestoned streets and wide avenues that stretch along the aqua water’s edge.
Our ship docked in Monte Carlo, noted Riviera playground of the famously famous and fabulously wealthy. Mind numbing questions plagued me as I strolled past yachts, Maseratis, Lamborghinis, and Ferraris. Would a world class blond love me for my charm and wit? Would my wife be content with our credit card limit? Could I afford a beer?
Monaco is a rolling, sun-bleached hillside of a country. Yachts only slightly smaller than Manhattan are strewn like toys on the deep blue water. Clusters of white limestone buildings climb the hills.
I call Monaco a jewel in the sun. Not only because it’s right on the area known as The Riviera. It’s also the face of elegance.
Who hasn’t heard of the fabulous Casino de Monte Carlo? Hollywood certainly has. Quite a few movies filmed there, including a couple of James Bond thrillers (1983 and 1995) and Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. Go in and take a look around for 10 Euros.
|The Casino at Night|
|...and during the day.|
Odd things about Hitchcock’s movie. Not only did Grace Kelly go on to marry Prince Rainier III, Monaco’s former ruler, but there’s a scene in the movie where she drives too fast on one of Monaco’s mountainous, seaside roads. Years later, she met her demise doing the same thing. The Casino was built in 1878, same year as the Cathedral where Princess Grace and her prince are buried.
|Inside the Royal Cathedral|
|Princess Grace's grave|
Why build a casino here? Takes you back to 1861. Monaco was broke. France grabbed the land where Monaco’s money crops, citrus and the like grew. The casino wasn’t an immediate success, but the railroad changed all that. The operation moved a few times and ended up where is it is now.
Many folks tend to think that Monaco’s wealth (per capita income of near $190,00 in 2011) is due to the casino. Not true. Banking and business being in 75% of the money, with tourism accounting for another 15%.
Lots of famous folks inhabit this paradise. Ringo. Bono. Gina Lollobrigida. The list of tennis stars, racecar drivers, and business moguls goes on. If you want to be their neighbor, bring your checkbook and a good line of credit. Apartments sell for upwards of $55,000 a square yard (about .83 square meters). One reason the rich live here: It is a tax haven. For individuals, there is no income tax. Well, that’s for most residents. If you’re from the U.S., tough luck! The United States government still requires you to pay.
Lots for the rich to do besides camp in their apartments and stare at their yachts. Once a year is the ever-famous Monte Carlo Gran Prix, which next takes place 21-24 May 2015. You can buy tickets online: A two day ticket will run you from $300 for the cheap seats to upwards of $3500.
|William Grover-Williams in a Bugatti- the first winner of Monaco Grand Prix on April 14, 1929.|
How about the rest of us. I took a bus and walking tour, ambled past the government house, the oceanographic museum (see below), wandered the streets, stood outside the Royal Palace, and settled in a restaurant nestled in a narrow street, for an exceptional local brew and a sandwich.
The aquarium and oceanographic museum are world famous. Too much to describe about this center of all things that live in the sea. But, here’s a tidbit: On average, there are ten deaths per year from shark attacks. The tiny mosquito accounts for 800,000 deaths per year. And, you’re afraid to go in the ocean?
How about some basics? Population of Monaco is only 33,000, but because the country is so small, it’s the most densely populated area in Europe, ranking only behind Macau, China world-wide. Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem so crowded. Monaco is graced with profuse tropical flowers and palm and fig trees. They seem to lessen the impact of the teeming multitudes in the streets.
So, is Monte Carlo (Mount Charles) the capital Monaco? Nope. Monaco is the capital of Monaco. Monte Carlo is one of the four sections of the country, although they’re so packed together, I defy anyone but a native to know exactly when you cross from one to the next.
What about the government? The Grimaldi Family rules (and has for seven centuries) and the current head of state is Prince Albert II. It’s a constitutional monarchy, but with a twist. The Prince is the Chief Executive. He appoints a Minister of State, who presides over a five member Council of Government. The Minister of State is French, although that is not mandatory. There’s also a National Council, with elected deputies, and a Communal Council, which takes care of city affairs. How well does this work? Two items to mention: the streets are clean and the country is debt free.
Interesting relationship between Monaco and France. French is the official language. The French Army provides defense for the Principality and also the guards outside the Royal Palace (which you can visit). Check times for the Changing of the Guard ceremony. However, the Prince hires his own bodyguards.
|The Royal Palace|
|A French Army Guard|
While not a member of the European Union, Monaco does share several agreements with the E.U., such as the Euro currency, and open borders/customs with E.U. countries.
The agreements are important, especially for those work in Monaco, but don’t live there. I was curious about that. How can so many shop clerks and waiters, who obviously are not rich, afford to live in one of the most expensive places on earth? Simple. They work in Monaco, but live in France, or Italy.
I liked the general attitude and tempo of Monaco, but I couldn’t afford to live there either. Put me in the shoe clerk category.