When visiting my sister who is on exchange in Antibes, France, she mentioned that we should spend the evening exploring Monaco. I was shocked that she brought up going to another country so casually, but then I realized it was but a mere hour commute by train. My commute from Richmond Hill to the University of Toronto was literally longer than that (an hour and a half one way, sadly). When you live in Canada and it takes more than a day to drive to the neighbouring province (ahem, Ontario to Manitoba), it is such a crazy realization that Europeans can get from one country to another in just an hour!
I got off the train at the Monaco – Monte Carlo stop and walked straight to the harbourfront to enjoy Monaco’s Christmas Market. The pier was absolutely beautiful and it was adorned by super yachts that are apparently owned by the millionaires and billionaires that live here. Prior to coming, I only knew Monaco as a place where rich people live and party on their yachts, gamble at casinos, watch the annual Formula One Grad Prix, and escape income and business tax. There is much more to Monaco than this.
Monaco is bordered by France, Italy and the vast Mediterranean Sea. It is the second smallest country in the world at 200 hectares, after Vatican City which is 49 hectares. The population of about 38,500 people speak French and a majority of the residents are either of Monegasque descent or they are French, Italian, Swiss, or Belgian. The most popular attractions and events in Monaco include the Casino de Monte Carlo, Formula One Grand Prix, the Prince’s Palace of Monaco, and the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco. Tourism is Monaco’s main industry, as it is a country known for its luxurious European resorts, and it is also known for private banking.
I set my sights on getting to high ground so that I could get the best view of the city. Finding high ground was not a problem, because the landscape in Monaco consists of many hills. If you do not like walking up steep hills, Monaco is not the country for you. I walked up this path to get to the Prince’s Palace of Monaco to see the country from above. My evening hike was really peaceful, clean and safe – a really important feature for a female solo traveller. At some points, the architecture and natural features during the hike made me feel like I was in old Medieval Europe.
When I got to the Prince’s Palace for the Monaco Prince Albert II, I first witnessed palace guards walking around the grounds. The prince and the Monaco Royal Family actually reside here, so the place was heavily guarded. The palace was built in 1191 as a fortress against foreign powers, so don’t be shocked when you find numerous cannons around. I learned that in 1956, an American actress, Grace Kelly, became the Princess of Monaco after she married into the Royal Family. It’s interesting that Meghan Markle, who was also an American actress, became a princess after marrying into the British Royal Family. I didn’t know how common it was for actresses to transition into royal families! Apparently Grace Kelly helped put Monaco on the map and brought international attention to the country’s status as a wealthy, luxurious place to live and do business.
It was too late to visit the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, but it was nice to walk around the area – I even found a yellow submarine in front of the museum! This museum has one of the oldest aquariums in the world with exhibits including the Shark Lagoon, Sea Turtles, Mediterranean Sea, Tropical Sea, and Corals.
The view of the Monaco harbour is outstanding. I was in complete awe looking out at Monte Carlo in the night. The residents must feel so connected to the Mediterranean Sea and the glory of the French Riviera. I’m glad that I got the chance to visit Monaco, I will never forget it!