Sep 1, 2008
Posted by Shanna under Monaco
Comments Off on You Have More Money Than I Do, but I Have Nachos…
When we waved a loving goodbye to Piedmont, Italy the other day and, once again, loaded our backpacks into the Peugeot and set off down the road, we were headed into unknown territory. Literally. We’ve had a guidebook for every country we’ve been to so far, but we were headed into France without so much as a Europe on a Shoestring between us. We had a vague idea that we wanted to be someplace in Provence in the near future, but we knew that we had a day or two to get there. Consulting our map, we realized that one way to get to that area was by driving down the French Riviera, through Monaco, Nice, Cannes and a bunch of other places whose names tend to appear on the pages of glossy magazines in stories about where celebrities dock their yachts. With visions of turquoise water and swaying palm trees dancing in our heads, we set off in that direction.
After a few hours, we pulled into Monte Carlo, Monaco. Monaco is a tiny “principality” on the Mediterranean Sea whose territory is completely enclosed by France. It is a constitutional monarchy now led by Prince Albert II, but more famously once ruled by his mother, Princess Grace Kelly. Citizens of Monaco pay no income taxes, a fact that has made the little place a haven for wealthy Europeans who move there as “tax refugees” and now make up the bulk of its population. Monte Carlo is an “administrative area” within Monaco (Wikipedia tells me that it’s technically not a city) that is best known for its extravagant casino, its celebrity spottings and the fact that its streets are pretty much paved with, if not gold, then at least glamour.
Derek and I had both been to Monte Carlo years ago, and we decided to take a look around to see if all was still as we remembered it to be. We stopped by the tourist information office to get a map, and then we got stuck in some kind of Monaco vortex. Within 30 minutes, we were inexplicably checking into a hilariously over-priced hotel and trying to decide where to have dinner that night. Consulting frommers.com (a great resource for people who love food as much as we do), Derek read out some restaurant options. A French place with a coat-and-tie dress code. Nope. Another French place whose entrees were priced starting at $125. Not so much. An American-themed sports bar that served Tex-Mex. No way. We decided to venture into town without a plan, spend the afternoon exploring the area and worry about dinner later. We changed into our fanciest clothes, which is to say I put on Billabong flip-flops and a cotton sundress with a broken zipper and Derek donned something out the of the pages of the REI catalog, and headed out the door.
Monte Carlo has a few tourist activities, but its people are by far its most interesting attraction. It has got to be the best place on earth to people-watch, and that’s exactly what we wanted to do. We found just the place–a busy cafe right in front of the casino with a prime view of the U-shaped street where Beautiful People cruised, revving the engines of their luxury cars and enjoying the envious sighs of the Unwashed Masses who looked on. A table opened up at the cafe just as we arrived, and I made a beeline for it. A few seconds later, a living version of Monte Carlo Barbie and her pal, Ken, both of whom were clad in matching shades of shiny pink, approached and glared at me with such a sense of entitlement that I determined that I must have somehow stolen their table (which, as it turns out, was not even close to being true). While putting this in print makes me cringe with embarrassment, I admit now that I turned and fled. Even from a distance, I could feel their disgust with my choice of footwear.
Happily, another spot (with an even better view–take that, shiny table thieves!) opened up fairly quickly, and Derek and I settled in to watch the veritable parade of luxury. Old men in white linen sauntered toward the casino with women who could only have been supermodels on their arms. A pack of olive-skinned teens, one of whom was sporting a fedora, loitered on the corner, each with a cellphone attached to his ear. They all shared space with an endless parade of Ferraris, Lamborghinis and even the occasional Rolls Royce. We laughed at one guy who was driving a shiny, red Ferrari while wearing a red Ferrari hat. Brand overload, perhaps? (Walking around town later that evening, we discovered the reason for the man’s brand-redundant hat: he was the Ferrari rental guy. He accompanied poor, sportscar-less souls who were willing to shell out about $120 for a quick spin around town in an Italian masterpiece.)
After a couple of hours spent trying to make one $22 drink last long enough to justify our presence at the cafe without requiring us to buy another one, we found ourselves suffering from Monaco overload. We fled back to our hotel room and gave ourselves a quick Don’t-Even-Begin-To-Think-You-Can-Afford-To-Play-Alongside-These-People reality check, and then we revisited our dinner options. This time, the $8 plate of nachos available at the American sports bar sounded pretty darn good. And you know what? They were.