Sunday 14th July 2019
We arrived at the Gare de Monaco in Monte Carlo which, given that space it as a premium in the small principality, is underground.
Monte Carlo has built itself a reputation as being a playground for the conspicuously rich, and wealth is flaunted everywhere from the world-renowned casino to the luxury high-performance cars roaring round the narrow streets as if they are taking part in the annual grand prix.
The Casino in Monte Carlo is perhaps the most famous gambling establishment in the world, an Art Nouveau palace dedicated to gaming and chance.
The city also has the ubiquitous tourist train to take foot-sore visitors to the various sights including . . .
. . . the casino and the neighbouring Cafe de Paris which are both beautiful soaring monuments to indulgence.
Inside the casino, in the grand atrium alongside shops selling exclusive Graf jewellery and Ferrari merchandise, with somewhat less class, you can pose with outsize betting chips and a roulette wheel.
And around the streets you can see much evidence of the annual grand prix, which first took place 90 years ago in 1929, from the frequent statues to past champions and the exceptionally smooth tarmac on the roads to the finish line markings and the space for the pits.
There is also a public pool by the marina.
Although the city has a lofty citadel . . .
. . . and an enclosed old town . . .
. . . with the winding historical streets so common in this part of the Mediterranean,
we found the sheer consumerism of the city made it far less charming than other places we have visited on this trip.
In the citadel . . .
. . . Princess Grace and Prince Rainier III of Monaco were married in the cathedral in 1956 and it now houses their final resting places. This was the fairy tale marriage of the time between a Holywood star and European royalty and Princess Grace lived up to her name with style and elegance.
Our visit to the Cathedral was somewhat less decorous. Matilda is mindful of the need to respect local customs and she often carries a scarf with her for this reason. However, as none of the religious houses visited previously on this trip had enforced a dress code and it was unseasonably hot she was wearing a vest top exposing her shoulders and had not remembered to bring a scarf with her.
Often, places of worship which require female shoulders to be covered, provide a basic, if seriously unflattering, wrap for the purpose so that those who have come unprepared can still enjoy the local heritage. In Monte Carlo however, Matilda was denied entry to the cathedral and was told brusquely and aggressively by the doorman that “It’s not my problem”.
Happily a very sympathetic gentleman offered her a towel to put over her shoulders so that she could walk round with Robert. This did not seem to impress the man on the door, but we were most grateful to this generous, kind, but unknown Samaritan.
We are unsure how disrespect is measured and which parts of the human anatomy are subject to the Lord’s opprobrium, but we did feel that Robert, waiting shirtless on the steps while he lent Matilda his shirt might have provoked even more human censure.
Robert was determined to place at least a few bets in this world-renowned casino so we returned in the evening. As casino virgins, we opted to play roulette and the initial croupiers on the table helped to explain some of our options. Being aware of how easy it is to lose track of the money you have spent, we imposed a strict rule that we would only spend the sum we had initially exchanged for chips and we would pocket any winnings, rather than “re-invest” them.
However, it was terribly disappointing to discover that, even here, cheating went unchallenged. Another player at the table seemed to make a habit of acquiring the chips we had placed on “red” on his side of the table. It is possible that he was a forgetful regular, but, if this were the case, the staff did not manage the situation well.