What's the first thing you do when your kids leave for college?
Go to Monte Carlo, right?
Actually, that thought never occurred to me.
But the thought of a cruise sure did.
Monte Carlo — the place I most associate with James Bond.
Our kids left home at the end of August and by early October my hubby and I were sailing around the Mediterranean.
Normally I research trips in depth before booking anything but—awash in the mixed sensations of empty-nesting—I quickly booked a cruise that sailed from Barcelona to Malta and up the coast of Italy then down to southern France before returning to Barcelona.
The stop in France happened on the last day of the cruise. By that point I was too tired to do any research the night before, so we decided we would wing it. To be honest, it didn't even register that we were visiting the French Riviera.
My husband, Dan, and I arrived early in Villefranche, a beautiful village nestled against the mountains and the sea. Its port was too small for our ship to dock so we had to take a tender. Dan and I disembarked and immediately wandered over to a little cafe to order chocolate croissants for breakfast. The entire town appeared to still be asleep. Other than our little cafe, nothing was open. A perfect scenario for strolling and taking in all the beauty in solitude.
Some of the beautiful stairs of Villefranche.
More Villefranche Scenes Below
Click on photos to enlarge
Villefranche After it wakes up.
By mid-day the streets had filled, so we decided to wander a little further out. We made our way to the train station and that's when we saw that one of the nearby destinations was Monte Carlo.
"Cool!" I chirped. "We should go! We've never been to Monaco before!"
Hubby was pysched. "We can go to the casinos!"
"Nah. No casinos."
"But that's what you always see in the Bond movies."
"But we don’t gamble. They probably wouldn't let us in anyway. We don't look rich."
"True . . ." my hubby sighed.
We boarded the train and arrived at the lovely train station in Monte Carlo in under fifteen minutes. As we disembarked I reminded Dan that we needed to check the train schedule before leaving the building.
"We CAN NOT miss the tender to the ship because the next stop is in Barcelona."
"Right! That wouldn't be good. We probably can’t get a taxi to drive us all the way to Spain."
Inside Monaco-Monte-Carlo train station.
The station and the entire railway are located underground.
We proceeded to walk through the terminal and straight outside—completely forgetting to check the train times. (Which is just one of the many reasons the British Secret Service never recruited either of us to be 00-Something Agents.)
We love beautiful architecture so we were eager to eyeball some of the magnificent homes. But we quickly discovered that every residence appeared to have an eight-foot wall around it, so all we saw were the tops of buildings. It felt like an architectural tease. And the sidewalks—if one can call them that—were little more than narrow berms separating the walls from the road. We had to walk single-file, looking straight up to see anything worthwhile.
As you can see, the area near the train station was not exactly pedestrian-friendly.
One of the few times we had an almost-complete view.
“Man! You really can't see much of the gorgeous buildings. I muttered in disappointment. It's not like that in the James Bond movies,”
“That’s because Bond was always in the casinos!” my husband retorted in an “I-told-you-so” tone.
“Okay, let’s turn around . . .” I sighed.
“And go to the casinos?” Dan asked hopefully.
“NO! Let’s go to the palace. I wanna see some pretty architecture and Princess Grace stuff.”
As we about-faced we were nearly mowed down by some sleek, slick, über-expensive car whizzing past.
“Whoa!” Dan whooped. “Did you see that? Now that’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout!”
“This place needs wider sidewalks!” I screeched, my heart pounding from our close call.
But there were no real sidewalks to be found. Nor could we find any steps leading down the side of the mountain to reach the town below.
An actual crosswalk bridge!
I was so grateful.
Until we had to cross the road on the other side of it.
“This is crazy,” I grumbled as more Lamborghinis and Ferraris flew past us.
NOTE: Okay, to be completely honest, I don’t really know what kind of cars they were. I just know they were the most expensive ones that money can buy. And we saw more of them there than any other place we’ve ever been. My husband was thrilled—except for the almost-run-over part of the experience.
After we managed to survive crossing another busy road, we took refuge in a small green space with trees. But we still couldn’t find a way to descend into the lower part of the city. Eventually we asked a passer-by who spoke enough English to tell us to "take ze elevator to ze lower part of ze city."
He pointed past the bushes and we saw what looked to be a doorway of some type. Sure enough, it was the entrance to an elevator—one that runs down through the mountain. As the doors closed and we began our descent, we looked at each other in wonder.
“This wasn’t in any Bond movies either!”
“That’s probably because James Bond never walks anywhere. He’s always driving a cool car.”
“Hmmm. Guess that’s true.”
“However he DID walk around the casinos . . .”
After exiting the elevator we FINALLY found some lovely streets to stroll. We took in the gorgeous facades, visited the market and popped into a small shop to buy a souvenir. Here are some photos of the lovely bits of scenery.
One of my favorite Monte Carlo Scenes.
Faux Hanging Laundry wasn't in any of the 007 movies either . . .
But it should have been!
Dan loves a good market.
searching for a souvenir that just screams "Monte Carlo"!
~ see what I bought at the end of this post ~
Heading to the Prince's Palace.
The Prince's Palace of Monaco also known as
Palais princier de Monaco
St Mary's Tower
rebuilt by Charles III to resemble a medieval fortress.
Enjoying the lovely views.
After snapping some photos I made another suggestion.
"Let's go see where Princess Grace and Prince Rainer III got married.”
“I’d rather go see the race cars . . .”
“Uhhhh, we’ve nearly been mowed down by some of them already. I’m good if I NEVER see another Mazerati.”
“Look!” Dan cheered. “There’s the racetrack below!”
“Wonderful! We can just look at the cars from here!”
Us and a great view of the race cars,
but not a "great enough" view for my husband.
Pouting ensued, so we began making our way down to the racetrack below. (Dan denies any pouting.)
Obligatory Princess-on-a-balcony Pose.
The beautiful St. Nicholas Cathedral where Prince Ranier III married Grace Kelly in their fairy tale wedding.
We were still strolling towards the racetrack when I remembered . . .
“OH CRAP! We forgot to check the train schedule. We better get back soon, just in case. I think it’s gonna take a long time to find an elevator, so let’s just get a taxi.”
This is my "Oh Crap, We Forgot To Check The Train Schedule" face.
No time to visit the famed Musée Océanographique de Monaco.
In "Really brisk" Stroll Mode . . .
We walked and walked, looking for taxis, but to no avail.
"WHY are there NO TAXIS?" I moaned.
"Everyone here probably has a personal driver."
"You're probably right. We really gotta hurry then!"
We made our way back to the elevator and then the train station on foot at a very brisk pace. Once we were inside and (finally) found someone at an information window we were told that the trains had stopped running at noon because it was a Sunday.
“WHAT?” I squeaked.
"You must take a taxi." the man said in a dismissive tone. I mean French accent.
"Great", I muttered under my breath. "Thank you. Umm, how long is the drive to Villefranche?"
"About half an hour."
"WHAT?" we both screeched.
We dashed outside and looked around for a taxi. There were zero taxis to be found. We waited and waited. It was past four before we spotted a taxi coming down the road.
"It's empty!" Dan cried. "Flag it down!"
We both waved frantically but the driver just looked at us and drove on past.
"What the crap!" I growled. "Rude!"
We waited for another few minutes and saw another one come into view. We jumped and waved. This time the driver shook his head "No" at us and kept going.
"Is he off duty or something?"
Then it happened again.
"Okay, this is officially weird. We'd better go back inside and ask someone how to get a taxi to stop."
We made our way back inside. The window guy didn't seem to surprised to see us again. He listened (with a bored look on his face) as I told him that "all the empty taxis won't stop for us".
"That is because you must phone ze taxi and make a reservation."
"Yes. Make a reservation."
"Where's a phone?"
"Go back outside. You will find one nearby."
So helpful, that guy.
With the minutes ticking down, we raced back outside and ran around looking for a phone. We finally found one and, to be honest, I don't even remember how we figured out the number to call for a taxi. It was already 4:30 PM and the last tender left the Villefranche dock at 5 PM. We were sweating bullets. Finally a taxi appeared and we whooped with relief. Until it drove past, the driver shaking his head "No."
"Oh no. That's not OUR taxi . . . " Dan moaned.
"It's been ten minutes!" I wailed. "Where are they coming from that it takes so long to do a pickup at the train station?" I began mentally calculating the time needed to catch a taxi to get to the airport and fly to Barcelona in time to catch our early flight home the next day. Suddenly another taxi appeared and began slowing down.
"Oh thank God!"
"Get in, get in!"
The driver greeted us in French.
"Do you speak English?" I gasped as I slid across the seat to make room for Dan.
"Umm, no. No English."
Dan and I looked at each other horrified. How could we explain our predicament? The driver looked back and forth at our terrified faces, waiting for directions.
"We . . . " I said, pointing to the two of us, "catch cruise ship".
He nodded. Clearly he taxied people to and from cruise ships all the time.
"In Villefranche . . ."
He continued nodding.
"Ship go at five!" I squeaked, holding up my hand and spreading all five digits.
The blood drained from his face. He gave one final nod, but his eyes looked panicked and his expression wasn't very reassuring. Nevertheless, he whipped his head around, let out a deep breath and then slammed his foot on the pedal, slinging us backwards into our seats. We sped down the two-lane, shoulder-less road, careening left and right around the nonstop curves and whipping in and out of the opposite lane of oncoming traffic, passing any car that slowed us down.
Our fear of missing our cruise ship was quickly replaced by the greater fear of manglement and/or death. As we raced down the road like a scene out of Casino Royale the irony was not lost on us.
"We're driving at the speed of Bond—James Bond!" I croaked, as I braced and clutched to prevent myself from sliding all over the backseat.
Our drive felt a bit like this.
But With shorter walls to keep up from careening over a cliff.
Our driver speeding towards a tunnel.
Thought I'd capture a final shot before we slammed into the wall.
As we flew past other cars Dan grabbed my hand and whispered through gritted teeth, “Definitely getting the 'James Bond in Monte Carlo' experience now!”
I responded by squeezing his hand and giggle-snorting out of fear. Then we both burst into the silent kind of laughter that only pure hysteria can generate and only dogs can hear. The helpless, hopeless kind of laughter that only best friends can share when looking death square in the face. The soundless, c'est la vie guffaws that only empty-nester parents may experience secure in the knowledge that their adult children will survive being orphaned.
It was also the kind of laughter that couldn't be switched off. We silently howled all the way to Villefranche.
WHIZ—ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZING ALONG . . .
As the familiar harbor came into view below our hysteria was washed away, replaced with heart-pounding adrenaline as we saw the last tender pulling in for a final passenger pick up.
Final tender arriving for transport.
Our driver drove us straight into the pedestrian area of the harbor, screeching to a halt before flattening a few startled tourists. Dan shoved a wad of cash into our driver’s shaking hands (who appeared even more relieved than us) and—gushing our thanks—we bolted out of the car.
We didn’t stop running until we reached our tender. Then we collapsed into another round of laughter. This time from sheer relief.
Parting shot as we boarded our tender.
And guess what? We still had about three minutes until the five o'clock departure! We couldn't believe it. Our driver had made the thirty-minute drive in about sixteen minutes. He probably became a race car driver afterwards. Or a 00-Something Agent for the British Secret Service.