15 November 2014

2014 EUROPE by Rail 12 - Moments in Monaco

An aside -- Folks, I don't know what is going on with the spacing, font size, and font style difference. I try to correct and it looks good on my copy, but not when published. Maybe it just needs time to process. In any case, you can still read it.

We woke au natural at 08:30. Showered and down to breakfast by 09:30. When we arrived in the hotel yesterday we spied a cat litter box on a ledge in the most elegant staircase up from the lobby. But so far we had not seen the cat.

When we arrived in the breakfast room we sat down at a three chair table. On the third red leather seat was a lovely white cat.

We learned our from breakfast hostess that her name was Blanca ("white" in French) and that she was a "savage." Later Blanca did try to nip Mike as he pet her. But due to experience with Bella (our beloved cat) and Widget (Mike's sister's once-ferel sweetie kitty), he safely escaped without blood being drawn.

Breakfast was French bread baguette (perfectly hard crust with soft center) with orange and white cheeses and salami. Then strawberry yogurt for me. Applesauce and plain yogurt mixed together for Mike. Coffee was made from a really cool machine that had a few choices. You just push the button for what you want. We choose caffe au lait. It brewed perfectly.
We met a young couple and chatted with them a bit. They had the cutest little baby named Benedict. They told us of the great maternity leave plan for French citizens. They get a total of 16 weeks of 100% paid leave when a child is born. It can be split up between mom and dad, however they wish. What a wonderful way to give kids a great start. When will the good ol' USA update some of its antiquated ideas and think long-term about the future of our children. OK, moving on...

We were advised yesterday that the trains to Monaco ran every 15 minutes. Maybe in summer, but not this time of year. We discovered that too late. We would have planned differently had we known the reality of the schedule. We had to wait an hour-and-a-half for the next train.
No place to sit, but whiled the time away people watching. Colorful and varied garb. One had a t-shirt that said "Smile and dress well." She did not look so well dressed. Many men with scarves around their neck like Uncle Bob's or tight jeans rolled up to mid-calf (not Uncle Bob's style). Many dogs--mostly small. One dog fight or at least it sounded like one across the hall. Many smokers holding ciggies in the European style (thumb and middle finger).

The architecture was also interesting. We had time to look at the details. The station construction was completed in 1867, so obviously very classic French in style. The lobby ceiling was painted with a sky-and-cloud motif and fancy sculptured border. The hall where the trains depart was glass-covered to let in natural light. Time passed quickly with all this "entertainment."

The experience of getting on the train was unbelievable. Maybe 30 people trying to crowd through the train door. Many with luggage, big and small. Every seat was taken. We thought we were lucky when we got seats along with six others near the door in a small separated area. Here were funny little "portable" seats. Not comfortable but at least we were seated. We were so glad not to be dragging bags behind us this time.

One older lady with a huge bag was seated in a spot with a little desk. Once the train got going the conductor rousted her out of that seat. He said it was for the conductor. Mike gave her his seat and stood. She was very happy as she said she just had shoulder surgery. She had a bulky bandage under her blouse. Might have been from frozen shoulder like I had some time ago. We felt so sorry for her.

At the next stop we were told that this area was for emergencies and that we all had to move out of the little compartment. As I said, all seats were taken in the main coach. Even the exit area was standing room only with lots of people and luggage squeezed in.

The poor shoulder lady was almost in tears. A man with two HUGE bags also had to move. He did not speak French, but a little English. I (of all people) was trying to help him. Another couple from Australia encouraged me and tried to help, too. The little man was somewhat appeased, but just kept shrugging his shoulders in confusion.

The conductor got even more irritated now when he could not easily get to the exit door at each stop. Because he had moved us, we were now squeezed in the small space by the door, like a jigsaw puzzle with zero room to spare. The conductor jostled as best he could to attend to his door duties. At Monte Carlo, many people got off and we hoped the little lady and man would finally find space to sit and store their luggage.

The ride had been about 35 minutes with four stops en route. We de-trained at 12:25 at the Gare de Monaco. There were two exits from the station. We exited through the Exotique Jardin exit which was high on the bluff overlooking the city.

Monte Carlo (Mount Charles) is the city in the Principality of Monaco. Monaco is a tiny .79 square miles in area, but has 2.5 miles of coastline. It has 35,000 residents. Learn everything about Monaco at:  www.photomazza.com/?-Monaco-

Among other things it is widely known for Princess Grace (a famous American actress that married Prince Rainier III of Monaco - www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_Kelly) and the Formula One Grand Prix that is held there each year. Many famous F1 drivers live here also.

The city is also known for its grand gambling casinos, but the citizens of Monaco are forbidden from entering the casinos. Probably a good idea!

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