Sunday, April 23, 2017

After exploring the Italian Riviera it was time to dive into the French side, but first we stopped to check out the micro-nation of Monaco!

Fancy Monaco plate on a fancy car.
We got lost a million times trying to find somewhere to park and then figure out how to get up to the old town, but thankfully eventually we found the long ramped walkway up to Monaco-Ville.
Built in BFFs.
Rick Steves patronizingly criticizes Monaco for having a "Disneyesque" vibe. However, we are HUGE Disney fans, so we found that a definite pro instead of con! So enchanting, magical, pastel, clean, neat, and tidy!
Statues along the walk.
Emerging into Palace Square. | Flowers.
At the top of Monaco-Ville (the old town portion of Monaco), is the Palais Princier - the residence of Prince Albert, the ruler of Monaco. In medieval times there was a castle here that helped protect the country, but it has been upgraded into something a little more comfortable.
This portion of Monaco high up on the rock with the castle gave birth to this principality in 1215 and it's managed to remain an independent country for most of its 800 years. Monaco-ville was the fortified stronghold that withstood invaders and attackers over the centuries. 
There are great views over the principality from up here. In this picture you can see them setting up the track for the famous Grand Prix and the casino that put Monaco on the map: Monte Carlo.
Chris and the kids. I miss having a stroller to prop up the camera for family selfies and I'm too shy to trouble people to ask them to take our photo!
Enjoying the sunshine and the views.
Disneyesque is right! And it's awesome! 
About 30,000 people live in Monaco, two-thirds of whom live here because there is no income tax. Nooice. The remaining 10,000 are the native Monegasques.
Monaco used to be known as a "sunny place for shady people," due to its tax haven status. But Prince Albert has been doing his best to clean up the reputation.
Speaking of the Prince, he walked right by us! By the time I got my camera out he was heading into the palace, but he really did pass right by us with only minimal security around him.
Monaco's royal family is descended directly from François Grimaldi, a renegade Italian who captured Monaco in 1297 and began the dynasty which today has the distinction of being the longest-lasting dynasty in Europe. 
The American movie star Grace Kelly became Princess Grace after she married Prince Rainier, the then ruler of Monaco, in 1956. She first came to Monaco to star in Alfred Hitchcock's 1955 film To Catch a Thief. All around the city are photos of the handsome couple.
They wed here, in the Cathédral de Monaco, which was rebuilt in 1878.
The interior is beautifully lit. 
Past rulers from the dynasty are entombed behind the altar, including Princess Grace and Prince Rainier. 
After leaving the cathedral we dipped into the wonderful and shaded Jardin Botanique. 
These cliffside gardens are an oasis of color and pristinely maintained.
Then we hopped a city bus and rode over to Monte Carlo, Spanish for Charles' Hill, named for the prince who presided over Monaco's 19th century makeover.
This part of the micro-country is home to Europe's most famous casino.
Ferraris, Lambos, Rolls, Bentleys, and more were all parked out front. Swaaaaaaanky.
In the mid-1800s, olive groves stood here. Then, after Monaco lost two-thirds of its territory to France, they were granted the right to build a casino. After the construction of the casino designed by the famous architect Charles Granier, spas, a nice road, and train access, Monaco was on the map as the place for vacationing aristocracy to play. What was once one of Europe's poorest countries now has the highest per-capita income on the continent.
We decided to forgo riding the bus back to our car and strolled down the hill of Monte Carlo towards the harbor.
I don't even know how buildings can be built right on cliff edges!
Peek into the harbor.
Warmth and sunshine = good for the soul. Feeling like we were walking around Disneyland was awesome too!

Since 1929 cars have raced around the port, in front of the casino, and up and down the hills of the country in one of the world's premier auto races - the Grand Prix de Monaco.
Set up was well underway for the race which will be held in May. Just missed it!
Monaco shenanigans:
Our family in Monaco on Monday April 3rd 2017. It was very sunny.
Next: Nice, France!

Genoa, Italy

Saturday, April 22, 2017

To help break up the drive from the Cinque Terre to Monaco we stopped in Genoa, Italy (or Genova in Italian, why do we drop the "v"?) to explore a little bit.
Italy's largest sea port acts a gateway to the Riviera for tourists today, but in the past it was a major Mediterranean power. During the 12th and 13th centuries the Most Serene Republic of Genoa ruled the region and contended with other major powers such as Florence and Pisa.
Today, vestiges of its past are evident in the grand architecture and fabulous palaces throughout the city.

The city's Cathedral of San Lorenzo is a Gothic and Romanesque mix dating from the 12th century. It narrowly escaped being destroyed during WWII when a British bomb fell through the roof but failed to explode.
I love the stripes on the Romanesque columns.
Checking out a side chapel.
Back out on the street, we soaked in the sunshine and amazing architecture.
Classic Italian paint colors and alleys.
The ancient city gate of Porta Soprana marks the boundary of the old medieval city.
Cloister ruins.
Christopher Columbus' house! He was originally from Genoa but sailed for Spain and is buried in Seville.
Then we hopped on the metro and rode a couple stops down to the Porto Antico. This port once controlled a small empire. Now it is simply a wonderful place to stroll.
A prop pirate ship that was constructed for the 1985 film Pirates is permanently parked in the harbor.
The ship is a replica of a 17th century Spanish galleon and for only your right arm and leg, you can pay to tour it.
The kids thought it was cool which is all that really matters.
Meanderings through Genoa:
Our family in Genoa, Italy on Monday April 3rd 2017.
Next up to bat - the micro country of Monaco!
Paige Taylor Evans © // Quinn Creatives DESIGN