One of the finer perks of studying abroad in Israel, is the two-week spring break that takes place during Passover. While most of our friends chose to travel to eight different European cities over the course of fourteen days, Alex and I jetted off to Monaco and Paris for a nine-day vacation in paradise.
Day 1: Rubbing with Royalty
For as long as I can remember, I’ve dressed up as a princess for Halloween. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that you’re never really fully dressed without a (Disney princess) crown. I’ve even entitled my future memoir “The Princess Diaries.” Needless to say, I like to think of myself as royalty…just without the official title (sad, sad day). Thus, when it came to planning our first excursion in Monaco, I knew the Prince’s Palace was the perfect fit.
On our first day, running late per usual, Alex and I quickly jumped onto the first train we could catch into Monte Carlo. With no time to buy tickets at the machine, we assumed we would toss some Euros at the conductor and hopefully call it a day. But, with our astrological moons presumably in perfect alignment, we lucked out...big time. As it turns out, the trains that run throughout the French Riviera are “free” (i.e. not a single person asked us for a ticket or to pay the dozen or so times we rode it). I’m all for riding in style, but I’m an even bigger fan of riding for free (aren’t you proud, Dad?), especially after making the adjustment from the Israeli Shekel to the Euro.
Strolling off the train in awe of our "accomplishment", we consulted our map and seemingly aimlessly walked in the direction of what we assumed was the castle. With our luck still going strong, we stumbled upon the monstrous steps to the top of the hill where the palace rests. After hiking in the Negev, one would’ve thought a simple tourist attraction would be a breeze. But of course, everything just has to be a trek. Walking (climbing, scaling, hiking, struggling…whatever you want to call it) to the top was just plain uncomfortable—one would think the Grimaldi family would invest in some more forgiving steps for their subjects. When we finally made it to the top, it was like we were home.
Somehow, we had made it in time for the changing of the guards (like I said, the moons must have been in alignment). With trumpets sounding, the guards marched through the crowd in tune with their drums. One by one they put down their guns and saluted one another, all while standing in perfect formation. As they marched back to their house across from the palace, Alex commented on the attractiveness of some of them. Rudely eavesdropping, the final guard in line couldn’t help but crack a smile and choke back his laughter at our game of matchmaking. It was an achievement parallel to making the guards at Buckingham Palace acknowledge your presence.
After attempting (and failing) to get one of the guards to take a picture with us, or at least of us, we decided to move on to the Saint Nicholas Cathedral and Princess Grace’s grave. During my freshmen year of college I took a doppelganger test that said I looked liked Grace Kelly. While the results could not have been more off, a girl can dream (especially since she married into royalty!). That being said, Alex and I felt it only necessary to pay a tribute to Hollywood’s finest. Her grave, written in Latin and surrounded by roses, was as delicate as she was. To her right rests her husband, Prince Rainier, and to the left the other members of the Grimadli family. The entire Cathedral spoke volumes of the elegance of the family. Yet, our glimpse into their lives was just beginning.
Back at the palace, we once again stumbled upon excellence: a palace tour with an automated guide, my personal favorite. We walked in awe through bedchambers, gardens, and reception halls before we entered the throne room. With its grandiose décor and somewhat recent paintings of the royal family, the throne room out staged all the rest. Just feet away from us was the exact spot where Princess Grace and Prince Rainier had their civil wedding. In 2005, their son, Prince Albert II, was sworn in as the current ruler in the exact same spot. All we could do was stand in amazement.
Sidenote: Alex has always been one to follow the rules in situations that may lead to run-ins with law enforcement. Thus, when the automated guide said no pictures, she refused to let me slyly attempt to snap a shot here and there. However, she was in favor of me sneaking off to find us royal boyfriends. I’d say I paid more attention to any unlocked or open door we saw during the tour than anything else. Sadly enough, there was no way to veer off—they must have designed the tour specifically with people like me in mind.
By late afternoon it had gotten too cold to continue aimlessly wandering around the palace grounds waiting for Prince Albert to come outside, greet me, and crown me princess. Alex and I said goodbye to our royal hopes, walked carefully down the awkward steps, and drowned our sorrows in Swiss Miss hot chocolate from a café we had found amongst the royal subjects of Monaco (yes, we traveled all the way to France and still paid for powered hot chocolate).
Day 2: High Rollers and Big Spenders
Our second day in Monaco was all about moving on from our childhood days of swing sets, slides, and turtle shaped sandboxes. The time had come to step out of daycare and into the big kids' playground. So what better place to do so than in Monte Carlo? Filled to the brim with casinos and shopping, it’s an amusement park for anyone over the age of eighteen.
After watching Selena Gomez’s Monte Carlo movie, Alex and I were prepared to take the town my storm (with the hopes that we too would be mistaken for a British heiress with a multi-million dollar Bulgari necklace in tow). While Selena stayed in the Hotel de Paris, where the cheapest rooms go for roughly $1,000 a night, we figured a bathroom break inside was more along the lines of our budget. Once we walked inside and saw the high ceilings, chandeliers, stained glass, and everything else in between, we were star struck…by a hotel—I've interviewed A-list celebrities, and this is what gets me weak at the knees? I was two seconds away from charging a room to my credit card before realizing that explaining the bill to my parents was probably going to be a little tricky. (Actually, that’s a lie. I would have been able to come up with something. Alex just wouldn’t let me do it. She says your welcome Mom and Dad).
In awe, we walked outside and moved across the street to the famous Casino Monte Carlo, where there was a Bentley, Ferrari, and Aston Martin parked casually in front. Alex and I walked in with our heads held high and our minds on the billionaires we were about to rub shoulders with. Seeing as the Casino is James Bond’s favorite hang out, I was expecting to meet my Pierce Brosnan/Sean Connery-esq husband—I had moved on from royalty to international spies pretty quickly. However, reality was far off from our imaginations.
For starters, the place was nearly empty. Apparently, the big timers aren’t throwing the dice at 2 p.m; unfortunately, this wasn't Vegas. While the inside was lavish and decadent, there were no people of the sort. Nonetheless, there was a old man sitting at a roulette table who looked like he had been there since the Casino’s founding in the 19th century. Yet, nothing could stop us from making our own extravagant experience.
Since I've never been one to gamble (Vegas has always been more of my brother's), I decided to try my luck at the slot machines. I slipped in 5 Euro, pushed a few buttons, asked Alex for help, and then pulled the handle. Surprisingly, I won my 5 Euro back! However, we both aren’t exactly proficient when it comes to gambling. As it turns out, you’re supposed to cash out when you win—the money doesn’t just stay there until you’re done your turn. I know, shocking, right? Since I had lost my money (twice), I decided it was time to whip out the big guns. Thus, I took my credit card out and tried slipping it into the “cards only” slot. But, the machine wouldn’t accept it. Again, shocking. When one of the managers saw us trying to push my card into the machine, he felt it to be his civic duty to inform us that the slot was only for staff use; he then proceeded to walk away laughing. Once more, shocking, I know. After deciding that we had sufficiently made big enough fools of ourselves (we just blamed it on being foreign, per usual), it was clear it was time to move on from our gambling ways; we just didn't make the cut.
While Monaco and Monte Carlo were both beautiful and amazing, our actual favorite part of the trip was our layover in Warsaw. Not only are the gift shops out-of-this-world, but the people don't make fun of you when you fail at learning the slightest bit of Polish (you try pronouncing dzi?kuj? and then give me a call).
Alex and I give the Warsaw airport two thumbs up, a must visit on your next vacation.
Stay tuned for part two of spring break: Paris!
Catch up on my Israeli life:
Ain't No Mountain High Enough
Haifa: Bahai, How Are You?
Purim Madness & A Taste of Israeli Cinema
Lost In Translation
Jerusalem, Teen Tour Edition
Blame It On The Rain
You "Shook" Me All Night Long
Surviving Week One
Ma'a Salama America, Shalom Israel