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Old 12-13-2013, 04:03 PM   #91
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It looks like I'm late to the first cruise but just in time for the B2B portion. Thanks for sharing, I'm enjoying reading along.
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Old 12-31-2013, 09:10 AM   #92
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Subscribing! Because you're hilarious and my kind of people...

... Plus I wasn't on either of your cruises, so there's no chance that my antics will make it into your trippie. BONUS!
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Old 01-18-2014, 03:44 PM   #93
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Villefranche- Monaco, Monte Carlo, Eze Day of Disaster

Day 18
Monday June 3rd

Ahhh the French Riviera- azure waters, F Scott Fitzgerald sipping cocktails with Hemingway, Grace Kelly, the Canne Film Festival, in short life as it was meant to be lived…..and us. We were ready to live the high life, who knows maybe we’ll accidently rub shoulders with George Clooney today, maybe one of the still available European princes will happen upon me in a garden and rush off with me (my husband just pointed out that all the available European royalty are way too young for me and I’m being a little creepy---hmm), maybe we’ll have the day to surpass all other days in memory.

We greeted this amazing morning with a ton of hope, the call for room service breakfast was right on time, this morning we actually had an assortment of muffins instead of one, they forgot the Fruit Loops but whatever Carlitos needs to learn to eat croissants and drink coffee at 5 if he’s going to fit in with his new royal cousins. Okay so it’s a little overcast and the water looks more gray than blue, but I’m sure the sun is going to come and this day will be one for the record books. We grab out bag and schlep our soon to be royal selves to Rockin Bar D for our excursion. We had booked a full day excursion- Monaco, Monte Carlo, and Eze. Our friends were on the same excursion- so there would be people to console Carlos as I rode away with the prince in some sort of luxury car and/or horse drawn carriage.

We got our stickers and headed off to the tenders. After a short ride to shore we were hustled through a building, along a street, and through a tunnel to the bus parking area. This was a little unorganized and they really move fast. If you aren’t on the ball you’re left standing there saying “where? What? Follow which lady in red?” and have to run off through the tunnel by yourself. As you can guess we were those people, but again this is the French Riviera- romance, mystery, bus fumes from 20 buses idling in the same tiny parking lot.

We board and set out for Monaco along a gorgeous coast road that climbs over the bay. If you’ve ever read Tender is the Night you can picture yourself in a 1920s convertible off to explore the nightclubs –that was my happy place to escape the fact that our bus was a little noisy and full of non-prohibition era children. Once you get to Monaco, they let you out in a parking garage and you ride up an elevator, then an escalation, then a long hallway, then another escalator, and emerge high on the cliff at the Museum of Oceanography. We didn’t get to go inside, but the building is beautiful and has a little yellow submarine out front. From there we walked past the homes of Princess Caroline and Princess Stephanie. The guides point out the roof lines and one half of an upper balcony so kind of more like stalking royalty than sightseeing. Our walk ended at St. Nicholas Cathedral. It’s a beautiful church, but it’s also the resting place for the royal family. You fall in line and file past the grave stones, most notably Princess Grace’s. They still put a bouquet of flowers on her grave every day. This might be a good time to mention that they are OBSESSED with Princess Grace here. Her picture shows up everywhere and is still mentioned on billboards and signs for all types of different events, shows, memorials, products.

After the Cathedral we walked to the Palace. I was unaware that our excursion included an audio tour of the Palace, but our bag was searched, we were given a headset, and were pointed down a hallway, so off we went. The inside of the Palace is beautiful. I can’t say enough how incredibly beautiful the rooms were. More amazing the ceremonial rooms on the tour are still in use today. You get to see the throne room, and the room where they sign birth and wedding certificates for the royals, the reception rooms they still use for formal events. It’s hard to describe but the rooms aren’t large, so the walking area into the room allows you to be right up in the middle of everything rather than standing behind a rope line 50 ft from any action. My only complaint is that you have to double back at one point and it can be a little crowded. I caught my arm on a huge door handle and almost took out a 200 year old vase in my flailing. It was all very un-princess like and I had a ginormous bruise on my arm from the whole sordid episode. I can only assume that’s why a prince did not approach me to talk just then.

After the Palace tour you have free time to wander around, grab lunch, do some shopping. The square was getting really crowded as we got close to the changing of the guard. Honestly I’ve seen a few changing of the guards in my days and you know, you see it once, you’ve seen it a hundred times. We decided to skip the show and headed down one of the little alley ways to grab an early lunch. We settled on a sidewalk café and Carlitos decided to take the camera and photograph everything in the narrow street. I hate to say it but some of his pictures were the best of the trip. We people watched and a local told us the story about Monaco’s founding. Did you know it basically was a bunch of soldiers who dressed up like monks, snuck into the town, and then slaughtered everyone? That’s why the coat of arms is two monks holding up swords. That’s a nice tale for the kids. We also learned that the royal family gets special license plates for their cars. Everyone else in the principality has a different license plate so you can always tell if it’s a royal stealing your parking space or one of the lesser billionaires. Less you think this is a big deal; there are over 5,000 members of the royal family.

After lunch we wandered around. The principality is really walk able. We got some beautiful pictures of the palace from a distance and could even see down onto the Grand Prix track in adjacent Monte Carlo. Heading back to the meeting place, we ran into our friends in this large garden and the boys played some sort of spinning game that made them fall down a lot, while the ladies of the group got locked in a public bathroom. Thank God the public bathrooms in Monaco actually have attendants that come to your rescue. We all rode the escalator back to the bus for a short ride over to Monte Carlo.

This was the part that Carlos was excited to see. He’s wanted to go to Monte Carlo since he was a teenager. He did mention that he had always envisioned the trip a little differently. When I asked for specifics he said “well I thought I would be single, I didn’t anticipate their being so many kids including my own, and I definitely didn’t think I’d be following behind some guy holding a giant mouse ear paddle in the air”. Point well made. The bus parks at sea level in another garage and you have to make your way up to the casino. There’s quite a little hike to get there- maybe a 10 minute walk uphill, and up some steps. Physically it’s not bad unless you have a stroller- which about half our group had. We did like the sign advertising insurance for “your jet or super yacht”. Not just any yacht, a super yacht. We took a picture in case we’re ever in need of jet insurance. I’m sure my future prince husband will appreciate my thriftiness in insurance comparison shopping.

After what felt like ascending Everest we reached the casino square. It’s just like you see in the movies, except full of tourist, and not as full of young royal princes or celebrities. We had an hour and a half of free time here. Our guide suggested that the adults with kids tag team and leave one parent with the kids while the other goes into the casino and then switch since the inside is something that has to be seen. We wandered to a little park across the square with our friends and that’s when it started to rain. At first it was a heavy drizzle and I still don’t know how it happened but we separated from our friends. We’re wandering around in the rain but we still are set on having fun. We went to a nice scenic water overlook, but it’s raining, everything is grey, and the concrete is so slippery I almost fell three times. Since there’s nothing to see we decide to go back to the main square. “Is it lighting up?” “No, I don’t think so, that’s just lightning.”
There’s not a lot to do in the square if you have kids. There’s Hermes, and Channel, the Casino, a hotel that you’re not allowed to enter, and an ice cream stand. This is really where the wheels start to come off our trip. We go and get in the line for ice cream. Remember it’s still raining and the line has about 20 tourists in it. We’re finally the third in line from the front, and to speed things along Carlos takes Carlitos over to the glass to show him the options. Anyone who has kids, babysat kids, been a kid, breathed on this Earth knows that picking out an ice cream flavor can take FOREVER. So normally while in line we’ll figure out what Carlitos wants so when we’re up we’re on the ball, can quickly order, and save the line a 5 minute decision process. Well apparently things don’t work like that in Monte Carlo. The lady behind the counter stops everything to walk over and tell Carlos there’s a line. Carlos speaks a little Italian and a lot of Spanish so he had to translate everything to me. Basically ice cream lady says “There’s a line”, and Carlos says “Yes, I know. We are in line, but I’m showing my son the options.” IC lady “You are cutting in line.” Carlos “No, my wife is in line, we aren’t ordering now.” IC lady “Well I know that, but these other people don’t, step away from the glass or the police will come.” Carlos “The police will come for what?” IC lady “For stepping out of line.” Carlos “Don’t the Monte Carlo police have better things to do? Did James Bond handle all the crime and now the police troll for arrant line behavior?” IC lady “I am not smiling.” Carlos comes back to me and I’m like “Hey what were you and the ice cream lady talking about.” He gave me a look that said not now, we may be going to jail in a foreign country. Since that’s actually not the first time he’s ever given me that look, I didn’t press. We get up to the counter and Carlitos gets the vanilla ice cream just to show we’re conformist and don’t mean any harm.
Now we have an ice cream, it’s raining REALLY hard, and we have nowhere to go. We walked over to the casino steps and there was some posh shop there with a little tiny awning overhanging one of their display windows. We crowd in, but there wasn’t room for three so Carlos suggests he’ll go into the casino and check it out. He goes off while I try to look inconspicuous and keep Carlitos from getting any finger prints onto this glass store window in case they make the Oliver Twist like waifs move along. I caught our reflection in the glass and we look like drowned rats. This might explain why none of the young royals are hitting on me yet.

Right across from us is a souvenir shop. This shop has a pretty large patio in front (maybe 30 ft by 30 ft) and it’s covered by a giant awning. It’s torrential rain at this point and about a hundred people have gathered under the awning to escape the rain. This includes all those people with strollers and babies. Suddenly, the souvenir employees walk outside and yank the cord on the awning. It rolls back dumping all the water that’s collected on top of it onto the people, kids, babies. Think gallons and gallons of water being thrown on people. I asked a few of the people on our bus later if the employees said anything or asked them to leave…nothing. I cannot image dumping water onto babies in strollers, ever, but apparently “they did not like people standing there”.

Carlos comes out raving about how amazing the casino looked inside. He said it was beautiful and incredibly gold. The murals were enormous works of art. I in turn regaled him of stories about watching a near drowning of 100 people. Carlitos announced that he did not like Monte Carlo. We still had 20 minutes until we were supposed to meet, and we huddled around our tiny store window watching for the ice cream police. Our guide arrived, talked to us for 5 minutes and then suggested we just walk back down to the bus. I was a little hesitant to go without the group since I didn’t quite remember where the bus garage was, but whatever this was miserable. Walking down the hill on slick pavement surprising resulted in zero near fallings. I think the universe said this woman is close to snapping, we shouldn’t push it.

The parking garage also had a gift shift which seems really weird to me, but I like to collect a Christmas ornament from everywhere we visit so we headed in. I found a nice ornament for about 8 Euros. We go to pay, Carlos pulls out a credit card, gift shop lady (who may be a cousin of ice cream lady) tells him that they won’t run a credit card for less than 20 Euros. Okay fine. He pulls out a 20 Euro bill. She now actually grunts at him and informs him that she doesn’t want a 20 Euro bill. It’s just too big. At this point I’m like what is going on here? Translation? Carlos says “she doesn’t want to take the 20 Euro bill, but I don’t have anything smaller.” He’s looking a little unsure thinking he should go put the ornament back or maybe buy something more and push the total closer to 20 Euros.

I swear normally I go with the flow, when I’m in a foreign country I try to blend in, I do everything in my power not to be “The American” (always said with a sneer). But, Jesus we just wanted to buy an ornament, we have cash, she is a store clerk whose job is to sell things and collect money, this shouldn’t be a big ordeal. I grabbed the 20, put it in her hand and said “here you go, this is what we have, is there a problem?” She gave the loudest sigh ever, and grudgingly made change, then asked if we wanted it wrapped up like it was a huge imposition. Oh yeah. I’m not walking around with a glass ornament in my hand all day. What is wrong with everyone?

With my hard won ornament we trudged off to the bus where we may or may not have left someone behind. It was all really sketchy. The guide counted us all three times, looked distressed, made a phone call, counted us again, and then we drove off. Carlitos passed out from the excitement while we headed to Eze.
Eze is this tiny village, accessible only by foot, that’s frozen in time. It’s suppose to be beautiful and peaceful and one of the best spots on the Riviera. Our bus pulls into the parking lot at the base of the hill. If possible the rain has actually become harder. I cannot see out our window at all. Carlitos is passed out. We have to climb something like 100 steps to Eze, and a mountains worth of rain runoff is cascading down the stairs. Carlos said he’d carry Carlitos. Clearly that’s not going to work. I volunteered to stay on the bus with a sleeping Carlitos while Carlos went up. Hey maybe I can take a little nap, this will be nice. As soon as everyone leaves, Carlitos wakes up and wants to be entertained. With what? I have a soggy piece of paper, and a wet jacket. We played the worst game of I Spy ever.
After 45 minutes Carlos comes back and said Eze was amazing. He loved it, he wished I’d been there, but yes I would have wiped out climbing up so it’s probably better I stayed. Then he asked if I had a nice nap.
That was the end of our tour. Our bus headed back to port through Nice. The rain gradually tapered off, but it was still gray and dreary outside. We weaved through Nice and suddenly we’re stopped. Apparently the road we were on was closed to only one lane for maybe half a mile but there were no signs and no one stopping traffic. This is a tiny winding road. There are cars behind us. We can’t back up at all, and our bus is now also blocking a parking lot exit. We sat there for over 20 minutes. Our whole group was spread out on the bus after Eze. I was on the left side with Carlitos. Carlos was in the very last row on the right. John was in front of him a few rows, and April was on that same side but a few rows ahead of me. Those on the right side got to see the parking lot show. Apparently a couple was stuck in the parking lot who were very very very angry about being blocked in by our bus. I was on the left side and missed most of it but I guess the woman yelled at her husband/boyfriend about it until he got out of the car and yelled at our bus driver who basically said what do you expect me to do. Then the woman was not satisfied that her husband/boyfriend had sufficiently spoken to our driver so she made him get out again. When that didn’t work, she got out and yelled hysterically at our driver. Then she got in her car and yelled at her husband/boyfriend until he got out of the car to punch our bus.
Meanwhile on the left side of the road, there were two little people walking along the street. They approached an older man who was using a cane and must have said something that he didn’t appreciate it. He started yelling at the little man, while the little woman started dancing around him laughing. Then the old man started hitting the little man over the head with his cane while the two little people laughed hysterically. I cannot make this up. I have no idea WTH was going on in that street. When I told everyone about it at dinner Carlos and John were very upset I didn’t get their attention during the little person/cane fight. I asked what they expected me to do since they were on the opposite side of the bus and separated by about 6 rows. Plus they were watching the parking lot couple drama. They informed me that everyone knows that when you see a fight you are suppose to stand up and yell “fight, fight” until everyone you are with know to look. That didn’t see like something young princes would have asked of me.

The traffic jam ended when our guide ran down the half mile road, stopping cars from driving up the hill until our bus could come down. Our guide literally used his body as a barricade. I’m sure he was thinking let this horrible day end, please. Finally we got back to the little parking lot, and dragged ourselves to the tender and back on board.

We dried off and went to Parrot Cay for dinner. I got a tuna appetizer, the plain salmon with a baked potato, and we skipped dessert. Martin was very concerned about all of us for skipping dessert. Exhausted we all left to go to bed.

I want to add that I know this sounds like a complete Debbie downer disaster of a day. I’m sure the French Riviera is absolutely wonderful, and others who have visited have had amazing times with and without running off with a prince. The rain definitely didn’t help us; it just set everyone on edge and once things went downhill they kind of spiraled. In all fairness we can laugh a lot about our time there. With travel, your impressions are so often colored by your individual expertise, but it’s always an adventure no matter what! I am so happy we can say we visited the area and while we wouldn’t go back and wouldn’t discourage anyone from going since I’m sure no one could have had a zanier experience than we did.
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