Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Show at the Fox

Lydia's mom got us a couple of tickets to Newsies The Musical at the Fox Theater for Christmas that were much appreciated. I'm struck by the grandeur of the Fox each time I visit.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Ghetto Plane to America

After the decadence of France and Monaco, my flight across the Atlantic was pretty nasty. To be fair I spent a very low 20,000 American Airlines points on this one way flight from Nice, France all the way to St. Louis, so I can't complain too much.

Ok time for some complaining. The plane was so old... the plane was so old that when it was made there was no history class. It was so old, its birthday candles cost more than the cake.

It was old.

It was like a land before time, when one tiny CRT television was supposed to entertain fifty people, and when there are inexplicable ash trays in the bathroom.

The armrests had a freaking analog dial to change the audio channels. I halfway expected to hear some radio jingles about how doctors recommend Lucky Strike brand cigarettes.

I was like, screw this, I'm watching a movie on my computer. Thankfully the plane was like 80% empty so I just moved to a seat with power. Every third row had ONE power outlet. I reached down to plug the plug and there was just an empty circle where an outlet should be. I figured it was broken so I tried another row, and it too was just an empty slot. I asked one of this ghost ship's attendants what the deal was and she said very matter-of-factly "they are car charger outlets." Of course they are!

Lucky for me she was nice enough to go and get me an adapter. It was serious though. It was huge and it made noise when plugged in.

Well the plane was hilariously out of date but it got the job done.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

My 50th Country: Monaco!!

I was pretty beat and ready to go home and sleep in my own bed but I had to keep my eyes on the prize: Monaco. Country number FIFTY! How exciting.

France has a healthy obsession with Springfield. There's so much to love.

I thought it would be neat to take the train so I did the 15 minute stroll over there to have a look. The station itself was really nice I thought. I really like the way they do awnings and other outdoor additions in this green copper and glass style. It’s super cool and I feel like it’s pretty common in the area.

Shock and Awn.

Unfortunately buying a damn train ticket was a mess. I painstakingly typed out “MONACO” with this odd wheel thing into the little ticket computer and some message saying I couldn’t buy that ticket popped up. Ok… There was another brand of ticket machine that was only in French. There was a train employee that you could speak to loudly through a pretty thick window but he was not super excited about his job. He wouldn’t help me with the machines but he did point me to a place where I could buy tickets from a person. Perfect. I had to leave the station, then turn a corner to find this strangely hidden place to buy train tickets at the damn train station. It wasn’t just a line to wait in and buy a ticket though, it was like a room full of desks with employees on computers along the outside wall and in the center of the room was a bunch of would-be travelers sitting and waiting for their numbers to be called with bored faces. I mean, I don’t need a career counselor, I just want to buy a god damn $5 train ticket. What is the deal with this place?

I took a number but it was unclear how many people were in front of me because there were numbers and letters involved. I can only assume this is to obfuscate how long your wait will be. I’m sorry but I can’t be a part of this terrible system you have here people. I walked out and made a last ditch effort to get some help in the tourism office right in front of the train station. I noticed the little “we have no information about the trains” sign in English on the counter and was holding it when I proceeded to ask the lady at the counter for some information about the trains. She thought that was funny, but her only advice was to return to Beetlejuice’s Waiting Room for the Recently Deceased. Johnny don’t play that. I walked across town to take the bus.

I was like...

BOOM! Another satisfied customer of the French national train system.

I walked through Place Garibaldi. I found it amusing how much French honor seemed to be being bestowed on the father of Italy. Greatness is greatness I suppose.

See, on the damn bus, it stops, you get on, you hand the driver a ridiculously low 1.50 and you are on your way to Monaco son.

I got some gorgeous views through the bus window. I’m beginning to see why this area is so popular.
There was even a bus stop called “Monte Carlo Casino”. It doesn’t get much more idiot proof than that.

Focusing on the scenery was nice because the very swervy nature of the coastal roads was churning up last night's French rosé and British pints into something Pan-European and unnatural. It would be a shame if I heaved everywhere and lost my bus privileges because I don't think I'm welcome back at that train station.

And then, there it was. Sweet Monaco!

I find these tiny states particularly fascinating because it seems unlikely that they would survive being swallowed up by a neighboring country. Monaco is the second smallest country on earth after the Vatican and is the most densely populated. According to Wikipedia one in three of Monaco's populace are millionaires and there is no income tax.

There was a very nice garden situated between the bus stop and the casino.

Past the park is an area that really is special. To the left of the little square is the Café de Paris which had even more of that lovely green glass awning going on and lots of people sitting sipping coffees and people watching despite the cold. On the right was the very ritzy looking Hotel de Paris.

The roundabout directly in front of the casino was dominated by a large display of mid-January Christmas trees.

The Casino Monte Carlo, though, is so awesome. The outside is pretty nice looking but the inside is crazy. It seemed like every light in the building was being held by a statue of an angel or a Greek god looking character. Statues, murals, chandeliers, lots of stained glass. The place was opulent. There weren’t a whole ton of people inside which was fine by me. After all it’s a weekday before dinner time in the off season…. I’m lucky the place is even open. I made sure to arrive before 8pm because then a stricter dress code kicked in and all I had to wear were the wrinkled shirt and khakis that I’d just drug across Africa.

There was a 10 euro charge just to enter past the lobby which is a first for me: I’ve never had to pay to enter a casino. I was also required to show my passport as Monégasque citizens are not allowed to enter. I was able to enter a few more rooms including the Salon Europe but the Salon Privés went undiscovered as I wasn't sporting the requisite jacket and tie. In those rooms there is no betting limit which is kind of awesome.

It being an active casino, no pictures were allowed inside but someone on Wikipedia was apparently able to squeeze off a few shots without being tackled.

I played a bit of roulette. I know I’ve probably wrote about this before but I think it’s cool that the odds are better on the European wheel because there is only one green zero space while in the US we have two. This makes betting on black and red more attractive and does other assorted things to the odds. Well once they snatched the little pittance I’d agreed I could wager that was it. I wandered around a bit more to soak up the details of the place and hit the exit. What a place.

The Casino Monte Carlo is very important to Monaco. I read that for much of the country's history that the casino was its main source of revenue. An early investor was Cardinal Pecci who would later become Pope Leo XIII. 

Very interestingly the definitely-not-Greek man named Aristotle Socrates Onassis once controlled the casino and much of Monaco before being booted by Prince Rainier III. Onassis had quite a life, owning Greece's Olympic Airways and marrying JFK's widow Jacqueline Kennedy. Lydia and I flew Olympic Air from Athens to Sofia, Bulgaria last June, so in a round about way...

I'll let Wikipedia explain the casino's James Bond connection:

"The architecture of glamorous Belle Époque building of the Casino de Monte-Carlo was used by Ian Fleming to describe a casino in "Royale-Les-Eaux", a fictional resort featured in Fleming's first Bond novel, Casino Royale (1953). Monaco and its casino were the locations for a number of James Bond movies, including Never Say Never Again and GoldenEye, as well as for the "Casino Royale" episode of the CBS's Climax! television show."

Where was I? So I left the casino and decided to check out the adjacent and similarly fancy Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo.

I sat at a table in the lobby and ordered a drink. I mostly just wanted an excuse to sit and take the place in.

I ordered one of the signature cocktails of the hotel called the Borromeo which consisted of vodka, champagne, saint-germain liqueur, strawberry juice, and orange juice. Notice that bottle of apparent angel's tears that costs 1,450 euro a bottle.

I made sure to blend in with the rich people by taking multiple selfies with my $30 drink.

I walked around behind the casino to see some sights.

There was maze of fancy shops that I surely was not welcome to enter.

I thought it would be nice to eat something before leaving but I was worried that I would miss the last bus back to Nice. Getting around Monaco was kind of rough because it's pretty much built on a cliff facing the ocean. At one point I was just trying to get from one street to the next but it was such a drop that I had to walk to a nearby public elevator just to get down there. I was tired and my fancy casino shoes were killing me. Abort mission!

I think it would be cool to come back here some day to see the Monaco Grand Prix. I'm imagining our trip to the Indianapolis 500 without having to deal with, you know, the residents of Indiana. Sign me up!

Back in Nice I navigated myself over to Chez Palmyre, a cozy little restaurant. The place had sort of a set menu kind of system going, where you could choose one of something like 3 starters, 3 mains, and 3 desserts. The food was great, and it had an old general store type theme going on.

There were several old boxes of Banania on display which I explained a few days ago.

My first choice was an excellent and hilariously worded "Royal (Flan) of Foie Gras and his 'coco' beans cream." It was like a savory warm flan with a nice gravy and some crunchies on top.

The place had only had space for a few shared tables. My main course was pork ribs caramelized.

Pear and apple crumble for dessert.

I had a very satisfying walk back to the hotel after a full day of vanquishing French rail, trying my luck in Monaco, and eating a goose's fattened liver.

I ended my last night in France on high note. Tomorrow, St. Louis!