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Updated: For the many people who seem to reach here after searching “Monaco hop-on hop-off” – and the lone person who reached here searching for “Monte Carlo hop-on hop-off sex”(!!!) – I’ve added a link to it. You’re welcome!

S having a conference event in the morning, I set off to explore Monte Carlo on my own. I debated between walking, taking the bus tour or taking the steam train, and went with a combination of walking and hop-on hop-off bus since the train, though quaint, was a little slow and did not cover many points. I like whoever came up with “hop-on hop-off”…could have easily been named something boring like “get-on get-off” instead. Unlike most of the tourist offices I have encountered, the Monte Carlo one wasn’t very friendly. Answered my queries in bored tones and didnt even whip out a map and mark off directions which even a tiny non-touristy place like Wiesbaden was prompt to do. Either they are not used to people not in mink coats or they are just not getting much. Money, I mean ;)

The cheery driver of the “ho-ho” bus welcomed me on board with a smile and gave me the tickets and a set of headphones. Interestingly, I noticed that ALL the “ho-ho” bus drivers were cheery and chatty while ALL the regular bus drivers were sulky and disgruntled. Just proves the fact that if I worked for Travel & Living I would also love my job. Just saying. We drove along the crooked streets until we left the casino district and headed upwards towards the historic Old Town (known as Monaco-ville) where the royal palace is situated. As luck would have it we reached the palace just in time to catch the daily change of guards (11 am). It was not something unmissable, but was fun to watch nevertheless. The cavalry seemed to take itself very seriously, standing at attention in the sun and marching about. The drummers looked a little more relaxed and even smiled a little! The palace area being higher than the surrounding districts, it provided a wonderful view of the Monaco harbour, with formidable white ships anchored while frisky blue sailboats glided by…all on a bed of blue. The palace itself looked more like a fortress, made of yellowish stone…yes, “shonar kella” literally. It is not open to the public till April and I wasn’t really disappointed, Versailles and the Hofburg Palace still fresh in my mind. Instead I walked into what seemed like a little doorway leading down a cobbled path under arches into a courtyard kind of place. Again a fabulous view of the sea from here, the other side of the harbour.
Since the next “ho-ho” wasn’t due for some time I walked around the old town and came upon the Cathedral famous for the crypts of the Prince of Monaco (Prince Rainier III, who had been “one of the most eligible bachelors of his time” as declared by my father-in-law) and his wife (the actress Grace Kelly). Earlier on the bus the audioguide had described their fairy-tale romance when they had met at the Cannes Film Festival.
Opposite the Cathedral was one of the most beautiful and well-kept public gardens I have ever seen, with steps leading down almost right to the sea! It would have been a bird-watcher’s paradise. Since I am quite clueless about such things, I just walked around admiring the flowers and the little sculptures and fountains. Oh and also got good-natured catcalls of “Jolie” ;) Later when I dutifully reported it to S he was quite scandalized – which was gratifying, and also a little skeptical – which was quite insulting! I was a little hungry by then (in-spite of the humongous breakfast at the hotel earlier) so I sat down on a bench overlooking the sea next to a benign old man who was nodding in the sun, to eat my cookie. Then walked some more down to the Oceanographic Museum, a very parliament-like building. I didn’t take the tour inside, but saw my first (and probably only) Yellow Submarine plonked right in the middle of the museum grounds! It was called “Submarine Anorep” and it tickled me to death.

The museum was a bus-stop also, and I hopped right on to the “ho-ho”. The bus stopped somewhere called the “Princess Grace Rose Garden” which sounded interesting, but I kept that for the second day (I had bought a 2-day ticket). We drove through the famous F1 tunnel which seemed to excite some of my co-passengers. As far as I was concerned it just seemed like any other tunnel, the only difference being you could see glimpses of the sea in parts. The bus then stopped at a few places before reaching the harbour, and I suddenly realised everyone had already gotten off except for me and an elderly couple. Since it was time for lunch the bus driver was taking a break (shift to France now if you think your work hours are too long!), and he was handing us over to the “bateaux (boat) bus” instead of driving around the harbour to the next stop. This was an unexpected bonus, apparently included in the tour, and I was very kicked with the ferry ride across the Mediterranean. Ok that sounded like we crossed oceans, but it was a very enjoyable half-an-hour ride. The harbour area looked a little deserted during the day, and it was easy to see it would come alive only at night. Little cafes and restaurants dotted the waterfront, one even called “Pattaya”! Go figure.

My next ho-ho ride dropped me off at the Japanese Garden and I walked back to the hotel admiring the window displays – clothes and cars! Took a tiny nap by which time S also got back from his conference, and changed my “backpacking” getup into something more dressy for a night on the town! We went to the casino square again, but it was strangely quiet and deserted after the weekend. There was a piano bar which promised “dancing” which we kept meaning to visit, but it opened only after 11 by which time we were already somewhere else usually. If I ever go back, thats the place I want to visit…its the little regret, the “something missed” which in a quirky way make a holiday even more memorable. Dinner was at a lovely Italian place where I had octopus while S gorged on king prawns. And wine. Always the wine. On the way back we spotted a restaurant called “Le Baobab” and that night I went to sleep with the Little Prince on my mind.