Friday, September 12, 2008

recalling Monte Carlo memoires

exactly a year ago, hubby and i visited the kingdom of the uber rich folks of Monaco. i was sent by my company to attend a cocktail reception that our sector was hosting, and stayed there for two nights. since we didn’t fly home to Manila, our ticket entitlements were used to pay for hubby’s airfare, as well as for our other incidentals. we were also very lucky because Mama & Papa sent the husband a few hundred dollars as pocket money (yipee!!). i, on the other hand, received a good amount for my per diem, so we had enough to spend during our stay.

we flew in to Nice and spent a few days there. from Nice, we took a taxi, a Mercedes Benz at that, to take us to Monte Carlo. it was more or less half an hour’s drive at probably 100 mph because the driver was stepping on the gas like mad! but i was still thankful because we weren’t booked for helicopter transfer! it may be a lot quicker for us to get there, but that would’ve probably been the longest 7 minutes of my entire life! anyway, it was also good that we took the land transport option as we were able to see lots of scenery on the way to Monaco. although their railway system is also available, which was quite tempting to take, traveling by car was more practical for us because it’ll drop us off at our hotel’s doorstep. as the taxis in Nice & Monte Carlo are luxury cars, we sort of arrived in style at our hotel, which is the Hotel Hermitage at Square Beaumarchais.

pardon me for my frivolity, but Hotel Hermitage is probably the most lavish hotel i’ve been to. their location is the best! it’s nicely facing the Mediterranean Sea, and has a breathtaking view of the harbor. to simply put, i was enthralled by the grandeur of the historic Belle Epoque palace. the interiors were absolutely stunning! the crystal chandeliers, the elaborately decorated cornices, the 19th century wall and ceiling paintings, and their winter garden with a Gustave Eiffel dome…gawd, everything there was beautiful and grand! even the bathroom! floor to ceiling marble, loads of available soft, fluffy white towels, and Bulgari toiletries…WOW!! and as guests to the hotel, we also had free access to all the Societe des Bains de Mer’s properties, as well as The Beach Club and Les Thermes Marins, a spa 6,600 sq.m. big with indoor, thermally heated saltwater pool. we felt like king and queen for a weekend! good thing my company paid for our accommodation as we wouldn’t have probably afforded to stay there had we shouldered the costs ourselves.

our Blue & White room

a hallway in the hotel

the beautiful winter dome
(created by the same man behind Eiffel Tower in Paris
& San Sebastian Church in Manila)

anyhoo, we checked in at around noon time, so we had time to walk around and explore the area in the afternoon. guess what we saw first after we left the hotel? premium designer shopping stores, what else?!? it was our first day, so we didn’t enter any stores as we were tad careful not to spend so much while we’re there because everything was bloody expensive, and our poor wallets couldn’t even afford a sniff at the shops *sob!*. so off we went to the Place du Casino where the Casino de Monte Carlo, Café de Paris, and Hotel de Paris were located just to have a leisurely walk about. we also took advantage of the time to take pictures. we couldn’t resist because the place was like too perfect. we had ice cream, too from the Café de Paris, and tried eating them till we reached the backyard of the casino where there was a wide terrace with the view of the Mediterranean Sea. after a few minutes of pit-stopping at one of the benches they have, we proceeded to walk further and also visited the Avenue de Monte-Carlo where the other premium designer stores are located. after enjoying a quick peek at the stores, we continued to walk till we reached the harbor. when we got there, we chose a nice, little coffee shop called Le Bambi for our afternoon snack. right across the coffee shops is the big tent where the Grand Prix race kicks off. these are some of the pictures of our pit stops:

after our relaxing stop at the harbor, we headed back to our hotel to change, and joined my colleagues for drinks at Café de Paris. for dinner, hubby and i found a quaint pizza place that served tremendously appetizing pizzas like no other. after we finished, we walked back to our hotel and retired for the night.

the Casino by night

the following day, we had a hearty breakfast at the terrace of my colleague’s suite. he got upgraded to an Executive Suite Sea View with Terrace (the best room in the house) for free as compliments to the cocktail event he’s arranged at the hotel, so he invited us for a nice meal to start the day. the evening before, he was insisting that we swap rooms ‘cos he thinks me & hubby will enjoy the room more than he’ll do. although the outdoor jacuzzi was quite tempting, i politely declined because i didn’t want to fuss anybody (him & my husband) into packing stuff again, then move from one end of the hotel to the other, and then unpack for the second time. even if it was a nice gesture from his side ‘cos we’re friends at work, i didn’t like the idea of owing something from him, even if it was just an upscale room that he got without an extra charge (ma-pride!). besides, it’s a gift from the hotel for him, so he should enjoy it for himself.

having breakfast - room service style

classic Belle Epoque design

afterwards, we all went downstairs to the Belle Epoque Terraces where the event was taking place later that evening just to check how things were going. it didn’t take that long to meet, plan, and see what was else was needed to be done for the reception as the company hired a professional event management company to handle everything. i was off after 10:30 am, so hubby & i trooped to Monaco-Ville (also known as 'Le Rocher'), where the Prince’s Palace can be seen perfectly perched on an edge of a cliff. we took the bus to get there, which costed us about EUR 1.50 each. after being dropped off in the designated bus stop, we walked our way towards the palace through the road that has a stunning view of the Mediterranean Sea, the harbor and the whole of Monte Carlo. these are some of the pictures we took:

view of the port from Le Rocher

view of La Condamine

at Rue Bass

we were pretty lucky as we just arrived in time for the changing of the guards. a lot of tourists were there, mostly from the cruise liners, waiting for the scheduled daily ceremony at 11:55 am. i had a good view of the ceremony, considering the crowd.

after taking some more pictures, we looked around the place and bought some souvenirs from the nearby shops. we took a narrow road at the back of the souvenir shops by the edge of the cliff which led us to the Cathedrale de Monaco, also known as The Cathedral of St. Nicholas. this is the very same church where Prince Rainier III & Princess Grace Kelly were married and buried. here’s a sneak peak of the beautiful cathedral and what’s inside:

it was lunchtime when we stepped out of the church, and since all the small coffee shops were filled with people, we just bought sandwiches from one of the stores nearby and had lunch at one of those benches fronting the cathedral. the weather’s perfect for picnicking anyway so we didn’t mind. then we looked around for more F1 souvenirs and had ice cream for dessert.

we headed back to the hotel afterwards to help out for the event that evening. we also took some more pictures from the regal Salle Belle Epoque and its terrace. it was an interesting time to sit by the terrace as the Rendezvous de Septembre Regatta was ongoing.

while i was busy at the reception, Ryan made a little walk-about in the Terrasses du Casino. he immensely enjoyed the pleasant weather outdoors and watched people come and go at the casino.

the following morning, we woke up early to see Le Rocher again and see some more sights at La Condamine before we check out from the hotel and catch our flight later that afternoon. we passed by the market place, too and had a lovely time people watching. we also bought a couple more souvenirs from the shops, and got myself a teensy weensy pink Swiss Knife, too.

where to go?

newspaper stand

market day

at Rue Millo

at Rue Princesse Caroline

it was still early so we had Le Rocher all to ourselves. we savored the view and just enjoyed the serenity of the place without all those bustling tourists from the cruise liners.

as i had to meet my colleagues to bid goodbye at the Café de Paris where they’re having their meetings, Ryan went on ahead to the hotel to pack the remaining stuff that needed to be put in our luggage. as i will be passing the shops to head back to Hotel Hermitage, i made a brief detour to, where else, but Louis Vuitton to check out some bags.

now i only had like half an hour max to spend inside the store, and i tell you, it was so difficult to choose! since Monaco is adjacent to France, the LV Monte Carlo prices are the same with Paris and Nice stores. and since i'm a tourist, i got to enjoy a 20% tax rebate, too, which i claimed at Paris airport, my exit city. hubby didn't know i planned to buy a bag since we still had enough pocket money left. i phoned him when i was ready to pay (although in truth, i was sooo tempted to get two, especially that my credit card was clean and balance-free) and was only allowed to get one piece.

my choices then were a Monogram Speedy 30, a Monogram Papillon 30 and a Monogram Petit Noe. in the end, i finally decided on the Petit Noe to take home as a Monte Carlo souvenir. after leaving the store, i felt so elated like a girl who’s just left the candy shop with all her favorite loots. i didn’t want to risk losing the bag in case my luggage gets lost as we will be transiting through Paris from Nice, so i decided not to carry the box and just asked for the dust bag, and used the bag immediately. i proudly carried it on my shoulder from the hotel till we got to Dubai.

from Nice, we took the Air France flight to get to Paris airport, where we had a connecting time of five hours. had we known ahead of time that we could leave the airport and come back in time for our flight, we would’ve gone out and seen some sights, at least at the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, which is just about 15 minutes by car from the airport. anyway, we just contented ourselves by having our late lunch at one of the kiosks in the airport and looked around the gift shops to buy some fridge magnets. when our gate was announced open, we queued to the security check and passed through the concourse filled with small boutiques for some duty free shopping. as i was buying my coffee at Columbus Café, a big, beefy guy wearing a kilt stood next to me ordering a couple bottles of water. while waiting, we sort of had a little chit-chat, and that’s when i found out from the shirt he was wearing that he’s part of the Rugby team of Scotland. (the Rugby World Cup 2007 was held in France last year, so it all made sense as to why a lot of rugby players were scattered all over the airport!) here’s a souvenir pic with the guy:

we arrived in the wee hours of the morning in Dubai feeling very tired, but happy with all the memories we’ve made. we could say that our first taste of Europe was absolutely great!


cheche said...

wow! what a holiday! ang sosyal. sana maconquer din namin yan. enjoy pa kaya with a kid in tow? parang mas romantic pag 2 lang kayo. hahaha! bad mommy =D

Jacqui Co-Soriano said...

hi gracie,

wow!! na-inngit ako dito...wish I have the same trip benefits like you. Europe travel! hehehe! :) Ganda-ganda, day sana marating ko din yan Monte Carlo! Dream destination ko talga Europe! :)

re: LV alma, yes medyo sad ako kasi I paid additonal P4k for the bag. Kainis kasi my fault talga...should have bought it that day. Dala ko naman card ko, ready na to lang ako :( Sayang din P4K noh?! Hmmmp. Pero knowing wala din pala dyan sa Dubai at yun pala price tag ng "ata" factor ko. Priceless! Hahaha!

btw gracie girl, super naiintriga much mga LV sa Dubai? Just want to check the price much ALMA or Sppedy 30? They all say mura Dubai kaya medyo naintriga ako eh :)

Gracie said...

hi che,
the place is stunning, i swear! and whether you're traveling with a kid or not, you'll still enjoy it. ang sarap mag-retire dun (in my dreams!) so laidback, fresh 'everything' and child-friendly place, too. but i agree, the place is soooo romantic! i felt like Grace Kelly the whole time i was there...hahahaha!!!

Gracie said...

hi jacqui,
thankful talaga ako 'cos we were given the chance to travel & see a part of Europe for free. ikaw, malay mo mapadala ka rin ng Europe, you'll never know.
hey, don't be sad about your Alma. it's a timeless beauty & kahit medyo tumaas ang price, ang importante, sa'yo na sya :D buti ka nga meron na eh...ako up to now waiting pa rin *sigh!*

Weng said...

thanks for the tour! monte carlo is breathtakingly beautiful! suwerte at sagot ng company lahat. between you and me, lahat din ng trips ko sa europe, sagot ng na nanay ko ang may-ari. hee hee. the benefits of being ceo - child of the owner. hee hee. kaya lang pffft na nanag magkaanak. hahaha! :D

Gracie said...

glad you liked the little tour, weng! ang sarap ng may ganitong benefit 'no? :D well, what can i say? hindi man ako pinalad sa mga raffles na sinalihan ko, at least sinwerte ako sa mga byahe :)

Big Eyed Gal said...

As always visiting your blog makes me feel like I'm the one on the trip. Love the pictures!

Ingat palagi. :)

Gracie said...

thanks, valerie! i'm so glad you enjoyed the pictures, and lalo na when you told me you felt like you were on the trip. that's what i aimed to do - to make my readers feel like they were with me on my travel posts.
take care, hun! *hugs!*

Mich said...

WOW! I would love to go to this place too! kaya lang im sure it's super expensive. will have to save up pa maybe for 10 years. LOL!

AEC said...

wow! to think no, if you were to go to europe on your own, monaco usually will not be on your list. you are so lucky! and such a beautiful hotel pa. kelan kaya kami ni allan? hehe.

Kelly said...

everything there shouts swanky!!!!


Gracie said...

hi mich,
malay mo naman, sis, you'll never know. basta if ever mapadpad kayo sa Europe, do visit Monaco. it won't hurt to pass by, especially when you're traveling from France to Italy.

Gracie said...

hi mandy!
so true - ang mahal kse sa MC! 3 star hotel nga lang dented na agad ang budget mo. just got lucky, i guess. pambawi sa tough luck ko sa mga raffle draws :)

Gracie said...

hi kelly,
bagay ka sa MC. you'll love the boutiques, the stores, the cafes...basta everything about it! if you visit Europe, try to swing by MC - mag-e-enjoy kyo sa sights & scenery, promise! :)