Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Allure of Monaco

Monaco is the second smallest sovereign state in the world after Vatican city.

Monaco doesn't have a separate capital due to its small size and is called a Principality since it is governed by a Prince. Monaco has an area of 2.02 sq. km (0.78mi) but over the decades has been reclaiming land from the sea to slowly extend its borders while being surrounded by France.

There can be some confusion between Monte-Carlo and Monaco. Monaco is the name of the country. The city of Monaco has a number of neighborhoods, and Monte-Carlo is one of these. It is the district overlooking Port Hercules and where you will find the casino and many luxury hotels, shopping and residences.

There are a variety of reasons why people find Monaco so alluring:

1. Royalty. If you love hearing about the lives of royal families around the world then Monaco is definitely the place to be. Here the Grimaldi family has ruled for over 700 years and it's not unusual to either catch a glimpse of if you are lucky enough, to even meet various members of the royal family and their offspring at various events or in passing in day to day life.
2. Grace Kelly. While filming the iconic Alfred Hitchcock movie, To Catch A Thief in the region in 1954, the then actress was invited by Prince Rainer to visit the Prince’s Palace which then lead to a romance and eventual royal wedding. Her acclaim helped develop Monaco into a modern worldwide travel destination and her presence can still be felt throughout the country. 
3. Money. The best of the best can be seen and bought here. The most rare and unimaginable can be found and constructed. If one lives in, applies or follows specific legal rules, Monaco can be considered a tax haven for many. One in three residents is considered to be at least a millionaire. It is also one of the many homes of the top ten billionaires in the world. It also has a poverty and employment rate of zero. 

4. Security. Monaco is one of the safest places on earth. Those who live and visit the country are unobtrusively monitored by the most sophisticated in 24-hour surveillance system and protection services for their well-being. There is one police officer for every 100 people. It is not unusual to see people daily wearing very expensive jewelry pieces or driving the finest in sports cars with little fear of being robbed since crime is extremely low.

5. Lavish Wealth. The country is exceedingly full of wealth and that can be seen in the lifestyle of the residents in where they shop, live and even eat. This also makes the country a draw for social media influencers hoping to attract attention by simply having their photo taken in the country's various glamorous backdrops.

6. Monte-Carlo Casino. An historical, captivating landmark this remarkably beautiful Beaux Arts style building not only houses the casino but also the likes of Chanel, Buddha Bar and the Opera de Monte-Carlo. There is a gambling ban for residents in place which leaves all the gambling up to tourists and foreign residents. A number of James Bond thrillers have been filmed here along with other movies and even Kylie Minogue's, On A Night Like This video was partially filmed at this location.

7. Luxury Shopping. If you can imagine it and afford it, it can be found or designed for you here. The usual high-end boutiques such as Hermes, Cartier, Balenciaga (to name a very few) are situated here but the difference being that many of these boutiques also offer one of a kind, superior haute couture pieces of fashion or jewelry. The same can be said for any number of brand sports cars and super yachts. 
8. Monaco Grand Prix. A not to be missed weekend event in May that brings together not only sports enthusiasts from around the world but the international jet set who mix and mingle with the who's who in the world of sports and celebrity. Day and night the party atmosphere never stops as people watch the races from the balconies of private homes, luxury hotels and the decks of mega yachts in the port. During the evening the nightclubs and restaurants are also in high gear catering to the crowd in attendance.
9. The Prince's Palace. The official residence of the Sovereign Prince of Monaco is a historic, majestic palace that dates back to 1191. The is a working palace where not only the royal family resides but it also holds many of the offices of Prince Albert to help maintain duties of the principality and welcome international guests. The changing of the guard takes place daily and tours are available inside specific areas of the palace. As a side note, Princess Charlotte, Princess Stephanie and other members of the royal family also have villas and apartments minutes away from the palaces on Le Rocher.
10. Oceanography Museum. Within a five minute walk from the Prince’s Palace is the Oceanography Museum of Monaco. This outstanding architectural masterpiece houses the marine sciences and sits right on the edge of the Monaco cliffs with the Mediterranean Sea below. Designed over 100 years ago it is not only a museum but also a conference centre with the main draw being the aquarium that holds more than 6000 species. Be sure to go to the roof to take in more of the panoramic views of the sea and principality where you can also enjoy lunch in the rooftop restaurant. 
11. The Exotic Garden. The Jardin Exotique de Monaco is a botanical garden located on a cliff side that dates back more than 75 years. The exotic garden offers a fantastic view of the principality and holds thousands of varieties of plants. Here you can also take a guided tour of a prehistoric caves that leads you down 196.8 feet (60 meters) and offers you the opportunity to see the stalactites and learn more of what has been discovered during the first journeys down below.

12. Nightlife. Although predominately a straight clientele, the nightclubs are very, open-minded and gay-friendly. Open until dawn, the summer months are the best time to discover the clubs for yourself where it is not unusual to rub elbows with major international celebrities, rock stars and royalty, many of which also own amazing villas and luxurious yachts nearby.

13. Restaurants. For all the foodies out there, Monaco is the place to dine out. A culinary delight for many, whatever you are craving or have always wanted to try is available to indulge in. Here for the most part, French and Italy fushion takes place along with any other cultural feast imaginable with Michelin run restaurants such as: BeefBar, Restaurant Joel Robuchon Monte-Carlo, Blue Bay, Restaurant Yoshi and the newly designed Le Grill at the Hotel de Paris.

14. The Cars Collection of H.S.H. the Prince of Monaco. A short walk below from the Prince's Palace is a museum dedicated to every car enthusiasts out there. Everything from the rarest antique and super cool cars is available. Prince Rainer III was a big collector of cars and funded the museum; his personal collection can be found here including the Rolls Royce that was used by Grace Kelly on her wedding day.

15. Helicopter Tours. The quickest way to get around not only Monaco but the French Riviera and beyond is by helicopter and the number of companies are situated at the edge of the principality and offer tours of Monaco and the surrounding countryside. Or make the most out of your vacation time and take direct helicopter flights to and from the Nice Airport or even start your weekend off with a trip to places such as Saint Tropez.

16. Paragliding. At the border east of Monaco is Roquebrune Cap Martin, take a tour high in the mountains and past the private estate retreat of the royal family where you can go on any number of paragliding trips for various lengths of time in the air. Certified instructors will take you on paragliding panoramic flights over the principality and into other areas such as the peninsula of Cap Martin leaving you with memories of a lifetime as you eventually land on the beaches below.


17. Hiking. Get your exercise in and also get a bird's eye view of what makes up the Principality of Monaco at the same time. This part of France and Monaco are known for their various hiking trails and while not technically in Monaco, above it is on the most famous vantage points of the Tete de Chien. The walk and climb from the Monaco Train Station to the top only takes about 2.5 hours and offers stunning views of not only Monaco but to the east you can see down the coastline into Italy and to the west once can see down the coast towards Cannes to Theoule-sur-Mer.
18. Monaco Yacht Show. Held every September in Port Hercules, it is Europe's biggest in-water display of yachts of all sizes, usually the bigger the better. Networking (and partying) at this international weekend of events goes beyond the yacht community and into other areas of commerce and entertainment as well such as: luxury real estate and super cars.
The LGBTQ community is very small and private for the most part within Monaco but supportive and members of it meet socially monthly and are also known for being very business minded so it's not unusual to run into each other or meet new people while at various functions.
No matter your sexual preference, although life here overall is carefree there is still a strong element of privacy for anyone.

Year round there is always something to experience in the beautiful Principality of Monaco.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Monaco Moves Forward

Before launching into the new decade, the Principality of Monaco has taken vital steps forward in terms of LGBTQ equality rights.

Same sex couples in the principality will now be able to benefit from a host of legal rights that are afforded to married couples and their children under a new Free Union Law that was passed in early December by the National Council.

The elected member of the Monaco Parliament, Pierre Van Klaveren, read a detailed report on Bill 974 and the civil contracts of solidarity, the law of common life contract and the contract of coexistence which were all unanimously adopted by the Monaco National Council on December 4th, 2019.

The President of the National Council Stephane Valeri said, "It's true, we would have preferred two different texts, but as we are pragmatic, we had declared ourselves ready to accept a single law, if it had two separate elements, with separate rights for couples and families, without hypocrisy, because of course their relationships are different. It's done."

Thankfully for now, the rights recognized to couples, of the same sex or of different sex, protect a person in some of the hardest situations of their life, such as in health issues through the social coverage of the partner, or in the time of death so that there is a more favourable succession of rights or co-ownership of an estate.
Unfortunately still to date, Mr. Valeri made a point of saying that the common life contract is very different from a marriage contract, which at this time remains unattainable for same sex couples in Monaco.

French law states, the union libre is an agreement between adults which grants rights between parents and potential children, but holds no obligation of sexual fidelity, nor does it grant reciprocal duties and rights between partners.
Mr. Valeri mentioned at the end of the meeting, "Through the joint work of the Monaco Government and the National Council, we are moving our country even more on the path of modernity."

"This is good news firstly for all concerned couples...and I know there are many of us tonight. These couples will be able to benefit from recognition of their situation, to which they can legitimately aspire. It is excellent news for the international image of Monaco, a modern state which is always respectful of it's institutions and values."

Monaco has always been known as a free living, yet to a small extent a religious country but in the past number of years has started to show far more acceptance to members of the LGBTQI community and continues to provide a safe environment in which to visit.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Apollo, The Naughty Nude Statue in Nice

Let’s start the new decade off with a story about a nude male statue.

It may sound like an odd subject, a statue in yet another square of France but the Apollo statue at Place Massena in Nice comes with a short but interesting history.

And frankly, given the current cancel culture, the Apollo statue might not happen at all these days.

The statue is a must-see yet can’t-miss white marble sculpture in what is considered the heart of the city of Nice at Place Massena and amongst other works of public art, the parks, historic architecture and tons of boutiques at the edge of Vieux Nice.

First erected at the Sun Fountain (Fountaine du Soleil) in Nice and surrounded by 5 bronze sculptures in the basin that represent: Earth, Mars, Saturn, Mercury and Venus, the impressive marble statue of Apollo made his appearance in 1956.

Apollo stands 7 meters (23 feet) tall, weighs 7 tons, and commands your attention. And in this case, it is the one thing the statue immediately received, except this was the wrong kind of attention at the time of its unveiling.

Apollo according to mythology is to carry the sun across the sky and be pulled on a chariot by four horses. This Apollo though had no chariot but four horses on his head forming a type of crown.

At first onlookers nicknamed the sculpture “the 4 horsepower statue” claiming it reminded them of a popular automobile advertisement at the time, the Renault 4CV.

What garnered even more attention to this Apollo was the claim by some conservative locals that the the nude sculpture’s penis was far too large, yet curiously enough some older women actually thought it was too small and college students regularly started decorating it as a prank.
The new focal point of the city had now caused a full-on scandal which meant the artist in charge of the sculpture, Alfred Janniot, was told to chisel the masculine attributes down to a more appropriate size.

Being 4 times the size of a regular man, his penis was naturally super-sized and still caught the eye.

So after many years of being a local joke, mocked and routinely vandalized, in 1979, a women’s Catholic group succeeded in having Apollo dethroned and moved to a football stadium in the North part of Nice and out of sight of most tourists.

Meanwhile what was left of the location of the statue seemed to lack any tourism interest and was yet just another fountain in a French city that after time slowly went into disrepair.

Fast forward to 2007, with the area of Place Massena going through a huge redevelopment with the new public tram line system and park. A local reporter wrote a nostalgic piece about the Sun Fountain which the general public took an interest in and with that the fountain was reborn with the bronze statues back at the basin but the impressive Apollo statue was still not allowed yet to return.
As beautiful as the fountain was once again, it still seemed to be missing something but thankfully a few years later in 2011, Apollo was cleaned up and reinstated to his rightful place at the center of the fountain, proudly on display surveying the area and a true centerpiece of the city lending to it being the perfect meeting point for locals and tourists around.
  It just goes to show, you can’t keep a good man down.