Thursday, December 8, 2016

A little wine and sun

Today we had a guide take us into Provence for a little wine tasting and then down to the beaches of Saint Tropez.  While it was nice to see the places and we enjoyed our day, I would not recommend the guide so I won't be listing his name.  The day started with a pick-up at 8:30am...not sure what we were thinking starting so early while on vacation!  But in our defense, we were limited with daylight so we did have to make the most of the sunlight.

The drive out to Chateau de Saint-Martin in Taradeau was a little over an hour. The chateau sits on land that was a former Roman Villa (2nd century BC to 7th century AD) and even back in those days the land was used for wine-making.  Starting in the 5th century, monks developed more of the land and created a wine-making priorty through the 18th century.  In the 12th century, they installed stone carved tanks in the walls and then in the 16th century added Hungarian oak vats.  The tanks and vats are still in use today!

In 1740, Jean-Louis Leclearc de Juigne married Marie Anne de Villeneuve Bargemon.  Marie's father purchased the priory from the monks and built the chateau as their wedding gift. They had a son and he married his first cousin and they had a daughter.  Since then, the line and chateau has been passed from mother to daughter.

After our tour, we spent some time with Angelica in the wine shop for a little tasting.  Today's tasting included a Rose, White, Red and Vin Cuit ("cooked wine" aka port).  While all were really quite good, to my surprised I liked the Vin Cuit the best. I've never been a port drinker but the vin cuit has made me a convert.

Next stop...Saint Tropez.  It's one of those places both Julie and I have always wanted to visit so what better time than now.  A benefit of traveling during off-season is you're able to see the sites without the hassles of loads of tourists and traffic.  While some of the shops in town were closed, it was very nice to be able to walk around at our leisure.  We had a nice lunch by the water at the Bay of Ramatuelle in what turned out to be a pretty popular spot for the locals...and their dogs (the French do love taking their dogs everywhere!).

Yes, those are the alps in the background

Memorial to American, British and French Marines
who on August 15, 1944 contributed to the liberation of Saint Tropez.

After a little walk around town, we headed back to Monaco.  Dinner tonight was back at the Christmas Market as there were so many places we had wanted to try last night...and we needed more warm wine and hot chocolate!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Monaco as a tourist and local

Good morning Monaco!  What a gorgeous sunrise...gonna be a great day!  Today we headed up to the top of the rock to the Oceanographic Museum and Prince's Palace to start our day.

The Oceanographic Museum opened in 1910 and was the creation of Prince Albert I of Monaco.  Prince Albert was an avid explorer and loved the ocean. Jacques Cousteau was director of the museum from 1957 to 1988.  I've been to a lot of aquariums and this is by far the most impressive I've seen.  The view at the top is also pretty amazing! While the pictures do not do it any justice, please enjoy them.


While Monaco may be a small principality, it still holds all the traditional ceremonies of larger kingdoms.  Every day at 11:55am the Changing of the Guard Ceremony takes place. We were there in off season so only needed to arrive 10 minutes before but if you go during season, make sure to arrive by 11:30 at the lastest to get a good spot.

New Guard Arrives

Old Guard Departs

Francois Grimaldi
First prince of Monaco
Dressed up as a monk and capture the Rock of Monaco on January 8, 1297
A Grimaldi has been the Prince of Monaco for over 700 years
The current Prince of Monaco is a direct descendant of Francois

After a stop at the Chocolaterie de Monaco (how could we pass it up) for a little refreshment, we headed back to the Oceanographic Museum.  One of the things we like to do when visiting a town is to take the Hop On/ Hop Off bus for one loop to get a good lay of the land...not to mention it would save us the very long and steep walk back down the Rock.  Here are a few photos from the loop.

The Hop On/ Hop Off bus took us along the Grand Prix route.  Pic on the left is through the tunnel. Pic on right is the many motorcycles buzzing through the streets of Monaco.

Little boat in the harbor
Of course we had to Google it and found out
it is owned by a Russian and worth $214 million

While there are approximately 37,000 people that live in Monaco, only about 8,800 are true Monegasque.  To be considered a Monegasque, you must be born to at least one parent that is a Monegasque -- it a bloodline.  If you've been married to a Monegasque for at least 10 years, you can petition for citizenship but if you are granted citizenship but get divorced, you lose citizenship.  Not all Monegasques are weathly and living in Monaco can be quite pricy.  For a 67 square meter (721 square feet) flat, the cost is 5,000 euro ($5,200) a month! So Prince Albert developed the 1,000 homes project to create affordable housing for Monegasques.  Here is one of the buildings...looks pretty nice from the outside.

After a fun day playing tourist, we hit the Christmas Market with the locals.  One of my favorite things in Europe during the holidays is the Christmas Markets. While Germany has the best I've seen, the ones we've visited on this trip have been nice.  

Tonight's dinner was Poelee de Noel...onions, mushrooms, chicken and spices.  It is served either on a baguette or with fries.  Julie went with the baguette and I took the frites du maison (aka home fries).  What a tasty dinner and not too filling so we could have hot chocolate (love European hot chocolate...think warm pudding) and warm wine.

We hopped on the #6 bus and headed to Monte Carlo for another look at the casino decorated for Christmas.  Trying to be good, we opted to not tempt ourselves and go inside...not to mention you have to pay just to get in to lose money!