|This morning we boarded our bus headed to the Principality of Monaco. Monaco is located right on the French Riviera and is bordered by France on three sides and the Mediterranean Sea on the other border. It is a tiny area only about 3/4 of a square mile with only a little over 36,000 residents. It is the second smallest and the most densely populated country in the world. Its land border is only 2.7 miles long and it only has 2.5 miles of coastline. Monte Carlo is its most populous quarter.
Monaco is a principality that is governed under a constitutional monarchy, with Prince Albert II as the current head of state. The House of Grimaldi have ruled Monaco since 1297. Official language is French, but Monégasque, Italian, and English are widely spoken and understood. Monaco became a full voting member of the United Nations in 1993. Despite being independent and having a separate foreign policy, its defense is the responsibility of France, but Monaco does maintain two small military units.
During our stop we were able to see the casino at Monte Carlo from an overlook. You can see by all of the yachts and expensive cars that Monaco is truly a playground for the rich and famous. The principality has no income tax, low business taxes and is well known for being a tax haven for the extremely wealthy. Oddly, Monaco is not a formal part of the European Union but it does participate in certain EU policies such as Customs and Border Controls. Due to its relationship with France, Monaco uses the Euro as its sole currency. Other sites we saw in Monaco were the Pole Position starting point of the Monte Carlo Grand Prix. To set up the Circuit de Monaco it takes six weeks and removal after the race takes another three weeks. The circuit like all roads in Europe are incredibly narrow and tight. The course has several tight corners, elevation changes and a tunnel. It is considered to be one of the most demanding Formula One tracks. Despite the challenging nature of this course there has only been one fatality in the history of the Grand Prix and that was back in 1967. There have been crashes that have resulted in drivers ending up in the harbor in 1955 and 1965.
We walked past the Oceanographic Museum which is dedicated to marine science and oceanography and is famous for its collection of marine fauna. We saw the Monaco Cathedral which was built in 1875. It is where Prince Ranier and Princess Grace were married and it also is where they are both buried. From the Cathedral it was a short walk to the Prince's Palace. It is located upon le Roche (the "Rock") of Monaco and was built on the site of a fortress that was built in 1215. From the overlook near the Palace you can see Fort Antoine. It was an early 18th century fortress built on the northeastern tip of the "Rock" and is now used as an outdoor tiered seating theater that seats about 350 people. You can still see the military architecture of the original watchtower. After the stop in Monaco we once again boarded our bus and started to make our way to Pisa...