Set the GPS and headed out of San Marino. Next stop is Monaco. Monaco is actually the second smallest country in the world. Only Vatican City is smaller.
The trip was pretty much without adventure until my GPS decided to give me a bit of excitement. I’m not sure why, but it decided to take me by some Italian person’s house in the middle of the Italian countryside. I was simply following directions, like a mindless robot. Suddenly, I realized that I was driving on little country roads instead of major freeways. I dismissed my first thought—that no one actually went to France from Italy and so there were no good roads there. Seemed a little far-fetched. Next thought kept me driving—that my GPS was wisely trying to avoid a crazy traffic jam. This seemed less realistic as I got behind an Italian combine—at least, I think that is what this big, green bohemoth was. At some point, I knew I was going the wrong way, but just wanted to see where the GPS was taking me. I know, I’m just that kind of guy.
Eventually, I pulled up to a home on a dirt road outside of a small farm town. Thought about knocking, but decided better.
My GPS asked if I wanted to continue to Monaco. Yes, that would be nice, thank you.
I wasn’t sure whether or not I would go back through the mountains. I had wondered if the Alps actually ended before they reached the sea. But the last few miles were pretty spectacular. Again, bridges and tunnels, peaks and mountain streams. But add to that the views of the sea. Often I would drive past a little red tile town nestled into the mountain at the edge of the sea. If someone had the inclination to just explore the little Mediterranean villages along the coast of Italy at the end of the Italian Alps—well, that would not be time wasted.
I, of course, was on a mission—to see the smallest countries in Europe and Italy is not among them—though it hovers over two—San Marino and Vatican City.
There was no mistaking Monaco when I popped out of the tunnel high above the little country. The skyscrapers, colored light, and fancy architecture haling from all over the world gave it away.
The biggest problem with Monaco, one I discovered early, is parking. I had no problem at all finding the building where I had taken a room with a fellow named Khlifa. The problem is where to put my car so that I could walk up to the building and ring the bell. I drove up and down the mountain road, over and over, looking for some place to park—at least long enough to see what Khlifa could suggest. I finally just kept driving and found a parking garage that was virtually empty about half a mile away and straight down hill. I grabbed what I would need for the night in my backpack and started the trek back up the mountain to Khlifa’s building.
Khlifa is so warm and welcoming. He is a native of Paris, though his family immigrated from Algeria. He is Muslim, though that didn’t seem to hamper him from having a few beers. Hm. Maybe he’s a Presbyterian style of Muslim.
He saw me sweating and got a glass of water, then told me there was a parking garage under the building. He said, “Come on, let’s go get your car and I’ll show you.” And, we set out walking back down the mountain. I took the wrong street and we ended up having to climb stairs to get to the right road. There are a lot of stairs between roads in Monaco. He told me this could not be where my car was. This is too far, he insisted.
No, I assured him, it was just a little further.
Apparently, the first hour in the garage is free. Good to know if you are ever in Monaco. Just keep moving your car to a new garage every hour.
He helped me get the car put in his garage and showed me which secret passageway to take to get to the elevator that would take me back to his apartment.
The apartment was so impressive. I mean, Khlifa is a bit of a Spartan. The only art he has on the wall was drawn by one of his kids who live in Nice with their mother. No Algerian rugs. That would have been cool. Not even a painting from Montmartre in Paris. But, what the apartment lacks in decor it makes up for in balconies. Two for them. Looking down on Monaco and the harbor. “This is your room,” Khlifa told me, “and this is your private balcony. Oh my soul. I don’t think I ever had a private balcony before. And if I did, it probably overlooked a parking lot.
I was hungry, so Khlifa recommended I walk to a place he knew on the harbor. Great pizza. Impressive view. Watched the sea with one eye and the World Cup game between Japan and Belgium with the other.