This leg of the race was really part 2 1/2 out of 4 but worthy of its own little corner of the blogosphere.
After so much researching of where to go in Europe and narrowing it down to 4 stops, we added this side trip in at the last minute, knowing it would be a little bit stressful to check in and check out of another place within a day, but we did anyway for 2 unique experiences: perfume and gambling
Mother loves perfume and Rusty loves going to the casino (and is usually pretty good at it), so we decided Grasse for the girls and Monaco for the boys would be worth our time.
My friend Natasha told me about this small, hilly town just north of Nice. It’s often overlooked on the tourist trail, but definitely worth a visit. Grasse has been synonymous with perfumery since the 16th century. It’s still considered the perfume capital of the world. It’s sub-tropical “microclimate” is famous for its production of perfume plants–orange blossom, tuberose, lillies, jasmine, mimosa, iris, lavender and violets. Mama and I dumped the kids off on Travis and Rusty while we took a leisurely visit to the Musee International de la Parfumerie. We learned all about the history of perfume making in the French Riviera (as well as the whole world), tested our noses, and imagined what it would be like to harvest our own scents. (In another, less busy life, I am imagining myself doing something useful with all of the plumeria blossoms I find on the streets of Bangkok).
Mother has an astute sense of smell-good. If she likes how it smells, I tend to copy it and it always turns out well. This here, a patchouli plant.
We saw some old timey perfume bottles and the reproduction of a 19th century perfume shop.
The only disappointing thing about the trip is that we didn’t buy any fragrances for ourselves. The gift shop at the museum didn’t really have anything that was worth our euros. There were other perfume shops in Grasse that we smelled our way through, but we weren’t wildly impressed with any of it. Maybe they export their best extracts? It’s a weird phenomenon, like tasting the local coffee in Brazil and realizing that the good stuff is all exported. The Fragonard gift shop did have a few lovely smells, the Fleur d’Oranger is their most popular. Other than some decent cologne for my husband’s birthday and some cute little duck soaps for the kids easter baskets, we didn’t buy any smell-goods.
I wished we had more time to explore the town of Grasse itself. There were so many beautiful streets with narrow winding staircases and some old churches. I’m fascinated by medieval heraldry. What a beautiful coincidence that we were there at Easter time and we saw the symbolic Agnus Dei, or paschal lamb, everywhere as the city’s coat of arms.
I want to know more about it’s origins in this region, but I’ve reached the ends of the internet.
Neil deGrasse Tyson, are you out there? What say you?
I did find some vintage Grasse memorabilia. It’s funny seeing the lamb of God represented on a tobacco card. Leave it to the French to make smoking look so noble and elegant.
We stayed the night near Nice in a simple Air BnB. While Rusty and Travis executed their great escape to Monaco, the kiddies blew bubbles off the balcony and prepped their Easter basket. Mom Tip: Always pack some little bottles of bubbles. You never know when they’ll come in handy.
(This part written by Travis)
Monaco, the second-smallest and most densely-populated country in the world, is a tiny port town hugging France’s southern coast, packed with rich people, yachts and casinos.
The Monte Carlo Casino, featured in a number of James Bond movies, has a dress code (we just barely passed), cover charge of 10 Euros, and an incredible mix of exotic cars parked outside.
However, once inside, we counted only 3 or 4 card tables plus a roulette wheel- thats it! Even more surprising, lots of slot machines! “More like a West Virginia horserace track than Casino Royale” I thought. We approached a table. 90 Euros minimum bet…OK, a little different than WV. We wandered around a bit, observing the clientele. Mostly well-dressed older men, some with real money and some faking it we assumed. The few women we saw could have been runway models, who were not playing cards. Their gambling game of choice was probably picking out the actual rich from the charlatans. Before leaving, we couldn’t help but notice an older couple making 400 euro bets on the roulette wheel, completely without emotion. I’ve seen old people having more fun tossing bread crumbs to pigeons.
Not wanting our Dudes Night Out over within two hands of poker, Rusty and I decided to go waste our money elsewhere. Down the street, we found the Cafe de Paris, a casino for all the tourists who aren’t rich or willing to fake it. No cover & 10 euro min bets! after a couple hours, I cashed out having won $40, and promptly ordered a $37 round of Irish Carbombs. I have to do one in every country, and since there was no Guinness, we had to use the local beer as a substitute. Country #54 for me and #2 for Rusty, who also had a few at our wedding.
As we got in a cab to return to Nice, I asked where the meter was. Cab driver said, “No meter, it’s set price, eight euros.” “8 Euros?” I asked. This sounded surprisingly cheap, especially for Monaco. “That’s what he said, 8 Euros” Rusty confirmed, having asked him before we got in. “Eight euros to downtown Nice?” asked a second time, sliding in and closing the door. “Yes, eight euros” came the reply. 20 Minutes later, Rusty handed him a 10 and said, keep the change, thanks, and we started to get out. “What is this??” The driver asked, “The price is Eighty Euros!” Well, I’m not proud of the altercation that ensued, but before it got too violent and the cops got involved decided to give him the 80 Euros. Word to the wise, don’t take a Monaco cab! Other than that, it was a great little excursion.
The next day we returned the rental van at the train station and piled on to a scenic train ride for our next stop… Lake Como, Italy!