Scaling the Rock

Location: Monte Carlo, Monaco

The defibrillators should’ve been a good clue. They don’t call Monaco “the Rock” for nothing — the whole principality is only one square mile, but it’s built on top of a rather large cliff, and when you approach by sea you’ve got to go a long way up to see the sights. We passed the occasional elevator but figured we were young enough and fit enough to handle the stairs. I even thought it was funny when partway up we saw a sign that said defibrillators were available a few meters away; by the time we got to the top we realized it wasn’t a joke. If you ever go to Monaco by cruise ship, heed my words: take the elevator.

If there was ever a group that would need the defibrillators, it would be the crowd from this ship. I knew going into this that Holland America caters to the elderly crowd, but I’d heard that more younger people were starting to get on board too. We have run into the odd 30- or 40-something couple, but we’re usually the only ones in the room under the age of 60. The ship clearly caters to that clientele, too: the shore excursions all talk about how much walking is involved, and whether the sites are wheelchair-accessible…plus the lines for the buffet can be clogged with slow-moving seniors. The entertainment on board has been pretty subdued up to this point — lots of singers and piano players, along with classes on how to use a digital camera — but there’s supposed to be a big Broadway-style show on the main stage tonight, so I’m looking forward to that.

Anyway, we had fun in Monaco today. As luck would have it, today was Labor Day in Europe, so lots of shops were closed, plus it was the day of the heritage Grand Prix in Monte Carlo, so the streets were closed for the race and the public buses weren’t running. All this meant that we had to pass on seeing the casino (too far to walk) but we went inside the cathedral (which had the Grimaldi family tombs, so that was cool), wandered through the oceanographic museum, toured the palace (way cool) and watched the changing of the guard. I have been to Monaco before, but that was only for a couple hours one evening 12 years ago, so this time around I got a more detailed experience.

Dealing with French seemed like a breeze after days of Italian and German. Apparently I have a decent French accent, too — I addressed a cashier in French and then had to assure her that yes, I wanted the English guidebook. We’re currently sailing for Spain, which I’ve never been to, and in fact from this point on the ports will be all-new to me. Anchors away!