(psst…poisson is French for fish) Today is a beautiful day for an adventure! My cold is SO much better. Still some coughing, still a snotty nose, but all in all, I’m a functioning human being again! I got up, ate a little breakfast, packed my bag, and put Gare Antibes into Google maps so I could figure out how to walk there. Because today, I was going to pop into a new country just to go to the aquarium. I love how posh that sounds!! But watch—I’ll make it even posher….I was going to pop into Monaco just to go to the aquarium! 🙃

Found the station, walked up to the ticket machine like the damn pro traveler I am, entered in my info, one ticket to Monaco, please… And it would only give me a ticket for 2pm! I was trying to get on the 9am train! Oy. Went to the information counter like the tourist I am, and asked. She said to go inside and buy my ticket at the desk. The line was long, I’d miss my 9am train, but they come every 30 minutes so no worries. Like 2 minutes after I got in line, alarms started going off, the ladies at the counter said a bunch of stuff in French, and everyone in line turned and left. I followed, because, well, I didn’t know what else to do! There was a young man in a train uniform by one of the machines. And oh lort, he was one of THOSE French guys…the kind that Brian worries about! #swoon I went up and explained what I needed. He helped me get my ticket, explained that the time didn’t matter, I just needed to have a ticket, he said, “bon jour!” and I, looking into those greenish French eyes replied breathily….Gracias. Jesus Christ kill me now! Why do I have to respond to EVERY foreign language with SPANISH?????!!!! 😖

 

Here’s a good spot to explain my language (or lack thereof) skills. I took 1 year of Spanish in high school my junior year. That was in 1987. Please, don’t do the math. For some reason, most of that beginner stuff has stuck with me through these last 10 years or so since graduation. I call my Spanish “toddler Spanish”. I can piece together pretty simple verbs and nouns and make reasonable sentences, but they’re all in the present tense. That said, I have always been able to communicate enough to get my point across and even have mini-conversations in Spanish. And if that fails, I just throw my self on the ground and scream until I get what I want. 😉 French, I took about 6 weeks of it a few years ago. And the instructor was so hot I barely got past “bon jour” (if you notice a theme here, yes, I have a serious penchant for French guys….). So while my Spanish is at the toddler stage, I’m at infant stage in French. I’ve got hi, bye, thank you, dog, cat, fish, a few colors, mama, dada, and goo-goo ga ga. That’s about it. And for whatever damn reason, my instinct is to speak in Spanish instead of French- which is a source of major embarrassment when I’m trying to be so smooooooooth and Frenchish. Oy.

 

Anyway…I went outside in the shade to wait 30 min for my train. Just standing there, blogging, when Mr Train Ticket Guy came outside to me. He walked up and told me not to worry about the alarms (they were still going off), everything was OK. I was blogging, not even paying attention to the alarms, so I definitely didn’t look “alarmed” (I’m so fucking punny!). I told him thank you, and managed to do it in French this time, and didn’t proceed through the emergency exit. Oh, Brian, you are so lucky that I love and respect you!!! Sigh…

 

Got on the train at 9:30 for the 40 minuteish trip to Monaco. Becki had told me to sit on the right side because the views were really nice, and man, was she right!! It seemed like the best stop if you wanted to do a beach thing was this one- Villefranche sur Mer. (Yes, there were a few topless women on the beach, but most weren’t. I would be. 🙂 )
Reached the Gare de Monaco and got off the train. Out the door and WOWZA!! What a VIEW!!!
I put my sole destination for today into Google Map- Musée Océanographique de Monaco. It was about a mile from the train station to the aquarium, and the streets were just lovely! Soon, I reached a long ramp that went up, up, up. Along the way, I ran into Prince Rainier of Monaco (well, at least his statue!). I remember all of the stories about him from when I was a kid- probably because he married Grace Kelly and that was a big deal. A bit of research revealed that he ruled Monaco for almost 56 years! Impressive. I love my foreign signs, and I wasn’t sure this one was good or bad…I guess it depends on the tourist! 😉
Up and up the ramp I went in the heat…but the view from the top was worth it! And behind me, the palace and a large open plaza. I wound through narrow cobblestone streets and headed toward the aquarium…
I’ve been to a lot of aquariums around the world. Let’s see, a few off the top of my head…Singapore, Malaysia, Cape Town, Medellin, lots in the US…but I was completely amazed by the building that housed the Monaco aquarium!! What the hell was this? The Louvre of aquariums??? It was MASSIVE!! And looked more like a palace than an aquarium! It was built in 1910 by Prince Albert, who was a lover of oceanography and marine biology. I like him already. And apparently he had a taste for fancy schmancy buildings as well. 🙂

I didn’t take this picture, but I want you to see just how massive this building is! It’s the one on the ocean…

So that was the outside. And then I stepped inside. Yes, this IS the Louvre of aquariums!! DAMN!!
To get to the aquarium from the entrance, you had to go downstairs. For those who don’t know me, I have a degree in marine biology, I teach marine zoology, and I was in the aquarium industry for over 25 years, specializing in corals. In other words, I know my way around an aquarium. This aquarium was 99% focused on marine life, which I LOVED!! There was only one freshwater exhibit of piranhas. The larger aquarium with the sharks and turtle really wasn’t large enough for the specimens that were in there, that was evidenced by some serious damage on the noses of some of the sharks from banging into things. And some of the other fish in that aquarium had signs of long term disease. However, the smaller aquariums were very well done with very healthy specimens!! There were several species of fish I had never seen before (that’s always fun), and they are breeding clownfish and Banggai cardinals here and had a large display tank with them.

This “flat” aquariums gave an interesting perspective of looking in from the top!

I was in LOVE with this fish!! I had never seen one quite like this species before. It’s a type of flying gurnard.

But the best part was the focus on CORAL!! I have literally never seen so much coral on display, so large and so healthy! Well done!! There was also a really cool tank at the very end that just had trash in it and talked about how trash is impacting the oceans. I thought it was very poignant and relevant.

I actually have enough French to read “Oui, je suis un animal”!! And I immediately knew what they were talking about!! Corals are not rocks, not plants, they are ANIMALS!!!!

So that was the aquarium part….but this isn’t just an aquarium!! It’s a museum of oceanography!! I went upstairs to the next level, and was met by a HUGE squid hanging from the ceiling over a gorgeous ocean themed mosaic floor. Seriously?? #heaven

I walked in that door behind the squid, and realized that, oui! I AM in the Louvre of aquariums!! There was this huge room with this amazingly magical glass display cabinet full of I don’t even know what, and in that room, another room to the right. I decided to go in there first. There were a bunch of whale and dolphin skeletons hanging from the ceiling in this MASSIVE room that had kind of a terrace or balcony or something (I’m not sophisticated enough to know the European word for it!) around it to make a second floor for displays.

Around the edges were all kinds of preserved specimens. Corals, fish, sharks, various invertebrates. Many of which were like 100 years old!!! In the middle of the room in the flat display cases were all kinds of oceanography memorabilia. Original drawings of specimens that had been collected on exhibitions that happened over 100 years ago. Pictures of the specimen rooms here at the museum back when it opened. And letters from Prince Albert of Monaco. I was literally in awe and had never seen anything like this in any aquarium! Oh, and did you know that Jacques Cousteau was the director from 1957 to 1988??? DAMN!

Then, all of the lights started shutting off one by one. What the hell?? I wasn’t finished looking in here yet! Was it closing or something? All of a sudden, music starts playing and the ceiling and skeletons are all lit up in an ever-changing, completely unexpected light show!! Dear Monaco, <slow clap>, Love, Mary.

I was reeling from the history that was in that room. I went out into the main room again to explore that huge display cabinet. This “Cabinet of Curiosities” is a display of some of the most unusual specimens and items that the museum has collected over the decades. And I was in whatever is the next step up from heaven!

That suit on the right is dive gear from 1797!!!!!!!!!!!

I picked my jaw up off the floor and looked to the left. There was another huge room (like the whale/dolphin room across from it), but it was CLOSED for a new exhibit installation! NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!! I so have to come back…. I went up another flight of stairs to the top level, where there were gorgeous views and a little cafe.

And I was done. 🙁  I wanted this thing to go on FOREVER!! I wanted to bring a class here!! I wanted to kick everyone out and make my own exhibits and reopen them!! Ok, Musee Ocenographique de Monaco- where’s your gift shop? Because I’m about to give you ALL of my monies! Krona, pounds, euros, dollars, empty credit cards- it’s yours!! (If you know anything about me, you know that this is a rare, rare, RARE statement indeed!). The gift shop was down a couple of floors, on the other side of the exit turn style. I wanted books! I wanted shirts! I wanted art! I wanted it all!! Damn you Ryan Air, and your stingy 10kg carry on limit!! Argggggggggghhhh!! They had books on that cabinet of curiosities, and I really wanted that. But they were all in French. I found myself a t-shirt that I liked (although, the selection could have been better….). Then I was looking for art. I needed something for my wall at home. Something for my own little cabinet of curiosities that I have set up in my dining room. Nothing! No where! How is this possible?! I mean, I even had it all figured out in my head- some kind of super cool vintage poster kind of thing.  I wondered around a few times and gave up. Sigh. Freaking fine. Went to the cashier with my tshirt in hand and WHAT WAS THIS??? It was in French AND it even had that one fish I really loved on it?! SOLD!! (That is literally 1/4 of what I would have paid. I’ll eat peanut butter and jelly for weeks on end to save money, but THIS is the kind of thing I save my money for!!)

This day seriously was TOPS, and there was no way it could get any better. I practically skipped out of the aquarium. Now, I asked Brian later what was the ONE thing that could have possibly made this adventure even more awesome. He immediately replied, “A botanical garden.” That’s because my baby knows me too well! And wa-la (that’s French for ta-da), there was one immediately outside of the aquarium and to the right of it!! I strolled down shady tree covered paths, with tons of gorgeous flowers in bloom, and a view of the Mediterranean….ahhhhhh…….

View of the aquarium from the garden.

Walked back to the train station via a different route. Monaco, you are beautiful, and thank you so much, Prince Albert, for being such an advocate for marine sciences. Your gorgeous Musee Oceanographic de Monaco is now my most favorite aquarium in the whole world. There are bigger ones. There are flashier ones. But none have ever put together such a collection of animals, science, and history all in one palace place. Well done!!!

CONTINUE TO DAY 4

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