Ever since the 2011 masterpiece Monte Carlo starring Selena Gomez, Leighton Meester, and Katie Cassidy was first gifted to us mere mortal by the gods– I have dreamed of visiting the nation of Monaco, and dipping my toe into the high-life.
For all the plebs out there unfamiliar with the plot of this oscar-snubbed gem, basically Selena’s character discovers she looks *exactly* like a snobby rich heiress named Cordelia. Selena then casually assumes her rich-counterpart’s identity (via an incredibly terrible, generically “European” accent) for free lobster and an all-expenses paid trip to Monte Carlo with her two best gal pals.
Unfortunately for me there were just two *slight* obstacles standing in my way of having said experience:
- I have no money.
- I don’t (to my knowledge) have a identical-looking billionaire whose life I can hijack at will.
So, despite the dominos being stacked against me, I decided to recruit a friend and make the journey to the mecca of class and sophistication that is…….Monte Carlo.
*Spoiler alert* Unless you’re a fan of really hard mattresses– like concrete level hard– the trip wasn’t exactly “nice.”
You see how I put the word “nice” in parenthesis? Yeah, well that’s basically as close to a pun as you can get in the written-language– don’t worry it’s about to make sense, I promise.
Staying in Monaco itself is outrageously expensive, and in my broke opinion just not an option for students trying to pinch every penny. Luckily, the French city of Nice (pronounced like “niece”) is just a short 30 min train or bus ride away– get the pun now?!?
Nice is also full of hostels that cater towards travelers on a budget, so by logging onto HostelWorld, my travel partner (Lucy “Juice” Johnson) and I were able to score beds in a shared dormitory for about $12 per night per person!
Geographically speaking, Monaco isn’t the easiest place to get to (unless you have a private jet), but by using one of my favorite train searching websites, GoEuro, I was able to find a series of trains that would allow us to get there and back for about $70 roundtrip– a price well worth paying to see how the lavish live.
In fact, I even thought $70 round trip seemed a little too good to be true! But the optimistic-dumbass inside lurched yet again at the “opportunity of a lifetime!”
So, as it turns out, the reason the tickets were so cheap is that we had a rather long layover (is it still a layover for train travel?) in the small Italian border town of Ventimiglia. Have you ever heard of it? No? Well neither had we– and that would prove to be our demise.
We arrived in Ventimiglia at around 10pm on a Thursday night, and gingerly awaited for the departure of our next headed to Nice– at 5:30am the next morning.
Now, at this point in our globe-trekking careers Juice and I had already grown accustomed to “roughing it” for the sake of a cheap bus, plane, train etc. So we were completely prepared to claim our corner of the station and plop down for a few hours of sleep.
Unfortunately, what we didn’t realize was that the train station in Ventimiglia also serves another function during the chilly month of February (oh, did I forget to mention this was all taking place in WINTER). The entirety of the small train station transforms at night, and not into some retro underground club, or teenage drinking spot– no. The train station becomes the sole shelter for the entire homeless population of the town.
Juice and I were quickly packed like sardines between dirty mattresses that wreaked of urine and and colorful characters shouting at us in a Italian. I feel obligated to say that I’m sure most of these people were very nice, and one man even offered us some of his potato chips, but the few belligerently drunk ones made me, and Juice in particular (a petite woman) feel sufficiently unsafe.
This would normally be the point of the story where all of you are like, “Oh, thank god they’re going to leave and get a hotel room,” but ‘tis not the case.
Our cheap asses still decided to try and sleep there, and believe it or not I was able to get about 2 hours of shut-eye until Juice woke me with a slight jab to the ribs at about 1am.
“Gunnar,” she whispered under her breath. “We have to get out of here.” I sat up and noticed that she looked concerned, but also like she was about to burst into laughter.
“Ok,” I said while quickly beginning to pack up our few unpacked clothes were we had used as makeshift blankets, “why, what happened?”
“There was a man in a parka,” she whispered.
“What?” I asked, obviously very confused.
“I wasn’t really sleeping, but when I looked up from the ground there was a man in a parka standing like a foot away– just staring straight at me.” She was laughing, but we both knew that this was no joke.
“Lucy!” I exclaimed, “why didn’t you wake me up sooner!”
“I didn’t want to make a scene! I had no idea if he was drunk, or senile, but I was freaked out!” I accepted her answer, but also felt bad that I had dozed off and left her alone in the uncomfortable gaze of “parka man.”
We quickly gathered our things and decided to just walk around the small town. It wasn’t actually that bad! The streets were empty and the buildings were pretty, not to mention the walking kept us warm. We even made out way all the way to the beach and dipped our feet into the Mediterranean sea.
After about two more hours of walking aimlessly we realized that we had no clue where we were, and more importantly no idea where the train station was. The next hour was spent wandering up various streets, until thankfully we once again stumbled onto the train station.
However, this time we opted for the colder outside, as opposed to joining our homeless friends and “parka man” in the slightly warmer inside. I said that I would stay up this time, and let her get some sleep, as I had already gotten about two hours worth earlier.
The next hour was cold, but uneventful, and soon enough it was time to board our 5:30 train to Nice. This was where we would encounter our second frightful character of the night– “Trena Man”.
We immediately boarded the train when it arrived at the platform, and grabbed a row of seats in an empty car. I took the window and left Juice the aisle.
The first 10 min of the 30 min train ride were uneventful, but then that things got a little out of hand. A man, who appeared to be extremely intoxicated, entered our train car and loudly proclaimed, “TrEEEEEEEEEEEna.” Juice and I turned to look at each other and I immediately told her to switch spots with me so she’d be by the window.
“TRENNNNNNNNNNNNA,” He yelled even louder. Juice and I didn’t know if we should burst out laughing or say our final prayers. “TREEEEEEEEEENA,” he yelled one last time before sitting two rows in front of us.
Yep, the entire car was empty and he chose to sit right in front of us. To make matters worse, HE TURNED AND PUT HIS HEAD BETWEEN THE SEATS AND JUST LOOKED AT US.
He remained like that for about 5 minutes, and then just got up, stood right next to us, yelled “TRENNNNNNNA,” a few more times. The situation was so awkward and I felt so uncomfortable that I started laughing uncontrollably. Juice totally thought I was going to pee my pants right thereI was laughing so much. Eventually “Trena Man” just walked out of the car.
We arrived in Nice at about 6am, and of course our hostel didn’t allow check in until 11am. So, we did want any person would do– bought some chocolate and decided to take a nap on the beach.
The rest of the trip went fairly smoothly! Nice remains one of my favorite cities, mainly due to their stellar Matisse Museum, delicious moules and frites (mussels and french fries), decent prices, and picturesque landscape.
Monte Carlo proved to be a wonderful experience, but utimatley a let down. We didn’t have enough money (or nice enough clothes) to get into any of the boujee icons from the movie. Though we did ultimately worked up the courage to ask for a table at the iconic Paris Cafe, we stuck out like sore thumbs, Juice in particular with her socks and birkenstocks. We ordered daiquiris ($25 per drink!) and left as quickly as possible.
*Side note* for anyone who’s as confused as I was about the whole “Monaco” vs “Monte Carlo” naming system, basically “Monaco” is the entire lil country, and “Monte Carlo” is area inside it with the casinos, beach, and some shopping.
Ok, so now for my professional opinion– visit Monaco for a day because it’s fun to see the old town and castle, as well as walk through the ritzy Monte Carlo, but budget most of your time (and money) for Nice.
Nice is full of museums, parks, hikes, and their beach is honestly a lot prettier. All Monaco has is an over-priced aquarium and rich snobs who judge you for bringing a backpack into the Paris Cafe (I’m talking about you old man with the designer aviators).
That all being said, there are two conditions under which I *highly* recommend going to Monte Carlo:
- You have a lot of money.
- You have an identical-looking billionaire whose life you can hijack at will.
Please enjoy these photos of Juice when she ordered like 4 entrees of Chinese food in Nice and couldn’t finish it all.