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Bounced out of Monte Carlo

After spending numerous days sampling French wine on Nice’s pebbly beaches, my current travel companion, Tofey, and I rouse ourselves from the drunken comfort of our hostel and embark on a daytrip to the Principality of Monaco to experience the famous Monte Carlo Casino.

After a pleasant 30 minute train ride, we step outside the station and are dazzled by the understated pink, orange and yellow hues of the surrounding colonial buildings. Although it covers only one square mile, Monaco prevails as a proud monarchy with his Serene Highness Prince Rainier III as its head of state. This royal influence is exemplified by the behaviour of many of its residents, who treat us fiscally-challenged backpackers no better than footservants when we attempt to ask them for directions.

We soon agree that the extreme wealth which wafts like expensive perfume from the majority of Monégasques likely endures due to the fact that they pay no income taxes. Monaco is a tax haven both for permanent residents and for foreign companies that have established businesses there.

Wandering haphazardly along immaculate streets, we proceed to get ourselves completely lost. Inadvertently, we stumble upon the famous Monte Carlo Casino. Encircled by stone fountains and lush seaside gardens, it is hard to mistake.

We enter the tall gates and thread our way between numerous richly decorated buildings until we come to the casino entrance. Exquisitely designed by architect Charles Garnier, the main building is surmounted by two pinnacles over a glass roof, with a neo-classical façade. Following the useful practice of attempting to look as though we belong, we stroll past the official-looking doormen into the interior.

The main room is lavishly decorated. There are ornate ceiling frescoes, red plush carpeting, and, unfortunately, barriers blocking all hallways and entrances. Luckily, we are able to enter one unimpressive gambling room, with neon flashing machines and worn carpets. Despite the letdown, we happily begin to wager away.

Caught up in the gambling rush, I lob my camera at Tofey to capture me in all of my Monte Carlo gambling splendour. As quick as my flash, four enormous suit-clad henchmen surround me from all sides and grab my camera. They escort me outside, while I protest unhappily in rusty French.

The henchmen steer me back to the main entrance, where I watch in dismay as they disappear with my camera into a back room. I am left outside to argue with a distinguished-looking man who seems entirely immune to my charms. He tells me that they will likely keep my camera and/or expose all the film inside (which is, incidentally, on the final exposure of a 36 roll of film).

When I have reached the point of tears, the gentleman takes pity on me and goes to negotiate with the henchmen in the back room. A few minutes later he returns with my camera and agrees to return it on one condition: that I leave immediately. I recover my precious possession and make a quick exit.

Soon Tofey and I are strolling in the surrounding gardens, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. We enjoy a couple of Croque Monsieurs (ham and cheese sandwiches, but they taste so much better in French) by the waterfront and head over to the Aquarium, which houses a gorgeous selection of exotic fish. Before returning home to our hostel, we stop to enjoy a few more moments in the warm November sunshine. Reflecting back on my day, I decide that perhaps Monaco is best enjoyed outside the confines of its infamous Casino.

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