Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel
Milan Cathedral (Duomo di Milano) in Milan, Italy

Click on title to view photo in large format. Milan Cathedral (Duomo di Milano in Italian) is the landmark for which the city of Milan, Italy is best known. The enormous Gothic cathedral was built of brick and faced with marble from the Candoglia quarry. Archbishop Antonio da Saluzzo ordered construction to begin in 1386, but before long work stalled due to lack of funds. In 1805, Napoleon Bonaparte Read More

It’s official. I’ve visited the two smallest countries in the world: Vatican City, and now the Principality of Monaco. The difference between the two, aside from the fact that the first is a City-State and the latter a Principality, is that I was excited to go to Vatican City. Monaco? Well, it was more that I was in Nice, France, just a 25-minute train ride away, and it didn’t make sense NOT to go. Plus, it was an easy add to my list of visited countries, bringing my total to 71.

Since Monaco is less than one square mile in size (.78 square mile, to be precise), I had planned to see it on foot. Unfortunately, I stepped off the train at 2 p.m., into a brutal 95 degree temperature and instantly dissolved into a puddle of sweat. Rather than walking, I caught the Hop-on/Hop-off bus and stayed aboard for the entire one-hour circuit. By the time the route started repeating, the temperatures had dropped a bit, so I hopped off at the only place that had seemed interesting, the Old Town area in the capital of Monte Carlo.

The palace of the Prince of Monaco - slightly underwhelming

The palace of the Prince of Monaco – slightly underwhelming

I checked out the view down to the harbor and snapped a few shots of Prince Albert II’s uninteresting palace. A short stroll led me to the Palace of Justice and into Notre-Dame-Immaculée Cathedral, where I filed past the grave of Princess Grace, better known to Americans as the famous actress Grace Kelly. Then I wondered what to do. I have no interest in gambling, so the casinos were not an option. Shopping, another popular reason people visit Monaco, also held no attraction. As a full-time traveler, I have only a 22″ carry-on size suitcase and it’s full. The harbor was attractive but couldn’t compare with the ports of Nice or Marseilles. Even the architecture was, in general, uninspiring. Frankly, I was bored out of my mind. Three hours into my visit, I was ready to jump back on a train to Nice. Read More

Port Hercule in Monte Carlo, Monaco is a deep-water port that has been in use since ancient times

Click on title to view photo in large format. Port Hercule (Port Hercules) is a deep-water port in Monaco. It occupies a natural bay at the foot of the ancestral rock of the princes of Monaco. This stunnng vista was photographed from the plaza in front of the Prince’s Palace, which sits atop the rock. The port has been in use since ancient times, as both Greek and Roman sources refer to it. However, prevailing easterly winds made it a poor shelter. Read More

The grave of Princess Grace of Monaco sits side by side with that of her husband, Prince Rainier, in Saint Nicholas Cathedral

Click on title to view photo in large format. The grave of Princess Grace of Monaco sits side by side with that of her husband, Prince Rainier, in Saint Nicholas Cathedral. Most Americans better remember her as the popular actress, Grace Kelly. During the 1950’s Kelly appeared in numerous New York City theatrical productions, more than 40 episodes of live drama productions, and in Hollywood movies that earned her an Oscar and Golden Globe awards.

She met Prince Rainier III in 1955 while heading up the U.S. delegation at the Cannes Film Festival. He proposed in December of that same year. Kelly accepted and subsequently left her acting career to become the Princess of Monaco. The Princess died in 1982, when her car plummeted Read More

Monte Carlo Casino in Monaco is open to all but citizens of the tiny country

Click on title to view photo in large format. Most guests visit Monte Carlo Casino for the non-stop action on its 100,000 square foot gaming floor. Players can choose from Blackjack, Baccarat, Craps, slots, poker, Roulette, Big Six Wheel, Caribbean Stud, Three-Card Poker, Pai Gow Poker, and Let It Ride. High-flyers can take bigger risks in the high-limit gaming areas. However, the facility is also fully equipped resort that offers restaurants, a spa, lounges, pools, shops, and 2,992 hotel rooms.

Gambling was seized upon as a revenue source when the districts of Menton and Roquebrune declared independence from Monaco in 1848, leaving Monaco with a tiny patch of land and few sources Read More

Visiting Andorra had eluded me during my previous European travels. Tucked into the Pyrenees Mountains on the border between France and Spain, this tiny country has no airport and no international train service. Other than driving, the only way to get to Andorra is by bus from Barcelona and Girona in Spain, or Toulouse, France. This year, however, I had planned a visit to Toulouse, so I set aside three days to explore what Andorra had to offer.

An hour into the ride, I realized why there is no airport or rail line to Andorra. My bus turned off the highway onto a narrow, twisty two-lane road and began its ascent into the Pyrenees. Before long we were surrounded by exquisite green hills and knife-sharp black peaks, where patches of snow still showed in mid-summer. Scene of astonishing beauty lay in every direction. I wanted to ride forever, circling endlessly through the Alps.

Visiting Andorra required taking a bus from Toulouse, France, but the upside was the magnificent scenery along the way.

Visiting Andorra required taking a bus from Toulouse, France, but the upside was the magnificent scenery along the way.

After checking into my hotel, I set out to explore the capital city of Andorra la Vela. It didn’t take long; the entire country is only 181 square miles in size, and I walked the capital city from end-to-end in a couple of hours. At the eastern edge of the capital, I continued into the adjoining city of Escaldes-Engordany, home to Caldea Spa. While duty-free shopping, casinos, and winter sports may be the main reasons for visiting Andorra, I had come for the spa, which is reputed to be the largest in Europe. There was no trick to finding it. It’s 262-foot high mirrored glass spire is Andorra’s highest building. Read More

WT-90697154