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We catch the train from our headquarters in Villefranche-sur-mer among a crush of Spanish cruiseship passengers.
After the parade, we tour the palace's estate apartments and the neighboring Museum of Napoleon Souvenirs. No photos are allowed in either place,and no shops carry any postcard images of what we saw. I curse myself for forgetting my fountain pen camera. However, the official palace website offers a few snapshots of the palace rooms, which His Serene Highness Albert II and his family still use for official occasions. The chambers are a study in opulence - gilt-trimmed furniture, richly colored silk brocades, portraits of the Grimaldis, past and present, and centuries worth of gifts from other royals and near-royals. The Museum of Napoleon Souvenirs contains over 1000 items related to Napoleon and other Grimaldi ancestors, including an impressive display of weapons, a scrap of the robe worn by Louis XIV during his execution, and Napoleon's bicorn, Mr. Moneynickel was in military history heaven. It was a good thing most of the explanations were in French, or we might still be there.
Just in case we are left with the impression that the Grimaldi fortune is tied up only in historic memorabilia, Albert II has amassed a collection of vintage vehicles that is also open to the public. Low-slung, Formula One racecars sparkle under hushed spotlights, next to Rolls Royces, Jaguars, Ferraris. I follow Moneynickel at a discreet distance, wiping small patches of drool off the cars' hoods. I eye up one or two models for my personal use.
The Grimaldis' shows of wealth set the tone for the sights that dazzle us for the rest of the day. The official Monaco Yacht Show is not until September 25, but the marinas are still a waterfront spectacle.
Architectural showpieces leap up from the downtown core.
Damn the casual disguises Moneynickel and I are wearing for this mission.We have no hope of being admitted to the casino dressed as we are, much less to the private gambling rooms where we might have broken the bank. Even the white-gloved doorman of the neighboring Hotel Paris is on alert for fashion faux pas, turning away those in shorts and sandals who think they'll slip into the lounge for a quiet pastis.
There is one other place during our visit from which we are barred admittance - St. Nicholas Cathedral, the site of Prince Rainier's marriage to Grace Kelly, and their final resting place. Our appearance is not the problem this time. A funeral is underway, a reminder to wealthy Monagesques that although taxes here are not a certainty, there is no escape from life's other inevitability