Cote d'Azur

Getting Inspired

I sat down to my computer this morning and took a moment to look back at the last month. It was a big, shiny, happy, and full month.

I finally had some time to sit down and really tackle the Versailles guide with extra tenacity. That means the second rough draft is done and I've sent it off to some test readers! I'm pretty excited that the light is at the end of the tunnel now. I want to get this out into the world and share a new way to take a tour.

I also finished my first post for the "Get Inspired" section of the website. It's all about the charming Côte d'Azur town of Villefranche-sur-Mer. There are pictures, restaurant reviews, recommendations for things to do, where to stay, and how to get there--the things that hopefully spark your imagination and get you fired up maybe taking a trip (there or anywhere). We're swinging into the height of travel season, after-all!

This is just the beginning for the Get Inspired section. I have more towns, villages, and cities--most of them in France and Italy--already planned so stay tuned! 

And finally, my personal life got a bit more exciting. I got engaged in May and we've jumped into wedding planning with joy and gusto and, well, sticker shock! What that also means is that I've started daydreaming about honeymoon destinations. Italy? France? Spain? The Galapagos? Costa Rica? Iceland? There are so many incredible places we could go. So we're dreaming big dreams right now and planning some amazing long and short term adventures. 

So here's to a summer of adventure, yours and mine!

Daydream Destination: Oceanographic Museum of Monaco (Part II)

Last week I shared some of my favorite pictures from the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco's aquarium, but the aquarium was really just the beginning. 

So today's post is all about the historic collections, temporary exhibit, beautiful rooms and expansive views that awaited us. 

First up is the Prince Albert I Room. It is chock full of artifacts and information from and about Prince Albert I's oceanographic explorations and scientific research between 1885 and 1915. 

At the time of his first voyage, oceanography was a relatively young science and Prince Albert I played an important role in its development. He and his crew studied plant and marine life, taking extremely detailed notes and preserving specimens, some of which are on display. 

In 1906, he created the Oceanographic Institute Foundation Albert I, Prince of Monaco which later became the famed Oceanographic Museum of Monaco we can visit today. It houses the museum and aquarium in Monaco, but also includes a library and world-class Parisian research facility. 

My favorite example of his team's work was their study of the ocean currents. They dropped bottles encased in copper balls into the ocean. Inside each bottle was a note written in 10 different languages, asking whoever found the ball/bottle to report information about their location back to the Prince. 

This allowed for a much deeper and more accurate understanding of the ocean's currents, especially the Gulf Stream.

There's something almost romantic to me about how simple and effective it was. Besides, who doesn't dream of finding a bottle washed up on some shore with a message inside it? For science!

Just outside of the Prince Albert I Room is large hall with more interesting things to look at. Like a replica of the first submarine which was built in the 1700s. 

I want to think that I have enough of an adventuring spirit that I would have climbed right in that thing when it was first built, but I know how I feel about deep, dark water: fear and awe. The bottom line is that I'd probably let another sucker go first at least a few times. 

At the time, Mark Quinn's Self 2011 , a cast of his head in his own frozen blood, was also on display here. I briefly mentioned him last week, but his works were on display throughout the museum as part of an exhibition called "The Littoral Zone."

I'm not sure why my only photo of it is so far away. I stood in front of it for awhile vacillating between contemplation and general heebie jeebies. If art is supposed to make you think, I quickly learned that Marc Quinn definitely does that for me.

At the other end of the hall, across from the Prince Albert I Room is the Whale Room. It comes by its name honestly. The skeleton of an immense rorqual fin whale that, at nearly 60 feet (18 meters), seems to span the whole room and dwarf the other 12 whale skeletons surrounding it. It's hard not to stop and stare for a good, long while.  

The Whale Room also showcases temporary exhibitions alongside all of the other interesting marine specimens around the room. On our visit, of course, it was more of Marc Quinn's work. One of my favorites was the eerily beautiful The Future of the Planet.  My photo is blurry, but there's a clear picture at the link. 

After the Whale Room, we went to the roof. The views were a treat, even on a cloudy and drizzly day. If you ever visit, I highly recommend not skipping out on it. There is also a washroom up there. Two birds, one stone. 

More Marc Quinn pieces and a funny, yellow not-quite-a-submarine boat greeted us.

The whole experience was a great way to spend part of a rainy day, especially in a country that has a reputation for being superficial and touristy. 

If you're interested in going, here is a link to the official website of the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco for all of the updated information you will need, including hours and ticket prices.  

Daydream Destination: Oceanographic Museum of Monaco (Part I)

I will be honest right off the bat. I didn't really want to go to Monaco. I heard it was overrated and touristy, but sometimes you just have to see for yourself. 

Now that I have been, I can't really disagree with the touristy bit, but I was so glad my family and I made the trip. We had a really fun experience and one reason for that was the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco. It's part museum and part aquarium and gorgeous rooftop views over Monaco and the sea.

As someone who loves both history and sea creatures (I wanted to to be a marine biologist when I was little), I found it completely enchanting. There were also some surprises.

"Planet" welcomes you to the Oceanographic Museum

The first surprise, perhaps, was Marc Quinn's giant baby statue, "Planet." The photo above does not do it's size justice. It's massive.

Once inside, another work by Marc Quinn, a beautiful golden shell titled "The Origin of the World," greeted us. We decided to downstairs to the aquarium first where I immediately became like a kid in a candy shop.

I was wide-eyed and amazed.

So much variety. So much color.


Dreamy, beautiful, and otherworldly 

And some quiet types that like to blend in.

The little guys below were my favorites. They mimic sea grass and sway ever so slightly in the water, waiting for good stuff to float by. I stood there mesmerized for a very long time watching them do their thing. Admittedly, "their thing" isn't much, but I found them strangely adorable and completely fascinating. 

And then there was stuff of nightmares. . .

Like a pot FULL OF EELS.

Or an eel so big that he wrapped around the entire tank. Little bits of his body could be seen peeking out from the rock formations. 

Those little spidery lobster looking things are cleaner shrimp. They help clean the eels by eating parasites on their bodies, even going so far as to venture inside their mouths. The eels, in turn, don't eat the shrimp. I hesitate to call it sweet, so I will call it a nice example of symbiosis.

That eel's got a body that doesn't quit. 

Or how about a Stone Fish that will kill you if you touch it? 

I had no clue this was a fish when I first walked up beside my mom at the tank. He was further back amidst a number of other ugly rocks.

She started to explain to me that the one ugly rock was, in fact, a fish. I was having none of it. I reached out and pointed at him when, suddenly, he charged toward my outstretched finger with that frowning mouth of his open and ready for lunch. 

I believed her after that. 

Bonus:  there's another Rock Fish right next to him the in picture. Sneaky little death fish. Amazing, but sneaky.

We spent a long time in the aquarium, but there was still a whole museum left to explore. I'll leave the rest for part two.

I know the blog has seemed quiet, but I've been fairly busy and productive behind the scenes. I (finally!) finished researching and writing the Versailles Vignette Guide. I am now in the revision phase! I'm expecting to find some surprises along the way after all of the starting and stopping, but I'm really excited to get this bad boy finished and release it into the world!

I also started writing for the Get Inspired section of the website and have been working on a page for Villefranche-sur-Mer, a beautiful village on France's Cotê d'Azur.

Things are moving along!