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25 Things You Should Know About Monaco

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There's more to Monaco than race cars and a luxe casino. Read on for more about this tiny independent nation.

1. Since gaining its independence from the Republic of Genoa in 1297, Monaco has been ruled by the Grimaldi family, making that line the oldest ruling family in Europe. In 2002, the constitutional monarchy signed a treaty with France allowing it to remain an independent nation, even if the family should stop producing heirs.

2. At just 0.75 square miles, Monaco is the second smallest country in the world. (The smallest, of course, is Vatican City.) Monaco's total land area is about the size of New York City’s Central Park. It takes just under an hour (about 56 minutes, actually) to walk the width of Monaco.

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3.
Although you'll see both Monacan and Monegasque listed as acceptable demonyms for residents of Monaco, they prefer the latter.

4. However you refer to them, those who live in Monaco have a life expectancy of almost 90 years—one of the longest in the world. Meanwhile, the literacy rate hovers around 100 percent.

5. Despite its small size, there are several higher education institutions within the country, including the Rainier III Academy of Music and the Nursing School at the Princess Grace Hospital Complex.

6. Monaco’s red-and-white flag looks exactly like Indoensia’s except there’s one slight difference: Indonesia’s is wider. Yes, that’s it.

7. The city’s biggest attraction is the Casino de Monte Carlo. Citizens, however, are not allowed to gamble—or even enter!—the establishment. Its most notable, and perhaps most frequent, visitor: James Bond. The international spy hits the casino in Never Say Never Again, Golden Eye, and Casino Royale.

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8.
Hollywood has long had a love affair with the tiny principality. In fact, more than 50 films have taken place in Monaco, including Iron Man 2 and Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.

9. Grace Kelly first met Prince Rainier III at a photoshoot during the 1955 Cannes Film Festival. He proposed (with a 10.47 carat ring!) during a diplomatic trip to the States later that year.

10. …In keeping with tradition, however, Kelly's Philadelphia-based family had to pay the royal family a whopping $2 million dowry.

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11.
Kelly's 1956 wedding to Prince Rainier—watched by an estimated 30 million on television—was outdone by the birth of their first son, Albert II, who currently rules Monaco. The occasion was marked with a 21-gun salute and the day after was declared a national holiday. Gambling at the casino was put on hold, and everyone was treated to free champagne.

12. Prince Albert II attended Amherst College in the U.S. where he studied a number of subjects, including political science and economics. He has also played on Monaco's national soccer team and competed in three Olympic games as part of Monaco's bobsled team.

13. In 2011, Albert married Charlene Wittstock, an Olympic swimmer from South Africa. Three years later, the couple welcomed twins: daughter Gabriella and son Jacques. Although Gabriella was technically born first, Prince Jacques was declared next in line for the throne because priority is still given to male children. (Had both twins been girls, the eldest would have been declared the heir.)

14. Monaco's National Museum is the perfect stop for anyone with an appreciation of creepy dolls: the institution houses thousands of 19th century toys, as well as a number of automatons. Wind some of the dolls up, and they'll play the piano and even sigh.

15. Another must-see: The country's Musée Oceanographique, one of the largest oceanographic museums in the world. Its aquarium contains approximately 6000 specimens, and its collection underwent a recent renovation by artist Mark Dion, who modeled the new display after 19th century curio cabinets.

16. Last summer, visitors to Monaco's Grimaldi Forum were treated to a dining experience as gorgeous as delicious. Every item at the pop-up Pantone Cafe, from the napkins to the coffee, was labeled with its corresponding Pantone color code.

17. Monaco stopped collecting income tax back in 1869 because the country's casino raked in more than enough cash to sustain government operations.

18. Monaco has the largest police force in the world per capita. Not surprisingly, it also has the most millionaires and billionaires per capita.

19. The writer Somerset Maugham once described Monaco as a "sunny place for shady people," but its reputation may be undeserved. Contrary to popular belief, Monaco is not much of a tax haven for the wealthy; despite the lack of income tax, residents are charged a 19.6 percent value-added tax on goods and services, and corporations must pony up a third of their total profits.

20. Every September the city hosts the Monaco Yacht Show, where more than 500 companies exhibit the newest yachts on the market, including so-called super yachts. The super yachts on display have only gotten more, well, super over the years; the average length of the massive craft exhibited last year was 154 feet.

21. In the spring, there’s the Monaco Grand Prix, a Formula One race held every year since 1929. Drivers tackle the narrow course filled with elevation changes, tight corners and tunnels. If you're looking to catch the event, be forewarned that there are no cheap seats; Tickets can go for as much as $2750.

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22.
When the Grand Prix is in full swing, the Hotel de Paris sells close to 2000 bottles of champagne.

23. That bubbly is housed in the hotel's wine cellar, one of the most legendary in the world. The collection, which dates back to 1874, boasts 450,000 bottles, including 55 different kinds of champagne.

24. At night, tourists clamber into Jimmy’z nightclub. Known as the Temple of Clubbing, the spot draws in American, Italian, and Parisian jet-setters and international celebrities, including Bono and George Clooney.

25. The city’s beloved football team, AS Monaco, have won seven titles in the top French league. The players wear red and white uniforms and are often referred to as Les Rouge et Blanc (the red and whites).

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The Ohio State University Archives
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Excerpt
The Plucky Teenage Stowaway Aboard the First American Expedition to Antarctica
The Ohio State University Archives
The Ohio State University Archives

Documentary filmmaker and journalist Laurie Gwen Shapiro came across the name "William Gawronski" in 2013 while researching a story about Manhattan's St. Stanislaus, the oldest Polish Catholic church in the U.S. In 1930, more than 500 kids from the church had held a parade in honor of Billy Gawronski, who had just returned from two years aboard the first American expedition to Antarctica, helmed by naval officer Richard E. Byrd.

The teenager had joined the expedition in a most unusual way: by stowing aboard Byrd's ships the City of New York and the Eleanor Bolling not once, not twice, but four times total. He swam across the Hudson River to sneak onto the City of New York and hitchhiked all the way to Virginia to hide on the Eleanor Bolling.

"I thought, 'Wait, what?" Shapiro tells Mental Floss.

Intrigued by Billy's persistence and pluck, Shapiro dove into the public records and newspaper archives to learn more about him. She created an Excel spreadsheet of Gawronskis all along the East Coast and began cold-calling them.

"Imagine saying, 'Did you have an ancestor that jumped in the Hudson and stowed away to the Antarctic in 1928?'" Shapiro says. She got "a lot of hang-ups."

On the 19th call, to a Gawronski in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, an elderly woman with a Polish accent answered the phone. "That boy was my husband," Gizela Gawronski told her. Billy had died in 1981, leaving behind a treasure trove of mementos, including scrapbooks, notebooks, yearbooks, and hundreds of photos.

"I have everything," Gizela told Shapiro. "I was hoping someone would find me one day."

Three days later, Shapiro was in Maine poring over Billy's papers with Gizela, tears in her eyes.

These materials became the basis of Shapiro's new book The Stowaway: A Young Man's Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica. It's a rollicking good read full of fascinating history and bold characters that takes readers from New York to Tahiti, New Zealand to Antarctica, and back to New York again. It's brimming with the snappy energy and open-minded optimism of the Jazz Age.

Shapiro spent six weeks in Antarctica herself to get a feel for Billy's experiences. "I wanted to reach the Ross Ice barrier like Billy did," she says.

Read on for an excerpt from chapter four.

***

As night dropped on September 15, Billy jumped out of his second-floor window and onto the garden, a fall softened by potatoes and cabbage plants and proudly photographed sunflowers. You would think that the boy had learned from his previous stowaway attempt to bring more food or a change of dry clothes. Not the case.

An overnight subway crossing into Brooklyn took him to the Tebo Yacht Basin in Gowanus. He made for the location he'd written down in his notes: Third Avenue and Twenty-Third Street.

In 1928 William Todd's Tebo Yacht Basin was a resting spot— the spot—for the yachts of the Atlantic seaboard's most aristocratic and prosperous residents. The swanky yard berthed more than fifty staggering prizes of the filthy rich. Railroad executive Cornelius Vanderbilt kept his yacht O-We-Ra here; John Vanneck, his Amphitrite. Here was also where to find Warrior, the largest private yacht afloat, owned by the wealthiest man in America, public utilities baron Harrison Williams; yeast king (and former mayor of Cincinnati) Julian Fleischman's $625,000 twin-screw diesel yacht, the Carmago; General Motors president Alfred P. Sloan's Rene; shoe scion H. W. Hanan's Dauntless; and J. P. Morgan's Corsair III. The Tebo Yacht Basin's clubroom served fish chowder luncheons to millionaires in leather-backed mission chairs.

Todd, a great friend of Byrd's, lavished attention on his super-connected pal with more contacts than dollars. He had provided major funding for Byrd's 1926 flight over the North Pole, and helped the commander locate and refit two of the four Antarctic expedition ships for $285,900, done at cost. Todd loved puffy articles about him as much as the next man, and press would help extract cash from the millionaires he actively pursued as new clients; helping out a famous friend might prove cheaper than the advertisements he placed in upmarket magazines. Throughout that summer, Byrd mentioned Todd's generous support frequently.

Two weeks after the City of New York set sail, the Chelsea, the supply ship of the expedition, was still docked at the Tebo workyard and not scheduled to depart until the middle of September. Smith's Dock Company in England had built the refurbished 170-foot, 800-ton iron freighter for the British Royal Navy at the tail end of the Great War. First christened patrol gunboat HMS Kilmarnock, her name was changed to the Chelsea during her post–Royal Navy rumrunning days.

Not long before she was scheduled to depart, Byrd announced via a press release that he was renaming this auxiliary ship, too, after his mother, Eleanor Bolling. But the name painted on the transom was Eleanor Boling, with one l—the painter's mistake. As distressing as this was (the name was his mother's, after all), Byrd felt a redo would be too expensive and a silly use of precious funds. Reporters and PR staff were simply instructed to always spell the name with two ls.

As Billy eyed the ship in dock days after his humiliation on board the New York, he realized here was another way to get to Antarctica. The old, rusty-sided cargo ship would likely be less guarded than the flagship had been.

As September dragged on, Billy, back in Bayside, stiffened his resolve. No one would think he'd try again! On September 15, once more he swam out during the night to board a vessel bound for Antarctica.

Since his visit two weeks prior, Billy had studied his news clippings and knew that the Bolling was captained by thirty-six-year-old Gustav L. Brown, who'd been promoted weeks earlier from first mate of the New York when Byrd added the fourth ship to his fleet. Billy liked what he read. According to those who sailed under Brown's command, this tall and slender veteran of the Great War was above all genteel, and far less crotchety than the New York's Captain Melville. Captain Brown's education went only as far as high school, and while he wasn't against college, he admired honest, down-to-earth workers. Like his colleague Captain Melville, Brown had begun a seafaring life at fourteen. He seemed just the sort of man to take a liking to a teenage stowaway with big dreams.

Alas, the crew of the second ship headed to Antarctica now knew to look for stowaways. In a less dramatic repeat of what had happened in Hoboken, an Eleanor Bolling seaman ousted Billy in the earliest hours of the morning. The kid had (unimaginatively) hidden for a second time in a locker under the lower forecastle filled with mops and bolts and plumbing supplies. The sailor brought him to Captain Brown, who was well named, as he was a man with a mass of brown hair and warm brown eyes. The kind captain smiled at Billy and praised the cheeky boy's gumption—his Swedish accent still heavy even though he'd made Philadelphia his home since 1920—yet Billy was escorted off to the dock and told to scram.

A few hours later, still under the cover of night, Billy stole back on board and was routed out a third time, again from the “paint locker.”

A third time? The Bolling's third in command, Lieutenant Harry Adams, took notes on the gutsy kid who had to be good material for the lucrative book he secretly hoped to pen. Most of the major players would score book deals after the expedition; the public was eager for adventure, or at least so publishers thought. The catch was that any deal had to be approved by Byrd: to expose any discord was to risk powerful support. Adams's book, Beyond the Barrier with Byrd: An Authentic Story of the Byrd Antarctic Exploring Expedition, was among the best: more character study than thriller, his grand sense of humor evident in his selection of anecdotes that the others deemed too lightweight to include.

Billy was not the only stowaway that September day. Also aboard was a girl Adams called Sunshine, the "darling of the expedition," a flirt who offered to anyone who asked that she wanted to be the first lady in Antarctica. (In the restless era between world wars, when movies gave everyone big dreams, even girl stowaways were not uncommon.) Brown told a reporter that Sunshine had less noble aspirations, and soon she, too, was removed from the Bolling, but not before she gave each crew member a theatrical kiss.

As the early sun rose, Captain Brown called Billy over to him from the yacht yard's holding area where he had been asked to wait with the giggling Sunshine until his father arrived. The captain admired Billy's gumption, but it was time for the seventeen-year-old to go now and not waste any more of anyone's time.

As Lieutenant Adams recorded later, "Perhaps this matter of getting rid of Bill was entered up in the Eleanor Bolling log as the first scientific achievement of the Byrd Antarctic expedition."

*** 

From THE STOWAWAY: A Young Man's Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica by Laurie Gwen Shapiro. Copyright © 2018 by Laurie Gwen Shapiro. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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Art Lovers in England, Rejoice: France's Famous Bayeux Tapestry is Coming to the UK
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

One of France’s most prized national treasures, the Bayeux Tapestry, is officially heading to England for exhibition. The loan will mark the first time the fragile 11th century work has left France in nearly 1000 years, according to The Washington Post.

French president Emmanuel Macron announced news of the loan in mid-January, viewed by some as a gesture to smooth post-Brexit relations with Britain, ABC reports. The tapestry depicts the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, a historically important event replete with guts and glory.

Stretching for 210 feet, the Bayeux Tapestry’s nine embroidered panels tell the tale of Harold, Earl of Wessex, who swore an oath to support the right of William, Duke of Normandy, to the English throne once King Edward (a.k.a. Edward the Confessor) died without an heir. But after Edward's funeral at Westminster Abbey, Harold breaks his oath to William so he could be crowned king instead. Believing he was the rightful ruler, William—today remembered as William the Conqueror—decides to wage war and ultimately defeats Harold at the Battle of Hastings.

The historical narrative has endured for centuries, but the tapestry's provenance has been lost to time. Experts think that the artwork may have been created in England, shortly after the Battle of Hastings, although it’s unclear who designed and embroidered the scenes. Its original owner, Bishop Odo of Bayeux, the half-brother of William the Conqueror, may have commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry. He became Earl of Kent after the Battle of Hastings, and this new title would have afforded him access to skilled artisans, The Guardian explains.

The Bayeux Tapestry is currently on display in the town of Bayeux in Normandy. It likely won’t leave France until 2020, after conservators ensure that it’s safe to move the artwork. According to The Telegraph, the tapestry might be be displayed at the British Museum in 2022.

[h/t The Washington Post]

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