We briefly popped out of Switzerland to visit the capital Vaduz. Interestingly enough, not only is Liechtenstein one of the smallest countries in the world (6th)with neither an airport or a train station in the capital it is also only one of two double landlocked countries in the world (the other one being Uzbekistan). A double landlocked country is a country which only boarders landlocked countries, Liechtenstein boarders Switzerland and Austria, neither of which have a coastline.
Vaduz ‘city centre’ is not on most people’s holiday itinerary, the reason being is there is not a lot to do there, you can walk through the city in a matter of minutes, we tried to prolong our stay by visiting the stamp museum, one of the tourist attractions… The principle landmark is Vaduz Castle which can be seen from virtually every point in the city as it is perched atop a cliff; this is the residence of the monarch, Prince Hans-Adam II and his family.
Back in the car be wove our way south through Switzerland and on into Italy (yet another new country for me). The Italian Mafia have been portrayed in many a film but they are actually contribute a huge part to Italy’s economy, the Mafia accounts for 7% of the country’s GDP. Fortunately we didn’t come across any Godfathers en route. It was already well into the afternoon when
we crossed the border so we decided we would head to Milan for dinner before driving out the city to find some services to sleep in. Naturally we did a bit of sightseeing, the highlight being the Cathedral, being the 5th largest church in the world, unfortunately it was closed, even so it was nice to have as a backdrop as we ate pizza at a street-side café, even if the service was slow and from a very rude waitress.
The next morning we had a decision to make, drive 350km in the wrong direction to San Marino or head towards France. I decided we could afford the days driving to visit such a unique country.
Most people outside of Europe have probably never even heard of the country as they are not world leaders in any field and most Europeans have probably only heard of the country because of their abysmal footballing history, having only won one game in the country’s history (Liechtenstein 2004). Last year they were ranked bottom of FIFA rankings but since then they have scored again Latvia and drawn against Estonia pulling them up to 196th. They do however have the fastest goal ever scored in FIFA World Cup qualification, with Davide-Gualtieri scoring San Marino’s only goal in their 1–7 loss against England in 9 seconds on 17 November 1993.
The small country that is surrounded completely by Italy and claims to be the oldest surviving sovereign state in the world and having visited the hilltop country I can see why it was never successfully invaded. Atop this rock pinnacle is a fortress which provides views to the Adriatic Sea to the East and as far as the eye can see to the West. Although only a small country which would only ever have been defended by a few hundred men I think anyone visiting will see why the Italians never conquered the Sammarinese.
We drove back the same way we had arrived to San Marino and it was just a short drive through Southern France, we chose the delightfully pretty coastal road. After parking the car in Monte Carlo (the capital of Monaco) we decided to pay homage to the casino, arguably the most famous in the world and certainly the one with the grandest architecture. I knew I couldn’t travel all this way without having at least one spin on the roulette (I would’ve sat and played cards all day had we not been on a tight schedule). €50 on red. Anyone who has played roulette will know the suspense as the small ball spins round then drops and bounces a few times before finally coming to rest in one of the pockets. Red. I thought I would quit whilst ahead and leave with double my money. Being the only city we visited on the coast we felt we had to swim in the sea but I can assure you that the Mediterranean really isn’t that warm in April. After a casual walk round the harbour admiring the super yachts went back to the car and drove some of the F1 race track, including the home straight as they had already built the grandstand in preparation for the forthcoming race, they had already laid the new track so having driven on a variety of different quality roads this was like driving on grippy marble it was so smooth, arguably my most pleasurable driving experience ever.
A country I have visited on numerous occasions for previous holidays but during this trip we probably spent 10 minutes in the country, more by accident than anything else as we missed the correct turning and the next minute we had crossed over the international boundary. One thing I do especially like about Spain is their national anthem because I can’t sing in tune and their anthem has no words.
Yet another small country many people have probably never heard of, it is situated between France and Spain, located in the Pyrenees. Due to its non-strategic location it has never been in a war in 1,000 years; although they did declare war on Germany in WW1 but never sent anyone into conflict and due to their non-participation weren’t part of the Treaty of Versailles and subsequently didn’t declare peace with Germany until 1957!
Andorra is also a tax haven with the country’s largest source of income being tobacco which they grow in abundance and they have fuel at less than a euro a litre (diesel)!
We drove up a mountain pass, envying the people skiing down the slopes which flanked the road and onto the capital, Andorra La Vella. A very uninteresting city other than the fact it is the highest European city with an elevation of 1,023m. We did have an interesting situation where I tried to withdraw some money and thought I had lost my bank card as it wasn’t in my wallet; Chris then tried to load his international currency card with money, using free wifi. It didn’t work. We concluded that I must have left it at a petrol station way back in France a few hundred kilometres ago where we had last filled up. We also concluded that we probably didn’t have enough money or fuel to get back there but we did think we could make it to Barcelona where there was a British Consulate who could hopefully loan us some money.
When we got back to the car I suddenly had a realisation that I was now wearing jeans and earlier I had been wearing shorts, low and behold I found my card in the back pocket of my shorts.. Nearly an hour wasted worrying over a stupid mistake. It was a great relief to be able to withdraw money and make full use of the cheap fuel.
Whilst growing up I spent my summer holidays camping here and I have been back many times since. It is a country renowned for excellent cuisine, fine wines and with both world class beaches and ski resorts it is unsurprising that France is the number one tourist destination in the world, with over 80 million visitors annually.
On the various occasions I have visited the country I have travelled by a huge array of transport in France; including canoeing down the Loire, crossing the country via coach/train, using Paris’ subway system, cycling in the summer sun to the beach. I have even hitch hiked in Corsica but this trip was certainly one of the most memorable.
At the start of the trip we caught a ferry from Dover (UK) to Calais (France) and it wasn’t long until we had crossed into Belgium. On the return journey however we had a more interesting experience. Having just filled up with cheap fuel in Andorra (€0.99 per Litre of diesel) we were on the home stretch, cruising along, basking in the Friday afternoon sun and then it all went downhill.
I’m not going to pretend I am a car buff but when the turbo kept jumping, subsequently over-revving the engine I knew something wasn’t quite right. It may have been a result of us having averaged about 500 miles the previous 4 days but we’ll never know. Anyway I decided to press on in the hopes of nursing the car home and taking it to a garage once back. We never made it. In fact we weren’t even close. We stopped on the A20, virtually half way between Montauban and Brive. It was 1930 and once I had used the emergency phone to get picked up we tried talking to the recovery man, his English was worse than our French but thankfully I have a sister who is fluent who came in very handy. Aside from a language barrier a more pressing issue was the fact that all the garages were shut and wouldn’t be open until Monday, by which time I needed to be back in work! Mobile reception at the garage was poor to say the least but after both Chris and I messaging our parents to search the nearest/cheapest/easiest way of getting back to the UK it transpired that some family friends lived just 20 miles away. They dully picked us up the next morning and drove us to Brive where we caught a number of trains through the night to Paris and then caught an early Eurostar on Sunday morning back to London and home.
It didn’t turn out to be quite as cheap a trip as we had anticipated but we saw what we came to visit, had a great laugh in the car and ended up with a more exciting journey than we could’ve imagined!