Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Ridiculously super awesome European driving adventure – The micro-states of Liechtenstein and San Marino

July 11, 15

In an earlier edition I wrote about the notion of travelling and what constitutes having ‘been’ to and experienced in a country. My belief is that you have to experience a major part of a country’s heritage or culture, or spend time in a local environment for a period of time longer than your lunch, in order to tick it off your list. These philosophies were challenged by two places – countries – we visited during the Italian Surprise adventure.

On the way down to Perugia we stopped in Liechtenstein. It so easily could be another region of Switzerland. However, I’m sure saying that would be as offensive to them as suggesting to me that Wales is just an extension of England.

We drove almost head-to-toe through Liechtenstein. It didn’t take long. 26km at its longest, this principality. The capital, Vaduz, cannot be classed as anything other than a village. So why does it exist? Why do people come here?

Well, it is home to a royal family, currently headed by Prince Hans-Adam II. It is famous for…them. They live in a castle overlooking the valley in which Vaduz resides. And stamps. A stamp museum, as well as the paintings of stamps on the pedestrianised main street, highlights this. And…umm…that it is one of only two doubly-landlocked countries in the world! All the countries surrounding Liechtenstein are also landlocked. Bonus point if you can name the other country…

It’s Uzbekistan, if you want to impress your friends. A pamphlet from the tourist office could have helped me out here, if I hadn’t have lost it. It listed five – FIVE – reasons to visit Liechtenstein. One was to do with winter, the others…probably about stamps. I can imagine philatelists queuing in their droves to get their kicks here. I would say the main one is actually looking at the stunning Alpine mountains looming so closely over the principality. Mountains that probably belong to Austria and Switzerland.

In spite of the mockery, I liked Liechtenstein. It seemed very clean, very relaxed, very…Swiss. And in the same vein, the other micro-state we went to is very…Italian.

The Republic of San Marino. Third smallest country in the whole wide world. So atrocious at football that I’m sure many semi-professionals have considered getting citizenship so they can play in the World Cup (qualifiers, and lose 8-0 every time). A place that seems absolutely no different to Italy aside from the flag and the number plate. But again, don’t tell them that.

In spite of being engulfed by Italy, San Marino is actually quite difficult to reach, simply because it’s so high. The country of roughly 32,000 citizens is located up the steepest of hills. Atop the mound lies a castle, some souvenir shops often selling trinkets which say ITALIA on them, and a rather special view of the landscape surrounding it. Not much else.

We spent roughly two hours exploring each of these countries, by car and by foot. I said before that I didn’t think I had really experienced Mexico as I had only been there for…two hours. The problem is that these places are so small; it is probably as long as you actually need to see and do everything that they have to offer. There isn’t much uniqueness about them, and the harsh reality is that if they weren’t recognised as countries I don’t think many people would visit them.

Yet the fact remains that Liechtenstein and San Marino are their own, self-governing entities, and are perfectly entitled to be treated with just as much respect as any other state. Though I wouldn’t say you should travel from far and wide to flock to them (difficult anyway, as neither has an airport), they’re certainly worth exploring if you are in the vicinity. You could also see if you really are good enough for that San Marino football team…

Love you all


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