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Europe

Monaco and Liechtenstein has been checked off

Europe was once ridden with independent mini-countries but now only a few remain: the mini-states of Andorra, Luxemburg and Liechtenstein as well as the city-states of Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican City with the latter serving as the Catholic Pope’s residency.

During my latest and current roadtrip (I’m writing this from Portugal) we passed through first Liechtenstein and then Monaco. Both are interesting places!

Europe was once ridden with independent mini-countries but now only a few remain: the mini-states of Andorra, Luxemburg and Liechtenstein as well as the city-states of Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican City with the latter being the serving as the Catholic Pope’s residency.

Liechtenstein

Liechtenstein is a country about 25km’s long, making it large, as far as mini-states go. It is situated in the mountainous Alpes between Switzerland and Austria.

We arrived here at 1am and looked around. Even in the dark moon-light, you can feel the charm of this city with winding roads and small shops.

High above the centre of Vaduz (the capital) is visible a highly picturesque castle. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to go inside the castle (even during the day) as it is a private residence. The prince of Liechtenstein – Liechtenstein is a Monarchy – still lives there.

Furthermore, it has excellent winter sport capabilities and has through a long period of time served as a billionaire tax haven. However, in the recent years, the country is no longer blacklisted as a tax-haven but still bolsters the highest GBP per capita in the world (meaning everyone living here is filthy rich!).

The castle in Vaduz, Liechtenstein where the Prince lives
The castle in Vaduz (capital of Liechtenstein) at night. The castle is not small. It stretches far behind what is visible here including several (modern) wings.

Monaco

Of the two, Liechtenstein gives off a secluded private haven in the mountains best suited for people wanting to take a break from an otherwise hectic lifestyle, while Monaco gives off a vibe of all the things your mom says you shouldn’t waste your money on: cars, girls, yachts and casinos.

Monaco is a city state located on prime real-estate on the French Riviera overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. It is about 3.5km’s long, meaning that it’s basically just a bay and that you can see from one side to the other from the beach (or from your yacht if you prefer). This makes it the second smallest and densest country in the world.

Monaco, like Liechtenstein, is a monarchy with a sovereign Prince as head of state with immense political power. It’s noteworthy that a single house, the house of Grimaldi, has ruled Monaco (with brief interruptions) since 1297! While Liechtenstein has the highest GDP in the world, Monaco comes in at a close second.

The reason for this are favourable tax laws, luring wealthy people from all over the world to the country as well as a sprawling gambling industry started with the opening of the famous (or infamous) Monte Carlo casino in 1863.

With exuberant social persons, quiet philantropists, casinos and the charming French Riviera combined with agreeable weather this place is currently a very lively place with all of walks of life enjoying their existence here. You’ll see helicopters in the sky and yachts floating outside the coast (all private, of course) topped off with an all you can eat buffet of expensive cars.

You’ll see more exotic cars (new and old) within a day here than at any car conventions I’ve been to. If that picture doesn’t convince you, consider this: at any time and at any place – if you look around you’ll see a car worth turning your head for.

Of the two, Liechtenstein gives off a secluded private haven in the mountains best suited for people wanting to take a break from an otherwise hectic lifestyle, while Monaco gives off a vibe of all the things your mom says you shouldn’t waste your money on: cars, girls, yachts and casinos.

Monaco with monte carlo casino, yachts and beach
Monaco seen from above. You can see the Monte Carlo Casino and one of the monstrous yachts in the background. There’s a beach behind there as well

Using the smugglers route to cross from Vietnam into China

In May 2016 I visited Lung Cu all the way up the most northern part of Vietnam but this is not what this story is about

After Lung Cu I thought it would be cool to see the border here. I’m drawn towards the border because I’m intrigued with the idea that a border to a country as closed as China would be completely unsupervised. I’ve always had this idea of a completely remote border, you know, without even a border control post where only shepherds roam somewhere deep in the mountains.

As I drove out the road the pavement suddenly stopped and before me was about 6 motorbikes and a tiny dirt path along the ridge of the mountain. It looked like something you would only want to walk and the direction took you straight towards China. This is it I guess – the border.

I could see pretty far ahead and it looked like at least a 15-minute walk down along a very muddy path before anything would change so I decided to opt against it. However, as I turned around a little bit I noticed a definite path going up the mountain, not towards China, so I figured it would be safe to go up there, at least for the view over the valley.

When I got up I saw several road marker stones with skulls on them all over the area. Skulls, just skulls. Frightening.

Thoughts of land mines and stuff like that popped up in my head and I was about to turn around. Enough is enough.

But when I was about to turn around I saw a shepherd with two cows on a definite path, albeit small, meaning that at least it would be safe, landmine wise – and so I continued towards him.

Around the corner I saw a paved road pop out in the middle of nowhere, Chinese signs and more skulls. I’m pretty sure this was the border. I walked up on the pavement, talked some with the farmer – who was Chinese! – and walked back to my bike.

On the way out, with mud all over my shoes, I got some concerned looks from locals who could only wonder what I’d been doing out there. I’ve heard from other people that the area is used for smugglers as well – which would make sense since it’s so easy and remote.

Hitchhiking solo from Germany to Denmark

Making the decision to hitchhike

After Wacken Festival in Germany (near Itzehoe) I needed to get back home to Copenhagen and for various reasons I decided to hitchhike – approximately 450km’s.

The first part of the trip was easy as I was at the festival with a friend and he took me as far as Schleswig (100km’s). This also gave me a welcomed chance for a decent meal and a shower. Between the time it took to pack the camp, drive to Schleswig and get ready to continue my journey it was already 5pm.

Originally the plan was to sleep at my friends’ place and leave early next day to have a full array of daylight. However, from a mix of wanting to push my limits to wanting to get home earlier, I left the same day.

hitchhike
The familiar “thumbs up” signaling a desire to hitchhike

Step by step progress of the day

17:00 – I was dropped off at the highway on-ramp towards Denmark. After about 10 minutes I got picked up by some guys who could take me to Flensbourg – 30km’s north. It wasn’t a long ride but I reasoned that it would take me closer to the border and at the same time provide a roof over my head as it started raining and I had no shelter at my current position. Looking back, it wasn’t a good call as they took me all the way to the center of Flensbourg – about 15minutes from the highway.

18:00 – I asked an old couple to take me back out the highway and they did. Unfortunately, it was at an on-ramp coming from a cars-only road. This meant that there was no place for me to stand and even the on-ramp didn’t have much place to stop. I’m also fairly confident it was illegal.

19:00 – After a demoralizing hour a car stopped – a local car going back to Flensbourg. He said that I probably wasn’t standing in a very good position (to which I agreed) and suggested he take me to the nearest McDonalds: “many Danes park there, maybe you can get a ride towards Denmark from there?”

As it was once again raining and I had realised that I had forgotten my rain jacket at my friend’s house, I agreed. This meant that after a couple of hours I was only about 30km’s closer and I was stranded in an inconvenient place with little traffic away from the highway. Fortunately (!), he made me a very generous offer of coming back for me one hour later and if I were still around he would take me to the nearest rest stop on the Danish side of the border to help me on my way.

20:20 – No one was able to take me – they were either locals or vacationing families with full cars. Naturally, I was at a low point as this wasn’t exactly what I had hoped for. However, my friend from before, Michael, heroically returned to save the day for me.

20:50 – He dropped me off at not the first, not the second but the third rest stop in Denmark for the sole reason that the first two were too small with not enough traffic. If you look at the map at the top of this post, you’ll see it’s quite a way up into Denmark. This guy was a true hero.

20:51 – Approximately one minute later I got another ride from a Polish guy going north towards Aalborg. Although not the right direction I figured he could take me another 50km. In retrospect, this was a mistake.

21:30 – As we were nearing the place where the highways split (he needed to go north, I wanted to go east) he had to drop me off. Unfortunately, there was only a small rest stop before the intersection. This meant that although I was closer to home, I was now in a position with much less traffic.

21:35 – I got a ride from a German couple and their baby. They also needed to go north but they could see from their GPS that there was actually a gas station closer to the intersection before the highways split and there I would be able to get more rides, so I accepted. Again, looking back this was also a bad call and although it was closer and a gas station, it was a gas station a little bit away from the highway with very little highway traffic.

21:45 – It was getting dark and cold and traffic was dying. I tried different things, I walked to the highway onramp, I asked everyone at the gas station and I even got a ride to a nearby truck terminal to ask if anyone was going my way by any chance. They weren’t – they were all going south although, for the record, as much of a longshot as I thought it would be, I could have probably have gotten a ride if I was going that direction.

23:15 – I had been standing at the on ramp for about an hour and a few cars had stopped but they were going very short distances as well as the wrong way – so no luck. About to give up, I checked the train schedules which were horrible for getting home. My last resort was to go back to the gas station and ask if I could sleep in the back room somewhere until the next morning and then try again.

23:25 – I was back at the gas station and was approached by a guy with whom I had a conversation roughly like this:

Him: “are you a hitchhiker?”
Me: “yes…”
Him: “are you going to Copenhagen?”
Me: “uuhm, yes…”
Him: “Congratulations, you’ll get home tonight.”

*high five*

As it turns out, it was a car filled with hitchhikers coming directly from a festival in Amsterdam for street performers, entertainers, jugglers etc. as well as their tools of the trade. I managed to squeeze in and off we went.

If you ever needed proof for the existence of Karma – this would be it. Right there in my hour of need, these friends magically appeared. They were only there because they had to drop off a friend off at this very spot.

02:15 – Following a pleasant and very interesting talk in the car I arrived at my front door safe and sound.

Conclusion

After a very long day, following a long festival, I made it home. At times, this trip was rough but I made it in the end and the good times massively outweighed the bad times. Update: one week later I hitchhiked from Copenhagen to North Jutland in about 8 hours – much faster. Especially considering that 1hour 30 was from the ferry ride across and another 1hour 30 was waiting for the ferry at the terminal.

Also, looking back, a very important lesson here is that getting closer to your goal is not an advantage if it takes you away from traffic. I should not have taken that ride from Schleswig to Flensbourg city center and I should not have taken either of those rides that took me first from the main gas station to the smaller rest stop and then again to the small gas station away from the highway. I got picked up by a Polish guy going north after just 1 minute and if I had just been patient and waited for that one car that went all the way to Copenhagen or at least Odense (a long stretch towards the right direction), I’m sure it would have gone a lot smoother.

hitchhike open road
The open road. Stick your thumb out and enjoy some of that rural bliss