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.

I climbed Mount Taranaki in New Zealand

“All I can say is that I’m now yet another singer in the choir of people that praise New Zealand to high heavens.”

After a few months in Australia of mostly working I figured it was time to go out and explore a bit again. I always wanted to see New Zealand and since my good buddy JJ (whom I met in Vietnam on my motorcycle trip) was a kiwi I figured now was a good time as any to go and visit him. He lived near the beach in Ohope and even had a spare bedroom! I booked the plane tickets with a return 3 weeks later and off I went.

After an extremely pleasant trip hitching from Auckland to Ohope with beautiful roads all the way and locals going out of their way to help me, I arrived. The last ride I got, which took me directly to my final destination, was a couple named Jono and Kelly from #rallylife and they even offered me to stay in their house while I was in town! If you read this Jono and Kelly – thank you – you have no idea how much I appreciated it.

thank you jono and kelly
Thank you Jono and Kelly!

As JJ was working I spent most of my time hiking, working from my computer or going to the beach. That itself doesn’t sound too bad but JJ pushed me to go a bit out of my way and explore some more. On the last day, this took me to the Agrodome where I witnessed a sheep getting sheared live in front of us at a farming show.

agrodome farming show in new zealand
A one hour show at the Agrodome, presenting a selection of 19 types of sheep being farmed in New Zealand. The Merino sheep in the top middle is my favourite

It also took me to Hobbiton (the Lord Of The Rings movie set). I’m glad I did both of those things!

hobbiton movie set new zealand
A rabbit hole, I mean Hobbit hole in Hobbiton. The amazing movie set used to film the Lord of the Rings series

However, the highlight of the trip was a 3 day camping trip (+ roadtrip) across the north island to New Plymouth with JJ and his dad. We did a ton of hiking (or tramping or mountaineering) as well as climbing Mount Taranaki. It is the biggest volcano on the North Island and even has snow on the top! It is also looks a lot like the more famous Mount Fuji in Japan.

climbing mount taranaki new zealand at 45 degrees angle
This mountain was no walk-over. It was very steep . I don’t know the actual angle but from this picture it looks like 45 degrees

It took about 4 hours to make it to the top. We spent an hour up there enjoying it. And it took 3 hours to get down so it was a full day experience. JJ’s dad swore that it was the last time he would climb this mountain but that’s also what he said last time, so who knows.

climbing mount taranaki in new zealand
The top of Mount Taranaki near New Plymouth, New Zealand. It was a rough climb but as always – worth it in the end!

This is a short summary of my time in New Zealand but so much happened and I had such a good time that it would be pointless to write it all down anyway. All I can say is that I’m now yet another singer in the choir of people that praise New Zealand to high heavens.

showcasing new zealand scenery new plymouth
New Zealand is beautiful!