Saturday August 21st 2010
After the conference in Vienna, I was heading to the south of France to meet my family for a relaxing holiday in a villa. I could have flown, but I decided to travel at ground level and stop off in some countries more or less en route that I hadn't been to. So I headed to Wien Westbahnhof, found the night train for Feldkirch and got on board. At first I had a compartment all to myself, and thought I might have a nice ride, but in the minutes before departure it filled to capacity. It would be an uncomfortable night.
We crossed Austria. I woke up in Salzburg and Innsbruck, and then at Bludenz, where the sky was beginning to brighten and we were not far from our final destination. By now there was only one person left in the compartment, and he also woke. He rubbed his eyes, looked around blearily, and slowly focussed on the station sign. In an instant he was thrown into a panic, leaping from his seat, grabbing his things and bolting. I saw him leap from the carriage moments before we started pulling out. I wondered just how long ago he'd meant to get off.
Not long afterwards, we arrived at Feldkirch, right on the edge of Austria. After a chilly half hour wait in the fresh morning air, the train to Buchs arrived, and I got on. It was going to be a beautiful day, and as we crossed into Liechtenstein, mist drifted over the fields and the hills. A few minutes later I got off the train at Schaan, excited to be in a tiny country about which I knew almost nothing. Tired and grubby from the night train, I walked out into the deserted town. I found an early morning bakery, bought an excellent coffee and a few pastries, and sat in the sunshine looking around at the country.
Saturday August 21st 2010
I wanted to have a bit of a lie down before exploring the country, but the hostel wouldn't let me check in until 2pm. It was 7.30am and the sun was shining, so I decided to head out. I walked down the road from Schaan to Vaduz, sat down on a bench in the empty town, and fell asleep. I woke myself up by snoring, embarrassed then to find that the streets were now quite busy. Feeling the disapproval of the passers by, I got up and staggered through the town. I found a small park full of trees, and fell asleep again in the cool shade. I slept for a long time, occasionally wondering if I might get arrested for vagrancy, but enjoying my doze far too much to worry about it.
Eventually I woke up and decided it was time to actually look around instead of just sleeping rough in various parts of town. It was a hot, hot, sunny day, and the little town was pretty much exactly as I'd imagined it, a street lined with expensive cafes, with a castle on the hills overlooking the town, and jagged mountains all around. I stopped in one of the cafes and had an expensive lunch.
I wandered up the hill towards the castle. Wealthy suburbs full of large, comfortable-looking houses spread out across the lush green fields. Not far away was the Rhein, and on the other side of that was Switzerland. Austria was behind me, over the mountains. Behind the castle, a forest stretched away. I relaxed in the cool shade for a while, before heading back towards Schaan.
The heat of the day was impressive, and the cool of evening was welcome. I went to bed early and slept deeply. Early the next morning I walked out of Liechtenstein and into Switzerland, to catch a train from Buchs. My next destination was Nice.
Monday August 23rd 2010
Crossing Switzerland by train in a day was easy. My journey to Geneva required me to change at Buchs, Sargans and Zürich. At each stop, the gap between the trains was exactly enough for me to find the platform and go to it - neither more nor less. I watched the beautiful countryside sweeping past from the comfort of air-conditioned trains.
From Geneva I caught a TGV to Nice, and spent a night there, in a hot airless hostel. I walked down to the beach in the humid night and sat on the shores of the Mediterranean. I'd already come a long way from Vienna, and I was only half way to my destination.
In the morning, I got a train along the coast to Monaco. I didn't really have any plans at all to fill the few hours I had before I needed to catch a train to Narbonne. I emerged from the cavernous station to find myself in the extraordinarily familiar surroundings of Saint-Devote, the first corner of the grand prix circuit. It was really strange to be somewhere where I recognised everything, and had seen everything from many different angles, many times over the years, without ever having been there. There was only one thing for a grand prix fan to do at this point. I headed out for a lap.
The more I walked, the more I decided I really, really wanted to see a grand prix live here. The narrowness of the streets, and the steepness of the climbs and descents, was so much more dramatic in the flesh than it ever looked on television. Cars were having trouble overtaking buses, so how Formula One cars could ever do any overtaking was beyond me. I walked up the hill to the Casino, down through the Mirabeau and round the fantastic Loewes Hairpin. I thought of all the awesome races that had passed here, and looked at the marks they'd left on the kerbs.
I carried on, under the tunnel, and up towards the left-hander at Tabac. There is a chicane here called the Swimming Pool, so I'm not sure why I was actually surprised to see a swimming pool. I think they cover it over during the GP weekend so I'd always imagined it was some former landmark. But now I passed by it, nearing the end of my lap. I rounded the Rascasse and then headed into the final straight. I would definitely have to come back here to watch a grand prix.
Monday August 23rd 2010
I finished my lap and went to the harbour for a while. There were lots of cafes near the water's edge, overlooking all the decadent playboy's yachts. I picked one and sat down. There was no menu and no prices, but I decided I was going to have a coffee by the harbour in Monaco regardless of expense. I was actually quite disappointed when it was only €1.70.
I bought some lunch and sat by the sea eating it. Monaco was all action, with traffic pounding around the narrow streets. I went into a Casino supermarket and bought some Monegasque chocolate and wine, and then headed back to Nice to catch the train to Narbonne. My microstates tour was over, and now the only countries in Europe that I still needed to visit were Andorra and San Marino.