DAY 16: 500 Metres To Popesville

DAY 16: 500 Metres To Popesville

Friday 1 September

Day 16

We began the new month in high spirits as the bus crossed over the border into Croatia just after 3am and trundling through Croatia via Zagreb in no time at all. However, since it was a Bosnian bus, it took an age getting over the border into Slovenia. It seemed strange to think that just twenty five years ago Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia were all one country: Yugoslavia.

We were two hours late getting into Ljubljana, the splendidly unpronounceable capital of Slovenia, arriving at around 8:30am. By the end of the day I hoped to have also ticked off both San Marino and Vatican City, and be on the 23:00 night-train to Sicily. There was no time to lose. All my carefully constructed timetables had well and truly gone out of the window by now, I was very much winging it. Luckily, there was a bus leaving almost immediately for Trieste, just over the border in Italy. We arrived just over an hour and a half later with (thankfully) no hold-ups at the border at all. In fact we didn’t even stop! I love the EU.

Another quick change and onto another bus for Padua. By the time we arrived I was absolutely busting for a wee. I ran into the train station, but the damn toilets wanted a euro before I could get in. I fished in my pockets for some coins, but all I could find was shrapnel from the Balkan countries that sadly didn’t impress the turnstile one little bit. Out of options and with nobody around, I ducked the barrier… only for my backpack to get stuck on the damn thing. I had to wiggle about like total lemon in order to get it off, and in doing so drew a lot more attention than I would have liked. Ninja-like it was not.

Happily, nobody in the station seemed to care, so I conducted my short transaction with the porcelain and a few minutes later was on the 13:55 train to Bologna, famous for the pasta sauce so beloved by students the world over. From there it was onto the 14:55 train to a place called Rimini. Why Rimini, you ask? Well just look at the map!

Yep. There she is, plucky little San Marino, the oldest constitutional republic in the world. There’s no trainline to San Marino, a fact I discovered to my utter dismay back when I was on The Odyssey Expedition. I took a train to a place called “S Marino”… a tiny village in the Alps 140 miles north of ACTUAL San Marino.

D’oh!

I rarely make the same mistake twice, so I opted to get to Rimini by train, then take a taxi the 5 or 6 miles to San Marino. 

The taxi driver was great, he knew how to get to San Marino using the back roads, which was fortunate as otherwise we might well have got stuck in one of San Marino’s infamous traffic jams. It’s the only country in the world with more cars than people.

So after a good half hour of getting snaps and videos in San Marino, we got back in the taxi, back to Rimini and back on the train to Bologna. However, the train was ten minutes late, again throwing me into a state of anxiety that we’d miss the connecting train to Rome. If we missed that, we’d miss the train to Sicily, then miss the boat to Malta and would have to add two days to the journey (the ferry doesn’t run every day). As it was, we were already massively behind schedule, mostly thanks to that damn coach getting us into London two hours late the week before.

Happily, we made the Roma train by the skin of our teeth and by 10pm we were rushing in a taxi through the eternal city to country number 46, the smallest country in the world: The Holy See, aka The Vatican.

We had less than an hour to get to the Vatican and back to the station for the night train. Depending on the traffic, it can take up to 25 minutes to get from Rome Termini to St Peter’s Square, but our driver drove like a maniac, which, given the circumstances, was actually rather welcome. I made damn sure my seatbelt was working though.

But all the crazed late braking and screeching corners were rendered slightly moot by the fact that for some reason the Via della Conciliazione – the main road leading to St Peter’s Square (which isn’t square, by the way, it’s oval, but whatever) was closed to traffic. So we had to get out of the taxi, with all our stuff, and leg it the 500 metres to Popesville.

It was a swelteringly hot September night. I was grateful that my backpack wasn’t that big, but my laptop wasn’t exactly a Macbook Air, if you know what I mean, and together with my camera equipment, it weighed heavy on my shoulders, like the responsibility of running the world’s largest gang of Christians, I guess. 

I did a small lap around the obelisk, before sprinting back down the Via della Conciliazione and back into the taxi (the driver had kindly waited for us). We arrived at Roma Termini with a good twenty minutes to spare.

I got a couchette for the night and totally exhausted, “more tired than I’ve ever been in my life”, I fell fast asleep, Italy quietly shifting beneath me.

🇭🇷 43 Croatia
 🇸🇮 44 Slovenia
🇸🇲 45 San Marino
🇻🇦 46 Vatican City

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes is a British adventurer, presenter, filmmaker and author. He is the only person to have travelled to every country in the world without flying. From 2014 to 2017 he lived off-grid on a private island that he won in a game show, before returning to the UK to campaign for a better future for the generations to come.

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