You Will Take This Mini Road Trip: Microstates Edition

Dashing through Liechtenstein, Andorra, Monaco and San Marino in a MINI Cooper, listening to the Immaculate Collection and eating gummy bears on a week-long race to catch a flight to Malta is a great idea that you have had and now you have to follow through because you have told everybody you are doing it.

Dashing through Liechtenstein, Andorra, Monaco and San Marino in a MINI Cooper, listening to the Immaculate Collection and eating gummy bears on a week-long race to catch a flight to Malta is a great idea that you have had and now you have to follow through because you have told everybody that you are doing it. 

You need:

– One (1) MINI Cooper, preferably red. Preferably.

– One (1) GPS thing.

– Zero (0) paper maps because see above.

– One (1) non-refundable, non-changeable airplane ticket to Malta, per person.

– One (1) pretty hefty rental deposit forfeited if you bring back the car late.

Your red (!) MINI comes with an American sorority girl-voiced GPS which you promptly name ‘Heather’. She has a little bit of vocal fry and can’t really pronounce foreign things but she doesn’t care. She plows through de-vowelled Slavic words with the careless confidence of, well, an American college girl. Which is actually why you call her Heather, because of that one time that you met an American exchange student who said she was “fluent” in Spanish but she spoke it like a Minion, and her name was Heather.

ANYWAY. The MINI Cooper has no booth space really but you don’t need booth space because you are sophisticated and unencumbered by practicality. Heather guides you out of the city and you nip through rush hour traffic and towards Liechtenstein without any bloodshed. You are in a red MINI Cooper and you all look so cool, cruising in your red MINI Cooper among everybody else in their boring cars and shrieking to ‘Chandelier’ in your MINI Cooper which is red.

Congratulations, you have made it to the Austrian border! You stop to buy that highway vignette sticker and you stick it on the windshield and suddenly the car won’t start. It just sits there blinking like a moron. It leaves you stranded there on the side of fucking nowhere and you swear like a movie prostitute and you try to open the bonnet, which takes you twenty minutes because nothing in this ridiculous car is intuitive. Nothing. The warning light flashing on the dashboard is designed by an abstract expressionist, so there is no human way to interpret what is wrong. Is the car hot? Is the car thirsty? Who knows?

You hate the hateful MINI Cooper.

You swallow the remnants of gay pride still held among the car occupants and you phone your closest heterosexual male friend, literally begging for advice. No, it’s not the petrol (I mean, honestly). Yes, you guess it could be the oil. No, you don’t understand the blinking light. Can he come over to Austria and have a look? (He can’t.)

And then someone touches something and the engine starts again for no fathomable reason and you floor it just in case it fails again. You have wasted a lot of time and you are now resentful and fearful of the MINI Cooper in equal measure.

Congratulations, you have made it to Liechtenstein! It is very wet and it looks as if a fistful of houses had been dropped on a  Swiss valley, which is basically Liechtenstein. You drive through Vaduz in a nanosecond. You blink and you miss the castle (there’s a castle). You take the stupid MINI Cooper up the hills and you park it where Heather tells you. You eat horse for dinner.

It’s the morning after, and you wake up to a gorgeous green and grey view of the Alps outside your window. You are refreshed and in a wonderful mood as you zoom across Switzerland on your way to Andorra, and just as the memory of the previous day’s technological meltdown starts to fade, Heather begins to display an abyss of pure nothingness where France should be.

Your GPS has deleted France.

You get completely lost in France. It rains furiously and you cannot find the highway. The back windshield wiper stops working. You run out of gummy bears. You would cry but you are the only one in the car who can speak French and you have to keep your shit together and ask for directions from people with regional accents.

But zipping through the French mountains in the MINI is a beautiful sensory experience, so it doesn’t matter so much that you don’t know where you are, that you may be driving backwards towards Estonia for all you know, and you have added like four extra hours of driving time by the time you make it to your night stop in Montpellier, and when you crash the car against a roundabout curb it doesn’t even leave a mark, so there may be a God after all, albeit one that clearly dislikes you.

Congratulations, you have made it to Andorra! Andorra is the best. It feels like home to you (because you are a Spaniard) with everyone speaking Spanish and street signs in Catalan and everyone being from across the border. Heather comes alive again, splendidly versed in Andorra’s every nook and cranny. She doesn’t know what Paris is, but she will find you every parking lot in Andorra La Vella. You will take what you can get. Also you will buy blue swimming trunks because you have forgotten yours back home and there is no sales tax in Andorra.

You back up through the Côte d’Azur and onto Monaco, listening to Madonna. Congratulations, you have made it to Monaco! Monaco is ridiculous but also nice — essentially if you can imagine a tacky monstrosity that’s also somewhat understated at the same time, that’s Monaco. You eat burgers by the bay at night.

The next day you are off to San Marino and it becomes your favourite part of the trip, down the Italian Riviera through Sanremo and across the bootstraps onto the Oldest Republic In The World. Congratulations, you have made it to San Marino! It’s all castles and peaks and more tightly wound roads, and you will have the best of times with the Italian language and counting cinquecenti and eating pizza and piadine for two days until it’s time to go. You will not want to go.

Heather is in a good mood and freestyles her way back up Austria, driving you head-first into Germany and a colossal traffic jam. Fuck you, Heather, you say with a mouthful of gummy bears. Heather doesn’t listen. Heather doesn’t care.

You make it home just in time to return the car, have a shower, a sleep, and hop onto the flight to Malta.

You will miss the red MINI Cooper. You will think of Heather. You will occasionally wonder who has got them both now, what other major European countries she has wiped off the map.

It will take you ages to burn off the gummy bears.

Three Things You Need To Know About Paige

I got to photograph writer Paige M. J. Erickson for her upcoming novel, This Magnificent Fear. This was my favourite kind of photo shoot– she was a great sport, as versatile as a photography subject as she is as a writer; and we spent most of the session laughing, talking and bouncing thoughts off each other.

“I write in the hope that you will also see the strangers who surround you, and offer them a merciful view.” (Paige M. J. Erickson)

I got to photograph writer Paige M. J. Erickson for her upcoming novel, This Magnificent Fear. This was my favourite kind of photo shoot– she was a great sport, as versatile as a photography subject as she is as a writer; and we spent most of the session laughing, talking and bouncing thoughts off each other.

There are three things you need to know about Paige:

1.- She is a master of the nonfiction travel micro-story. A good pop song works its magic in three minutes, give or take — and so do Paige’s four-paragraph vignettes of Central European city corners, Balkan bus rides, and her ongoing love affair with Istanbul.

2.- She is the author of one of my favourite internet things of all time. I love, love re-reading it every once in a while, and I smile without fail.

3.- Her stories are published thrice-weekly at The Nice Thing About Strangers.

Go explore.