DANNY ROBINS' INDIE TRAVEL GUIDE - THE WORLD SMALLEST COUNTRIES
The visit of the Pope has got me thinking. He comes from Vatican City - officially the world's smallest country and I've always been quite intrigued by finding out about the tiny nations of the world so I thought we'd throw over this week's Indie Travel Guide a rundown of some of the globe's smallest principalities.
The only time we hear about most of these tiny countries is if we play them at football, but there's a whole world out there of tiny states sometimes smaller than the average town.
So what are the smallest countries in the world? Well, the Tiny Top 5 are:
1.Vatican City - the Pope's home. Say no more.
2. Monaco - tiny principality within France, known for its casinos, Formula 1 and tax exiles, it's a teeny 0.7 square miles. Fact fans should not there their flag is coincidentally identical to that of Indonesia apart from the ratio of height to width.
3. Nauru - formerly known as 'Pleasant Land', a Pacific island of 8.5 square miles, so huge compared to the first two. Brillinatly, the island's name derives from a Nauruan word that means "I go to the beach".
4. Tuvalu - a series of Polynesian coral atolls totalling 9 square miles. They entered the Olympics for the first time in 2008, sending 3 competitors. It's so remote only 100 tourists visit each year.
5. San Marino - Officially the 'Most Serene Republic of San Marino', it's an independent state within Italy that claims to be the oldest state in Europe and is a relatively enormous 24 square miles. One of their biggest exports is cheese.
Here's a bit of general knowledge for you: there are only 5 countries in the world without an airport. They're all in Europe. Can you guess what they are?(Answers at the bottom)
So, here's a bit more info on a few of my favourite small countries.
Vatican City... in at Number 1....
We have to kick off with Number 1 - the Pope's home, which is, one of the easiest of our countries to visit as all you've got to do is go to Rome. Vatican City occupies all of a whopping 0.2 square miles, seemingly within Rome yet its own independent state, and has a total population of 770 at the last count, all of whom it may not surprise you to learn, have something to do with the Vatican.
Obviously, being the Vatican, it's a pretty rich country. Their biggest export is the Pope and souvenir sales is a pretty big industry. They've got their own passports and obviously it's quite hard to get to be a citizen. Your best routes are to get ordained and impress the Pope or you could try and become a Swiss guard - they're the Pope's bodyguards - the dudes in the stripy pyjamas. To do this you'd need to be Swiss, Catholic, in the army, between 19 and 30 and over 5ft 9. If that sounds like you, I'd definitely apply.
They may be a tiny country but they do, amazingly, have their own national football team. It's made up mainly of Swiss Guards and they only play very occasional fixtures against the likes of Monaco.
I went there a couple of years ago to make a radio programme about The Clericus Cup, an annual tournament of priests held at the Vatican. Cardinal Bertone, the Pope's number 2 and a big football fan (he actually used to commentate on it on the radio) said he hoped one day the Vatican might field a team that played in Serie A, the Italian league - he actually cheekily wanted to recruit Brazilian Catholic students to bolster their squad!
Oh and apparently, weirdly, in 2008, there was a cricket match between a Vatican XI and a Dutch team. The Vatican won - all of their players were Indian priests.
How to get there: Fly to Rome and just walk in!
Currency: The Euro (they mint their own coins with the Pope on).
The Faroe Islands - the most indie small country?
An autonomous state officially still under the rule of Denmark but actually geographically nearer to Scotland, the Faroes are definitely one of those countries you only hear about when they're getting whacked at football. But whilst they may not excel at footie, the Faroes may lay claim to the most Indie small country as they actually have quite a strong music scene and their very own music festival.
A local indie band called Boys In a Band won the Global Battle of the Bands, pocketed $100,000 and then did 24 gigs in 24 hours around the 18 islands that make up the Faroes. They describe their influences as "Dylan, White Stripes and Boris Yeltsin".
And as for their own music festival, it sounds really great. It's called the G! Festival and is held every year in the tiny fishing village of Gøta. An amazing one fifth of the Faroe Islands population go there and now it's even started attracting people from overseas. So if you're an avid festival goer looking for a new experience, this could be one to check out.
It sounds amazing - the sea is the backdrop, there are turf roof houses all about and seagulls overhead. There's a DJ stage in a burned out fish-drying shack, saunas on the beach that you can nip into, a backstage area in a 19th century schooner and in July, when it's on, there's near 24 hour sunlight.
How to get there: You can fly from Stansted or Aberdeen.
Currency: The Faroese Krona
Palau - small place, big journey...
After two European minnows, let's go a bit further afield. Palau is very definitely not near here. It's a collection of more than 200 islands 2000 miles south of Tokyo. It's one of the world's newest countries - it's only been independent since 1994. It used to be known as the Carolines apparently.
Why you should go : tropical climate all year round, beautiful scenery, nobody else you know will have been so you can boast about it - "oh, haven't you been to Palau?".
Music claim to fame: Enya mentions it in her classic Orinoco Flow.
How to get there: You'd have to fly there from the Phillipines or Taiwan.
Currency: US Dollars
Micronations - made up countries...
Obviously the countries I've mentioned so far have all been official, but there's also a whole world out there of unofficial countries, or 'Micronations', which are not officially recognised by any governments or the UN. Sometimes these only exist on the Internet or in the heads of their creator but there's been more and more growing up over the last few decades.
They are almost always set up by eccentrics who don't like living within social norms, like Alex Brackstone, a former circus monkey-trainer, uranium prospector and postmaster (great CV!) who, in 1976, set up the brilliantly named Province of Bumbunga in Australia and declared it still loyal to the British Crown. The whole country was basically just his farm and to prove his loyalty to the queen he built a scale model of the UK in his back garden using strawberry plants. Brilliant.
Sealand - an independent oil rig...
My favourite micronation though has to be The Principality of Sealand. Sealand is an oil rig in the North Sea just 6 miles off the coast of Suffolk that, since 1967 has, according to it's rulers, been a sovereign nation with it's own laws, currency, government and passports.
It was set up by Paddy Roy Bates, a British Army Major and former pirate radio broadcaster, also known as HRH Prince Roy of Sealand or Roy Bates the Great.
And finally, the answer to that question... the only 5 countries in the world without an airport... Monaco, Vatican City, Lichtenstein, Andorra, San Marino.