Munich – Milan (and back a bit)
Stage distance: 331 miles, 7 hours 43 minutes
Total distance covered: 1,209 miles, 25 hours 55 minutes
Countries: Four (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy) and one principality (Liechtenstein).
There’ll be no repeat today; we were up at the crack of dawn and in the car to begin the (relatively short) 300-mile journey to Milan and the iconic San Siro stadium, at least two hours ahead of the other rally-ers. The now relentless WhatsApp group photo stream suggested that others may have had a later night than Alex and me, so we were bound to make it in good time for a photo op.
As we approached the Austrian border, it was time for young Alex to make his debut driving abroad and he rose to the task admirably. I however, in my new-found role of navigator, almost immediately let the side down by taking us off the beaten path and into a pedestrian-only area of an Austrian garden centre. Some bemused locals gestured for Alex to reverse while I pretended to be furious with him for taking such a ridiculous wrong-turn.
At this point the Alps were in full view and everything began to look how we’d imagined it to be when we first put our names down to take part in the rally.
As we crossed into Switzerland and began to get a bit hungry, I suggested that we hop over the river and see what Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein had to offer; it was probably the best decision of the entire trip. We had a quick stroll around before heading up to the 12th century castle, which overlooks the town from its hillside position. Alex, a very talented photographer, was in his element and captured some beautiful shots from above before we jumped in the car to make our way back onto the Swiss A13.
Cue my trip highlight, as our route out took us past the Rheinpark Stadion, the 7,500 capacity home of the Liechtenstein national football team, the most incredible setting for a stadium you are ever likely to see. Conveniently a large gate was open on one side and we pulled over in the car park, grabbed the camera and wandered in completely unchallenged to grab some shots for the Instagram account. We had been there for less than a minute when a group of lads in tracksuits appeared holding washbags, the unmistakable off-pitch look of the footballer. It was the Liechtenstein national team! What a brilliant chance encounter. This was sure to score us some impressive scavenger hunt points, so we introduced ourselves to two stragglers and asked for a picture. They were, very coincidentally, Daniel (Kaufman) and Alex (didn’t catch his last name) and they were bewildered by our story of how we ended up in their stadium, but they kindly agreed to a picture and explained that they were taking on Armenia and Italy in the European Championship Qualifiers in this very stadium in the coming days. (They were to secure an impressive 1-1 draw with the Armenians 24 hours later. Up the ‘stein!)
With Alex (our one) still at the wheel we returned to Switzerland and resumed our course, while I furiously sent the photo to as many different colleagues at Norwich as I could. A series of impulse decisions and directions had led us to selfie immortality, and we were on top of the world. It lasted a grand total of 10 minutes.
“Dan, are they pulling us over?”
Indeed, a Swiss police car had cut in front, slowed down, and was displaying a message reading “follow us please”.
We nervously followed them to a service station – I say nervously, I was quite relaxed as the passenger, and was willing to sacrifice my young co-driver to a foreign police cell if it meant that I could continue with my journey and have the lunch that we’d forgotten amongst all the excitement.
They explained to us that we were failing to a display a vignette that allowed us to travel on the Swiss motorways, and that a 200 franc fine was the potential penalty. I pleaded our ignorance and they graciously allowed us to pop into the service station and purchase one for a mere 40 francs instead, and we gratefully complied.
“Well, I had no idea that was a thing” said Alex afterwards.
“Yeah I did.” I admitted, “I meant to buy one at the border but completely forgot because I was googling lunch options.”
Alex was unimpressed.
We reached the San Siro stadium in good time, well ahead of all but one team, and purchased two tickets for a ground tour. After working on the Norwich City Legends v Inter Forever friendly last year, it was great to see the home dressing room of Inter Milan and then head out of the tunnel pitch-side to take a seat in the dugout and await the arrival of everyone else.
This time we had the opposite problem, we were too early! The journey down had been so scenic that everyone had stopped in various places of interest along the way and most had decided to visit the San Siro the following morning instead. Thwarted again!
Thankfully, we caught a handful including Kyle and Keith from Team Ovamill, and the guys and girls from Team U Pukki, who stood in the stands and reminisced about their visit in 1993. The security guard was very understanding, as we waited patiently in the dugout. It wasn’t a bad office for a couple of hours and we took the chance to video call a few people that we thought might appreciate it.
Technically, that’s where the journey home began as we made the short trip back to Switzerland and our hotel next to Lake Lugano, a scene straight from a bond movie.
A dinner and celebration evening had been arranged for the evening (thanks to Sam from CSF) that included the presentation of a number of prizes, the most popular of which was the Scavenger Hunt trophy, which was awarded to the members of Team U Pukki, who had very sadly lost team member David Powell just weeks before the challenge.
They received the trophy to a large ovation and raised it to the sky in David’s honour. A fitting end to the day.