Published: June 9th 2008June 6th 2008
Today I had one of those spectacular travel experiences that makes people want to spend there whole lives traveling around and doing nothing else. In fact, today was above in beyond anything I could have thought about. In fact, I may have achieved a state of travel nirvana, and ruined traveling for everyone else. How?
I went to Liechtenstein.
But first I set out to explore Feldkirch. It didn't take long. But it was really nice. I also went on a short hike recommended by the hostel clerk where I got great views of the town and the neighboring countryside. At one point, I could see Austria, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland all at once. I like this place. The hostel is awesome, the scenery is great, the people are really friendly and helpful, and I would definitely go back. But that's not what this entry is really about. And really, it's not fair to the first half of the day to just brush it off like this, because it was great, and on an ordinary day anything that I just mentioned would be a highlight. But....
I went to Liechtenstein.
Liechtenstein is the sixth smallest country in the
See it? The tiny vineyard in the middle? All the free wine came from there. Tasty tasty wine.
world, has only about 35,000 people in total, is the world's largest manufacturer of dentures (true story), shares borders with Switzerland and Austria, uses the Swiss Franc, is a principality, has beautiful scenery (to be expected given that it's sandwiched between two countries reputed for great scenery), is 6km wide, and about 25km long. The capital is Vaduz which has a population of around 5500.
I took the bus to Vaduz from Feldkirch. They leave hourly, which is handy for curious day trippers such as myself. But right there I think I've revealed the reason I headed to Liechtenstein. I guess you could say that at first I thought it was kind of a novelty to go to a tiny postage stamp country just to be able to say that I went to Liechtenstein. But the more I read about it in my guidebook (and there's really very very little, only 5 pages in a 1284 page book) the more I got really excited about actually seeing and experiencing Liechtenstein. I suppose this allure came from the fact that if you spent four or five full days in Liechtenstein, you could probably see and do everything there is to
The prince of Liechtenstein, that is. Under renovation at the moment.
see and do in Liechtenstein as a tourist. That appeals to me because, so far on this trip, we've moved around every couple of days. You get a taste of the place, and you move on. I suppose that was the purpose of this (and most) trips, but it was nice to be able to feel like I would see a good chunk of an entire country in an afternoon. So that's why I wanted to go. And for the novelty too, I guess.
It's interesting to note that Liechtenstein is patrolled by the Swiss guard, and that the bus stops at the border and the Swiss guard checks for foreign passports. But I don't know if this particular Swiss guard failed to notice my passport, or just saw that it was Canadian and ignored it. Either way, I got into the country without being detained. Two other bus riders were taken off the bus, but I don't know why. It was probably just to stamp their passports, or ask menial questions, but there you go.
Actually, I had a similar experience on the way into Austria. The border patrol came around checking some passports of people they
thought were foreign. It was probably a dead give away when I didn't understand what he said to me and had him repeat it in English... but as I pulled out my passport, he asked, "American?" and I said, "No, Canadian." And he immediately waved my passport away. There was another girl from Canada in my compartment and they didn't even bother looking at the outside of her passport once they found she was Canadian, or rather said she was "also Canadian". So there you go. We have a great passport. There are a lot of doors open to us that might be closed to others. Or at least more difficult to open. (By the way, those are metaphorical doors.... just making sure you're still with me... and I thought I'd patronize you along the way...)
Right, Vaduz. Cool town. Similar in size and style to Feldkirch, but with a few museums and an art gallery, since it is the capital. I stopped at the tourist office to grab an unnecessary map and just kind of ask what they recommended I do. The girl working there told how to get up to the Prince's palace/castle, and mentioned the art
gallery/museum, and the local vineyard. All sounded good. She also invited me to the grand opening of "the new building next door." Umm, ok. I guess they probably don't open a lot of buildings in such a small country so there all a big deal then? I decided to ask. Then she explained that it was the new tourist office. Ok, that made sense. Invite tourists to the tourist office. "Ok, I'll see you there!"
I had a couple of hours to kill, so I hiked up to the palace/castle. It's small, but that's what I expected since it suits the size of the country. Also, you kind go inside since the prince still lives there and doesn't really appreciate tourists streaming through his living room while he's trying to watch the Patty Winter's Show. I'm sure it's nice.
Then I headed for the postage stamp museum. Yup. Liechtenstein, a postage stamp sized country, has a postage stamp museum. I imagine they must have a pretty good sense of humor about things. At least, I hope so, because I found it amusing. And free. It was free.
I didn't really have any other business being there, since
I'm not that into stamps, but I thought I should at least spend a few minutes. All of the postage stamps are in drawers, and you can pull out the drawers to have a look at the stamps. You can't see what's in them before you pull out the drawer, but the drawers are numbered and there's a legend that tells you what kind of stamps you can find in each drawer. I recognized the word for sports, and saw that there were about 20 drawers with sport-themed stamps in them. So I randomly pulled one out.
I swear to you all that this is true. The first sport-stamp drawer I randomly pulled out had stamps made for the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympic games. I was pretty shocked. For a good minute, I just stood there... then I took a picture of the stamp. It seems to be of an antiquated four man-bobsled team, but the bobsled they are in has no shell, so it looks like just a sled. Maybe that's why they didn't medal? Anyway, that as really really cool, and made the world feel pretty small.
Then they opened the tourist office. But not before
making about an hour of speeches... in German, of course. I decided to hang around. There were about sixty locals there, so I wanted to see what was going to happen.
Oh, and the Prince of Liechtenstein was there! So there. That pretty much trumps most stories right there. I got a really good picture. And it's strange, because it's such a small country that he's almost just another guy. Except he's the leader of a small country, I guess. But he just kind of mingled with people he knew, sipping sparkling wine.
And (here it comes) at one point he walked past me, and he was about six inches from me! Acutally, I pretty much had to step aside a bit so he could get by. I easily could have tackled him... but I just said, "Hello!" and he smiled and returned the hello. It was pretty much the most unreal thing ever. Mostly I was excited about "what a good story this is going to make later".
So there. It's over. There's nothing myself or anyone else can possibly do to top that. So unless you think you can accidentally become the pope for a
The Prince himself
Second from the right.
few hours, like that guy in that movie Eurotrip (which I'm probably going to rent when I get home, just to compare... actually, download. It's really not really worth renting...) there's probably no reason to travel.
But my day actually somehow kept getting better.
I started drinking.
Well, I guess the opening of a simple tourist office that brings out all of the top "officials" (four guys, no bodyguards) warrants some free drinks? And at first, I was just so confused when a woman with a tray of wine came up to me and offered me a glass... because I definitely expected to have to pay. So I kind of just stood there, sipping sparkling wine, waiting for someone to come up to me and say "Excuse me sir, you're not supposed to have that.... and I think you need to shave." But, that didn't happen. After all, I was invited, and it IS a tourist office. So really, this was a party for me, right? Yes. Rationalized. Now with that out of the way I could enjoy the rest of the night drinking free drinks and eating free food...
And I did.
And I wasn't the only tourist there, as it turns out. There was also another younger person, a school teacher from Finland, and we hung out and chatted for the rest of the evening. Mostly about how insane it was that we were being given free drinks and food. Alcoholic drinks. And we got to say hello to the Prince of Liechtenstein. How many people can honestly say that? Crazy. Just crazy.
There was also a couple from Sweden, a guy from Greece, people from Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and Liehtenstein (mostly Liechtenstein) all huddled around the beer stand. Plus me and my new Finnish friend. So it was a pretty international crowd
And the wine was delicious! And from Liechtenstein! Yeah, apparently they have they're own local vineyard, and they make pretty tasty wine. A bit of a surprise, since it's not as if you go to a liquor store back home and see a section of Liechtenstein wines, right next to the French and Canadian wines. The sparkling wine was good, the red and rose were pretty good as well. The white was by far my favourite... Yeah, I definitely tried them all. And I had
Finally, it's open!
And people ate, drank, and conversed late into the evening...
some Liechtenstein beer, because apparently they have a brewery too! And they have their own Bratwurst-type sausage. And it's all pretty tasty.
So I ended up staying well into the evening (because I would have been stupid to leave a place that was handing me free drinks and food) and caught a late bus back to Feldkirch. It was a pretty fantastic day. It took a while for me to fall asleep (despite how much I'd had to drink) because I just couldn't get over what a cool experience it was.
Ok, let's try and add this all up: I went on a nice hike, went to a tiny country, visited the stamp museum, randomly found stamps featuring my hometown, met the Prince, met locals, met other travelers, drank local wine, drank local beer, ate local food... all in one day...
...and the total Liechtenstein expenses: 3.20 euro for the bus.
Wow. Not bad for a country that's supposed to be "expensive". I guess some people just don't know how to travel...
There are more photos below