26 February 2009

One and a Half Hours in Lichtenstein

Leaving Sargans, the bus crossed the border into the Principality of Lichtenstein, one of Europe's tiny microstates. At roughly 60 square miles, Lichtenstein is comparable in size with the city of Springfield, Illinois. With 35,000 citizens, it has about a third of Springfield's population. The country is wedged between Switzerland to the west and Austria to the east, and if one is not paying attention he'll drive through Lichtenstein without realizing it.

In many ways Lichtenstein is closely connected with its neighbor to the west. The microstate uses the Swiss Franc for its currency, speaks a version of German similar to the Swiss dialect, and depends on Switzerland to represent the country abroad. Do not be fooled though, the principality is legally soverign. The constitutional monarchy is currently ruled by Prince Hans-Adam II. There was a well-reported incident that occurred a couple years ago when Swiss troops on marching drills took a wrong turn and walked into Lichtenstein, accidentally invading the country. The government of Switzerland was forced to issue an official apology on the world's stage for this failure in orientation.

Today Lichtenstein is known as a winter sports destination and, due to its light taxes, a corporate destination. A major export from the country is false teeth.

I would normally never consider one and a half hours spent in a country as an actual visit to that country. With Lichtenstein, however, I think I can make an exception. More than a full day could be overkill. Exactly what can one do with one and a half hours in Lichtenstein? That's what I wanted to find out.

The bus dropped me off in front of the post office of the capital city, Vaduz. Although, with 5,ooo inhabitants, it would be a more accurate description to write capital village. To illustrate the capital's diminutive size, the image below shows a bird's-eye-view map of Vaduz.

After stepping off the bus my first task was to find a place store my backpack. I approached a woman standing at what I suppose could be called Vaduz's central bus terminal, complete with its bus shelter and two benches, to ask about luggage lockers. Surprisingly, she started talking to me in Spanish. Not knowing the word for locker in that language, and not even wanting to try comunicating that with my hands, I started walking down the sidewalk. As snow flurries fell on my face, I wondered how many other travelers had had the same problem while walking the streets of Vaduz, Lichtenstein.

After passing a couple buildings and a maybe a fourth of the town, I reached a parking lot for tourist buses. In the middle was a stand of luggage lockers. From here I turned around, took some steps, and found myself on the main shopping street of Vaduz, seen in the two photographs below. The pedestrian-only street looked like it would be a lively place in the summer, but on this day offered little acitivity.

I started walking down the street. The clouds parted briefly enough for me to see the Prince's castle nestled on a hill above Vaduz. The picture belows offers a blurry view of the castle where the monarch resides.

Most shops along the street seemed closed, but the tourist office and post office had life inside. Considering that the tourist office might be the highlight of the visit though, I continued walking to save it for the end of my stay. The post office did offer Lichtenstein stamps, but I passed. There were also two museums that I could visit, one for art and one for the country's history, but with time down to less than hour I decided to stay outdoors and explore the rest of the capital.

I started walking to the northside of Vaduz and came to a vineyard, seen below. After some sign reading I learned that this was in fact the royal vineyard, property of the Prince. Tasting a grape from such a vineyard would have been nice, but, as you can see, it wasn't really the right time of year for that.

Slightly past the vineyard I reached the end of Vaduz. The next photo shows my view from that point. Not wanting to try to squeeze another city into my stay, I turned around. Back at the center of Vaduz I crossed what seemed to be the capital's busiest intersection, seen in the second photo below.

I continued walking until I came close to the southern end of Vaduz. Along the way I passed the governement building for the country, the previously mentioned art museum, and again the post office. From there I returned to the tourist office and received a souvenir entry stamp from Lichtenstein in my passport; real ones are no longer given at the border crossings. With less than half an hour to spare, I walked over to a grocery store for some cheap lunch, retrieved my backpack, and then returned to the bus stop.

I left Vaduz a little before noon, and soon after the country of Lichtenstein--a brief stay fit for a tiny land.

In the Austrian town of Feldkirch, I boarded a train bound for Salzburg. In this larger city I met up with Dylan. That night we enjoyed a hearty dinner representing the cuisine from this Austrian region heavly influenced by Bavaria.

My meal, pictured below, came with potatoes, sauerkraut, and three types of sausages. Ignore the three sausages on the left of the photo, they were not that special, and notice the last, dark and blunt sausage on the right. The shiny ends to it are metal staples that held it together. This was a type of sausage more common in certain regions of Germany, and one that I'd been wanting to try for some time. It's called Blutwurst. Blood sausage.

The name is an accurate and true-to-reality description. I'm not familiar with the production process, but the sausage is some how made from blood. I expected a taste similar to, well, blood, like the taste that lingers in one's month after he has accidentally bit his tongue or cut his lip. Oddly enough, it didn't taste like that at all. The taste was familiar but I couldn't place it. Unlike a normal sausage, the Blutwurst could not be cut and sliced with a knife. After cutting through the casing, the filling was too loose and had to be scooped out. While it did not necessarily taste bad, it also did not become a new favorite food of mine.

The next morning Dylan and I left Salzburg for Eichstätt. He was coming to stay with me for a few days and help celebrate a friend's birthday.

My short trip came to an end. In the last six days I had been in the four main countries of the world where German is the principal language. From this perspective, you could say that it was a very brief tour through the Germanic world.

Expect a few more posts to appear before the week is over.

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