The Frogmarch

"I've got to pull up my stakes and roll, man." --Jean-Jacques Libris de Kerouac

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ja, Das Ist Der Liechtensteiner Polka, Mein Schatz

(This is Part 3 of 3... read Parts 1 and 2 if you haven't already)

Do you love microstates? Their nonexistent militaries, their humorously inept soccer teams, their goofball flags, their "parade" of one athlete at the Olympics? Man, I know I do. So when I saw that my route to Austria would take me close to Liechtenstein, I knew I had to make time to see the country (the fact that you can see the entire country while standing in one place is a plus).

Fun facts:
Liechtenstein is...
...the world's only "double-landlocked" country, i.e. the countries that border it are also all landlocked.
...the world's only country named after the guy who bought it.
...maybe the size of Chapel Hill and Carrboro put together, if you throw in Calvander, Cole Park and Chicken Bridge.
...a notorious tax haven, having more registered corporations than actual residents.
...ruled by a prince, one of the world's richest heads of state, with a serious art-collecting jones.
...the world's only country that can be rented out for your corporate retreats, conventions, upper-management bonding junkets, weddings, bar mitzvahs, etc.
...not Luxembourg, and they don't think it's very funny when Americans pretend they don't know the difference (see also Austria/Australia).

There's no border crossing at all on the Switzerland side, just a signpost reading "Wilkommen in Liechtenstein" as you cross the Rhine River bridge. (Fun fact: The only German-speaking country that doesn't border Germany!) On the Austrian side, though, the border crossing fairly bristles with... well, there's sort of a toll booth thingy that doesn't appear to be occupied, ever. Um, guys? Hello? Guten tag? Anybody wanna stamp my passport? Anyone? (If you want your passport stamped, turns out they'll do it at the tourist office in town.)

As it turns out, surprisingly, there's not all that much to Liechtenstein. There are a couple of towns; Vaduz is the capital, and it's basically a main drag and a handful of side streets, with His Royal Highness' Schloss Vaduz hanging picturesquely on the steep hillside above it [photo]. The main drag in Vaduz is lined with souvenir shops selling junk that is generally indistinguishable from that sold in Swiss souvenir shops (in fact, some of the junk says "Switzerland" on it). There are however a number of sidewalk cafes serving lunch alfresco, and that is where I plunked my weary bones, rubbing at the bizarre sunburn I'd picked up on the mountain the previous day. I'd dutifully coated my face with SPF 50 before setting out, but when hiking in a snow bowl, the sunlight gets reflected and focused up at you, as if from some giant 1970s George Hamilton suntan reflector--so I had a terrible sunburn on the underside of my chin, the bottom of my earlobes, right around my nostrils, and between my fingers (way to forget your gloves, dumbass).

I had a decent German lunch of some wurst or another with some cabbage thing or another, washed down with some local Liechtenstein beer. At the table next to mine, a group of middle-aged women in traditional dress smoked cigarettes and drank beer, fanning themselves with parts of their lacy headdresses in the strong sunshine.

Then I wandered over to the Kunstmuseum... but it turned out to just be some old paintings and stuff! (Thanks, you've been great. I'll be here at the Comedy Factory Spartanburg all week. Don't forget to tip your waitresses, and don't drink and drive.) The Kunstmuseum houses part of His Highness' art collection (as does the Liechtenstein museum in Vienna), and the exhibits are thoughtfully presented, despite the building looking like Darth Vader's semi-detached garage [photo].

Alas, by midafternoon I had exhausted most of Vaduz' sightseeing possibilities, and it was time to head home. A good 5-hour drive lay ahead, with work the next morning.

Andorra, San Marino... you're next.

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