Wherein DF travels to Mitteleuropa and recounts his merrie adventures to his adoring broad readership.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

DF on the FL

The burning Q, Broad Readership, that I know from your desperate and frankly overly numerous emails is, what does one do in the FL? It is a good question, as most of the literature on the topic suggests that this countrito rates only the briefest of visits, and that purely for the novelty cachet. But as you might expect, I have looked deeper into this principality, and have discovered various diversions that the shallow travel guides have not seen fit to appreciate. To wit:

1. Ascent to the Castle. The Schloss Liechtenstein is where the royal family lives, and it is visible from its mountainside perch above Vaduz from almost anywhere in the capital. A walk up to the Schloss is a must-do in the FL for many reasons. First, the views are enormously beautiful, and you can see almost the entire country from way up there (admittedly, there is not a lot of country to see, but still, nice). The walk is also punctuated by a series of brass plaques commemorating various features of the country (governance, history, etc.), so the hike is edifying intellectually as well as physically and aesthetically. Mind, you cannot actually go into the castle, but the environs are pretty and are, to my surprise, punctuated largely by vineyards (the Prince has a wine cellar that is open to the public but only alas to groups of ten or more).

2. Mixing with sad Liechtensteiners mourning FC Vaduz' loss. Though I much would rather have seen the country in celebration mode after an FCV victory, it was interesting to see the somber procession out of the stadium. There's something extra-sad about a downcast fan with full facepaint on (and, thanks to the free FCV facepainting booth at the Rheinparkstadion, there were more than a few of them). I went to a bar on the main drag, St├Ądle str., and joined in with some fans sulking over the loss. I was sulking too when I discovered that a single, smallish beer cost 5 Swiss francs (4 bucks).

3. Trying to find some decent, nonoverpriced food. When I came here, I expected that things would be cheaper both because of the obscurity of the location and because the Swiss franc is one of the few currencies that is still worth less than the US dollar. So wrong was I. Last night, I went to a pizza restaurant only to find that the smallest 'za ran 20 SFr (15 bucks, but still, whoa). Even the cheapo snack stands have joined the conspiracy. Brat at an imbiss: 6 SFr (five-odd bucks). Burger at McDonalds: 7.50 SFr (six damn US dollars!). The only cheap thing around is the free Net access at this out of the way Telecom FL store in which I currently sit. But yesterday I had to print some stuff (not possible here), so went instead to the Landesbibliothek (National Library, the top two floors of an office building) and had to pay 15 SFr (12 bucks) for libe access and a print card. I ultimately did have success on the food front, though, finding another, cheaper pizza joint (with really great pizza) that I have now patronized three times in two days.

4. Getting the all-important passport stamp. It costs 2 SFr, but damn is it worth the money: a supersized piece of incontrovertible proof that you have, in fact, joined the elite fraternity of visitors to the FL.

5. Damn good hikes. Although the Innsbruck hike stands out for sheer difficulty and sweatiness, the hiking in FL, while not as challenging in terms of physical effort, provided a taste of the real alpine experience in a way that slightly more developed I-bruck did not. The only major hike I did took me from Vaduz town center up past the Schloss and then a km and a half of steep upward ascent to the townlet of Triesenberg, which (I am told) is the only place on earth where the obscure Walser dialect is still spoken. This is true: within the obscure, idiosyncratic community that is Liechtenstein, there is an ethnic minority that has enough sense of identity that they have created a museum on their own behalf to memorialize their distinctive dialect and purportedly distinctive way of life. Truth be told, I chose not to enter said museum. But the hike was fantastic: straight up the slopes on the west side of the FL past Alpine scenery that could have been straight out of artists' mockups for Heidi of the Swiss Alps. We're talking babbling brooks, picturesque waterfalls, cows with cowbells grazing on green mountain slopes, and vistas so intense that I took countless redundant photos.

6. The covered bridge. This, B.R., was absolute heaven for the geography obsessive in me: a pedestrian only covered wooden bridge that spans the Rhine and has a marker indicating where the border between LIE and der Schweiss lies. You can rest assured that I took many a photograph of myself standing in both countries at once. I truly do think that this may have satsified my desire for obscure geographical tourist cliche. For now.