Cities / Towns Visited: 24
Countries Visited: 10
Steps Taken Today: 23,097
Steps Taken Around the World: 990,453
We awoke lazily, checked the clock, and with a brief pang of panic realised that our alarm had failed to go off and it was half an hour after we’d intended to rise. Just as we resided ourselves to the fact we’d missed the window for breakfast at the hostel, we were greeted by a friendly knock on the door, and the manager letting us know that he would wait for us to come and have breakfast. Now Liechtenstein as an entire country only has 35,000 people residing there; in comparison many of the larger country towns in Australia easily exceed this figure. As a result, it seems that this tiny nation lives in the small town state of mind, with good old fashion country hospitality being ingrained in their culture; a highly endearing quality. Manners and kindness cost you nothing, but they’ll buy you a reputation money simply can not.
After we gratefully ate our breakfast, we checked out, stowed our bags and began the forty minute walk from our hostel in Schaan to the capital. When I say capital, don’t imagine some towering metropolis, there’s one main road that leads through the country from north to south, and Vaduz is basically like a regional town; one main pedestrian arcade and one main road, outside of which is a few blocks of residential houses before it gives way to farmland. Popping into the tourist information centre we obtained a map, and some instruction in how to reach Vaduz Castle, which sits halfway up the mountain, nestled in the forest, and overlooking the city below.
We began the steep and tedious hike along the pedestrian path which weaves up the slope. Although tiresome, there was something serene and revitalising about the forest engulfed path; with bright green, lush foliage protecting you from the harsh light of day, and the occasional opening to admire the ever heightening view. Rest was systematic as we stopped to read the information panels about the history of the country and the monarchy that rules it.
Finally we reached the top, and rounding the corner we were rewarded with the stunning view of this fortified abode. You are not able to enter the castle, due to the fact that the Prince of Liechtenstein resides there permanently, but the exterior is stunning in its own right. With high walls and medieval turreted guard towers, although small, much like the country it rules over, it appears more than capable of providing adequate protection to its royal resident. The view from this advantageous post was beautiful, with mountains rising up behind the protected valley below.
Once we had basked in the view and recovered from the hike, we descended the same way, until we reached the town once more. We headed to the postage stamp museum, not to visit it, but to instead purchase tickets for the Schatzkammer; the royal treasury of Liechtenstein. After crossing the street to the entrance, placing in our tokens, and going through what is essentially an airlock, we were delivered into an almost pitchblack room, with a surly guard standing watch over our movements. The only light came from the display cases and the spotlights on the paintings lining the walls. We were lucky enough to be the only ones in there, meaning we had the freedom to wander and linger as we pleased.
Along the walls hung landscapes of numerous cities around Central and Western Europe, all by the one artist. The first cabinet in the room held the crown of the Prince; the next, a collection of weapons and armour historically used by former royal family members in the middle ages. The next few cases were filled with a massive collection of Faberge eggs, many of which were given as gifts to and from the royal families of old Europe, along with some famous ones made by Faberge himself (most prominently a beautiful green egg with apple branches made of gilded metal and decorated with apple blossom featuring precious stones in the centre of each flower), and many with religious motifs, as they were almost exclusively made once a year for Easter. The last case held a few samples of moon rock, and the Liechtenstein flags which had been taken to the moon on the first moon landing, as the Liechtenstein company Balzers AG was instrumental to the success of the NASA mission, by providing vacuum technology and protective coatings for the rockets. Unfortunately you are not permitted to take photos in the treasury, but the images will live in my memory.
From here we had somewhat exhausted our planned adventures for the day and thus headed back to the hostel, collected our luggage, and carried on to the train station. As we arrived we realised the wait for the next train to our destination would be more than an hour. Concluding this was not ideal, we discovered there was a bus that could take us to a larger station just across the border in Austria which had much more frequent trains, so off we went. After the bus, and a train ride, we finally arrived in Innsbruck; our home for the evening. We grabbed a few take away burritos (I know, not Austrian) from a kitsch hole in the wall kind of restaurant, which ended up being pretty damn good. We then settled in for a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow was going to be a whirlwind as we had five things planned for our singular day in this western hub of our tenth country.
As I lay in bed, unwinding, I thought about the tiny blip of a nation we had just left; one which still holds on to its tiny monarchy, and keeps its tiny town mentality and hospitality. I stopped to think; what is it that makes a country a country? It is not language, as Liechtensteiners speak German; it is not currency, as they use Swiss Francs; it is not environment as they share their mountains, climate and landscape with all of those who surround them. It’s not as concrete as that, it is the small things, the intangible pieces which come together to make the tapestry of it all; the culture, the history, the traditions, and more than anything, a personal sense that they are different from those around them; their own national identity. This entire country may be smaller than most cities, but they have something in them that makes you feel at home, and welcome. Liechtenstein is that tiny corner of the world you never knew you needed, and one you won’t soon forget.