Saturday, April 12, 2014

Country #94: It's Not the Size That Matters...

Regular readers (hi Sans, Roly and Yale)may have noticed that this blog has been silent for the last few months. Others, (hi, people who have stumbled upon this page whilst googling the importance of size and are now sorely disappointed) will see that thanks to the magic of back-dating everything is business as usual. To both groups, I apologize.

Anyhoo, last time I checked in, I was in Munich for five days, drinking beer in quantities that led me to believe that buying a dirndl was a good idea. Fortunately, I did not have the space in my bag for the five underskirts and push-up bra the outfit requires, so a change of scenery was in order. As luck (and basic geography) would have it, there was also a country I had not been to a mere 2.5 hour drive away. Thus it was decided, we were going to Liechtenstein.

Situated in the Alps,  somewhere between Austria and Switzerland, the world's sixth smallest country (it's only 62 square miles) promised, if nothing else, a really pretty drive.
Personally, I was in it for something else.  I wanted that stamp in my passport. This could have proven difficult considering they have no airport, no train station and no border checkpoint but 2 euro and a stop at the visitor's center was all I needed.

The fact that they had a visitor's office to begin with led me to conclude that they also had, well, visitors.  As it turns out, this may have been a premature assumption on my part.

Main Street. Vaduz, Liechtenstein
Mind you, they had created a more than suitable tourist habitat.  They had museums, restaurants, gift shops, even those cut-out thingies you stick your head behind.

There was even a big-boned Botero lounging on a side street.

But, still, there was a noticeable lack of people (touristic or otherwise) on the streets.

The woman at the "tourist" office had suggested that we go up the hill to the castle.  The principality of Liechtenstein has a royal family that resides in the castle, so visits are not permitted but you are free to stop by and admire the view.

On our way up, we encountered a very cool looking building, which I thought was an architectural office of some kind but google is not backing me up on this.

After a 10 minute walk (let's round it off to 30 with photo stops), we had arrived at the castle. Considering there are actual royals living within, it was surprising to me how close you could come to the front door.  All there was to prevent us from donning a sash and trying to sell them a box of cookies was a sign reading "Do not enter. Private property".  There were no guards visible, no iron gate.  Nothing.

While climbing the hill, we had seen the occasional local strolling past us so when we decided to take a group photo, I was confident we could recruit someone for the task.  Sure enough, after a couple of minutes, I saw a good looking guy pulling something out of the trunk of his car in a nearby lot and I walked over and pointing to our group, said "You know what I'm going to ask you, right."  He laughed and accepted the deluge of cell phones that came his way.

I was one of the few who did not hand him a phone, so this photo was actually taken by our friend Michelle, but you get the idea.
As we were on our way back down the hill, we spotted our good samaritan again, only this time, he was beyond the "Do not enter" sign.  He was either a trespasser or he worked inside the castle.

The sightseeing portion of our day concluded, we decided to celebrate with a drink or two.

We began with some fine locally brewed beers (that were way better than the Munich starkebiers, no offense), but we still had another place to visit, the royal vineyards.  They are owned by the Prince and produce a variety of wines, which you can sample and purchase on site.

We were happily engaged in the former, when I spotted a photo of the reigning crown Prince. Oddly enough, he looked very much like an older version of the guy who had taken our photo by the castle. In between questions about the grapes and the aging of the wines, I asked the woman leading our tasting about the prince's family. Specifically, did he have any sons.  "Yes, three of them."  "Do any of them look just like dad and happen to be in town right now?"  "Yes, that's (fill in name that I already forgot)." Not knowing what else to say..."Uh.  He sure does know his way around an iphone. So, ah... Could I have more wine, please."

That's right. Not only did I have my 94th passport stamp, but we had employed the Crown Prince's son (the Prince prince?) as our personal photographer, resulting in a souvenir better than any dirndl could ever be. Easier to pack, too.  

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