To get to Liechtenstein from Zurich we took the train to Sargans, where you can catch a bus that will take you into the next country. Being very small, Liechtenstein is essentially just over the water from Switzerland and your view will usually be of the bigger country. Crossing over the bridge, the bus circles around different parts. Getting off at Vaduz Aus we took another bus part way up the mountainside before having to switch to a shuttle, to our confusion. But upon arriving in Treisenberg (where we were staying) we saw that just outside of our hotel (Kulm) there was a parade: It was Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras, and though not nearly as big as in Lucerne, of course, there was plenty enough crowd to enjoy the elaborate costumes of the various bands taking turns performing in the square. So after we checked in we headed down to enjoy some music and some gluhwein. Below in the bottom of the hotel the bands would regroup to perform on stage, which we also enjoyed before retiring briefly to the room for food. But we ensured we returned below for the last couple of bands, each amazing. More than the music quality or even the costume quality is the obvious fun and enjoyment the people get from participating in the festivities. Even after all was done we could hear the occasional refrain from our hotel room, and of course the funeral dirge as just before midnight the bands that remained regrouped and marched their way back down the mountainside to town and home. And proof that it is a small world, we saw across the hall (though missed our chance to talk them) a couple dancing, the man in a Vancouver Canucks jersey and the woman in an Edmonton Oilers jersey. That’s Canada hockey for anyone who is confused.
The next morning we took the bus all the way up the mountain to Malbun, a small skiing village in the Alps. It was snowing, so there were a decent number of people in the hills taking advantage of being somewhere where winter lingered and the view was incredible. Liechtenstein is the only country to reside entirely within the Alps (at 160km in size) and it’s easy to believe when you can pretty much hike the entire country in a day if you wanted, the peak residing so far up. Even atop the hill among the mountains you can’t help but be astonished by the splendor of a nation that while so small contains so much! Old wooden houses in small hillside towns above a small city, it feels like the whole country is a ski town and much reflects the stereotypical Alpine design that people often try to reflect in North American ski villages. And being so easy to reach from either Switzerland or Austria it seems like a shame if someone weren’t to stop by for a day or two. Sure, from a strictly tourist perspective there is only so much to do (especially if you keep going places during holidays when things are closed), but it’s not about the doing, it’s about the being, if you get my drift.
After Malbun we headed into Vaduz itself for a bit of tourist stuff, including a closer look at the castle. The walk up to the castle (Vaduz Schloss) is very short, but very steep, and it is still a private residence so you can only go so far (though still get a great view of the city) and after wandering back and traversing the city, we made our way to the other side of the country (basically) to the Hofkellerei (Prince’s Cellars) for some wine tasting. We were told at an Info center it was 15CHF for a tasting, but was actually 9CHF and all of the wines were very delicious. You can even walk right through the vineyard to get there. All of the wines are made with pinot noir grapes, which makes sense as the size of land could only allow for so many kinds of grapes, but they create a wide variety of wines with these grapes. It was a highlight to a great day and one of our last things (aside from getting our passports stamped at a gift store) before getting our bags and making our walk towards the train station.
On the way we took a different route that allowed us to take a stop at the last wooden bridge across the river dividing Liechtenstein from Switzerland, Alte Rheinbrucke. This old bridge has been built up and rebuilt over the centuries, and is no longer accessible by car. Pedestrians and cyclists however have easy access, and it is quite near to a bus stop (or a 20 minute walk from town centre). And when you walk across you will find a divide in the middle which marks the border between the two countries. It was very cool and provided a great photo op, naturally.
The entirety of the trip to Liechtenstein had started as a maybe, and remained so even as we planned out the details. It’s one of those things that seem like it would never happen; of all the countries people talk of visiting, small pocket nations like this one only make the list in very particular interest groups (I mean, most people I know don’t even include Scandinavia in their list…). It gets passed by for bigger places with more large cities, cities with mass attraction or iconic landmarks. But it was beautiful, every angle a postcard (and some angles Switzerland, but even so…). And once it started to snow, the beauty increased. Though I obviously like snowy, cold countries (the Canadian who moved to Sweden, such a shock), even those that hate the cold could appreciate how picturesque it was. I admit I went for the clichéd appeal (small country, to say I had, to get to as many countries as possible, etc.), but I would return for more valid reasons, like the culture, the enthusiastic people, and the natural beauty. Also, to stock up on some of that amazing wine.