I’m not sure what is doing this to me. Is it the heat? The forty-dollar train ticket? The forced 24-hour layover in Switzerland? Perhaps that wildman Neal Cassady, whispering to me from my dad’s hardcover copy of On the Road (Original Scroll!), has finally driven me mad, or else that the seeds of madness have always been germinating from within me and are now blooming under the Swiss sun. All I can say is that I am a new man, a changed man, who will start living life to the fullest. It has been well over a month since I left my home in Connecticut, and I have no plans on turning back. I have over a hundred countries left to visit, and my job today is to get the most out of Liechtenstein before heading back to Switzerland in the afternoon.
Liechtenstein is small, and famously so. It is neither part of the EU, nor of Switzerland, and is well known as a place that tourists visit just to say they have visited. If any native Liechtensteiners are reading this, take no offense: this country is the gold standard for obscure locales in thousand-dollar Jeopardy! questions. As a result, I view Liechtenstein as a formidable obstacle in my path to visiting every country not because it is hard to get to, but because it is hard to experience thoroughly. How can I be sure that my experience will differ substantially from any short visit into rural Bavaria or Austria? What makes Liechtenstein culturally unique, and how can I devour food that is authentic? At first, I go to Google.
Restaurants in the capital city of Vaduz (VAH-dootz), Liechtenstein are abundant, but finding an authentic place can be challenging. After stepping off the bus from Sargans train station in central Vaduz, I visit nearly every tourist attraction I care to visit within an hour’s time. A postal museum displays letters that landed on the moon, as well as stamps from over a hundred years of Liechtenstein’s history; city hall and the nation’s parliament are attractive, but far from impressive. I decide my quest to further understand the people and culture of Liechtenstein has begun. I walk into New Castle, a restaurant and bar which functions only as the latter at 2:30 in the afternoon. I chat with the bartender over a pint of vaguely local Swiss beer, and inquire where I can get better Liechtenstein food than lager with a side of peanuts. She explains that all of the restaurants in Vaduz tend to close between lunch and dinner, but I might be able to find an authentic place that is open somewhere in the town of Schaan. I have drunk but one beer, but I have eaten nothing yet today, so I figure I may as well catch a bus to Schaan, and since the buses don’t actually seem to require payment and I have no cash this will be a fun detour. I miss a bus going north by about ten seconds, and begin walking backward with my thumb outstretched in frustration. Schaan is only a couple of miles away, but book three of On the Road is the only thing other than Swiss beer giving me any sustenance so I channel Kerouac until a woman in her sixties pulls aside and picks me up.
After her awkward introduction in German, she lit up when I explained I was from the United States.
“I love the United States! I haven’t been there in such a very long time. I went to school in California, and I was in New York and Washington State.”
What she was doing in either of those places I did not ask. She was once a Kerouac, or student of Kerouac, or had friends who were Kerouacs. I could tell, and thus needed nothing more as evidence I would not be murdered by her. Few people other than us adventurers would be crazy enough in 2019 to pick up a hitchhiker. But hell, even fewer would be crazy enough in 2019 to be a hitchhiker. She boots me out only one mile into the two-mile journey, as she has to make a turn into a grocery store, but happily lets me off at a bus station where she says the buses run every ten minutes. It figures I can’t even hitch a ride to the only other city in this country; one mile is all I get. I wait.
I grow impatient after about five minutes, and the thrill of hitching leads me to stick my thumb out and try my luck before the bus gets there. As soon as my thumb goes out, a group of schoolkids come from across the street and start whispering, presumably about the foolish man who is hitchhiking in a town where the buses might as well run gratis. When they stand next to me, I put my thumb down. If I get arrested for not paying for a bus ticket, I don’t want them to add a “corrupting the youth of Liechtenstein” charge to my conviction.
The bus arrives, drops me off at Schaan, then closes the doors and drives away the moment I realize there isn’t anything much in Schaan. The bartenders won’t serve me anything better than a pint and a cheese sandwich, and I’m starting to get annoyed at this country. The Bavariennes I came across in South America told me I should get käsespätzle above all else while in Liechtenstein, and I am a firm believer that noodle cultures have an obligation to make such things available at all hours of the day. It’s not my fault I caught a late bus to Liechtenstein.
And 3 pm is hardly late! I try to hitch back south and end up taking a bus to the same supermarket where I parted from my earlier pickup. I grab a lunch of local pastries and juice, eating them on the bench outside the supermarket while I wait for the bus into Vaduz. Before I leave town, I make an effort to see an old covered bridge as well as Vaduz’ St. Florin's Cathedral, a generally unremarkable church, though it is air conditioned despite minimal traffic. On the bus ride to the train station in Sargans, I make sure to sit on the right side so that I can snap a picture of the nation’s prized Gutenberg Castle through the smudged bus window.
In the morning I board a codeshared Flixbus to Chur, Switzerland, meaning that there is no WiFi, but the bus driver has a green Flixbus ascot and a temperamental attitude because he is constantly having to weigh the different corporate values of the companies he works for. In addition, of course, to his own desires and motivations. A few minutes after chewing out some German-American tourists for wanting to get their bags from the luggage container, he pleasantly announces via intercom that we will stop at lovely Lugano Lake for five minutes to take photos. On this bus, there is also a strange geolocated map that shows us where we are, mile by mile, like the in-flight plane tracker that many long-haul airlines have adopted in the last decade or so. This is an amenity no one seemed to ask for on this bus, but we got anyway. Why see Lake Lugano when we can stare at a large blue splotch on a screen?
Chur is an incredibly quaint city cordoned off from the rest of the world by sharp, imposing, mountains and the silty Rhine that pulsates violently in shades of sedimentary gray in the summer. It is early afternoon by the time I drop my bags off in the hostel, and decide that indeed there will be time to visit Chur, but first I must rush back—now unburdened—to the station to catch the next train to Sargans, and then a bus to Liechtenstein which I will likely forever wonder if I should count before (#70) or after (#71) Switzerland in my country-counting list. Time yet for a hundred indecisions.
It costs forty bucks to get to Liechtenstein and back, so I violently kick myself when I am not asked for my ticket once the entire trip. As a business major, I consider the free rider problem, but as a human being I consider the free rider solution. I believe that people, especially wealthy tourists, should pay money to support the infrastructure that they use. I am not wealthy and try daily to be more than just a tourist, but I understand that it is not my taxes that pay for the maintenance of these super-punctual trains. I recognize I am morally obligated to buy a ticket even when there is no conductor to clip it in these idyllic mountains. Still, it hurts.
Victor Bernabei is just another millenial travel blogger. But here's the twist: He isn't a millenial! His goal is to see as many countries as he can, and spread the message that the world is not as scary as the news wants you to believe, and that there is beauty in all people, places and things.