“Eres un mal que me hace bien…”
– Encantadora (Remix), Yandel ft. Zion y Lennox & Farruko
Fürstenturm Liechtenstein: This was a country — or more specifically, a “principality” — which, just from the sound of its name, was enough to make it on my itinerary last spring. I was intrigued because I knew absolutely nothing about Liechtenstein, nor did I know anyone from here. I had never heard it being mentioned in the news at all — perhaps because I hardly read the news, but maybe also because Liechtenstein is the very embodiment of the popular saying, “No news is good news”. All is well in Liechtenstein, and there is therefore nothing to report to the world.
This called for a thorough investigation, and so from Prague where I parted ways with my dear traveling companion earlier this April, I then embarked on a train that took me to Linz, then Innsbruck, which, although special on its own, barely received the attention it deserved from me due to time constraints.
I left Innsbruck one freezing spring morning back in April for a train that would take me to a small town 158 kilometers away called Feldkirch. This absolutely breathtaking train journey through the magnificent Austrian Alps was rather uneventful, save for the fact that I had the fortune of being seated next to a tour group of middle-aged Austrian men who clearly knew how to have a good time on an intercity Austrian train — they talked, they laughed, walked out for a smoke on the platform, even ordered a Budweiser for brekkie.
They were so fascinating, the anthropologist in me could hardly sit still. I had to abandon my desire to engage them in conversation, as I could barely speak a word of German, but I could tell that to them, my presence on that train — being a young Muslim woman, evidently Asian and therefore foreign, wearing a headscarf and clearly unaccompanied — was highly unusual. As much as I too was curious about them, they had a harder time containing their curiosity about me — one of them attempted to peek into my Moleskine, which I’d left wide open on the table as I left for another seat for a better view of the Alps. (I must confess that my ridiculously touristy behavior of photographing every peak of the Alps like an unseasoned traveler did not at all help mute my foreignness.) In any case he could barely discern anything — from my temporary seat I saw him shaking his head in confusion upon seeing my illegible script. I could be writing state secrets or of the skeletons in my closet, but I know that only close friends of mine trained to decode my handwriting from having received postcards I’d sent from peculiar corners of the globe would have been able to make sense of anything on the page. This brief glance at my wide-open journal therefore seemed to me perfectly harmless.
Upon arriving in Feldkirch, I took a connecting bus that crossed the Austrian-Liechtensteinian border into Vaduz. Border-crossing here was so hassle-free it was even alarming at times; I kept thinking somewhere further down the road, there will be another customs checkpoint, at which I — the only non-EU citizen on the bus — would be singled out, kindly requested to disembark from the vehicle, and subjected to questions generically asked in attempts to categorically place an outsider within their own familiar categories. I have many interesting stories of encounters with the customs, but this is a story for another time.
Allow me to take you back to Vaduz. Once when I commented to my Russian friend how incredibly efficient the Liechtensteinian postal system is compared to the Russian one (my postcards to my friends in England had arrived before I was even taking the plane back from Stuttgart), she’d replied, “Of course it’s efficient if your country is just one street!” Thinking on this retrospectively, I still laugh at how true it is — Liechtenstein, though slightly more than a “one-street” nation, is indeed very cute and tiny. Upon my arrival in Vaduz, the capital quickly established itself as a posh “princely” town of sorts — there is one (and only one) castle on top of a hill (represented in the photo above), with soothing rolling green meadows and forested mountains all around it and the majestic Alps looming in the background everywhere you turn. There is a picture of, or a symbol of the crown everywhere, for the thing they are proudest of is their monarchy, which pointed to me certain interesting parallels here between Liechtenstein and its Southeast Asian counterpart, Brunei.
My €18 pasta pictured above, devoured in the patio of a touristy restaurant situated off the main street as I wrote my postcards to friends in England, Russia, Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei, was indicative of the fact that Vaduz is a town not to be taken lightly — or shall we say, cheaply. While small, Liechtenstein’s liberal tax policies makes it a highly favorable ground for businesses to grow, and its citizens are clearly well-endowed and live comfortably. This is the place to retire for those seeking to settle down in a modern detached home in a safe and affluent suburb surrounded by the Alps, with a dog, a Mercedes coupé in the garage, and relaxing weekends at one of many ski resorts nearby — the dream life for some, but perhaps not for me, thank you.
Vaduz was not exciting the way any other European cities may be — and that’s because its hidden gems are for each of us to discover on our own. I found, for example, the hike up the hill to the castle a rather spiritually soothing one as I stopped by a minuscule waterfall, washed my hands and face with the cool spring water, and prayed as I sat on one of the benches facing the snow-capped Alps with the city (okay, town) sprawling below me. Just sitting in the middle of the meadow below in the warm sunshine — the hottest day of Spring I’d seen that April — as I wrote in my journal was in and of itself a tremendous pleasure. Liechtenstein also taught me to pay more attention to the experiences I gain on the journey rather than make the destination the center of my travels. On my first night back in my warm, comfortable bed in Cambridge, I dreamed that I was on that train traversing through the Alps once again, and the scenes I’d seen from my window that morning will never leave me.
It was quite an experience though to be passing through snow-capped mountains in cool temperatures while listening to reggaetón, which brought to mind the breathtaking beaches of Puerto Rico (not that I’ve been there, but it’s on my list) and even more intense sunshine. But considering this is a country that stands out for being the world’s largest producer of false teeth, I’d say I had pretty great fun traveling solo in Liechtenstein.