Crossing borders 3 Countries in one day #1

So there I was, on a Saturday morning in Feldkirch. It's fairly early, BBC World is boring me and I go look out of the window. Wait, what? My room has a really pretty view and Feldkirch is surrounded by mountains? I had no clue about this. That's what you get for arriving in the dark I guess. By the time I'm ready it's sunny as hell. Nice.

Up, blog, shower, out. On the way down to reception I glance at the bit where the kids were partying last night and there really doesn't seem to be enough room for how many there were. My room card, I notice, says I'm actually going to check out on Sunday. This is a mistake, I've definitely only booked for 1 night but part of me wonders if I could get a second one for free. I presume not, but given Austrian beer...

I ask the receptionist the best place to catch a bus from and unlike almost every receptionist in every other hotel ever, they do not draw pencil circles around our location and where I need to go on a tear off map but rather they say "oh, there's a bus station across the square by the tower". Well, OK then.

Turns out Feldkirch has got it going on on a Saturday morning. The market is in full swing and there's loads of people around, and lots of glüh-stuff being consumed. I avoid the glühbier and, some of you may be glad to know, now regret that fact.

There's free wifi about town which lets me send Helen a bunch of photos of International Hat near stuff in Feldkirch. I can't work out why there's no data on my phone until I realise there are two Three networks and my phone has defaulted to the calls-only one. WTF!

Some of the buildings are all painted up and junk.

On my travels I find the bus station, or busplatz, which isn't really a station or platz but just a bit of the road where there happen to be 4 bus stops fairly close to each other. Service #11 is leaving in 2 minutes, that's too soon for me so I wander yet further. This is a mistake because nothing else picturesque leaps out at me, so I walk back to the train station and buy a sandwich and coke zero.

There's an 11 already there, this being the start of the route. Some guy is hanging around waiting, but then a lass turns up and just opens a door and gets on. Oh! You can already get on! So I go to the driver and my German is understood: ein nach Vaduz, bitte? And lo and behold, I'm off to my 55th (or 50th) country. To Liechtenstein!

I previously claimed that Greece was the 50th country I've visited. The word "country" is problematic though. For my travel purposes I use the UN as a guide, and as of Liechtenstein I have now visited: 50 member states, 1 observer state, 3 dependencies and 1 "other area" (niihau, Taiwan). So that's 50 by anyone's measure, surely.

Anyway. I'm not quite there yet, in this story. I'm on a bus. It's mostly empty at the start so I pick an empty seat on the left which is, of course, a mistake, what with them driving on the right over here. All the beautiful scenery - and seriously, it's beautiful once we leave central Feldkirch - is over on the right. I think about moving but ah, I've got my phone and my notebook and two bags and maybe it's not worth it.

After 10-15 minutes or so we approach the border with Liechtenstein. There's a bus stop just inside Austria and something that looks like an actual border, and some policemen get on board and check everybody's ID. What? Come on, you're double landlocked, if people have got into Austria they're allowed in. But I don't bring up this objection at the time, instead showing my passport to a disinterested man.

After me, he shouts at the driver and the doors open again and two more police get on and a hobo is removed. It's just this shabby old guy with a plastic bag full of booze and I feel sorry for him.

Next, Liechtenstein! Hurrah! The scenery on the right stays so relentlessly gorgeous that I do switch sides and take a couple of poor photos, soon after which we turn off the main road and all the good stuff is now over on the left. Go me!

It's a great bus ride. Aside from the mountains and mist there's also small villages of beautiful housing, plus industrial estates presumably where they make false teeth (go look that up). The bus stops regularly and lots of people seem to know each other. I guess that's what happens when your entire country has a lower population than most Premier League stadia hold.

We go through places named Mauren and Eschen and Schaan and, er, Pinocchio - which seems to be a bus stop next to a field with nothing else around. Well OK then. I'm tracking progress on Google maps and spot a nearby place called Flux. I expect people called Aeon, a capacitor manufacturer, and the only constant to be change. But instead I stay on the bus to Vaduz.

Schaan has, I believe, Liechtenstein's only train station. It's very picturesque.

In all previous villages, the stop called "Post" has been a modern bus stop with electronic displays showing the next 5 departures and etc etc. In Vaduz, the capital of the damn country, "Post" is a ropey shelter next to a deserted minicab office and a multi-storey car park. There's no signs to anything nor obvious town centre so I wing it, by heading towards the cathedral up the way. Holy balls it's sunny.

Obviously, I get lost immediately. Within seconds I'm walking down deserted streets of offices and a few houses and a football park and there's barely anyone else around. Back behind me, up on the mountain side, there's a big castle which I presume is Schloss Vaduz. I start tracing a rectangle shape, finding a park and small river and as I turn a corner to head back towards the bus stop I see a small staircase between two buildings opposite, leading up to a souvenir shop and there's people walking in front of it. I figure perhaps that's where shit goes down.

Oh, here it is, the Vaduz christmas market. The internet had told me this is only a 2 day event, 10th and 11th December, and I've been very proud of myself for this accident of timing.

Hmm. It's quite a shit market, truth told. I guess it's a bit more authentic than having an Alpine christmas market in Surbiton, but well... ah I'm being churlish (as opposed to Churlish, which is how I hope people from Chur in Switzerland are referred to). There are a lot of stalls selling crafts and raclette and hot dogs and glüh-stuff and etc. It's lively, but very very small. This may be a capital city but it's only a 5,000 population town.

I also can barely see because even with my sunnies on it's way too damn bright. I need a baseball cap, and indeed try one on in the tourist information centre but naturally it doesn't fit. As I enter, I'm the only person there; by the time I've picked up a couple of things to purchase, about 30 other people have arrived. I assume a bus just dropped off. Some of them are very aggressive queue-jumpers who are sternly told to hold the fuck back while they're serving me.

Back outside I think OK, I should get something to drink. There's no way I'm visiting a new country and not having a local beer. Then I realise I don't have any cash. These awkward sorts use Swiss Francs, not Euros, and I don't got none. So I go to the bank, but it has no ATM. Oh. I keep wandering up to the end of the market and through the small walkway past the "Hey! Buy loads of Switzerland merch!" shop which confuses the hell out of me. Who's buying "I <heart> Basel" shirts in LIechtenstein? Go buy a damn stamp!

Beyond the scaffolding and building works and derelict building there's, oh! Another half to the market, and some more shops. And an ice rink. This seems to be the more kid focused end to today's festivities. Barely anyone is ice skating, and one woman is standing in front of the town hall telling people it's the town hall for money. And then the town ends. It's like a 5 minute walk from top to bottom.

The nearest restaurant looks too fancy for me so I double back and sit outside a pizzeria. They serve me a local beer and a fantastic omelette sandwich. And then another beer. All the staff are super friendly. Life is good.

People seem to be greeting each other by shouting "oi", which makes me want to open a saveloy shop. I ask Untappd if there's anywhere local I can get a Liechtensteiner Brauhaus coffee stout but apparently not within a 25km radius. Which covers the entire damn country where the beer is brewed! Come on now.

So now I've run out of things to do. I check the bus timetable and figure I've got 90 minutes to kill before heading to my next stop, Sargans. I'm not convinced there's anything to do there but there's also nothing to do here except, wait! Hang on! I saw it on a map earlier: I can go cross a border on foot. Let's do that!

Map says it's just under 2km away. The route is basically "walk them streets you did when you were a bit lost off the bus, and keep going" which is great news. On the deserted office/residential street a train arrives. I forgot: the christmas market is meant to have one of those miniature train rides for kids 'n that. But the place is so small with so little going on, and the actual market is so cramped and crowded, the ride just goes around the crap bits of Vaduz. Aww.

Also, there seems to be a vague smell of horse shit in the air. I've not seen any horses, but literally 2 seconds after my nose first twitches I am upon a sign showing men shovelling manure. That's what this is right?

Following the blue dot on the blue line on Google maps, I reach what I believed would be a through road but is actually a dead end. Oh. But wait, there's a pedestrian path next to some factories and a bus garage, and then there's a motorway and the Rhein and over there? That be Switzerland.

The river is mostly dry.

I thought I would be walking the pavement across a road bridge, but it's way better than that: there's a dark wooden bridge for pedestrians and horses. The border is halfway across. Woohoo!

I keep going, deep into Switzerland, and take some photos of that there Liechtenstein. There's really nothing on this side of the river except a few signs about walking and horse riding and cycling trails.

Well, that's that. Time to go back to Liechtenstein except, oh. Horses! Best wait for them to cross the border.

Back through the bridge and there's now horse shit strewn all along the path, but almost entirely only on the Swiss side. I don't know if this some kind of "screw you, Switzerland" thing or "hey, don't waste all that manure in Liechtenstein". Either way, the walk back across involves a bit more care than before.

I weave my way through the Vaduz outskirts and back to the bus stop via the car park, where I notice all local registration plates are just numbers. I guess when your country is that small it makes sense.

I look for somewhere to buy a diet coke, but there's nowhere. In fact other than the market, almost everything has been shut. The nearest cafe doesn't open at weekends. The whole place - on a festive Saturday - has a feeling of a sleepy Sunday. I think I would go totally crazy living here, despite the amazing landscape and stuff.

Anyway, the bus arrives promptly, and it's time to leave the country. Again. We head into some other moderate conurbation and ride a circle through it before entering Switzerland and finishing at Sargans bahnhof. There are local youths throwing shit against walls in a bus shelter, and some drunks over the way. Also a map of the entire transport network for a country.

With about 40 minutes until the train I pop into the shop and buy a can of lager, a coke zero and a Nutella muffin. The young nervous looking lad who attempts to pass for old enough to buy booze in front of me is challenged for ID and meekly slinks out of the shop empty handed. Bless.

The moon is rising fast above the mountains. It's another ludicrously picturesque place to wait for a train.

Maybe I should get the real camera out?

Not bad. Maybe zoom a little more?

The train, being Swiss, arrives on time. I have a first class ticket to Basel, which is 200km away but only two stops, the first being Zurich. It's nothing like as fancy as the Austrian train but still nice wide seats, and it's a pleasingly empty carriage. No wifi annoys me a bit. The first part of the journey skirts round a huge body of water but obviously I'm sitting on the non-picturesque side. Not that it matters; it's dark soon enough.

The trolley guy zooms straight past me on his first run, but on his second I get another beer. It's almost 5 quid for a can of lager. Wow. Ticket guy scans my phone in a jolly fashion and then, hello, we're at Basel. Oooh would you look at the fancy TGV on t'other platform.

My hotel is on "Centralbahnhofplatz" which I assume will make it easy to find. Lo and behold, it's basically the first thing visible (beyond BK) outside the station. Inside reception and I'm slightly wondering if this is actually the right place, because it's way way way fancier than I expected and there's a woman playing jazz versions of Christmas tunes on the piano and a nice looking bar without scowling men. Huh.

Check-in is impossibly friendly, even when my Supercard - which worked in an ATM earlier - is rejected. Sigh. I'm told breakfast tomorrow finishes at 1pm - "that's not breakfast!" - and am granted room 205 (making me think: ooh, wrestling!). Also:

  • a login for free wifi
  • a free travel card covering the whole of Basel, including to the airport, for today and tomorrow
  • a voucher for a free glass of prosecco if I eat in the hotel restaurant

Not bad. My room is at the end of a corridor with a view of a major road junction, and has only a single bed. The TVhas UK terrestrial channels on it - BBC1, 2 and 4, ITV1-4, etc, and the remote operates like a mouse. Strange. There's a free bottle of water which is valuable because to get another one from the minibar is going to cost me almost 4 quid WHAT. Four quid for water!

I look at the room service menu and yes, everything is horribly expensive. Oh dear. I'm quite hungry and could do with something, but these prices are making me balk, so I head back to the station in the hope I can find some cheap crap there.

Nothing grabs my attention much other than a Coop supermarket. I commit that to memory but keep on, emerging at the other end of the station and I just keep walking. It's dark, there aren't many people around, and I realise I'm a third of the way towards a brewery I want to visit. I had intended to do that on Sunday but what the hell, it's 7.30pm on a Saturday, let's try it now.

The roads get emptier and shadier the further I go, without much sound other than the occasional tram or car, and disturbing laughter from persons unknown and unseen from various alleys. Eventually I turn the corner around which is meant to be the brewery and, er, it's a brewery. Not a tap room or pub or anything. Just a working brewery. Doing nothing on a Saturday evening.

Well god damn it. I'm sure I read online there was a bar here. I even saved the address to my phone. I wouldn't have done that if it was just a brewery would I? So I think, a few minutes ago there seemed to be a square with ... stuff ... going on, through an archway. I wander through, there's the entrance of a backpacker hostel and some other closed art businesses and the brewery pub/restaurant! Hurrah! It is, of course, shut. Because presumably no-one wants a beer on a Saturday night. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE.

Well this is all hilarious nonsense. Y'know what, I'm just going to go to that Coop supermarket in the station and be done with it. So I retrace my steps all the way back, enter the shop and am thoroughly disappointed. You can't buy any decent beers in quantities less than 6 at a time and all the food looks awful. I walk out with nothing and past the local miscreants with the police who recognise them. There's a sign to "beer wine energy liquor" in a little corridor just off from the concourse and I'm like, oh this is going to be terrible, but in for a penny...

Hello. I'd like to introduce you to the best beer off licence in the world. Here's less than half of what's on offer.

Well holy crap. It takes me ages to choose what to buy, since there's just way too much choice and realistically I can only have 2 or 3 small bottles. I so want the 9% creme brûlée porter but it's too big and expensive. But this place is just ridiculously good. Eventually I opt for three Swiss beers, including one from the closed brewery which I'm now happy was closed.

Back in my room I recount tales of my success to Helen and others, and put my beer in the mini bar fridge. But I'm so hungry and decide there's no choice but to eat in the hotel restaurant. At least I can have some semblance of value for money by redeeming my free prosecco voucher. The menu on the outside promises many pumpkin dishes, but the one I'm handed has a winter truffle selection instead.

Helen has a thing about owls, so I take a photo of the owl picture under which I seat. Booze and water and bread arrives and I order halibut with truffles and cashews and stuff, and looking around the room I see more owls. Why all the owls? I ask the waiter and he says, oh, the hotel, it kinda means owls. Wait, what? It's called Euler, which I thought was named after the mathematician from Basel (and Project Konigsberg inspiration) but I also learn that "eule" is German for owl.

The food arrives and is gorgeous. Not much to it though. The prosecco is also gorgeous, so I order a pay-for glass as well. When time comes to pay up I'm not 100% glad I did this, because the whole meal including tip costs me almost £50. I mean, whoa. Whoa. Whoa.

Back up to my room and it's time to get on the beer.

I have the middle one first. It's not very nice on first sip but gets better as it continues. Next, I have the one on the right. This is my 400th unique beer of 2016 and made 1.5km from where I drink it. It's pleasingly bland and I am overwhelmed with recursive schadenforeman, being pleased about my own displeasure.

I've put Scuzz, the rock music channel, on the TV and am by now drunk enough that the volume is up and I'm venting on Facebook. Throughout the third beer - which is wonderful - I kick off a long thread about how much better heavy metal was 30 years ago and how Linkin Park can absolutely fuck right off. There's loads of awful crap coming on: Bring Me The Horizon, Biffy Clyro, etc etc. Occasionally a good song, by which I mean something from the early 90s, interrupts the horror and then, after about 2.5hrs or so of this, something new comes on which I actually enjoy. It's a revelation, until the chorus comes in and oh god it's SO AWFUL and I just give up.

To be fair, by now it's almost midnight and I need to make sure I'm up early in the morning. I've a fantastic day to write-up, and then more borders to cross before getting on a plane.

Created By
Darren Foreman
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