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.
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!
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.
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.
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.