It was Sunday in Switzerland and we had five hours to burn. While Sebastien went to visit a friend, Nanda and I looked around the train station of Landquart, our proposed meeting place, and discussed the possibilities. Coffeehouse? Try to find WIFI? Cafe? Most everything in town was closed. “You might try taking the train to Chur,” Sebastien had suggested. “It’s not far.” And with that, he drove away.
“What about going to Vaduz?” Nanda suggested. “Why not try a new country?”
“Sure. Let’s at least find out how much it would cost.”
We fiddled with the ticket machine at the station and learned that it would cost 26 Swiss francs per person to travel to Vaduz and back from Landquart. I wasn’t keen to burn the cash just to travel 52 kilometers, but I was curious about what would happen if Nanda and I spent the afternoon exploring Liechtenstein. It is, after all, kind of a mysterious little principality. Do ordinary people live in Liechtenstein? Is it full of millionaires? Is it even more expensive than Switzerland? Can we visit the castle?
Nanda suspected it might be possible to get a cheaper fare, so we walked around town until he found an open WIFI network and compared ticket prices, while I found the only pastry shop in town open on a Sunday and bought us a couple of chocolate-covered cream puffs. With jam underneath the chocolate. I wish I had bought six.
We decided to go to Liechtenstein. It was something to do, and neither of us had ever been there before. Back at the train station, we bought the tickets, found the platform, and within five minutes we were on the regional express towards the Swiss town of Sargans. After ten minutes, we arrived and transferred to a bus headed for Vaduz. This double-decker with an enormous glass window at the front was almost completely empty, as the only other people on the top level besides us were a couple of Chinese tourists. All of four of us sat in the very front row, each with camera poised.
We snapped our way into the country, passing over the Rhein, noting the minute differences that separated the Swiss side of the river from the Liechtensteinian. The flags. The bus stop signs. The names of businesses. In the little side streets there were plenty of places to drop your Swiss francs or your euros: souveniers, cafes, fashion shops and novelty corners were stocked with sparkling items behind plate-glass windows.
It started to rain. Nanda and I waited for a bit in a cafe and he found the free city WIFI, while I ordered the most reasonably priced drink on the menu– beer on tap for 4.80 CHF. Waiting for the shower to blow over, we considered our options again.
The principality is basically a little strip of land between the Rhein and a mountainous mass, which separates the country from Austria and Germany like a stone fortress. Almost the entirety of the valley land is covered with houses and developed areas, while within the city of Vaduz, vineyards fill the green spaces, terraces and open spaces behind luxurious cottages and small mansions. Chinese and Japanese tourists flocked from shop to shop. Apart from the locals who shared the bus with us, Liechtenstein seemed to be the abode of the rich. Nanda and I wandered into the tourist office and paid 3 francs to have our passports stamped with the official country mark. It made the trip feel a little more worthwhile.
Despite the threat of a torrential downpour, we took our chances with a visit to the castle, a private residence of Prince Hans Adam II and his family. It is said to have 130 rooms and also to have been used as barracks and as a tavern until the turn of the 20th century. Really, 130 rooms? I wondered how many things and people required their own room. Cheese room. Wine room. Buttery. Kitchen. Servants’ quarters. Royal bedrooms. Great hall. Counting rooms. Armory. Council chambers. Rooms-under-stairs? Secret rooms?
Past the Vaduz Schloss, we found a sign that pointed to the Ruine Wildschloss, the twelfth-century ruins of a castle on a cliff overlooking the entire principality. We followed a paved road which wound upwards through a forest, and became hungrier and thirstier by the minute, not only because we had already hiked several hours this morning, but also because in spite of my craving, I kept asking Nanda to describe all his favorite Indian desserts and how to make them. Halva. Kheer. Barfi. Jalebis. Rasmalai. Anything with cardamom and jaggery. “Okay, now I’m hungry, too.” He admitted with a laugh.
Perhaps it was because we were so hungry and perhaps it was because the torrential downpour eventually did overtake us, but we decided to head back down before we reached the ruins. “What if it was just ten minutes further?” Nanda persisted, unwilling to leave.
Maybe it was. But it was also raining. We headed back through narrow, cobblestone streets, past backyard vineyards and luxurious homes to the shopping district and the bus stop, just in time to see the 6:41 bus turn the corner and disappear. Our clothes were soaked. We had another hour until the next one came along. If we had checked the bus schedule before we left, we definitely coild have made it to the ruins in time to make it back to Landquart by 8:30 to meet Sebastien. The rain continued to fall and filled the valley with a grey misty fog that obscured the tops of the mountains. “Ah, it’s so beautiful.” Nanda sighed with a smile. “Just like at home in India during the monsoon season.”