Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Welcome to Liechtenstein!

Chris and I have made no secret of the fact that we one day, any day, want to move to the mountains.  Not the hills - sorry South Carolina, North Carolina or Arkansas - but the mountains.  The bigger, the better.  We're talking, Rockies, Tetons, Alps, Himalayas.  Every time some urban-related fiasco unsettles us, we threaten to pack up and move.  Stuck in traffic?  Not in Vail!  Recent neighborhood home invasions?  Never in Telluride!  Shady politicians?  Less likely in Jackson Hole!  Government bail-out?  Not a problem in Liechtenstein!

What?  Where? 

That's right.  Liechtenstein.

Our love affair with Liechtenstein all started when we took a magical trip to Europe a few summers ago to explore some countries we'd always wanted to visit together.  Him:  Germany, Austria, Switzerland.  Me:  Italia, mi amore!  We had both been when we were younger versions of ourselves, but this was different.  It wasn't chaperoned by adults and it wasn't a tour.  It was the two of us renting a car and navigating ourselves along a course charted by yours truly.  And oh, let me tell you, did we ever have a ball.

We hiked the Swiss Alps (yodeleheehoo), we went paragliding in Interlaken (gulp), we spent the night in an ancient palace in the Chianti region of Italy (mamma mia), we celebrated a World Cup semi-final win for Austria on the streets of Innsbruck (go whoever-you-are, you cute guys wearing red), we hiked Neuschwanstein in Germany (the original Magic Kingdom castle, ya'll!).  We did everything we could possibly cram into ten days, and we enjoyed every second of it. 

And, being the (obsessive, compulsive) strategist that I am, I planned every darn detail of that trip, even down to the amount of tolls we would have to pay in each country.  This was before GPS became so popular, so we used Old Faithful, our SPS:  Sarah Positioning System.  I'm telling you, I had every minute of our days planned, literally.  To those who know me, this is not uncharacteristic of my personality.  I like to be prepared, I am perpetually prepared.

Therefore, it was all the more bewildering when, on some winding mountain road between Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Austria, Chris and I found ourselves to be quite - oh, I sure hate to admit this one - lost

Yep, the SPS had failed us, and before we knew it, our little rented 2-door diesel Ford Focus was hurtling towards parts of Europe unknown, unanticipated, and uncharted by ME.  Now, the control-freak part of my brain didn't handle this too well.  I mean, all this hard work I had put into planning the perfect itinerary was suddenly derailed by roadsigns pointing us to locales with far too many consonants to be considered satisfactory destinations.  And then!  To top it all off, Chris informs me we are running out of gas.  Breathe, Sarah, breathe.

We finally come upon this tiny little gas station in the middle of nowhere.  A beautiful nowhwere, to be sure, but nowhere, nonetheless.  We pump in however many liters of fuel it takes to get our tiny car to go, and head in to the gas station to pay and to - ahem - ask directions.  It just so happened that an exceptionally happy man was behind the counter, and he agreeably pointed us in the proper direction back to civilization.  As we are thanking him, and heading out the door, Chris turns to him and, as if almost as an afterthought says, "Oh, by the way, where are we?"  The realization suddenly dawns on this nice man that the couple standing in front of him is completely and utterly geographically challenged.  He throws his arms wide with a flourish and joyfully announces, "My friends!  Welcome to Liechtenstein!"

So?  Huh.  Yeah, Liechtenstein?  Is that, like, a town?   In Germany?  Austria, maybe?   Are we anywhere near the Swarovski factory? 

Not to be undone by my ignorance, he happily says, "No, no!  We are country!  We are country of Liechtenstein!"

I was mortified.  The SPS failed me so miserably that we ended up in a country that was not only NOT on my very thorough itinerary, but until this very minute, I didn't even know existed.  Silly, stupid, good-for-nothing SPS. 

In the future, in case you ever find yourself in the lovely Alps, and happen to be crossing the border from Switzerland into Austria, and need to stop for fuel, here are some things to know so as not to offend the very kind gas station attendant:

  -Liechtenstein is 61.8 sq miles, and is the 4th smallest country in Europe
  -There are no border controls between Switzerland and Liechtenstein (clearly)
  -It is the only country to lie entirely within the Alps
  -The capital is Vaduz, and it has been identified as a tax haven (hellooooo?)
  -The primary language is German
  -It is a constitutional monarchy, and they have a Prince (attention, my single girlfriends, a PRINCE)
  -The last murder in Liechtenstein took place 10 years ago
  -The average life expectancy is 80 years

Since Chris and I will someday move to some mountains somewhere, I can assure you that thanks to the statistics listed above, Liechtenstein is rapidly moving up on our list.  I realize we probably glamorize it somewhat, when we silently curse urban living through gritted teeth, and maybe life in Liechtenstein would come with its own set of problems (no, I don't speak German, yes, I know there will be no SuperTarget on every corner, of course I would miss my family, and definitely I would have to give up my beloved Taco Bueno) but it's more the concept we are in love with.  Tiny little monarchy perched high in the Alps, fresh air, 17th century farmhouses, sheep dotting the hillsides. 

Who knows, maybe one day, I'll be happily manning my gas station, and I can announce to weary, travel-unwise visitors, "My friends!  Welcome to Liechtenstein!"

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