Leaving Liechtenstein for Heidiland

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Slow-moving again this morning due to my cold and the kind hospitality of Catharina and Hartwig, we finally got out of their house at 10 and then puttered around in Vaduz for another hour, finding the grocery store and the post office and taking in the capital sights… an hour was really quite adequate. There are indeed a lot of banks in Liechtenstein that you’ve never heard of. The city was mostly modern—the romantic image of a medieval principality was definitely busted there—even with ugly apartment block high rises and plots aspiring toward the outlet mall aesthetic. Apparently there wasn’t much of anything in Vaduz at all until after the Second World War. And all of Liechtenstein is basically just 11 villages. The other villages are pretty charming, though, scaling far up the enormous mountain that looms over the country to the east. Farmhouses sit under the shadow of huge cliffs.

We avoided the Rhine canal as long as we could, actually longing for some shade interspersed with the brilliant sun! When we did finally reconnect we had an exciting scramble first over the rocks in the Rhine itself and then up the nearly sheer hillside to the narrow path that finally came out on the other side… we think in Switzerland. The fact is we were never quite sure when we came into Switzerland because the border wasn’t marked at all. There was a bunker tucked back away in the woods; maybe that was it. Anyway, the point is that we are definitely in Switzerland now, country #4 out of 5. We’ll be here for another 5 days or so.

We stopped for “second lunch” (frequently eating hobbit-style these days; my first week of nausea and vanished appetite has given way to a hunger that would make Bilbo proud—tomorrow is his birthday, by the way) overlooking the canal and there made the fascinating discovery that the source of distress on my feet were two of the most enormous blisters ever seen. We had traded out my sneaker sandals for regular sneakers for this stretch in the mountains, figuring they’d offer more protection for alpine exploration and possible snow. But we never though to consider how I’d do wearing them all day for days on end—I have only used them for running before. Now we know all too well. I managed all right till the end of the day’s walk but then Andrew had the unpleasant duty of lancing and bandaging these minor monuments; he bore it well. Between the blisters and a bug bite that feels like a button lodged under my skin and an episode of staggering stupidity in which I attempted to drain the oil out of a package of sun-dried tomatoes while standing downwind in a stiff breeze leading to polka-dotted stains all over my one and only pair of pants, it has not been a day ranking high in either comfort or style. Fortunately, that is not the point of a pilgrimage.

Evening (which begins at 5:45 p.m. when the sun disappears behind the mountain) brought us to Bad Ragaz, a Swiss spa town in “Heidiland.” They really call it that. Heidi takes place partly in neighboring Maienfeld. It is in fact an extremely pious book, though I doubt that features significantly in the tourist packages. Between Heidi and skiing, the prices have ascended in direct proportion to the altitude of the Alps. I’m suffering from perpetual sticker shock. Another thing Luther wouldn’t have had to worry about!

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