Lovely Little Liechtenstein

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This border crossing was as undramatic as the last. We were just putting one foot in front of the other along the bike path next to the Rhine, which this close to the Alps is a milky glacial blue, when two posts on either side of the path and a modest little sign indicated we were at the “hiker’s border” between the Republik Oesterreich and the Fürstentum Liechtenstein (I think “principality” is the right translation here—they do have a royal house, but with princes instead of kings).

Liechtenstein is a new country for us both. I remember looking at globes and world maps as a little kid and being fascinating by the teeny-tiny countries, Andorra and Monaco and Singapore and of course Liechtenstein, and for some reason thinking they were extra cool to visit. In adulthood I have learned the technical term for “teeny-tiny” is actually “micro-state,” and Liechtenstein is the first such that I’ve visited. The next will be Vatican City.

Actually Liechtenstein doesn’t look much different from Austria to the north or Switzerland to the west, but that’s fine since the whole area is beautiful, the mountains rising on three sides 1000 or 1500 m higher than the river level (itself about 500 m above sea level), fields and villages and all the rest. We had a picnic amidst the autumn crocuses and in sun hot enough to bring out the sunscreen. Once we scrambled down the rocks to cool our feet in the just-barely-not-freezing-anymore waters of the Rhine. The rest of the day’s walk fairly uneventful; I was flagging by the end as my cold began to assert itself a little more aggressively.

Our hosts for the night were Catharina and Hartwig, a pair of Lutheran pastors from northern Germany serving one of the two Lutheran parishes in Liechtenstein (there’s also one free church congregation, and some Greek and Serbian Orthodox—otherwise Liechtenstein is and has been a very Catholic micro-state). Hartwig took Andrew to an ecumenical Bible study he hosts (though as a rule it’s only Catholics who come to it, no Lutherans at all!) so Andrew could say a word about our pilgrimage, which was received with warm enthusiasm.

This morning they saw us off with a hearty breakfast and some sandwiches for the road. We’ll make our way through Vaduz, admire the impressive banks (a “fiscal paradise,” as we’ve heard it called on the radio), and then cross another border into Switzerland for the next few days’ trek up and over the Alps.

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