Thursday, 29 May 2014

Tiny Countries Part Three: Liechtenstein

Vaduz, Liechtenstein 

Vaduz Castle, Liechtenstein
Behold, Vaduz Castle! The prince of Liechtenstein and "the princely family" live there. You can see the castle from almost anywhere in Vaduz because of the town's small size, and the castle being positioned upon a steep hill. I like saying Vaduz because it's pronounced "fah-doots", which is fun to say. (Also, I got a Vaduz pen with a tiny bus inside! When you tip the pen, the bus moves as though rolling downhill.)

Balzers, Liechtenstein

Leaving the capital, we followed Lonely Planet's suggestion of seeing the church of Balzers. I liked this name too, if only to make immature jokes about it. Here you can see the church roof and steeple in the foreground, some castle, and a mountain, all in a pretty ascension. 

We walked on the grounds of the church, and even into the cemetery. 

Balzers church, Liechtenstein
The church front. 
We took lunch at a restaurant where I had sausages and sauerkraut - surprisingly delicious. A soup was also had, which contained strange spherical croutons. How did they make them...
After a stroll through the township, we discovered a local bakery and got another pretzel, but it wasn't as good as the Austrian one. Disappoint. The Berlinners, on the other hand, made for a tasty mouthful. 

Tiny Countries Part Two: San Marino

City of San Marino, San Marino 

At first, parking wasn't too easy to find. We thought we had found a parking space, but then couldn't make sense of the sign above it and left in case we weren't supposed to be there. Driving further into the hilly town, we pulled into a car park that we definitely were allowed in. In fact, there were multiple levels of car parking space to allow for tourists, as it was the main industry in San Marino. That, and leather, but we'll get to that later. (Disclaimer: I don't know if the leather was actually made in San Marino, but they definitely sold a lot of it.)
From there, we found a glass elevator that transported us up near the walled town itself. There were a plethora of tour buses. 

A governmenty justicey building or something. 

There were several rather disturbing sculptures around San Marino. I don't even want to try to decipher what this one is depicting. 

As we wandered the streets, we saw many shops selling leather goods such as bags. I took this opportunity to badger Yannick into getting a new wallet, as his was ten years old and fastened with Velcro (which didn't work very well).
We were worried about getting lunch or gelato as all the food places looked like they catered to tourists heavily. However, we used a method of spotting good gelato, and we were not disappointed. Lonely Planet told us that if you look at the pistachio flavour of a gelateria, and it's a bright green colour, the gelato will be terrible and touristy. If it's an olive green colour, then it should be decent. A great method that I will employ in the future. So much gelato to be had!

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Tiny Countries Part One: Andorra and Monaco

Going back in time, we visited Andorra on our way from Spain back to France.

Andorra la Vella, Andorra

The river was well contained, probably because there was so much civilisation built up around it. Though you can't quite see it in the photo, some parts of the riverbed had actual rocks, rather than the concrete that lined it. We weren't sure if these were put here by Andorrans to make it look more natural, or if they were washed downstream. 
We had quite a bit of difficulty navigating to the McDonalds to utilise the free WiFi, due to there being hundreds of confusing roundabouts and roads we couldn't turn around on. But we managed, and found a village nearby that sounded interesting to explore. 

It was a quiet little village, and not overly photogenic. You could call it 'rustic'.

Alright, these cows weren't actually in Andorra. They were just over the border into France. But Andorra is so tiny, and these cows are cool! I had to put them in a post. 

Monte Carlo, Monaco

We traversed France and after Nice visited this tiny country. 
According to Yannick, this is an awesome turn because something something Formula One racing. 

This building is called the Monte Carlo Casino. Fancy. It was packed with people, and the streets were lined with shops such as Gucci and Dior. 

Fancy rich people boats! Or should I say 'yachts'. 

Friday, 16 May 2014

The Well-Dressed Swiss

Zürich, Switzerland 

Zurich was a beautiful city. And it was filled with beautiful people - everyone was immaculately dressed so I quickly shrugged off my hoodie, stowing it away in my bag before anyone could judge me.

Our first stop was the cathedral. Huge and impressive, with lots of pointy bits. On many old buildings, the wood has perished, but that red spike thing at the top was built from wood. It may have been a reconstruction. 

We had cheese fondue, which is traditional to have in Switzerland. According to Asterix and Obelix (the comic), if you dropped your bread into the fondue you had to take a swim in the lake. Yannick dropped half of a piece of his bread in, so we ruled he would have to put his feet in the river. He didn't. I don't blame him; it looked cold. 

Also, you can see the colourful bags of chocolate we purchased. Sprungli was at the top of our agenda, where we bought the truffes du jour - truffles of the day (and tried not to eat them all immediately), followed by Teuscher where we gathered a small treasure trove of delectable flavours. My favourite was the coffee chocolate. The mint chocolate and lemon chocolate came closely behind. 

More wooden pointy things! This was probably some beautiful apartment along the waterfront. 
Looking outside through gauzy curtains, you see the yellowing leaves outside falling gently into the ebbing water. You feel a chill - the wind has picked up. Your forearm brushes past the picture frame you keep on the windowsill as you reach for the pale shutters and draw them closed. Clouds roll in. 

We found a hotel last minute in France. They had made a mistake with our booking, so we got upgraded to a better room for free! This is when I had excitedly jumped/collapsed onto the bed. The hotel was Formula One themed. Upon checking out in the morning, a fire alarm sent us on our way.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Windy Windy Cliff Road

There's a road in Switzerland called the Tremola. As you can see from our GPS, it's quite windy and looks rather ridiculous on maps.

 Oddly described as "Switzerland's longest historical monument" by a tourist website, the Tremola is a centuries old cobblestoned road on the southern side of the Gotthard Pass. 

We saw very few others on this drive. A couple of motorcyclists passed us, their engines cutting through the serene mountain air. A fog rolled in, adding an extra layer of eeriness.

At the top, there was a large tawny plain with a little stream running through. Yannick took some pictures, and I took some pictures of Yannick taking pictures, and when he noticed me taking pictures of him, he started taking pictures of me, so I hid behind the iPad. 

But I won in the end because in taking a picture of me, he took a picture of himself in the reflection of the window.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014


Innsbruck, Austria

The rugged mountains loomed above Innsbruck, contrasting the refined and curving architecture. Buildings were painted warm creams and oranges as though trying to cling on to spring.

We tasted a pretzel, and it did not disappoint. Chewy and salty, it was the perfect snack for wandering. (To veer off topic, just look at how tan my hand is! It's almost pretzel-coloured.)

There were some very ornate building fronts, undoubtedly with rich histories behind them. As we were running out of time and had to rush back to Lille, we didn't get to spend as much time as we'd like. Everything on our trip after Venice was abbreviated. 

The rocky mountain tops hint at a snow-clad winter, with icy breezes and collars raised up to shield exposed necks. 

It was quite chilly camping in the mountains of Austria in September. I had to wear two pairs of socks and keep the hood of my jumper up while sleeping. Having to leave your sleeping bag to trek across the dewy grass to reach the toilets is never fun, but the bathroom was heated. 

I leave you with this sign I found while getting lost trying to find the toilets for the first time: "The keys for the dogs shower you get at the reception."

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Ice Cream and the Ice Man

Trento, Italy

Going further north, Trento still felt very Italian but had a more alpine feel, as though you could sense that Austria was close. The air grew chillier and I could actually wear jeans again, and even a stylish scarf (but not a scarf built specifically for warmth, the air wasn't Wellingtonian enough for that). 
The main square had an impressive fountain with a dude at the top sporting a trident. People would sit on the steps around the fountain, but when a sudden wind picked up someone would get splashed and make a little surprised sound, jumping out of the way. They would then find another spot, a dry one, and sit back down. Though this seems foolish, I did it myself once, because getting a little wet was a small price to pay when there were no other seating options. And boy was it refreshing. 

A large and impressive castle dominated one of the streets. We didn't go in, just admired from afar. 

We went up the cable car, which was far better than Wellington's. For one thing, it went much higher, and we took this photo at the top. Rather than trundling along a rail, it hung from a cable like a gondola. At the top, a road led to a small mountain village where kids ran around playing games and we got cheap drinks from the tiny supermarket. One euro! The quiet village was in stark contrast to Trento, which was bustling. We didn't see any people there except the children and the lady in the supermarket.

Not knowing where to take lunch, we walked around a few streets off the main square and found quite an authentic restaurant. The food was a melange of Italian and of more northern foodstuffs. Only knowing what one thing on the menu actually was, I ordered the carpaccio, which was nearly as good as the Venetian one. (For an entree I got speck, which I was about 75% sure was some type of cured meat like ham. It was. All in all, a very hearty lunch. There were also potatoes.)

As we wandered around the square, we stumbled across our favourite gelateria: Grom. Having tried every flavour of gelato and sorbet, that only left the granitas - sort of like a slushier sorbet. 
We got the Sicilian lemon one and the nut one, and then decided we should finish the menu, so went back twice to sample the two other flavours: coffee and blueberry. The lemon was the best.

Bolzano, Italy

This was our first adventure in German. Bolzano, while still in Italy, is a German-speaking town. Our attempts at the language included "guten tag" (but no one said it, they just used "halooooo", so we followed their lead), and "apfelstrudel" because we wanted some strudel. 

After the bakery came the real reason we went to Bolzano: Ötzi the Ice Man. This is a representation of what he may have looked like - first we got to see his corpse! It was strange in that the skin was still mostly intact. His body had been preserved in a glacier for thousands of years, and trampers who had gone off the recommended path found him, not knowing just what and how old he was. 

The trampers tried to dig him out, grabbing anything they could find - they didn't realise that they were using his own 5,000 year old bow as a glacier trowel. Tourists. Tsk.