The next day was our big Liechtenstein tour and country number 4. It was a Lichtenstein tour by bus with Gray Line, and since they hadn’t cancelled we assumed the trip was still on. We didn’t have to get an early start since the tour started at 11AM, and because we discovered late the previous evening that we needed to move our COVID test from Saturday to Sunday so that we were in compliance with the new 24 hour test window to re-enter the US. We continued to feel jerked around by Omicron reactions, and the changing regulations to re-enter the US were literally slated to start on Dec 6, the day we were heading back. Needless to say, there were a lot of unanswered questions about when the 24 hour clock started, and even whether it applied to us given that our flight to Zurich was at 7AM Monday morning Dec 6, meaning 1AM EST but 11PM MST (both on and before the date line). As a result we played it safe, assumed the new rules applied to us, and made sure our new COVID test was no earlier than 24 hours before our second flight from Frankfurt to Toronto, just in case it was the international hop to the North American continent that mattered. It would not be possible for us to get a test at the Zurich airport, given that our flight was so early and the testing center would be closed. We also wanted to provide a little margin on Sunday if for some reason we needed to re-test, so we ended up with 945AM appointment times at the same testing center we had booked previously, near our hotel at the National Museum.
The good news was that we could have a leisurely Saturday morning prior to our tour, and ended up grabbing breakfast in the hotel and easily made it to the bus 15 minutes early to check in and board. We grabbed a seat towards the front and were pleasantly surprised that we only had a dozen people or so on such a large bus, allowing us to socially distance (although, other passengers decided to choose seats right in front and next to us, for whatever bizarre reason given how many empty seats there were). We met some (younger) fellow travelers from the US on the tour, had some additional conversations around vaccine hesitancy, and also marveled as a travel romance seemed to blossom between some of the younger folks who had just met. Oh to be a young, poor, traveler.
Our tour guide for the day was Maria, who was actually from Costa Rica but married a Swiss man and ended up in Zurich. She gave us a quick city tour as the bus driver, Armando, navigated us out of the city and onto the highway into Alps territory. It was looking like a rainy, blustery day again – old hat from a weather perspective on this trip. In fact, because it was winter with expected bad weather, the Heidiland component (read: tourist trap) was taken off the itinerary to our pleasure. Here is a look at all the scheduled stops – and the only one we didn’t make was the Maienfeld stop for Heidi’s village (lower right corner).
Following Lake Zurich (which is HUGE by the way), our first stop was Rapperswil, Switzerland, the city of roses, located on the lake. It featured a medieval castle dating back to the 13th century, a charming but small old town with cow sculptures scattered about the city, reminding us of Denver. Its moniker is the city of roses due to its extensive rose gardens which of course was not a thing when we visited in winter.
Rapperswil occupied a strategic location on the lake and was important in both military history and merchant history, also growing rich due to the trade routes and lake crossings. There are ruins from pre-historic and Roman times. Interestingly, another claim to fame is housing the Polish national archive in the castle, as well as the medieval Rathaus (town hall) located at the Hauptplatz square. The houses in town were all medieval style architecture, with some newer décor items like green louvered shudders added later, which are quintessential to Swiss chalet design.
Finally, Rapperswil offers a Friday market from March through November, and our guide literally used the words “market time” to reference that this season had just wrapped up. Market time, for Brendan and me, sends us back to Jamaica where the phrase was completely overused during a cultural performance at a resort we stayed in. Ever since, it’s become an inside joke. We enjoyed it coming back around in Switzerland.
While Rapperswil was clearly more of a summer town, it was still a nice stop, and we were able to check out the Christmas market (which ended up being like every other Christmas market so far) with our new Swiss COVID vaccine passes. We enjoyed taking in views of the lake and the chestnut trees alongside, as well as the swans in the lake.
We boarded the bus after about an hour of free time and spent the next 90 minutes enjoying the beautiful, snowy, stark Alp scenery, and crossing the Ricken Pass into the St. Gallen Rhine Valley area past Walensee (Lake Walen). Our penultimate stop was Werdenberg, a quaint, medieval village on the Swiss border with Lichtenstein. There is not much to say about this village other than there’s a castle overlooking it, it’s really pretty, and particularly quiet during the off-season.
Our long awaited final country of the trip was upon us and we did a little happy dance when the bus crossed the border into Lichtenstein. Just over the border, Vaduz, the capital city, awaited us. We had about 90 minutes of free time to roam around, and spent our time in the souvenir shop purchasing both a Swiss ornament as well as a Vaduz ornament, taking some pictures on the main square, and ultimately winding up in a restaurant Maria recommended (and was also eating in) for some delicious soup. There was, admittedly, not much to do or see here.
There is a castle on the hill above that’s occupied by the prince of Lichtenstein, and only open to tours occasionally and only for Lichtenstein citizens. Lichtenstein itself was created as a political expediency to bond the local family to the Holy Roman Empire (HRE), who cobbled a purchase of a few parcels of land in the area so as to be directly under the empire. Once this was done, the HRE decreed that Lichtenstein was a sovereign member state. Vaduz is one of the few capital cities in the world without an airport, nor does it have a train station, but does have some tourism by road – car or bus. Foreign residents make up over 40% of the populace, and finance/banking/insurance is the primary industry across Lichtenstein, similar to Switzerland.
The highlight of our Lichtenstein tour visit actually ended up being our lunch at Café Restaurant Engel Asian & Local. Not only was the pumpkin soup fresh and delicious, and the coke served in old-timey bottles, the owner was a card.
He flirted with me while Brendan went outside for a walk, and then proceeded to tell me about his time living in Fairfax, Virginia (small world!), his run ins with intelligence community folks in Vaduz, and the time he was arrested and spent time in jail in the United States (he didn’t go into details but it seemed to be a misunderstanding?). Ultimately, he said he liked the US but left because he disagreed with its justice system and for that reason was glad to be back in Lichtenstein. I didn’t pry. Since the Lichtenstein tour guide and bus driver were also having a meal there, and since they knew the owner (it was their regular place in town), we had some extra fun at the expense of the owner.
Brendan stepped out after the meal and took a few final pictures of Lichtenstein at night.
After a final walkabout, we boarded the bus and were swiftly whisked back to Zurich, arriving by 630PM as promised in the tour material. All in all, it was a pleasing and easy 7.5 hour Lichtenstein tour (among other locations), mostly consisting of beautiful mountain views and medieval villages.
That night, back in Zurich, we decided to wing it for dinner, which was a bad idea. We had selected a Chinese restaurant (Long Wai) that was highly rated and seemed authentic, only to find that it was closed by the time we arrived around 8PM. Fighting rain again and trying to stay warm, we stumbled into another nearby Asian restaurant (Suan Long) which met our needs and overall was decent. Except for a weird drink that Brendan got served, which was some sort of odd Malibu Breeze. I don’t think either of us would rave about the food, and we were looking forward to our bigger, last hurrah dinner of Swiss fondue the next night, our last night (Sunday). After full stomachs, a brisk walk home, and a full day, we returned to our hotel for some rest.