That summer that I spent studying in France , https://oldladywriting.com/2019/06/09/when-did-the-arc-de-triomphe-start-leaning/ I decided to visit every country in Europe.  The Eurail Pass made it seem like an actual possibility, if not a likelihood.  So how did I do it?  Well, I did not, because a couple of caveats were built into this very vague plan, including:

  • British Isles did not count, because the Eurail Pass did not include them
  • Soviet Bloc did not count, for obvious reasons (it was the ‘80s, friends)
  • Germany and Austria did not count, also for obvious reasons

What did count were the “dwarf states”[1].  I first read about them in my beloved childhood encyclopedia, “What Is This, Who Is That?”  My mom bought it the year I was born, so as of this writing, pretty much all the information in it that does not pertain to fish or ancient history is outdated.  Even the fact that Malta is not included in the article on microstates is pretty telling—it was still part of the United Kingdom.  Yes, I date back to Malta’s pre-independence days!  Plus, it was published in the USSR, so literally, all the post-Renaissance history articles are pretty skewed. 

Liechtenstein is the one with the stamps and teeth. There is a stamp museum there, which we did not visit. I am not sure about the teeth. Unless they are just signifying a welcoming smile?

The original article listed, as anyone who can read Russian can plainly see on the attached, but I will translate for the rest, Andorra, Monaco, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, and San-Marino.  Currently in Wikipedia, we currently also have Malta and Vatican, but not Luxembourg.  What happened to Luxembourg?  I suppose since it is bigger by area and population than all the others combined, by all means let’s exclude it.  I *have* been there, and survived a traumatic experience of being [almost] attacked by a knife-wielding maniac at a cemetery—but that is another story for another time! (I might be saving it for my memoirs)  And as for Vatican, it goes without saying that the Soviet version would make no mention of it under any circumstances, because “religion is an opiate of the people” (Karl Marx said this, not I).

And so, during that summer, I already had Vatican under my belt, having lived as a refugee in and around Rome some years before then, and then proceeded to have that encounter in Luxembourg[2].  In the past decade, I travelled to Malta (which is literally the most perfect place in terms of weather, history, food, ease of getting around, and the fact that all the signs are in English even if no one actually speaks it), and Monaco (which is also cool in many ways but is the opposite of easy to get around.  I mean, when there are elevators to get you from one street to another—take them!  Do not, I repeat, do not brave the stairs!)  I still have not been to Andorra or San-Marino, and frankly, they are a bit off the radar for me.  Someday—but not today, as I say. 

So when I planned the vacation to Munich for Oktoberfest this year[3], I noted how close Liechtenstein is.  Driving there was one of my motivating factors for renting a car, because I already learned from that European summer that the train does not stop in Liechtenstein.  It literally does not have an international train station!

I could not find a tour book on Liechtenstein, so spouse and I decided to improvise.  We pretty much just drove into the country and looked for parking.  Everything is right there: a beautiful cathedral, an interesting history museum, and a town square with souvenir shops and cafes.  There is also a medieval castle within a short drive—it is apparently in a different town from the capital, Vaduz, which is basically one street over[4].  The views are breathtaking, since Liechtenstein is ¾ Alps.  The beer is not bad, though not as good as three countries over in Germany.

In short, I would highly recommend a visit to Liechtenstein, if you happen to be in the Alpine neighborhood, and like picturesque towns.  Do I feel like I visited a different country?  Well, not necessarily, but I do have another flag to prove that I did[5]!

[1] I apologize for the use of the term “dwarf” to anyone who might be offended by it.  This is, again, a direct translation from the Russian language, as again can be seen from the attached illustration.

[2] Faux-dwarf!

[3] I travel to Germany now.  My, how the world has changed!…

[4] I did not realize it was a different town until I looked it up just now.

[5] Fun fact—I collect flags from the countries I visit.  Soviet Union and Russia merit their own separate flags, as does the Republic of Texas.

Three Worst Fears

Three of my worst fears came true this week.  This is a true story, and one I did not ever expect to recount, but it’s just so unlikely that I cannot leave it untold.  I had a bad day.  I think the only way to look at it is that I am due for some fantastic great luck very soon!

  1.  First, I got stuck in an elevator at work.  The weird thing is that it was not even my first time.  The first time was in Italy, in the little seacoast town of Ladispoli where my mom, my grandparents, and I were living as refugees.  There is more to that story, but not today.  Today, it’s about how my mom and I were visiting some other refugee friends in a building with an elevator, and I decided to open the elevator door to see what would happen. It was one of those old cage elevators, and it was coin operated.  I do not think my mom even noticed that I was the culprit, because the alarm immediately went off and there was a lot of commotion.  Of course, we had no more coins to get the elevator going again, being refugees (I did not think that through).  Luckily, the friends we were visiting had a coin, and were able to slide it into the cage for us to get moving again. So when I say I got stuck in an elevator in Italy, what I really should say is, I was an idiot child and stopped the elevator due to my own naughty curiosity.
NOT the actual elevator in which I got stuck in Italy

This week’s experience was not quite the same.  My work partner was going to look at the new office space in the building next door.  He had four women with him—the landlord’s rep, the furniture rep, the interior design rep, and someone else whose name and function I did not catch—and I felt that I needed to tag along to be sure that I did not get saddled with a windowless office, or no office, or far from the kitchen, or other similar debacle.  Serves me right.  We were going to the fifth floor, and barely made it past the fourth when the elevator shuddered to a stop.  Well, it did not really shudder, it just stopped moving, and it actually took us a few seconds to clue in to what happened.  All buttons were pushed, and 911 was called.  It took over an hour and a half, because in this day and age (and litigious society), hopping out of an elevator between floors, from about waist-height, is apparently frowned upon.  My partner was ready to spring into action and out of the elevator, and had a rather funny chest-pounding (figuratively) altercation with the elevator guy.  The four women, clad in short tight dresses and high heels, took selfies and fretted.  I, mentally kicking myself for not visiting the bathroom before going off with them and for not grabbing my cell phone, tried to calm everyone down by telling my Italian elevator story (omitting the part about my part in it) and the story of how a neighbor back home, Aunt Vera’s son, had his legs crushed when an elevator car fell with him in it, but survived.  He even drove a special “invalid car”, as they were called in those non-PC days, meaning all the controls were hand-operated.  Surprisingly, neither story was received in the spirit it was told.  Eventually we were rescued, and the landlord sent us bagels and coffee next day.  I expected a month of free rent. 

Mickey. What a monster he was!
  • Second, I was bitten by a dog.  This was truly my worst fear for many years.  I had a nemesis dog in my childhood, Mickey, who belonged to another neighbor, Aunt Rimma.  He roamed the neighborhood off leash, as dogs did in those days, terrorizing children.  I remember an occasion when my friend Tanya and I were desperately holding closed the outside door to the apartment building where she lived (Mickey lived right above Tanya), because he was barking madly on the street and we were afraid that he will barge in and tear our throats out.  For reasons that are passing understanding, I have a photo of this monster beast—pretending to be friendly and peaceful.  This must have been after he fell off the second floor balcony.  He broke his leg and was never as ferocious after that.

So, living for decades with the fear of being mauled by a dog, I finally was—and lived to tell the tale.  I was walking with my spouse and my two dogs (yes, I have two, two dogs—another story for another time), and my baby dog, Vanya, picked up this huge crust of bread off the sidewalk two doors from our house.  Of course, I tried to pry her teeth apart and get the bread out, and of course she was desperate to keep her teeth clamped shut while chewing as fast as she possibly could.  Next thing I knew, sharp pain, blood everywhere.  I fell onto the grass, crying.  I am not proud of this.  I was a little overly dramatic, because the pain was not the worst I ever felt.  It was more the shock of seeing my bloody middle finger with a missing nail.  But the joke is on Vanya, because my nails are fake. 

  • Finally, when I came home, with my finger wrapped in paper towel offered by a kind neighbor, I decided to enjoy a calming mug of beer.  And here is the worst thing—I spilled the beer all over myself and my couch.  I can’t even blame the shock of the dog bite.  I have all these cords from my phone, my Kindle, and my laptop on the couch, and the beer mug tangled up in them and fell.  Mad dog Vanya immediately started licking the couch.  I drank YooHoo instead (also good).  Now my couch (#100 on the list of my favorite things) smells like beer.  So maybe it was not a waste after all.