A Mad Dash for LiechtensteinPosted: Nov 12, 2003 11:30:19 AM
Has anyone else noticed how I have skirted around the periphery of Europe? First to the east, bussing around Turkey. Then to the south, through Sicily and Malta. Then to the west, down the length of Britain. Around the north, to the Scandinavian capitals Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Oslo. None of this was intended, but for some reason I have left the centre of the continent until now.
So where have I gone? First I meandered around the east a bit more, taking in Prague. The magnificent castle that is that city's centrepiece was home to far too many interesting sights, like the building from which some priests were thrown in the brilliantly-named Defenestration of Prague, and the house in which Kafka lived and wrote. I can understand now why his writing is so claustrophobic, given the size of the hovel. I didn't see the Golem of Prague, but I expect that he's around somewhere. Probably building a house or something.
From Prague it was a quick train trip to Vienna, which is sufficiently illustrated in the report preceding this one, although the extreme hospitality of Peter's family is not sufficiently expressed.
I had some Italy-only rail pass days left over, so I decided to drop into northern Italy to use them up. As circumstances would have it, I didn't get a chance to use them at all, and they'll be expired by the time I return there in December, but no matter. I made another serious mistake, though. Going to Venice, I did not book ahead.
Venice was full. Full of tourists, despite the time of year, and the only two hostels were full of orienteerers. It was raining. A lot. Usually this would be enough to make me dislike a city, perhaps even a whole country, but Venice was just too spectacular to pass up. If I have a chance, I will go back there before the trip is done, because as it stands I only saw the major highlights before catching an evening train to Milan, which - although it had style - lacked the incredible atmosphere of the ex-domain of the doges.
Milan was also decision time: I had three weeks before I have to be in Florence, and there was no way that I could see everything still on the list. What I needed was a theme. What I needed was a challenge...
And this is what I have decided to do. I have been going rather slowly so far, savouring each place and getting as much out of it as I can before moving on to the next one. For the next three weeks, I am going to try the opposite, dashing from place to place as fast and as furiously as I can, seeing as much as possible in as efficient a manner as possible. I will try to crunch time as much as possible.
Example number one: the day before yesterday I travelled from Milan to Zurich, then immediately caught a tiny train to the tiny country of Liechtenstein. Or rather, to a Swiss border town: I walked the 10km from there to the capital 'city' of Vaduz, and then back again. Yesterday I took in as much of Zurich as possible. Literally: I ate Swiss cheese, chocolate, and ice cream. While wandering the streets I ran into a band - I don't know the actual name, so I'll just call them an Oompah band. They had trumpets and trombones and tubas and a lot of drums, which they played with considerable gusto. Fuelled by beer and cigarettes as they were, the playing was loud and terrible, but their enthusiasm was contagious. Or so I presume, seeing as there were another dozen such bands throughout the inner city, all playing as loudly as they could, sometimes two or three to a Platz.
Example number two: yesterday evening I caught a night train to Köln (Cologne) in Germany, then immediately jumped on another train to Aachen, where I'm writing this report. I will see Charlemagne's tomb, return to Köln, see their famous Dom (cathedral), then catch an afternoon train to Amsterdam. From there, it's a quick exploration of Belgium and Luxembourg, then off (finally!) to Paris.
Some may think all of this too rushed, but it's quite fun to be on the move at a more rapid pace, and I'm really getting the full range of Western Europe. I have no idea where the next report will come from, and that's actually a most satisfying prospect.
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