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Tag Archives: Capital Idea Guides

CAPITAL IDEA: Vaduz: A quick guide

Welcome to another “Capital Ideas”—our somewhat idiosyncratic, ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek guide to various world cities, perfect for the ever discerning readership of this blog.

We know our readers are always visitors, never tourists (an important distinction). Do feel free to contribute your own ideas or suggestions in the comments section, we’d love to hear your thoughts, too.

Capital: Vaduz.

Umm . . . I think I’m going to be saying this quite a bit, but why?  Because great things come in small packages.

No really, why? Why not?

No seriously, why? The element of surprise is wonderful, isn’t it?

It is? Oh, most certainly. Did you expect me to suggest Vaduz?

I have no idea what Vaduz is or if it’s real. Precisely. What a surprise that is!

I was rather hoping that you might do Rio this month. I’ve been watching the Confederations Cup and, civil strife to one side for a moment, my appetite is very much whetted for next year’s World Cup. I’ll bear it in mind, but today I thought we could discuss Vaduz.

Venezuela? Ha! That’s Caracas. You’re not even close continent wise.

Okay, clearly I have no idea. Just tell me where it is. It’s in Liechtenstein. Isn’t that exciting?

Not particularly, no! Oh, come on, it is a little bit.

Little seems to be the operative word. Vaduz must be one of the smallest capitals in the world. It’s certainly not large. It has a population of under 6,000.

So a pulsating nightlife must be on offer, then? Apparently, you could try a Club Z, Liechtenstein’s premier nightclubI’m sure it’s wild! But be warned: it does not have a dance ring.

Hmm. Was there any ulterior motive in your choosing Vaduz? Ulterior motive? Me? Why the very idea! Of course not!

Apologies for impugning your good name. That’s okay, you’re forgiven. I can assure you that there are no ulterior motives here. I absolutely was not struggling with a deadline and thought that a small city would mean that I could quicker meet that deadline.

A-ha, the plot thickens. Are you trying to shortchange me by fobbing Vaduz off me. Smaller city means less work for you. Unfortunately, it’s not true. A smaller city does not mean less work. There’s enough reason to visit Vaduz to more than fill up a post here. There’s charm and history aplenty. Who doesn’t want to stroll around a small town filled with medieval and baroque architecture?

Please, never ever use the word “aplenty” again. So how do I even get there? I’m assuming that there isn’t a direct flight from Heathrow or JFK. And you’d be right, but you can get a flight to Zurich and from there get the train from Zurich to Sargans where you can then hop on to a bus to Vaduz. More information can be found here.

And once there, do I need to worry about getting round town? No, this isn’t one of those entries where I tell you about how to navigate the local subway system. This is a town of five and a half thousand, after all.

What is there to see in Vaduz? Well, wherever you are in town you can’t really help but see Vaduz Castle. (You can see it in the above photo.) Set in a hilltop overlooking the town it really is picture postcard pretty. It’s the home to the reigning Price of Liechtenstein, Hans-Adam II. Unlike other European monarchies, the Prince of Liechtenstein has an extremely large amount of political power – he has, for instance, veto power over the government.

So I can’t visit the castle? No, and as the Prince of Liechtenstein is Europe’s wealthiest monarch with an estimated fortune of $4 billion, there’s no pressing need for him to open the castle up to get those tourist coffers in. But given that its presence in the city is all pervading, you’ll be able to take some wonderful shots of it from every street corner; and if you were to take a tour of the city – you know how much we love our walking tours here on The Displaced Nation – you’ll learn lots about the castle’s history.  Some more information can be found here.

What else can I do. Under six thousand residents? Sounds like it’s really a village in name only. Well even if he’s not letting you into his castle, you could always go and visit the wine cellars of the Prince.

I’m always up for some wine tasting, but I don’t recall ever having wine from Liechtenstein before. Is it any good? Liechtenstein actually has an ideal climate for wine. They’ve been growing wine in that region for over 2,000 years so it’s not entirely surprising that a bunch of grapes can be found on Vaduz’s coat of arms.  If you’re traveling by car, take a trip into the countryside and visit one of the many wineries. Sit back and have a refreshing glass of gewürztraminer – it’s a favorite of mine. Plenty of information can be found here.

And for a more cultural suggestion? Hey, I would contend that you can’t get more cultural than a wine tasting, but if you’re after something more artistic then you should visit the Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein (Liechtenstein Museum of Fine Arts). An interesting piece of architecture in itself (an intriguing black cube, it has been voted one of the world’s ugliest buildings, but I absolutely don’t agree with that assessment), it houses an extensive collection of modern art from around the world as well as Liechtenstein’s national art collection. So to your earlier suggestion that Vaduz was a village in name only, this is precisely the sort of thing one would not expect to find in your local village. Vaduz offer more than a duck pond and a Spar shop. You could also visit the National Museum (Liechtensteinisches Landesmuseum). This is rather less imposing than the Kunstmuseum. Unlike that with all it’s modern architectural pizzazz, the National Museum is housed in a former tavern and customhouse. Covering the folklore and history of the principality, it’s well worth your time, particularly if you aren’t planning on doing an historical walking tour. Finally, if – like me – you are a sucker for visiting old churches, then you should pop into the neo-Gothic Cathedral of St. Florin.

What should I read? Normally I use this part of a Capital Ideas post to expand from merely writing about whichever featured city we’re looking at so that I can highlight a larger national literature. This month that isn’t quite so easy. For why that’s the case I refer you to an interview with the Liechtenstein writer Stefan Sprenger, who was featured in the 2011 edition of Dalkey Archive Press‘s acclaimed Best European Fiction anthology series. In an interview translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman, Sprenger declares: “There is no Liechtenstein literature, and never has been.” Also worth a read is this interesting blog post on the subject.

What should I watch?  Again, I’m cheating a bit but as it’s about a small European nation still far too enthralled to a crusty almost farcical form of government that combines absolute and constitutional monarchy, but as it may be somewhat relevant, I’d suggest The Mouse That Roared, starring Peter Sellers, who plays both the Grand Duchess and Prime Minister of the fictional Duchy of Grand Fenwick. It’s a fun little British comedy from the late 1950s, which was based on a 1955 Cold War satirical novel by Irish-American writer Leonard Wibberley.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another installment in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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CAPITAL IDEA: Bangkok: A quick guide

bangkokWelcome to another “Capital Ideas”—our somewhat idiosyncratic, ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek guide to various world cities, perfect for the ever discerning readership of this blog. We know our readers are always visitors, never tourists (an important distinction).

Do feel free to contribute your own ideas or suggestions in the comments section, we’d love to hear your thoughts, too.

Capital: Bangkok

That reminds me I saw The Hangover Part 2 recently. Great movie. Um, no, it isn’t.

What are you crazy? A chain-smoking capuchin monkey and that guy who is in The Office wakes up to a Mike Tyson-style face tattoowhat’s not to love? Its content? Anyway, why are you blathering on about The Hangover Part 2?

Because dude, it’s set in Bangkok. As is Bangkok Dangerous. What a surprise!

Anyway, you’ve got my attention. Those films have certainly piqued my interest in visiting Thailand’s capital city. Well, that is good to hear.

Yes, I think I could have a fun, hedonistic vacation. Is it as crazy as it seems in those films? It’s a city of over eight million. I’m sure you can find some craziness if you’re so inclined, but there’s far more to this city than some of your preconceptions.

Oh yeah, I’m sure that is the case, and I’m all ears regarding all that culture nonsense that I know you love, but still, I might want to take in a ping pong show in Soi Cowboy. How can you go to Bangkok and not see its seedy underbelly? Fairly easily. This is not a guide for sex tourists.

Oh, you’re such a square! Okay, what would you have me see? Take a ferry to the Old City. There you’ll be able to visit the ornate Grand Palace built in the 18th century for the Thai king and Wat Phra Kaew, where you can find Emerald Buddha. A trip to Wat Arun is also a must.

The Grand Palace, you say? They’re pretty big on their Royal Family, aren’t they? You can say that again. Indeed, you’ll find portraits of the current King, Bhumibol Adulyadej, as well as some of his predecessors, in most restaurants.

So jokes about the King probably won’t go down too well? No. In fact, lèse majesté, which is the crime of violating majesty, is enshrined in law, so no, probably not the best idea to make a joke about the Thai King as it could lead to a prison sentence.

Blimey! Kind of appreciate that I can make all those jokes about Prince Charles’s ears with impunity. Absolutely!

Anything else I need to know on this? Yes, Thai nationals have to stand for the national anthem by law.

I think I’m going to regret saying this, but what do you recommend? I’ve got one word for you—puppets.

Oh God, I wished I hadn’t asked. No, hear me out. Traditional Thai puppetry is fascinating. The Aksra Theatre in Bangkok puts on a great introductory show for tourists that also showcase traditional Thai music too. The puppets will depict scenes from the Ramakien, Thailand’s national epic. Go, you’ll love it, I promise!

Trust this guide to push some weird recommendation on me. What? Me? The very idea! … I think I might rather try my hand at the ping pong show. No!!!! Go with the puppet show.

I’m guessing I’ll eat well in Bangkok? You guess right. Really, you can’t go wrong. You don’t need to find out who the fanciest, trendiest chefs in town are, just take a wander and keep is simple. You’ll be able to eat very well and by spending very little.

Sounds great, and how do I get around the city? The city has three rapid transit systems: the BTS Skytrain, the underground MRT and the elevated Airport Rail Link. They’re all pretty good if you’re going long distances across the city. For shorter distances just take a taxi. I would, however, give one warning on this, based on personal experience. Bangkok taxi drivers don’t have the best of reputationsdon’t allow yourself to be ripped off. Some unscrupulous taxi drivers will refuse to put on their meters and will quote you outrageous sums when you first step in their cab to get you to your destination, because they see you’re a farang. If they’re not prepared to negotiate to a sum you feel is reasonable, then don’t feel shy about exiting their cab and searching for another taxi.

What should I read to prepare for the journey? More than any other expat destination, Bangkok seems to have inspired cringe-worthy expat books about crime and sin in the capital or “hard man” accounts from Westerners who’ve ended up in Thai prisons for drug smuggling. They’re for the most part best avoiding. If you must have something that touches on the sin and crime of the city, then John Burdett‘s Bangkok 8 is an entertaining read for a flight over to Thailand. If you’re particularly ambitious you could also try reading The Ramakien (in translation).

What should I watch? You could watch the original Thai version of Bangkok Dangerous from 1999 if you were interested by the American remake. Also, in recent years a number of Thai films have gained attention at the Cannes Film Festival. Blissfully Yours and Tropical Malady are worth investigating.

STAY TUNED for next week’s Displaced Nation posts.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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CAPITAL IDEA: Reykjavík: A quick guide

20130409-201825.jpg
Welcome to another “Capital Ideas” – our somewhat idiosyncratic, ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek guide to various world cities, perfect for the ever discerning readership of this blog. We know our readers are always visitors, never tourists (an important distinction).

Do feel free to contribute your own ideas or suggestions in the comments section, we’d love to hear your thoughts, too.

Capital: Reykjavík

Oh God, don’t even think about doing it. What?

You know what I mean — I can read you like a book. I’ve no idea what you’re referring to.

You’re going to try and lead off with the “my mum’s gone to Iceland” gag, aren’t you?  Really, you think that little of me?

Yes. Charming. The very idea! My gags are expertly crafted, and besides most of our readers have no idea about Iceland, the British frozen goods store, and their longstanding tagline — so there!!!

Okay, okay, let’s get this over with.  Blimey, you’re a bit glum today.

Isn’t that appropriate if you want to talk me about the land of the midnight sun? I thought most people ended up depressed or mad. Please, let’s leave the ridiculous stereotyping to me.

You’re normally very good at it. Stop trying to distract me. Reykjavík, you may be interested to learn, is the northernmost capital in the world.

So I’d need to pack my thermals? Yes.

Guessing this isn’t a beach holiday? No. At least, not in the conventional sense.

I normally like going somewhere hot for my vacation, somewhere I can relax. Then you’d be missing out if you dismiss this sort of vacation out of hand, you’d be visiting a truly wonderful city. But, hey, if you like relaxing in a hot pool, you could still give Reykjavik a try.

Hardly sounds like Club Tropicana. Think about it. Iceland is only there because it’s a mass of volcanic activity. Remember when Eyjafjallajökull grounded all transatlantic flights a few years ago?

Yes, still struggling with this. You’re suggesting I relax by the side of an active volcano in Iceland rather than my plan to relax by the side of a pool in Hawai’i? No, even though I may at this precise moment be tempted to push you into an active volcano. What Iceland does have is plenty of geothermal springs. You must visit the Blue Lagoon.

Is that the one with the creature or with Brooke Shields? Neither. It’s a geothermal spa located in a lava field outside of the city. Even if it’s a freezing night, the water in the pool averages around 100 °F. And there’s plenty of supposedly healing minerals that you can cover yourself in. It’s quite the experience.

Sounds it. Have you done it? Yes, and very enjoyable it was too. A little bit of wind chafing around the neck though. Your body might be enjoying the pool, but your head is still battered by the elements.

Okay, I’m definitely intrigued, but I think I need a little more than slapping mud all over myself and wandering into a geothermal pool. What else can I do? Well, from the centre of Reykjavík you can get a daylong bus tour to the Golden Circle.

I hear their cashew chicken is wonderful. No, the Golden Circle is a popular tourist route that will allow you to see the Icelandic countryside. You will see the stupendous Gullfoss (Golden Falls); Þingvellir (Thing Fields), a national park that was the site of Iceland’s first parliament in 930AD; and Geysir — the first geysir to be recorded in printed material (if Wikipedia is to be believed). Certainly, when it comes to geysers accept no substitutes. If you’re lucky, you might also see a pack of Icelandic ponies.

Aurora Borealis? I beg your pardon?

The Northern Lights. Will I see that during this bus tour? No, this is a day tour. There are night tours that will take you out in the evening in the hopes of seeing the lights. If you’re away from the city and the light pollution, your chances improve. Of course, nothing is guaranteed that you’ll see anything so don’t get too downhearted if you don’t see the lights. However, if you want to try and stack the cards in your favor then you could stay at The Northern Lights Inn.  One further advantage of this hotel is its convenient location to the Blue Lagoon.

And Reykjavík itself? What should I do there? No pun intended, but it is a really great place just to chill. Wander the streets. Take a walk by Tjörnin, a delightful lake in the center of town. As you wander the city, you’ll notice plenty of public art in the city. Walk down towards the harbor and check out Jón Gunnar Árnason (The Sun Voyager). Visit Hallgrímskirkja, the city’s impressive Lutheran church, and at all times keep yourself caffeinated. So many good coffee shops in the city for you to sample.

But what about the food? I hear fermented shark is popular. You mean hákarl. If you find it, you’re more than welcome to try it. Good luck with that. I think Icelandic cuisine has moved on from the shark and puffin stereotypes. Not surprisingly, you’ll be able to try some amazing seafood. If you really want to dine out, Siggi Hall is the most famous Icelandic chef, so you may want to try and get a reservation at his restaurant inside the Hotel Odinsve.

What should I read before I go? It’s Iceland, you should give some Icelandic sagas a try. They detail the early colonization of the land. Penguin has an anthology if you want to dip your toe in. Halldór Laxness is the only Icelandic winner of the Nobel prize for literature (nothing lax about him there). He won the prize in 1955, and as a result a lot of his work has been translated into English and remains in print. The Fish Can Sing and the two-part epic Independent People are easy enough to find. Mál og Menning is a bookstore in downtown Reykjavík has a good selection of Icelandic literature available in English translations. More recently, Hallgrímur Helgason’s 101 Reykjavík has probably been the most successful novel to come out of the country.

Wasn’t that made into a movie? Yes, back in 2000, so you could check that out if you so wished.

And I should listen to plenty of Björk? And don’t forget Sigur Rós, Of Monsters and Men, and Bjork’s original band, The Sugarcubes. If you happen to be visiting late October, you could go to Iceland Airwaves, the country’s biggest musical festival. It’s certainly a great city to scour record stores.

If only the beer were cheap. Well, you can’t have everything.

 

STAY TUNED for a new Displaced Nation post tomorrow.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Image: awindram

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