Liechtenstein – Prince’s Way Walk and Vaduz Castle

_MG_5974Another month, another country to conquer and this August we headed with our friends Matt and Kendall from New Zealand, to Liechtenstein.

This tiny, 25km long principality where Swiss German is spoken, is nestled between Austria and Switzerland and uses the Swiss Franc. Our main destination was the small mountain village of Gaflei, and to get here once we entered Liechtenstein we had to drive up winding mountain roads._MG_5850

The climb began after Vaduz, and the roads got progressively narrower after Triesenberg. Hairpin corner after hairpin corner, narrow one-lane roads and gradients which made us fear the car would start to roll backwards took us through storybook villages and higher into the mountains.

Finally we made it to the carpark
_MG_5893at the end of the Gafleistrasse, which sits at about 1400m. From here there are many signposted walks, and we chose to do part of the “Fürstensteig” or “Princes Way Walk”. The first half of the 6km loop is essentially all up, but offered breathtaking scenery to help us forget all about sore legs or puffing lungs.

Some parts of the trail traverse ledges along steep cliff faces, and even have cables stapled into the mountain side to hold onto. This walk is not for those with vertigo or a fear of heights! Once we rounded the side of the mountain, the terrain instantly changed from grey rock and shingle to grassy meadows and dirt tracks. From our vantage point at about 1650m, we could clearly see the Three Sisters peaks towering above spectacular valleys and a shepherds hut which must be inaccessible in winter.

_MG_5890 _MG_5884 _MG_5965

Once we reached the highest point of our loop, it was time to meander downhill back to the car park. We had a musical accompaniment for this journey, as we walked through meadows which were home to cows wearing bells around their necks.
_MG_5983

After just over 2 hours of hiking it was time to head down the mountain in search of lunch. We arrived in Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein to lunch menus in the order of 30 euros a main… luckily the supermarket was open on a Sunday so we could have some albeit expensive, bread and cheese instead!

Before leaving Liechtenstein, we checked out the famous Vaduz castle. We weren’t able to enter the grounds or the castle itself, as it is private property and home to the Prince of Liechtenstein. It was built in medieval times, and purchased from the Roman Emperor in 1712 at the time the family of Liechtenstein purchased the countship of Vaduz (events which followed resulted in Liechtenstein becoming a principality).

_MG_5993We found Liechtenstein to be very Swiss, but are impressed with its network of hiking and mountain biking trails as well as its natural beauty. It seems like a good place for a day trip or weekend mountain escape, and we won’t discount the possibility of a longer hike there some day.

A city escape in Frankfurt am Main

It was mid-way through the year, and we decided we should explore a little more of our own country after so many international adventures. It took 2.5 hours to drive North East to Frankfurt am Main – otherwise known as Mainhattan._MG_5780

Frankfurt is the only city in central Europe with a “Skyline”, and has been likened to New York. It is the business hub of the area and is where you can find the Stock Exchange and the European Central Bank. As we drove into the city we were struck by the Skyline, a magnificent collection of shining Skyscrapers, the likes of which we hadn’t seen since New York and before that, at home in Auckland._MG_5781 _MG_5785

It was a wonderfully familiar feeling to be in the city again, and we spent the first hour basking in what some would consider the boring, ugly business district. We found an espresso bar which produced a great flat white, checked out the trendy pop up cafes, vegan eateries and tapas bars and shopped on the main street. Here we also went into the MyZeil mall, a crazy silver construction famous for it’s cornucopia design._MG_5789

Frankfurt is more than its business district however, and we continued to explore. Berger Strasse is an artsy street with stores selling handcrafted wares and is lined with eateries. We headed for a Japanese restaurant and spent a leisurely hour eating our fill from a Sushi train.

The Markthalle, or indoor markets were an exciting place filled with fresh cheeses, meats, fruits and vegetables, dried fruits and nuts and local specialities. Here we sampled the famous Frankfurter Ebbelwoi – or Apple Wine. The tangy fermented apple drink is an acquired taste but mixed with sparkling water we didn’t find it too bad.

_MG_5792There is a green belt which runs right around the city; gardens and green spaces all connected with bike and pedestrian paths running through them, so that one can walk or cycle right around the city without encountering vehicle traffic. It was lovely to wander through part of these on our way back to our hotel.

On the programme for the evening was dinner at a Steak House – another city indulgence we had been missing. The next day we enjoyed a full english/american buffet breakfast, (its the small things) and headed just a few paces down the road to the Science Centre. As far as science centres go, it was small but interesting and we whiled away a couple of hours getting involved in the experiments.

Later on we crossed over the famous Eisener Steig (iron bridge) leading to Sachsenhausen. Sachsenhausen is somewhat more grungy, and is where Frankfurt’s nightlife can be found. Students are seen walking over the bridge on Friday and Saturday evenings, and often trudging back in the early hours of the next morning.

Along with the clubs are old traditional Ebbelwoi pubs and the area was fairly busy even on a Sunday afternoon.

_MG_5814_MG_5817 _MG_5830_MG_5813

The Old Town of Frankfurt seems almost out of place with its timber buildings, but it wouldn’t be a German city without them. The Roemerberg is a huge Gothic Church and this square was bustling with tourists.

As in any big city _MG_5831there is a vibrant side and a seedy side. The latter we found in some back streets near the train station – sadly there were blatant drug use and some desperate looking people hanging out here. On a more positive note, sitting on the banks of the Main river, we watched residents running along the path or enjoying a drink on one of the bar boats._MG_5809

Frankfurt is a real mix of old and new, business and art, hipster and historic. Reluctantly we collected our bags that afternoon and headed back down to our little hometown. Admittedly we love our small town and wouldn’t trade it in, but being so used to Auckland, Sydney and even London, every so often a big city break is just what we need.

_MG_5805

A day in Zurich

IMG_5772One of the fantastic things about living not only in one of the most central European countries, but in the south of Germany is that we have multiple international borders within a couple of hours drive.

We had time for a short day trip this month,_MG_5756 so we chose to zoom down to Zurich, in Switzerland. It took about 1hr 45 to drive there via the motorways. Apparently there is an annual toll fee one must pay to be allowed to drive on the Swiss motorways. We found this out after the fact, and luckily not from a toll controller as we would have been fined about 500 francs!

Upon arriving in Zurich we drove around for a bit, confused by all the signs pointing to the Centre… until we realised each suburb has a “Centre”. Zurich has a river flowing through it with the clearest water, which also bubbles up into fountains where the water is safe to drink (unusual in Europe).

_MG_5730We begun by strolling down Bahnhofstrasse – one of the most expensive shopping streets in the world. We are sure the designer label and jewellery stores are indeed expensive, given the price of our coffee! Even so close to the border, Swiss German is spoken. I was able to fumble through with shopkeepers speaking Swiss to me and me speaking German back, but I had about as much success understanding overheard conversations as I would have had they been in Russian.

Further away from Bahnhofstrasse is a hilly shopping suburb with cobblestoned streets and a variety of clothing, accessory, chocolate, gift and gourmet stores. We wound our way through this part of town down to the lake which is wide, glassy and beautiful. Tree lined and dotted with sailing boats it was soothing to the soul to stroll along its shores.

For a different perspective of the city we headed to the trendy Zurich West End, where an old viaduct has been converted into modern cafes, wine bars, slightly off beat labels and a large indoor market hall.

zurich029

Having packed sandwiches for lunch, and forked out 50 euros on coffee and a couple of chocolates (when in Switzerland…) as evening fell we headed back over the the border in search of a meal which wouldn’t cost more than a weeks’ groceries!