my epic wintry Austro-Hungarian adventure

Last December, right around the time I started itching for my next getaway, I found out that I would be heading back to Nairobi for a conference in January. I had already appended a week-long vacation to my previous Kenya trip, and it was glorious. There is so much more that I would like to explore in the country and surrounding region, but at that particular moment, I was more in the mood for the cozy creature comforts of winter.

So, I found a flight to Nairobi through Zurich that was nearly the same price as the direct one, and I asked the travel agent to book me a one-week stopover. I then poured over Eurail maps and timetables, feasting my eyes upon all the tantalizing itineraries that were possible. I considered heading southwest towards Monaco and Nice by way of Turin, east towards Budapest by way of Vienna, or south towards Rome by way of Milan. But none of those seemed juicy enough to satisfy my ambitions. In the end, only a whistle-stop tour in every direction would do.

So, I flew in to Zurich and immediately got on a train headed southeast for Liechtenstein. (Actually, I got on a train that would have headed straight through Liechtenstein, so I got off a stop before, switched to a bus that drove into Liechtenstein, walked around with my suitcase for an hour, then caught a bus to Austria in order to get on another train at the route’s next stop. All because of my aversion to gray zones.) I ended up in Innsbruck that night. Spent the day there, then boarded a train going northeast to Salzburg. Wandered around Salzburg for a day and a half, then got on a train south to Lake Bled, Slovenia. Had an evening and a night to explore, then headed to Ljubljana by 10am. At the crack of dawn the next morning, caught a westbound train to Venice by way of Trieste (ran around Trieste for forty minutes between trains with my suitcase in a locker). Spent my time in Venice trying to fit three days’ worth of sights into one day. Left Venice to go north into the Dolomites (which was the linchpin of the trip, though you would not know it), but hopped out at both Trento and Bolzano on the way because how could I travel through such gorgeous towns without seeing them (for an hour)? Ended up in Bressanone/Brixen, where I caught the bus to the most beautiful middle of nowhere I’ve ever been. Spent two days marveling at the show-stopping Dolomites, then hopped a train back to Zurich by way of Innsbruck, but not without popping out for lunch at Vipiteno. And then I flew to Nairobi the next day.

I recognize that most people would not find this itinerary fun, let alone a vacation. But I was in heaven.

When a friend saw my photos on Instagram, he jokingly asked me if I was touring the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was only when I returned and looked up the empire’s outlines that I realized I 100% had — often uncannily so. My first stop, Vaduz, Liechtenstein, literally bordered the vast territory (and had some sort of alliance with the empire). Austria was clearly part of the empire. So was Slovenia, and all the places in Italy that I visited were part of or affiliated with it, too. The rest of present-day Italy, though, was not. It seems I followed the western contours of the empire to a T.

I will conclude this post with some (more) pix from my one hour wandering around the teeny capital city of Vaduz in Liechtenstein. (“More” because the three pictures above are also from there.) You might think one hour in a country is not enough to get a sense of it. But considering that Liechtenstein is 62 square miles and that I took a thirty minute bus ride into the city from Switzerland and a thirty minute bus ride out of it to Austria, I actually saw quite a large portion of it.

Interesting and pretty buildings (including town hall) on the main street:

Below, the hilltop 12th century castle, which is still the royal residence of the Prince, who is the ruling monarch in this part-monarchy-part-democracy principality.

In the image above, note the castle in the background and vineyards in the foreground. Apart from the famous vineyards in Montmartre, I’ve never seen vineyards in the center of a town before. (But then again, this is a town of about 30,000 people.)

The city is nestled in the Alps and seems surrounded by mountains.

It was a quite beautiful start to the trip.

Next post: Innsbruck!

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