Lost Photo Post: Vaduz, Liechtenstein

It is once again time to add to my series of photo posts where I took a bunch of photographs, intending to make a blog post out of them, and then never got around to actually writing the post.

On April 24th of this year, I joined two colleagues from our German office for a car ride from Regensburg Germany to Zurich Switzerland to attend some meetings.   The gentlemen in the car with me were kind enough to allow me to persuade them to detour very slightly, around lunch-time, into my 28th country visited: Liechtenstein.

The Principality of Liechtenstein is a tiny landlocked country that sits between Austria on the northeast and Switzerland on the southwest.  The entire country is roughly 62 square miles in size, with an estimated population of about 37,000 people.  That’s one-eleventh the population of Miami, Florida!

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The fact that Vaduz wasn’t a very lengthy detour helped me to persuade my colleagues.  Also beneficial to my request for a detour is the fact that both of them are fond of a good restaurant.  We set out to Vaduz to dine.  The choice was between Vaduz and neighboring Schaan, and I pushed for Vaduz.   The food at Restaurant Adler was just ok, but the decorations were fascinating.

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I preferred Vaduz to Schaan because Vaduz is the capital city. In this case, the city is less than seven square miles in size, with a population of a little more than 5,000 people.

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Liechtenstein is a very wealthy city, and while walking through the city center, we saw several banks, a Superdry store, and this Botero sculpture:

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Lest you think it was all ritz and culture, there was also this giant Weber grill.

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Liechtenstein is also a constitutional monarchy, and the most prominent landmark in Vaduz is Vaduz Castle, home of the current reigning prince.  The castle is sitting on a steep hill overlooking Vaduz, and you can see it from just about anywhere in the city.

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Here’s a slightly more zoomed photo of Vaduz Castle, taken after lunch and just before we continued our drive into Switzerland.

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Have you ever been to Liechtenstein?

Editor’s Note:  I’m attempting to blog every day in November with CheerPeppers.  I don’t expect to succeed because life be crazy, but any blogging in excess of my previous post-free month is a win, right?

Fear is the worst reason not to travel.

My employer is sending me to Europe for some meetings at the end of April, and I shared my excitement to Facebook after I received my booking confirmation.  “Airfare for Germany: Booked. Bazinga!”   Most of the comments were the usual sort.  People want to know when and why I’m going.  A while after the initial post, one of my old buddies said this:

“Are you sure you wanna travel there right now?”

My initial response was flippant- “Germany and Switzerland are fine.  It’s not as if I have a business meeting in Syria.”    The more I thought about it though, the more I wonder how many of my friends truly think that the world is that scary right now.       This response, one of trepidation, is almost certainly because the Brussels bombings have been in the news for the last few days.  Before that, it was Charlie Hebdo.  Or the Boston bombing.  Or any number of attacks in various places that seem like they should be safe.  If you believe the news, everything is terrible and we’re all going to die any minute now.

If you watch the news in the US, it’s all fear, all the time. But that’s not the reality.  It’s no more dangerous to go abroad right now in most of Europe than it is to walk alone at night in a major city in the US.   Be aware of your surroundings.  Travel with common sense about your personal security.  And stop worrying about the statistical unlikelihood that you might meet a terrorist.

I’ve never felt uncomfortable or nervous anywhere I’ve been in Europe.  In Germany, I worked side by side with Muslims and I never felt like they were doing anything more objectionable due to their faith than abstaining from the wonderful German beer that was all around us.   Since 2011, I’ve traveled to more than two dozen countries.   The only time I’ve ever felt uncomfortable was in Cairo, and that was mostly because of the terrible terrible drivers.    And the pushy people along the Nile who want to sell you stuff.

Fear is the worst reason to stay at home.   There are so many wonderful things to see out there, and if you let the news give you nightmares, you’ll miss all of it.

Have you ever felt nervous in an unfamiliar city?

A bunch of semi-random thoughts in one last post.

My drafts folder is full of tiny little notes about topics that piqued my interest at one time or another.  Most of them have been sitting in my drafts folder for months or even years, but I never really figured out a way to parlay them into full length blog posts.   Since I’m cleaning out the drafts folder now, I thought I’d try a sort of clearinghouse post where I cover all of them in one go.

Topic the first:  Alpha Cities:  Around February of 2014, I heard a concept of city ranking which utterly fascinates me:  Global Cities.  To be a Global City, here’s a few of the many factors that are needed:

  • International financial services (banking, a Stock exchange, insurance, and real estate)
  • Headquarters of several multinational corporations
  • Major manufacturing centers with port and container facilities.
  • Centers of new ideas and innovation in business, economics, culture and politics.
  • Centers of media and communications for global networks.
  • High-quality educational institutions, including renowned universities, international student attendance and research facilities.
  • Multi-functional infrastructure offering some of the best legal, medical and entertainment facilities in the country.

The thing about this classification system that really got my attention is that it’s divided into tiers:  Alpha (which is then subdivided into Alpha++, Alpha+, Alpha, and Alpha-), Beta, Gamma, and a bottom tier called “Sufficiency level cities.”  Of the Alpha++ cities, there are exactly two: New York and London.     Here’s some examples of the Alphas:

  • Alpha++ cities are London and New York City, both of which I’ve been to.
  • Alpha+ cities include Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai, Sydney, Dubai, Beijing, and Paris.  (I’ve been to three of those!)
  • Alpha and Alpha- cities include Chicago, Mumbai, Milan, Frankfurt, Toronto, Madrid, Mexico City, Amsterdam, Brussels, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vienna, Istanbul, Warsaw, Zurich, Miami, Barcelona, Dublin, Boston, Munich, Stockholm, Atlanta, and more.

The tiers above include some of the most amazing cities on Earth, so naturally this makes me want to visit them all.  I’m a huge list ticker, but this is a checklist I simply don’t have the time or resources to complete.  At least not for a while

Topic the second:  Social Jetlag and Chronotyping:   This is an idea that I was never aware of before I came back from Germany.   I’ll try to explain it succinctly:  Lots of your body’s metabolism and sleep cycle are controlled by your circadian rhythm, based on when you have naturally occurring sunlight.  However, different people’s personal rhythms vary a lot.  Some people are naturally morning people, and others (like me) have a terrible time waking early and are much more awake later in the day.  This is being referred to by scientists as your chronotype.  The concept of chronotypes leads to silly descriptive words like “eveningness” and “morningness.”   They’re also referred to sometimes as a person’s “lark” or “owl” tendencies. I’m not making any of that up.

With me so far?

Ok, so:  In research dating back to 2010, scientists have determined that people who struggle between their body’s chronotype and external requirements such as work or school schedules suffer from “social jet lag.”

It gets worse!  Social jet lag has been linked to obesity and diabetes,  among other health detriments.   Scientists have a solution for this problem, of course.  They just think companies should start work later.

Naturally, I learned about all of this right when we were transitioning into daylight saving time, while I’m having the worst time waking up before the sun rises.

Topic the third:  Impostor Syndrome:  I spend a lot of my life feeling like I’m a complete failure.  I often feel like I’ve coasted along from success to success, being blown forward like a leaf on the wind.  Despite having a pretty great life so far, I almost always feel like I’ve just been faking it all this time.    Every time I attempt to break this by listing out what I’ve accomplished, it feels like a douchey humble-brag.  Doing pretty well at my job for the last thirteen years?  I was only promoted because nobody else would go, not because of my ability.  Traveled the world mostly on my own?  Sure, but I was just ticking off lists and doing really touristy things.

I didn’t even know until last March that there’s a name for this feeling – Impostor Syndrome.

Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. ”

Yup, that about sums it up.   I really wanted to do a longer post about this, but I’m not sure what else there is to say.   If only there were a cure.

Topic the fourth: On things expiring:  I’ve just renewed my passport, and the process has me thinking about how far I’ve come in the almost ten years since my initial passport application was filed.

In 2006, I was 33 years old.  I owned a small two bedroom condo, and I was four years into my employment at Mr. Company.  I had never left the country, except for one jaunt into the Bahamas from a cruise ship in 2003.  I’d been thinking about getting my passport for a while, because I really wanted to go to London.    I’d been focused on all things British since I fixated on Doctor Who and Dangermouse when I was in elementary school and I wanted to see the city.  My brother had just gotten married, and his honeymoon was in London.  I was British racing green with envy.

In the ten year life-span of my passport, much of my life changed.  I don’t own a home any more, and I’ve roamed around quite a lot.  I made it to London during my first year.  I’ve been to London three times now, along with bits of Wales, Ireland, and Scotland.  I am still an inverate list ticker.

For the last four years of that time, this blog has been a showcase for all of my thoughts about living in Germany, and all of my experiences abroad.   Over time, it became a travelogue, and my posts became more and more about the travel I was doing.  I started the blog initially just so that my family and friends back home could see what I was up to, but it became something more than what I intended and I built up a small armada of bloggy friends around the world.

I’ll always be around, reading the blogs of my friends, and commenting on their adventures.   This blog, however, has reached a conclusion.  I realized as I was slogging through the never-ending stream of Japan posts that once I was done with Japan, I was done with this blog.  Much like my first passport, this blog had an expiration date.

Now that I’m settled back into the US, I don’t travel as much.  Aside from my trip to Japan, I’ve barely pulled out my dSLR.  Since my return to the States, I’ve been struggling to find a voice for the blog.  Now that my life is more stationary,  I’ve also struggled to find both time to write and ideas to write about.  It seems like now is a good time for me to get out of the game.  I don’t know if this is a permanent closure, but I have no plans at this point to come back.  Maybe I’ll restart the blog some day.

It’s been a wild, hilarious, fun ride, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know so many of you here.  Be good to each other while I’m gone.

At long last, my drafts folder is completely and utterly empty.

Be seeing you,

-Steven

sorry-were-closed-tommaso-galllCreative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  Tommy Ironic

[Retro Post] Stuff That Makes Americans Go “Bwuh?!”

Editor’s Note: What follows is a post which was completely written in April of 2014.  For some reason, it languished in my drafts folder for the next twenty months until I just noticed it now.  I probably didn’t feel like it was finished, and I assumed I’d come back to it later.   It’s possible that some of these observations found their way into other posts, but I wanted to post this entirely in its original form anyway.  This is a snapshot of my mindset roughly halfway through my time living in Germany.  Here we go!


After more than two years in Germany, it’s easy for me to forget just how much I’ve adapted to life in Germany.  These things are all normal facts of every day life for me, but I never experienced them in the United States.

Unexploded bombs are a regular occurrence. Several times a year, I see news articles about how U-Bahn service in this city or that city had to be suspended because a crew of workmen found another unexploded bomb left over from World War II.   Typically, they either contain it or do a controlled detonation to dispose of the ordinance and then life goes on as normal.  This happens so often in Germany that nobody thinks it’s unusual.  I think it’s amazing though.

You don’t have to try the door handle of a toilet stall to know if it’s occupied.  The stall doors here have color markers built into the latch similar to what you see on airplanes that go red when the stall is occupied and are either green or white when it’s free.  It’s a tiny, simple thing, but it’s absolutely genius and I will desparately miss it when I get back to the States.

Almost everyone brings their own canvas bags to go grocery shopping.  Canvas bags are a crunch-granola thing in the United States-  most grocery shopping in the US involves leaving the store with a slew of plastic or paper bags.  Here, the stores sell the canvas bags at the register and actively encourage you to bring your own.  Additionally, there are no grocery baggers here-  when you ring up your groceries at the cashier, you have to turn around and put it all in the bag yourself.  I love the idea of canvas bags, but I’m really looking forward to having a bagger again-  I always feel like I’m in a panicked rush to bag all of my food before the next person’s groceries are slid down the ramp by the psychotically fast cashier.  Grocery shopping should not be that stressful!

Ice cream is perfectly normal almost every day, even in January.  It’s slightly harder to find ice cream in the winter-  many of the Eis stores close up shop for the winter or change to other products (like crepes!).  There’s always a few places to get ice cream though, even in the dead of winter, and Germans love their ice cream so much that I’ve seen a man eating ice cream at -18C.  That’s right around 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

Walking in the bicycle lane makes me uneasy.  The sanctity of the bike lane is very important here, because bikes are used much more commonly than in most places I’ve been to in the United States.  Most people will ring the bell on their bikes to alert you that you’re in the way, but not everyone is that nice.  Some will just run you down.   Incidentally, bicycle bells are standard equipment on most new bikes here, for exactly this reason.   I’ve gotten so used to this aspect of life here that if I walk in the bicycle lane, I feel skittish.

Late night television commercials border on pornography.  Short and annoyingly repetitive commercials appear on broadcast television for various phone sex lines.  This doesn’t happen on every channel, but it’s always on at least one channel after 11PM.  I would include a YouTube example, but the little jingles can be annoyingly catchy and I’m not cruel enough to earworm anybody with that today.

Is there anything about where you live that non-locals would find surprising?

Auf Wiedersehen, 2014.

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2014 was a hell of a year.  It was the last third of my time in Germany before my contract ended there.

In 2014, I visited old favorite cities and the friends that resided in each- Munich, Nuremberg, Frankfurt, Cologne, Hamburg, Berlin.  I visited new cities in Germany that I had not yet seen- Dresden, Stuttgart, Karlsruhe, Leipzig, Rothenberg ob der Tauber, Heidelberg.

In 2014, I visited cities in other countries that I had never seen before-  Belgium, Luxembourg, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Egypt.

In 2014, I saw concerts by Ellie Goulding, Gary Numan, Baskery, Hayseed Dixie, Air Supply,  Eels, the Alan Parsons Live Project, and Lewis Black.  I saw stage productions of The Little Shop of Horrors (auf Deutsch) and the Book of Mormon.

In 2014, I saw America play Germany in the World Cup.  I saw Germany lose its collective mind with joy when they were victorious in the final game.  I attended beer festivals and blogger meetups.

In 2014, I went hot air ballooning over Bavaria.  I rode a camel through one tiny corner of the Sahara desert.  I rode Segways twice, and found them to be much smoother than a camel.  I saw the Great Pyramid at Giza.

In 2014, I saw two dear friends wed to their beloved, one in July and one in October.  I saw my Aunt Florence laid to rest over a funeral home’s live Internet video stream from my apartment in Germany.

In the last three months of 2014, I came home and began to reset my life here. My books and movies have been boxed up for four years.  and I feel like I have been too.   I’ve been stuck for a long while.

2015 is going to be a grand adventure, I think.  I’m starting the year off by taking my girlfriend with me to California in late January to see one of my all time favorite bands.  There’s other stuff on the calendar, but I won’t list it all out here.

I’m just glad to see 2014 on its way out.  I’m ready to be unstuck.

What are you looking forward to about 2015?