19 July 2010
Having left Munich we motored on to the country of Liechtenstein.
Liechtenstein is made up of a mere 160 square kilometres making it the smallest German speaking country in the world and its 35,000 strong population is technically the wealthiest in the world on a GDP per person basis.
We stopped in the centre square for an hour and people either bought postage stamps, some paid to have their passport stamped at the information desk (I don’t know why) and others had something to eat. I made a quick run around the stamp museum and looked in some of the shops.
It was a short drive from Lictenstein to Switzerland where we stopped for a couple of hours in Lucerne.
Switzerland is a fascinating place, both because of its natural beauty but also its history. Switzerland managed to remain neutral during both world wars; one WW2 theory on Switzerland’s neutrality suggests that Hitler gave notice to Switzerland that his army was going to annex them. The story goes that the powers of Switzerland replied to Hitler that if his army invaded Switzerland they would both ‘shut the country down’ so that it was of little use to Germany and more importantly they would poison the source of the river Rhine, crucial to German wellbeing. True or not it is interesting how they managed to avoid involvement in the conflict and interesting how hell bent they appear to be on remaining independent and self sufficient (paranoia?). Everyone serves in the army, everyone has a weapon, all modern houses need to be equipped with nuclear fallout shelters, all tunnels have blind corners and more. Despite these oddities Switzerland is a hugely successful country; it is the birthplace of Roger Federer, its nominal per capita GDP ranks sixth in the world, it maintains a low rate of unemployment and its two largest cities Zürich and Geneva have respectively been ranked as the cities with the second and third highest quality of life in the world. Switzerland is fascinating and extremely beautiful. The Swiss Alps, some would call them ‘picturesque’.
Lucerne had a couple of sights Ray deemed worth visiting, firstly we went and saw an impressive carving of a lion in a cliff wall; this famous carving by Bertel Thorvaldsen is a monument to the hundreds of Swiss Guard who were slaughtered during the 1792 French Revolution. The carving had a number of finer details which made it all the more impressive; it showed the French and Swiss arms, the Lion was being stabbed in the back and the greater cave area resembled the shape of a pig.
Next we walked across the wooden Chapel Bridge which was originally constructed in the 14th century; I marvelled at how clear the river was that flowed through this Swiss town. Having walked across the bridge Ray took us to a Swiss watch shop which sold watches and pocket knives which ranged from about $30 Swiss Francs to many thousand Swiss Francs. On this Contiki trip we have been taken to a number of shops, normally we are given some sort of a demonstration (glass blowing) or a talk (leather shop). Regardless of how good a demonstration they give us the bottom line is we are being taken to some tourist shop to buy some stupid tourist souvenirs that I don’t need, no doubt because Contiki make money from taking us there. It reminds me of Bangkok in Thailand where Tuk Tuk drivers will take you on a tour of all the major monuments for next to nothing because they will make stops at various shops along the way where they get paid to take tourists.