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If it's in your passport, then it's true, right? (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

Little Liechtenstein

I am a self-professed (and exceedingly proud) geography nerd.

Maps and places are what I studied in college, countries and capitals were personal obsessions when I was an über-nerdy middle-school kid competing in the National Geographic Bee, and this whole field of cartographic science also happens to be the basis upon which the National Geographic Society was founded.

Of all the heavy pages of the National Geographic Atlas, the one I loved most (and I honestly don’t think I am alone in this) was the page with all of the Europe’s smallest countries. As an American from a very large state, I found it curious and comforting that there existed nation-states no bigger than my county school district.

“How cool!” I used to think — I still think, actually, because I love small countries. It’s what led me to Luxembourg, where I hiked across the lesser third of the Benelux in a single day. And today, it’s what brings me to little Liechtenstein, one of the only remaining (true) principalities on planet Earth.

I think all of us who travel (or want to travel) are highly curious about the outliers of the world — those places that stand out because they are so different. This summer I spent an entire month humming about Switzerland, and yet all the while I was ridiculously itchy to explore this sliver of mountainside on the other side of the river.

. . . and so, I returned. Last night, I flew back across the Atlantic, landed at Zurich airport this morning, and then used my magic Swiss pass to ride the train for just one hour, before catching a chartreuse-colored bus across the trickling Rhine and into Vaduz, the capital of a country that is neither Switzerland, nor Austria, but something quite in between.

I am still a tad jet-lagged, gazing at everything a bit oddly yet enthusiastically, too. There is something about reading a name on a map as a kid, and then finally being in that place as a grown-up. For me, it’s magic.

The real magic of my first day here was wandering around this new nation, with its particular little Hapsburg histories and knee-high picket fences round gardens that are still flowering even now, in October, and discovering that if you are standing in just the right spot, you can actually (pretty much) see the entire country without turning your head.

I think that’s pretty awesome. Thus I shall continue scoping out Liechtenstein. Tomorrow, the real fun begins.