A Journey To The 6th Smallest Country In The World

Today I want to talk about Liechtenstein.

No, not the artist Lichtenstein…er..or Heisenberg (it’s always going to be about Breaking Bad)…

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But Liechtenstein, the country.

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Liechtenstein is the 6th smallest country in the world, and yet it is somehow the RICHEST of the German speaking countries.  Richer than Switzerland!  And a whole heck of a lot richer than you and me.

My road trip buddies and I (see Swiss post for more details) took a little side trip over to Liechtenstein because it was so close, and it seemed all the rage as far as the other tourists were concerned. And by “other tourists” I mean the two people that went there in the summer that one time in order to write an entry for Lonely Planet as opposed to our ill-timed February trip to a place located entirely in the Alps, with scarcely a skier among us.

Well, we went anyway.  For the adventure!  The intrigue!  The bragging rights!

Now, the guidebooks will give you at least twenty two reasons to visit Liechtenstein but here the top three.

1.  Go Hiking on the Planet Trail!

“On the Planet Trail the distances in our solar system are mapped on a scale of 1:1 billion, with all of the planets re-created as scale models.” 

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Uhhh, looks super exciting, but no thanks.  It’s February and we’re in the Alps.

2. Check out the Castle!

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Except the royal family lives there and you’re not allowed inside.  Ever.  Because if they let you in, then they’re going to have to let everyone in, and who has time to accommodate 11 people.

3. Head over to the Liechtenstein Center/Tourist Center to get your passport stamped!

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Finally, something that sounded fun!  So we headed to the local public library tourist center and talked to a very very nice woman who seemed very happy to be talking to the only people she’s seen in days.  She was so grateful we dropped by that she only charged us for three stamps and not five.  Then again, neither her or her country need our silly America dollars.

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After our stamps were stamped we asked her advice on where we could grab a nice dinner as it was headed toward 7pm.  She sighed…thought for a moment…and then said, “Zurich.”

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The Franc-en-shaft was back in full-effect.

So, unless you’re really into collecting stamps in your passport you can go right ahead and skip this one.

California Dreamin’

So here’s the thing about LA. After a long, and especially miserable winter in New York, you fly out to LA and you really really really want to love it. You’ve been imagining yourself giving up this life in the cold, hard city for palm trees and sunshine and hills and beaches.

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But then you land in LA.

And then you pick up your rental car in LA.

And then you drive the 10 miles to your hotel in LA.

AND IT TAKES YOU TWO HOURS. TWO HOURS OF BUMPER TO BUMPER TRAFFIC. You told your good-for-nothing-GPS to avoid all highways because this is not your first time at this rodeo, and it keeps redirecting you to the god-damn-405. You know the 405 is your own personal hell, but your GPS insists. You’ve made it 6 of those 10 miles avoiding that highway but your GPS tricks you into hopping on for the last 4 miles.

You think, “how bad can it be, it’s only 4 miles!” And you’d be wrong. So very very wrong. Ninety minutes later you emerge from that soul crushing apocalypse only to find that the Starbucks that you were so desperately seeking is there…on the wrong side of the highway…and there’s no parking lot. Or parking anywhere that seems even remotely logical.

You wax-poetic (to yourself) about the advantages of traveling by foot in your beloved Manhattan (completely blocking out the traumatic winter you’ve just come through).  You rage to a room full of imaginary people in your head about the misery of trying to get anywhere in any kind of hurry (or non-hurry) in this city-of-broken-dreams. And that is how you think of this city that draws all these hopeful dreamers only to crush their souls while they sit in endless hours of traffic going absolutely no where.

But the weather is really great. And they have In-n-Out Burger. So, I mean, you kind of have to go. At least once.  Because food.

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Ghost Towns and Ghosts

If you live in Manhattan, you probably do not own a car. I actually have never owned a car in my entire life. I mean, yes, in high school my dad let me use his car to drive to school and to my awesome minimum wage job…at the mall…where I made, baked and sold Cinnabons. And yes, there is half a stick of butter in each one. And no, that doesn’t include the buttery sugar glaze that you pour on top of the right-out-of-the-oven Cinnabon.

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Where was I? Right, right, I have never owned a car. However, I rent cars all the time. Last weekend I got suckered with this baby. Texas plates and all.

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As a proud New Yorker, it hurts me to drive a red car with Texas plates, but as a typical New Yorker, I didn’t even notice the Texas plates until an hour before I had to return the car so I was completely unfazed by all the dubious looks and unwarranted honks I was getting from suspicious New Yorkers. (confession: the honks may have been warranted)

In honor of Sunday-Funday my friend and I took that little red car and went on a much needed mini-road trip to Greenport, NY in North Fork, Long Island.  North Fork is known for it’s many many wineries, it’s farms, and it’s quaint beach towns.

What no one told us is that Greeport in winter was about as exciting as…well…as exciting as a beach town in winter.

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Although on our walk through the eerily vacant town we did stumble on some glorious gifts and fabulous furnishings.  And most unique gifts.

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And this old school house…which was, of course, closed.

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But this…this was the Piece de Resistance.  Just hanging out.  In a window display.  For sale.  If someone would have just opened up the shop this guy would have been mine.

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Is this man a pirate? Is that a sawed off shotgun? Did they have sawed off shotguns in pirate times?  I will never know because this store, like very other store, was CLOSED.

We decided to explore a bit more and stumbled on this antique carousel and there were actually, like, two people there!  Two people and really really creepy horses who look to be in a lot of pain.

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We attempted to walk around some more but Winter was being an absolute jerk.  He’s like that last guest at the party that will just not leave.  Go home, Winter, go home.  It’s time.

We jumped back in our rented ride and headed toward home, but of course we had to stop at a few wineries along the way.  We stumbled upon one that looked pretty nice so we pulled in expecting a quiet, sophisticated atmosphere.

Instead we found THE ENTIRE TOWN.

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Maybe this is my kind of town?  A winery as your church?  I could totally get into that kind of worship.

We had to rip ourselves away and head home before dark because neither of us are particularly good drivers, and don’t even get me started on the whole night vision (or lack thereof) thing.

But then we saw a highway sign that said, “AMITTYVILLE”.  And I’m not one to ignore signs.  So we turned off toward Amittyville in search of “The Amittyville Horror House“.

My friend looked up the address and plugged it into her phone…but her phone kept deleting the address.  Every. Single. Time!  The iPhone did NOT want us to go to this house.  The closer we got, the less cooperative her phone became.  So I plugged it into my phone and my phone didn’t seem to have an issue with going to the house.  Probably because my phone has seen way worse things.  Poor phone.

We pulled into the neighborhood and we could not find the house because someone smartly removed the house number because jerks like us probably drive by all the time.  Finally, we resorted to pulling up a photo of the house and there it was, right in front of us.  On a surprisingly, and annoyingly, busy street.  I mean, how can I stealthily take photos when so many cars keep driving by?!?

But here it was, the house where a 23-year-old Ronald Defeo, Jr. killed his entire family while they were sleeping in their beds.  The house that spawned 11 movies!  The house that looked completely and eerily…unremarkable.

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My advice: save North Fork, Long Island for the summer…it’s probably a lot warmer then. And there are probably less ghosts.  Probably.

New Yorkers, We’re Nicer Than You Think

New York City is the 5th most visited city in the world, so I think it’s fair to include some sage advice from a New York native every now and then.

What makes one a native, you ask?  It’s when you reach this moment of realization described by John Updike: The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.

Also, I’ve lived here for just a little over 16 years.  Admitting that makes me feel really old.

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New Yorkers have a bad reputation for being rude, cold, direct, unfriendly, and blunt.  Which is true.  But mostly it’s only true because you’re in the way and we’re in a hurry.  It’s also not true and here’s a great example of why.

Yesterday, I got off the subway and headed toward the gym, heavy gym bag slung over my shoulder.  It was a bit rainy, but nothing serious.  I was wearing these boots that are a bit slippery–although I will never understand why any shoe maker would make BOOTS that have a slippery heel, aren’t boots meant for inclement weather?!

So a bit of rain, plus my slippery boots, plus my head in the clouds resulted in me first slipping on the wet pavement and then me tripping gracelessly over my own feet until I came crashing down so hard on the pavement that I literally bounced.  Bounced! 

As my gym bag went flying off to the right all I heard behind me were loud gasps of “OH MY GOD!” and “OH NO!”  I could even imagine what I must have looked like falling for absolutely NO REASON.  Thankfully I was wearing a large puffy jacket (I’m so over you, Winter) and it somewhat cushioned my fall.  Somewhat.

As I was attempting to pick myself up off the ground as quickly as I could, two teenage boys (that looked like the kind of kids that would be shot in Florida) stopped and immediately tried to help me up, and were all, “You okay, ma’am?”

“I’m okay, I’m totally fine…thank you so much, I’m fine,” but I wanted to crawl in a hole and hide forever.  And also, when did people start calling me ma’am??

I instantly decided that the gym was just not going to happen, and changed direction and started walking home instead.  A really nice, older homeless guy started walking down the block with me and said, “Honey, don’t be embarrassed, we all fall down sometimes…you’ll be okay.”

I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry, I probably did a little of both.  Then I went home and ordered Thai food and watched really really bad tv.

See, New Yorkers, they’re nice people.  When you fall, they pick you up and they tell you it’s going to be okay.

The Time We Found A Haunted House In Cooperstown, NY

Let’s go on a little adventure…in the country.

This is Cooperstown, NY.  Gather your friends or your family and drive on over.  Or down.  Or up.

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Rent a gorgeous house with an awesome name like The Treehouse.

Pull in the driveway and be all like whoa….

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Circle around back and be like OH MY GAWD.

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Then sit back, relax and enjoy the view and be all like, “alright alright alright”.

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Slowly unravel your city-self shaking off the intensity and speed with which you are accustomed and take in the quiet.  Think about you life and where you’re headed.  Take a minute to reflect.  Start to feel a little bit terrified of being alone with your thoughts…and the eery quiet.  Are there wolves out there?  Bears?  Racoons??  Why are there no car alarms going off?   How far is the closest hospital?  How long would it take the police to get here?  WHERE AM I?  WHY DID I AGREE TO THIS?  DO THEY EVEN DELIVER PIZZA OUT THIS FAR??

Shake all that off and think of…the creameries.  Where there is country, there is a dairy farm, and where there is a dairy farm, there is a creamery.  Go ahead…eat your feelings.

Because seriously.  Creameries.

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Wake up to a bright new day and go for a walk.  And see this sign.

And ignore it.

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Ignore this sign, too.

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Realize you’ve stumbled upon every child-who-grew-up-in-the-80’s dream–AN ABANDONED HOUSE THAT HAS TO TOTALLY BE HAUNTED.  Because, what’s creepier and more of a ghost magnet than an abandoned swing set?

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Debate whether the house is safe enough to go into.

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Lose one city-slicker who says, “I’m pretty sure spirits have been living in there for a while, and I don’t want to make their invisible acquaintance and then bring them with me wherever I go for the rest of my life.  Also, that floor looks like it’s going to collapse.”

Indeed, it does.

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But this brave little camper is NOT AFRAID.

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Leave your only smart and logical friend outside and forge ahead.  Because there is graffiti in there from 1979!

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Take in the conflicted messages left for you all over the walls.  God? Satan? Or Manson?

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Ponder the oddly religious graffiti artists that have been through these doors and take in the kitchen.

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And the window treatments.

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And the lovely gardens.

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Then realize that yes, the floor is probably going to collapse.  Go outside and pick some fresh flowers left by your friendly ghosts next door.

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And shake off the creepy feeling that you have ghosts following you around for the rest of your life and go have some drinks on the dock.

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Blow some bubble for the kiddies because, seriously, this entertains them for HOURS.

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Take in the beauty of your surroundings.

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And watch the sun set on yet another perfect day.

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And program the nearest pizza delivery place in your phone in case of an emergency.

The Time I Had The Best Beef Jerky Of My Life. In Cleveland.

Guys, I know what you’re thinking.  Who goes to Cleveland…on purpose?

Well, no one really.  Despite their really awesome marketing campaign here:

And here:

So you might have some preconceived notions of what Cleveland is like…I mean, yes, both times I went it was rainy and gloomy and miserable…and cold.  Very very cold.  BUT!  But I believe misery breeds creativity.  And cold miserable weather breeds the desire to eat.  So creativity + food = some seriously fine food.

And we all know how serious I am about food.

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So you can credit Cleveland’s surprisingly thriving food scene to crappy weather, the desire to eat, and of course Iron Chef Michael Symon.

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I mean, have you BEEN TO LOLA or LOLITA or THE B SPOT??  I have, I have been to all three and this is what I have to say about that.

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Michael Symon revolutionized the food scene in Downtown Cleveland, and now between the hours of 6:00 and 9:30 on any night, you had better have a reservation somewhere or you’re not eating.  Because people are serious about their eating there.  And they don’t have time for your out-of-town notions of just walking in somewhere and getting seated because, “seriously, this is Cleveland, how busy can it be?”  Well, it’s busy.  Real busy.  So plan ahead or you’ll be driving around really strange places outside that few mile radius that feels charming wondering if you should maybe drive through that red light to avoid, I don’t know, perhaps being car-jacked.  (Just kidding, Cleveland!  Sort of.)

So now that you have your dinner reservations for every night you’re in town, you probably want to start planning your days.  There is a lot to do in Cleveland and you want to be sure to fit it all in.

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But you do want to make time to go to The West Side Market.  Because it is glorious.  And you must go directly to J and J Meats and immediately order the beef jerky.  Because its not really beef jerky, it’s more like a juicy steak that you can carry around with you and bite into anytime you feel like it.

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Now, if you aren’t going to drop your vacation plans in the Bahamas to fly immediately over to Cleveland, you can actually order this beef jerky ONLINE!!.

I know, I know.

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The Time I Became a Graffiti Artist in Berlin

I’m a big fan of street art, and I always wished I had one single artistic bone in my body, but sadly, this is pretty much the extent of my art skills.  Seriously, I like, just drew that.  And I was TRYING.

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Probably better to leave the whole art thing to the experts, but if those said experts ever want to employ me to help them spread their art, I’m all about it.  And this is how I became a graffiti artist for almost two whole minutes.

My friend Alexis Ames is one of those super talented arty people…obviously, I mean look how adorably arty she is!

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Before I headed out to Berlin, Lex told me about this really cool place called Kunsthaus Tacheles (Art House Tacheles), originally called: Friedrichsstadtpassagen.

No really: Friedrichsstadtpassagen

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It was originally a department store in the Jewish quarter in Berlin, and then sadly it served as a Nazi prison.  After World War II it was partially demolished and then after the Berlin Wall came down it was taken over by artists who called it Tacheles, which is Yiddish for “straight talking”.  And Germans are nothing, if not straight talkers.

For instance, when we were driving around aimlessly looking for the Berlin Wall, we pulled up to this guy at a stop light and asked for directions to The Wall.

His response:  “well, ya, you just have to go straight…back in time about 30 years.”

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But I digress.  Tacheles was at the top of our list of things to do in Berlin, and Lex gave me a FLYING BUNNY sticker to bring with me and put in as many places as I could.  The Flying Bunny is part of Lex’s logo design (see right over there on the right).

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The FLYING BUNNY was inspired by her beloved pet, the late Mr. Bun Buns:

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So I took The Flying Bunny with me to Tacheles and I totally TAGGED a wall.

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All for you Mr. Bun Buns…all for you.

Unfortunately, Tacheles was closed down on September 4, 2012 after fighting the good fight for alternative art for 22 years.

I feel pretty lucky to have seen it before it was gone, and of course I took about a million photos.  Here is a little tour through the building…

Me with a gorilla outside in the courtyard:

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Enter if you dare:

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Jewelry for sale:

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This painting both frightens and confuses me:

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People posting photos of themselves in support of Tacheles:

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My awesome nephew, Greg:

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I was a little afraid to touch it.

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And of course a super creepy hallway.

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So, I would totally say GO HERE, except that there is no longer a HERE to GO…

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