By Dave Fox
Reutte, Austria

Liechtenstein has now taken its place on the sad, sad list of countries I have seen without actually crossing the border –- along with Albania and Kiribati.

In 1993, I took a Greek ferry across the Adriatic Sea to Italy. As we sailed past the Albanian coast, I gazed out at what had, until recently, been one of the world’s most oppressed nations, and admired the houses constructed in the architectural style commonly known as “Totalitarian Shoebox.”

A close call with Kiribati.

In 2005, working on a cruise ship, I was supposed to go ashore at Christmas Island, Kiribati; however, the captain canceled all shore excursions after two of the tenders –- small boats that carry passengers from the cruise ship to land –- ran aground in shallow waters. While we waited for a rescue mission to bring stranded passengers back to our ship, I waved to Kiribati residents who paddled by in outrigger canoes. I was aching to go see this barely inhabitable coral reef and talk to its inhabitants.

And now… Liechtenstein.

Liechtenstein, as seen from Switzerland.

I thought I’d be going to Liechtenstein because the driving directions in my tour manual say, “Drive through Liechtenstein.” But the highway does not actually go through Liechtenstein. It skirts past several exits for the 62-square-mile nation and even taunts you with a “Welcome to Liechtenstein” sign by the side of the road. But apparently, some fool decided to surround one side of the country with a bunch of inpenetrable mountains, making it illogical to build an international highway through the country.

Vaduz? Just turn right.

Vaduz? Just turn right.

So as we drove by, with the country’s mountains rising up beside me, passing the exit for Vaduz, the capital, I stared longingly, just as I once stared longingly at the coasts of Albania and Kiribati. I tried to convince Rolinka, the lead guide who was training me to lead this tour, to make a detour. I even offered to shave my head if she would -– to no avail.

(To those of you who are feeling inclined to leave comments about how I have little to shave on my head, please spare us the obvious.)

I longed to go to Albania to see first-hand what life was like shortly after the fall of one of Eastern Europe’s most oppressive dictators. I longed to go to Kiribati to find out how people managed to live on a tiny and remote coral reef in the South Pacific.

Why the fascination with Liechtenstein? Oh, because it’s there. And because in the year that I turn 39, it would have been country number 39 on my list of nations visited. But more importantly, because Liechtenstein is the world’s largest exporter of false teeth.

I have no need for false teeth right now. But you never know when you might find yourself in a bar brawl, and suddenly those Liechtenstein souvenirs you brought home might come in handy.

Published on Friday, May 18, 2007

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