Sunday, 10 August 2008

Switzerland

It was last April our dream trip was about to begin. The point of start of the trip was Mumbai. Joy and I reached Mumbai in the afternoon so that we could rest a little at my parent's place before starting the long journey to Zurich. There is always good food at my parent's place as my mother loves cooking. We spent the afternoon chatting, eating, and discussing the itinerary. Later in the evening my parents dropped us off at the airport; our flight was past midnight. Like good passengers we reached much ahead of time, finished with the airport formalities, and went to the lounge to board the flight. During this entire time I was feeling extremely excited about everything, just that I couldn't show it. I wanted to dance like a little girl!

We took the Emirates flight from Mumbai to Dubai, and then from Dubai to Zurich. Dubai airport is huge, we just got to see a bit of it only. We reached Zurich and after the formalities at the airport we met our tour manager who was waiting for us. Everything was happening very fast from this point on. We started walking out of the airport, yet I was unable to believe that I was actually in Switzerland! 

We went to the Zurich train station to board a train to go to Lucerne, and from there we got on another train that took us to Engelberg. Our train passed through small villages, crossing houses, schools, open fields. Some young school boys got on the train with water bottles and apples in their hands. It was wonderful! 

One very interesting thing we noticed that the number of bogies kept reducing after a few stations. Also, we learnt that the train stops on certain stations only on demand. A passenger who wishes to board the train needs to press a button, only then the train will stop. 


On the way to Engelberg

Engelberg

After a picturesque ride the train pulled into the Engelberg station around 5 in the evening. Engelberg, a village in the canton of Obwalden, is situated amidst the snow-clad Swiss Alps, and we were to spend 3 nights there. When we got off the train the station looked like a movie set; it was small and beautiful! Our tour manager said that we would walk to the hotel as it was a five-minute walk. As we were going out of the station we had no idea what sight lay outside, but only in a few moments we realised that we’ve almost reached heaven. Oh what a splendid sight it was! I had only seen something so beautiful in movies. Guess it was at that point Joy and I started feeling the real excitement of the trip.

We reached Ramada Hotel Engelberg and checked in, still unable to digest the fact that we were in Switzerland. Quite tired with the journey, physically, not mentally, I decided to freshen up and take a quick nap before heading out to see the place around. As I pulled the bed cover I found two cubes of chocolate placed on the pillows. We later heard that it is a custom in Switzerland.

After a little while I figured that there was still bright daylight outside, and it was 7 p.m.. Joy and I did not realise that the days are that long in that part of the world. Very intrigued I got off the bed, thinking that a nap is not a great idea at that moment, and I went to open the balcony door. The door seemed a little faulty as it was a little slanted and was not opening. I called Joy for help. With a little effort we opened the door and what we saw outside was nothing less than a dream. True to the promise made by our tour operator this location indeed gave a real feel of Switzerland.


On the way to the hotel


View from the balcony

We sat in the balcony for sometime clicking photographs from every angle possible. Then we went out to buy some food as we were hungry. There was a pizza shop right opposite the hotel. So we went there, but there was noone there to open the door. We went to another restaurant and found that was closed too. While wondering what to do we saw a super market and went inside it. Fortunately, there was a food counter there. We went to the first floor and found a large variety of yummy looking sandwiches and we picked up a few. When we went to the counter the lady at the counter refused to take the Euro cents we had with us. Joy and I were wondering what went wrong, we were giving them their own currency in coins, so what was the problem. Only then we learnt that the currency of Switzerland was Swiss Francs and not Euros. We had fifty euro notes and the lady said that she will give the change in Swiss Francs. We weren’t too sure whether we would be shopping in Switzerland at all knowing how expensive the place was. A little careful research would’ve been useful I thought at that moment, but it was too late to think about it. I fortunately had a five euro note, so we took one big sandwich with that and left the place, rather unhappy. We went back to the hotel, shared the sandwich and some biscuits that I had with me and dozed off.

Around 8:30 in the evening both of us got up with the sound of the phone ringing. Our tour operator was calling as we had to go for dinner. Dinner was organised about three buildings away from our hotel. We got up quickly and literally ran down to the lobby. We then walked to the guest house where dinner was served and met the group we were to join for the rest of the trip, and also met the real tour manager! The group took a different tour option which included Italy and Austria. They were all Indians from India, felt as if I was in India!

The dinner was awesome. A good variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian north Indian dishes. Joy and I had a hearty meal. While leaving the dining area we were told that we needed to be ready by 7:30 the next morning. Well, that was not the best thing to hear after such a great meal, but there was no choice!

The next morning I got up rather early and both of us went down to have breakfast. The hotel organised a pretty good spread, but I couldn't eat much as it was too early to eat. Joy seemed to enjoy his breakfast! When all of us finished our breakfast we headed towards the coach that would take us around. In fact, it was on the bus that I kind of met the rest of the group. Our tour manager introduced Joy and me to the rest of the group and welcomed us on board.

The first thing we saw that day was a glacier falls, deep inside a mountain – the Trummelbach Falls. They are the only glacier falls of their kind in the world, which have been made accessible. It was beautiful.




Inside the Trummelbach Fall

Jungfraujoch

After that we proceeded to Jungfraujoch – the Top of Europe. We went to the beautiful town of Lauterbrunnen. One gets to savour the scenic splendour from aboard the ‘cog-wheel’ train, which goes to a height of 3,454 meters to reach Jungfraujoch! This is a trip to another world – a wonderful world of eternal ice and snow. We experienced the magic of the mountains and visited the Ice Palace on top of the longest glacier in the Alps. For lunch we had local meal with champagne specially arranged for us at the Bollywood cafe! 





Interlaken

Later in the day we visited Interlaken, a charming city nestled between two lakes and surrounded by the splendid Bernese Oberland Mountains.



Mt. Titlis

One of the most memorable experiences of our Europe tour was visiting Mt. Titlis. Titlis is a mountain in the Urner Alps. It overlooks Engelberg; in fact, we could see our hotel from there. This site is famous for the world’s first revolving cable-car. The cable car system connects Engelberg to the summit of Klein Titlis, the 3,020-meter-high mountain station, through the three stages of Gerschnialp, Trübsee and Stand, though Titlis Rotair or the revolving cable car leads from Stand. It was a spellbinding experience as we were ascending the snow-clad mountain to experience the snow and ice on top!





Indian masala tea stall in Switzerland!

Lucerne

Later in the day we proceeded to Lucerne, a city in north- central Switzerland. I had heard about Lucerne but I never really tried to find out anything about this place; and I was glad that I didn't. I wouldn't have felt the surprise and wouldn't have felt the excitement if I had known more about this place. The city, the lake, the mountains, everything about Lucerne is beautiful! The place was bustling with people, there were cars, buses, trams everywhere; yet there was an amount of peace and quiet all over. Everywhere you look you can see the beautiful mountains surrounding you. 

After getting off the coach we first headed towards the Lion Monument. The monument commemorates the Swiss guards who were killed during the French Revolution in 1792.

While Joy and I were clicking photographs and video shooting around the monument our tour manager Anurag asked me if I could spot anything around the lion. Joy and I looked and looked and we gave up. Then Anurag showed us the shape of the pig that was bordering the sculpture of the lion. Apparently, the sculpture had a falling out with someone associated with the contracting of the memorial that he created the pig shape out of spite.



We then went towards the Kapellbrücke. It is a covered wooden footbridge spanning diagonally across Lake Lucerne. This bridge is unique since it contains a number of interior paintings dating back to the 17th century, although many of them were destroyed by fire in 1993. The bridge was rebuilt, and it is the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe.


There was an old man sitting on the bridge and playing the accordian. Almost everyone walked past him as if he wasn't even there, while some dropped coins in the hat that was on the ground; I stood in front of him for a while and heard him play. He looked up and I told him that he was very good. I don't think he followed English, but he seemed to have understood looking at my expression and he acknowledged with a smile. I had a few coins and I put them in his hat and walked along. 

While we were moving around waiting for the rest of the group members to gather I heard the sound of something resonating a little distance away. Joy and I followed the sound and discovered something which we had no idea existed. An unusual but a very enjoyable experience of hearing a large group of alphorn players performing at the square... what a sight to behold! I captured the rest of the performance on the camcorder; I'll cherish it all my life!

Here is a picture...


Alphorn players in concert

We walked around a bit, clicked photographs, bought very typically Swiss souvenirs, the cow bell, post cards etc. The things are cheaper here in Lucerne compared to many places we visited in Switzerland. After a while we went on a cruise on the serene waters of Lake Lucerne, in a group of course! Sigh!



Joy clicked while I was listening to music waiting for the others to arrive



On the boat

With the cruise we ended our Switzerland trip. The next day we were to leave for Germany.
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