Date of Travel: June 4 2006 – June 11, 2006
Tour Organizers: Orbit Tours and Travels Ltd (highly recommended)
Our week long wedding bonanza seems to have set the tone for all future celebrations so our first anniversary was celebrated in Switzerland. Snow capped mountains, picturesque scenery, green meadows, chiming cowbells, shimmering lakes and pretty towns make Switzerland ‘Paradise on Earth’. We started our dream trip aboard a Zurich bound Air Canada flight from Delhi and reached Zurich on the 4th of June 2006.
Day 1 – Sunday, June 4, 2006
We had booked ourselves into the Welcome Inn at Kloten, very close to the airport. We spent the first day pretty much on our own learning the sights and sounds of Zurich. This city has been voted one of the world’s best cities to live in and one can easily understand why. It is a quaint city with just the right mix of modern buildings, with excellent transportation and a beautiful lake front. We got a 24 hour pass train/tram/bus pass for 11 francs which was not a bad deal, and explored the main city. In the evening we went to Lake Zurich and ambled along the water’s edge. The restaurants in the main station are reasonably priced so we ate lunch and dinner there.
Day 2 – Monday, June 5, 2006
The day started early and our official Orbit package began with our introduction to Thomas our tour guide, chauffeur, comedian and companion. We then bundled into a FIAT van and drove to Lucerne. The main motorway was closed in parts due to landslides so Thomas took us through the country side.
We saw a lot of quaint little houses. Some of the houses were narrow at the base and grew wider at the top, this is apparently because the land tax is really high in Switzerland.
We stopped for breakfast at this department store where the friendly chef made us yummy vegetable sandwiches. The home made cheese just melted in your mouth and the croissants were soft and buttery. All in all, a yummy breakfast for a foodie family who’s thought jumped from one meal to the next.
We reached Burgenstock resorts around noon. This is a group of privately owned luxury business-resorts which provide an excellent view of the Alps and also of Lake Lucerne. We were initially allotted rooms in the Palace hotels but since they were over booked we were given rooms in the Grand. This was probably the most unpleasant experience we had on this entire tour and we all felt like some kind of a discriminatory treatment was being meted out to us, the last thing one needs on a vacation. But the location, the views, the facilities made up for all this and one cannot stay upset for too long on a vacation. Check in time is around 3:00 pm so be prepared to wait everywhere in Switzerland.
We spent most of the afternoon and evening exploring the city of Lucerne which is about an hour’s ride downhill. The city is really quaint and pretty with beautiful monuments – the Lion monument, the old Hofkriche Church, the cobbled streets, and the Chapel bridge.
The street side cafes along the bridge provide an idyllic spot to take in Lucerne charm in one cup of coffee or one glass of wine. Take a trip on the toy train or a boat ride on the lake to experience the old charm of Lucerne.
Day 3 – Tuesday, June 6, 2006
We took a trip to Mount Titlus to experience the Alps and the glacier paradise. It is a picturesque ride from Lucerne to Engelberg.
We drove down but the train ride promises to be a treat too. It’s a 45 min cable ride up to the mountains and view is breath taking. There is a revolving gondola (ROTAIR) which makes the ropeway ride fun. The green coniferous carpet gradually changes to an immaculate white carpet as the cable car climbs to the top.
It had just snowed that morning so we could not have asked for better weather. The fresh snow was fluffy and flaking and for snow starved Indians this was a perfect treat. The ski lift is a great experience and make sure you try your hand with the sledges. We had fun sliding down 500m slopes and we did it many times, be it the sprightly middle aged couples, the young grandmothers, the sexy newly weds or the heartbreaking young women. We also took the Ice Flyer, flying over the glacier. All in all a great fun filled day in the Alps. Round trip cost per person is CHF 89.
Day 4 – Wednesday, June 7, 2006
Having spent two days at the Burgenstock resorts we still hadn’t used the facilities so we began the day early with a swim in the indoor pool. It is lovely to watch the mountains as you make the laps around the pool. Novice swimmers watch out as the pool is fairly deep. Then we walked up to the highest outdoor lift in Europe. The Hammetschwand lift. The view from the top is magical and the emerald green of the lake below is mystical. The steep walk was definitely worth the effort. It costs 11 Francs per person for a return trip on the lift. So remember to take the money before you set out on the hike.
Everybody was late that morning and got a yelling from Appa and the trip to Geneva began on a grumpy note. As the Alps gave way to the plains and ‘Strasse’ was replaced by ‘Rue’ we all got back into our vacation mood. Geneva is a bustling European City with a good cultural mix of people. All of us instantly fell in love with the city’s verve and the boat ride on the magnificent Lake Geneve was breath taking.
We stayed at the Best Western Hotel, Chavannes de Bogis and we had dinner at La Darshana. Notice how a touch of French is added to everything.
Day 5 – Thursday 8th June
If a trip goes exactly according to plan, then it was probably a boring trip. So in the morning, having missed the Jet D’eau the previous day, we decided that instead of heading to Interlaken we will first drive back to Geneva to take in the view of one of the world’s tallest traditional fountains. As we entered the city, all eyes focused on the lake to catch a glimpse of this water jet. What we saw amazed us. A column of water more than 100 meters high was spraying above the lake surface. Apparently the water leaves the nozzle at a speed of 200 km/h and at any given moment there are about 2,000 liters of water in the air. Unfortunately we could not stop.
We followed the road to Interlaken, making a detour near Lausanne to check out a typical Swiss college town. It was nice to see more bicycles than cars, and the town itself was quieter. Across the lake (Lake Geneva still) one can see the village of Evian, famous for the expensive water brand. The headquarters of the International Olympic Committee is also located in Lausanne.
At Interlaken, we had reservations at the Best Western, Chalet Oberland (CH 3800 Interlaken, Tel: 0041-33 8278787). As always the check-in time was 3 pm so we left our bags and headed to lunch. A special lunch to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. So we found a beautiful street side cafe and ate to our heart’s content. Our meal was interrupted quite regularly by para-gliders landing in the field next to us.
Lunch, over, the day to ourselves, we shopped. Interlaken, at a height of 570m and a population of less than 10000, is part of the Canton of Bern and the Bernese Oberland (Bernese highlands).
The area around Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, the valleys of the Bernese Alps and the Jungfrau region are all part of this. There isn’t much to see in this town itself, but it is a haven for shopping. So we bought t-shirts, the customary bells and knives and Swarovski crystal. Dinner was at the Welcome India Hotel. Good food, but the place was cramped.
Day 6 – Friday 9th June
The day was finally here. We were going to go to the Top of Europe. We had all prepared for this. Many medical articles had been read, we had all the medicines required to prevent and treat possible High Altitude sickness and we had our winter clothes. The temperature at Jungfraujoch was hovering around -10C all week.
We drove to Lauterbrunnen and took the Jungfraubahn rail from there. The train, a cogwheel train was one of a kind. Slowly climbing from 600m to over 3500m is no mean task. The ingenuity of this railway network and the glaciers of this region have been well rewarded with the acceptance to the famed UNESCO World Heritage site list. We had to switch trains at Kleine Scheidegg, and this took us through the mountains, in caves dug deep into the core. Every now and then we stopped to arrive at a small view point (Eigerwand and Eismeer) and see the splendor that awaited us outside. This last leg took us 50 minutes.
Once at the top, we exited at the highest railway station in Europe at 3454m and immediately saw what the fuss was all about. We were right in the middle of one of the most breathtaking glacier ranges ever. The complex itself is very tourist friendly with plenty of restaurants and facilities. But once you step out into the open, the chill wind hits your face and the bright sunlight reflecting off the pure white snow blinds you. It takes a minute for you to adjust, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. The temperature was also never less than -3C.
We played in the snow, we saw the peaks, took a lot of photos and then rushed to the Ice Palace. One drawback of this excursion was the lack of time at this remote, yet easily reachable of places. We had only 2 hours. We didn’t get to ride the huskies, or slide around the ice. The Ice Palace had detailed sculptures of penguins and eagles and even the World Cup mascot.
We ran and reached our train in time, and didn’t realize how tired we were until everyone slept on the way down. We reached Lauterbrunnen and headed to Trummelbach falls. This is a very steep falls that one can experience inside out. There are caves built through the mountains and you can see the falls falling over you. Unfortunately, we were late and could not enter the caves.
On the way back we stopped at a cafe, watched Germany vs. Costa Rica on big screen and tried fondue for the first time. Cheesy but yummy. Back at the hotel, we managed to do more window shopping and while away time till dinner. Truly tiring day.
Day 7 – Saturday 10th June
First Wedding Anniversary Day! Breakfast is the most important meal and this one turned out to be extra special. Shwetha and I were pleasantly surprised to find a lovely bouquet and a huge cake waiting for us at the breakfast table. A grand way to start our second year of marriage. As someone so realistically put it, we were now no longer boyfriend/girlfriend, not engaged, not even newly-weds. Just boring old husband and wife. On our way out of Interlaken we found out that the cake and flowers were organized by Shwe’s parents and Orbit had taken the trouble to implement it and we were speechless and surprised at the gesture. The cake was devoured in no time with the staff at the hotel happy to receive the bulk of it.
We headed into Zurich, drove around for a city orientation tour. We soaked in the atmosphere of a city, the people, the sounds, the noise, the pretty sights, and the traffic and given the busy public holiday Saturday, we saw our share of it all. Zurich is definitely the commercial and cultural center of Switzerland. Not as sophisticated as Geneva, but in that lies its real world charm.
We bid adieu to our uncle and aunt who left a day earlier to give themselves a day extra back home and we then checked in at the Hotel (Novotel Zürich City-West, Tel: 0041-44 2762222). The plaza in front of the hotel was host to the Christopher Street Day party. This is a party celebrated by the gay community to commemorate the 1969 riots between police and gays in New York City and now has become a worldwide platform to raise the profile of gay rights. After a quick tour of the party to satisfy our curiosity, we headed back to Zurich. Having walked the streets, and seen the sights, we decided to exercise and yet relax on the lake. We rented pedal boats and spent half an hour on the lake. We had to share space with row boats, paddle steamers, kayaks, and other pedal boats. Not to forget the fountains, modern art sculptures and the hundreds of boats tied to the pier. Seems like Zurich on a Saturday is just plain crowded. A final dinner at Taj Palace and we were back in our hotel. The party outside had turned from fun to wild and we decided to stay indoors and watch the World Cup.
Day 8 – Sunday, June 11, 2006
Trip over. Early breakfast at the hotel and we were off to the airport. A great big thanks to Thomas who was kind and took good care of us. A lot of duty free shopping, and we were on our way back. Of course, no trip to Switzerland is complete if you don’t see the Alps from the skies. The view from the plane offered just that, and it was quite unimaginable. This was Switzerland, a glorious country with breathtaking views of the Alps, the bustling cities, the quaint towns, the stretching green plains with cowbell adorned cows and the large reflecting lakes. It was another exciting trip. A big thanks to Kart’s parents for taking us along on this memorable trip.