eurotrippin’ in france (day 2)

We had decided the previous night to go ahead and visit wine country in Strasbourg while we had an opportunity, a decision which required us to rent a car since wine country was not accessible. There was a huge wine route in Alsace, unsurprisingly known as “la route du vin” which was basically a road that went through all the wineries in the Alsatian region (of which there were hundreds and thousands). Instead of falling for the same mistake we had made in Switzerland, we booked the car online the previous night and got a really good rate on it.

Our car was supposed to be picked up from Budget Car Rentals at the station in Strasbourg but once we reached the station, it appeared that all rental companies except Budget happened to be there. A few cabbies outside directed us to Budget, which was located about 0.5km away from the station. So take that advice of booking cars online with a pinch of salt! Once we finally found Budget, we had missed our reservation by about 15 minutes but it didn’t matter since it didn’t look like they got much business! We completed the requisite paperwork and were off and on our way in no time.

We were armed with a map of all the wineries in the region (represented by white dots with the large areas being larger white dots) so we had a fair idea of where we wanted to go. We decided to head to one that was about an hour and a half away (about 150 kilometers using the superfast French highways). The name of this town currently escapes me, but we made good time and ended up following the often confusing directions to find the town. But before I get into that, let me go ahead and make my promised gripe about the French and their obsession for roundabouts.

When you exit a normal highway, you typically can keep going straight on the feeder if you wish to get on the highway, or you hit an intersection which allows you to go left (under the highway) or right depending on where you want to go. The French do not like this easily obvious design. Instead, every time you take an exit on the highway, you are greeted with a roundabout. The good thing is that there is no traffic light stopping the progress of cars, the bad thing is that the roundabout usually results in utter confusion. Furthermore, if you have a heavy vehicle, or a long vehicle (such as a moving truck) involved, all traffic in all direction stops while that truck maneuvers itself around the roundabout.

Anyhow, we made it past these silly roundabouts and got to our final destination where we promptly stopped at a gas station to check out where to go. Unfortunately, we seemed to have misunderstood the concept of wineries. Whereas we had thought that each of the dots on the wine map corresponded to a winery, instead each of the dots corresponded to a town that contained many wineries. The town we were in had a lot, but upon asking the person at the gas station where to go, instead of directing us to the wineries in that region, she directed us to backtrack and get on the wine route. Maybe there wasn’t a way to get on the wine route? I’m not sure, but we ended up backtracking anyway and following the crude directions to search for the elusive route de vin.

On the way, we stopped at a town called Osthiem which was not on the wine route, but nearby it. I got out of the car and, in my broken French, asked at the only open establishment in the little town, a restaurant, how to get on the wine route. She gave me directions pretty confidently, which suggested that we weren’t entirely lost. Seeing that it was around 1pm and that it would be a while before we found the wine route, a winery and thus a place to eat lunch, my Dad made an executive decision to have lunch at that restaurant. The meal turned out to be pretty delicious and pretty huge. My parents ended up taking one of their set meals, which cost $10.50 euros per person and consisted of a starter (soup or salad), a main course and a dessert. I ended up getting a standalone dish which was chicken in a mushroom sauce and their portions were so huge that I felt like I was eating a whole chicken myself.


The house white wine we had in Osthiem

Once we were done with our meal, we set off again, optimistically, in search of the wine route. This time we hit jackpot as along the way we saw brown signs proclaiming “Route de Vin” and hence began following it. We eventually reached the Ribeauvillé region, which was one of the larger spots on the wine map. There we parked (all parking meters in France appear to be coin-operated) and headed out on foot, only to be hit by rain. We eventually wet-trekked our way to the tourist office where my parents got some information about what to do and where to go.

Apparently we missed the wine festival by a period of about 24 hours. This would have allowed us to pay a nominal fee of about 6 euros per person and taste wine at any of the wineries in the town. Sad at missing this opportunity, we went to a couple of wineries and did a couple of tastings. I also learned the French word for tasting: degustation. Surprisingly, the tastings were all free. We only had two tastings, however, since my Dad was driving and my Mom doesn’t like doing wine tastings. After we left the first winery, we visited one of the larger distributers.

There they had a wine museum as well as many different wines to taste. It appeared to be a pretty popular place and one, in fact, where people bought 3-4 boxes of wine at a time, so it was pretty busy. We spent about 15-20 minutes ambling around the wine tasting counter before tasting one Riesling and then settling for a three-pack that consisted of bottles of Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurtzraminer wines. After making our purchase, we hurried back to our car so that we could drive back home and return the car by 6pm, which is when the car rental place closed.

This turned out to be a smaller problem than it could have been as it started pelting rain, and as a result we didn’t feel like stopping at anymore of the wineries that we were passing. We did get a good look at the vineyards along the way, though. The trip back to Strasbourg was uneventful as we were able to follow the signage and avoid being misled by the roundabouts, and we returned the car at around 5:30pm, with plenty time to spare. After that, we took a tram back to our room and rested for a bit before setting off again in the evening.

My Mom wanted to check out the Petite France area on foot, so we headed out in that direction. It may have been because of the cold caused by the rain or it may just be that the French don’t like going out on Fridays, but the whole area was deserted. The same places that had been stuffed full of people the previous night were completely empty. Most restaurants that had had seating outside the previous day were now boarded up or only serving inside. It was extremely peculiar the way the tourism had u-turned, but we didn’t complain as we were able to go around to more places and get more photos.


A closer view of the torture tower we’d seen on the boat


This was apparently the symbol of the Strasbourg Tram System–empowerment of women


One of the many bridges we had passed under the previous day


A building at Kleber Square… I think it was a museum or train station or something

Once we were done taking photos, we had dinner somewhere that I now forget and then headed back to the hotel. The next day was going to be a pretty early start as our train back to Paris was leaving at around 9am. So ended our last day in Strasbourg, and our 6th day of our Europe trip. We had not only gotten a good taste of the beautiful architecture and history surrounding Strasbourg, but also a taste for one of the specialities of the Alsatian region—the wine country. Unfortunately, we were not able to complete my Mom’s inspired-by-travel-guide goal of having breakfast in Switzerland, lunch in Germany and dinner in France, but it had been a good trip and choice of destination, anyway.

eurotrippin’ in france (day 1)

Our flight from Zurich to Paris was at around 8:30 am so we left Luzern at around 5:45 am, hoping to reach the airport by around 7am. The drive was supposed to take a shade over 1 hour, so we had given ourselves a pretty large buffer in case things went wrong. As it turned out, they did. We had again used Google Maps to get our directions from the Luzern hotel to the Zurich Airport and had even scoped out our initial departure route on foot the previous day. However, once we got past that, the directions got plenty confusing.

It appears that Europeans have some sort of obsession with roundabouts, something we would find out when we were in France, and thus something I will gripe about then. However, roundabouts caused us our share of problems here, since every turn seemed to be given as a roundabout (at least by Google Maps) and the number of roundabouts didn’t appear to match up. We got lost a couple of times (once climbing up some mountain area) and using my Dad’s BlackBerry EDGE connection helped us relocate a bit. However, we still wasted at least 25-30 minutes going the wrong way and recovering.

Our saviour came in the form of a gas station on the way to Zurich. The directions provided by Google Maps were confusing enough that they told us to go towards Zurich and then take an exit for Luzern (where we had been coming from!) before heading to the airport. Basically, there was a lot of implicit highway switching that only confused us. A line such as “follow the overhead signs to the Zurich Flughafen” would have been better! Luckily, the gas station employee told us to get on the transit highway and then just follow the signs to the airport.

This we did and although Zurich was under heavy construction and there was a bit of traffic, we pulled into the airport’s car rental drop off area at around 7:30am. From there we went ahead and got checked in and by the time we got through security, it was time to board. In that way, it was good that we got lost since we didn’t have to sit around and twiddle our thumbs at the busy Zurich airport! However, we didn’t get an opportunity to do any gift shopping, which we decided to leave for when we were on our way back.

The flight to Paris was uneventful and lasted only about 45 minutes. We then reached the mess that is known as the Charles de Gaulle Airport and quickly whisked ourselves away to the train station. This is when the French really get you. I had done some reading up before of how the Paris public transportation/railway system works. There are three companies with stakes: SNCF (the national rail network), RER (a local rail network that also operates medium- and long-distance trains) and the local metro. To complicate matters further, it appears that you can use tickets interchangeably on 2 of the 3, sometimes. Yup, must have been designed by a Frenchman!

Anyways, we found the TGV counter and bought ourselves a ticket to Strasbourg, which is where we had decided to go to first. We had about an hour to kill before the train got there and then a journey of about 2 hours on the TGV. Traveling on the TGV was a pretty sweet experience as it was a pretty superfast train. After staring at the blurred scenery outside for a few minutes, I picked up the book I had bought in the Mumbai airport, the latest Lee Child book, and settled down. My Dad did get a little impatient and bought some wine and snacks from the kitchen car, but that was the only eventful thing that happened on the train ride.

Once we reached Strasbourg, we had to take the trams to get to our hotel, which was the Holiday Inn. I had looked up the station/trams we would have to take earlier, in Luzern, so we didn’t have any trouble finding our way. The tram system in Strasbourg was pretty efficient and we got to our hotel in about 15 minutes and checked in. We had taken an Executive Room, which basically meant we had free internet, as well as several little gifts throughout the day in the form of complimentary bottles of water, chocolates and whatnot. The receptionist was kind enough to provide some tourism information to my father while my Mom and I lazed in our room, so we got an idea of what to see and do in Strasbourg, apart from that which we had already researched.

After freshening up, we headed back to the city center using the trams by way of a trio ticket, which was a lot cheaper and allowed us to travel unlimited for a period of 24 hours (not like anyone checked tickets, anyway). Once we reached the main central station—Homme de Fer—we set out in search for the Cathedrale Notre Dame, with our map in hand. We were able to find it at around 7.30pm, which was unfortunately about an hour after it closed, so we had to make do with taking photos of it from the outside. It was a pretty spectacular structure, and we also noted that there was going to be light show there starting at 10pm. We thus quickly made plans to come back there after dinner.


Can you believe how blue that sky is?


It was so big it had to be photographed from many locations

Next, we headed to the river, which featured a “cruise” that would take us around the canals of Strasbourg and provide us a view from the boats of the many buildings that people came to see there. We booked our tickets for the 8pm boat, which was an open-air boat, and then hunted around for dinner. We had a faux start with dinner since we sat down at a place near the river only to realize that there would be no way that we would be able to complete the meal without missing our boat cruise. So we quickly abandoned that idea and my parents settled for a crêpe each while I decided to go ahead and wait for dinner.

Once we got on the boat, we had great photo opportunities. The Strasbourg canal system is pretty good at showing one all the places around, and it is also interestingly designed. They have “lock-gates” all over the place where there is an area for the boat, and the water level is adjusted such that the boat goes up or down about 2 meters. It’s hard to describe and unfortunately I didn’t take any photos so you’re just going to have to ask me to describe it to you in person if you are really interested! Along the way, we also saw a bridge that simply rotated away to allow for the boat to pass. The main sightseeing from the boat, though, was the Petite France area. I don’t know what the point of this area was, or why it was named as such. My Mom says it is because the buildings/architecture is in the “French style” but I wonder why you need such a region in France itself! I suppose it is because Strasbourg had its share of inhabitants from different countries (such as Germany) over the years.


One of the many buildings we saw on the boat ride


Sweet-looking church


Torture tower where prisoners were kept

After the boat ride, we made it just in time for the light show at the Cathedrale Notre Dame and thus decided to eat dinner there itself. Unfortunately, my camera produced an epic fail at capturing the light show, so you will have to make do with these poor photographs. The light show basically involved playing classical music accompanied by lights that highlighted different features of the Cathedrale’s carvings. Each of my parents took turns getting photos and videos of the show, so maybe I can enhance this blog with one of those sometime in the future (probably not!).


A blurry look at the Cathedrale Notre Dame light show

With the light show done and it finally becoming dark instead of twilight-y we decided to head back to the hotel. We took the same tram route and hit a minor speedbump with our connecting train, since it stopped two stops ahead of the one we needed to go to because of maintenance. Luckily, Strasbourg had metro buses arranged that followed the same route as the tram and thus we were able to get back to our hotel without too much issue. Once we got back there, I did some more reading on my book and then we crashed, tired from all the different modes of transportation we had used that day!

eurotrippin’ in switzerland (day 4)

On our last day in Luzern and Switzerland, we decided to be tourists on foot instead of doing one of the pre-packaged tours. After having another hearty breakfast, we set off in the same direction as we had on the previous days—towards the old city. This time we had brought our cameras with us and got some good photographs of the lake/canals/bridges and buildings. There were also a lot of swans around, a few of them still asleep from the previous night, which we also photographed. I think we had lunch somewhere there, as well, but since none of us was that hungry, it wasn’t too memorable a meal.


A building…


Admiring herself in one of those distorting mirrors


Too early in the morning for this swan

After ambling around old city, we walked back to our hotel and left in the other direction. Map in hand, we were aiming to find “green”, which is how my Mom described large, green expanses in the map, which appeared to be parks. We followed the map pretty well, but it seemed that to get to the “green” we would have to climb up quite a steep incline. This idea was quickly abandoned, and we instead crossed over and walked on the lakeside. This time we were heading for a beach, whose name I have unfortunately forgotten, and on the way we saw many pretty houses that I did not photograph.

We walked about halfway to the beach before getting tired and heading back. On the way back we again stopped and sat near the lakeside, where there was a nice breeze (unlike everywhere else in Luzern!) which helped counter the heat. There were preparations going on for some music festival in the lakeside, and hence it was getting pretty busy. It appears that Heineken is the beer of choice for the Swiss, as this festival seemed to be entirely sponsored by them.

Finally, we headed back to our hotel, where we decided to have dinner. Everyone was tired from the day’s walking, but the food managed to revitalize us. I ordered a grilled chicken with a homemade lemon butter with a side of fries, my Dad ordered some sort of salad (which in Europe appear to be huge) and my Mom ordered a fish dish with a side of potatoes. The meal was pretty delicious and was a nice goodbye to Switzerland.


Man do I have a good choice in food!


I think there is salmon or some other fish hiding there, somewhere…


Choosing to be “healthy” with a salad

Once the meal was done and signed for, we went over to the reception and checked out, as we were going to be heading out early the next morning (as early as 5:45am to counter the traffic and the fact that we didn’t know the exact directions to the Zurich airport). We figured out all the details, such as when to bring the car out and where to drop off the key, and then paid and went back to our room. After having pieces of the various chocolates we had purchased, we finally rested our eyes in preparation for the, what turned out to be, long drive the next day.

eurotrippin’ in switzerland (day 3)

Day 3 began as Days 1 and 2 hadn’t—sleeping in. Instead of waking up to the first of many hours of Swiss sunshine, all three of us decided to skip the early bird routine and wake up late. As a result, by the time we were awake, we just about had enough time to make it to the complimentary breakfast that was provided by the Hotel Rebstock (which ran till 11am).

Breakfast consisted of mostly the same things that were available in Wilderswil, in addition to fresh(ish) eggs. There was a full-time “egg cooker”-slash-everything-else-do-er who was preparing eggs and adding them to a serving area. If you were quick enough to place your plate before the serving area, you would get a fresh serving of eggs. There were omelettes, fried eggs and scrambled eggs as well as fried sausages. The breakfast was probably better than the one available at Hotel Baeren.

Once we were done with breakfast, the parents decided to take a walk outside (this was mainly my Dad wanting to go out for a walk, then guilt-tripping my mom and failing to guilt-trip me). As a result, I had to stay in the room (which had to be locked from the inside) till they returned while doing nothing. The hotel had free wireless in the library, which was a room complete with an internet-connected laptop that had an absolutely unusable European keyboard. Luckily, the room had wireless as well (in fact the whole hotel, apart from our 13th century room, did) so I was able to use the internet on my iPod touch. By the way, it is sad if a keyboard is unversatile enough that I prefer an iPod touch to it.

After mucking about on the internet, checking email and Racing Live, and various other useless social networks, I grudgingly headed up to the room and waited. Swiss television isn’t anything to write home about, which is something I figured out during the next 30 minutes. Finally, the parents returned with gifts in tow, where gifts consisted of shopping for themselves. J I think there was some chocolate, but the main focus was a small cuckoo clock with Swiss elements on it. As we have found out since, the clock chimes “Cuckoo! (cuckoo)” (the parentheses indicate an “echo” effect) every hour much like a normal cuckoo clock and it is as annoying as a normal one, as well. =D

Once the parents returned from the shopping expedition, we decided to go ahead and do the Mount Pilatus tour. The recommended way of doing the Mount Pilatus tour is to take a boat to the bottom of Mount Pilatus (a place called Alpnachstad), followed by a “cog-wheel train” up to the summit itself. The descent should be made by gondola and then by cable car, finally culminated with a bus trip back to town. This way, one gets to experience all the different facets of the Swiss transportation system contained within the Luzern area.

The happy tourists that we were, we decided to go on this suggested itinerary. The boat trip was fun, as you can see from the following photos, as we were able to look at the various different mountains/mountains with houses along the way. The boat did have an (expensive) bar, for those who got bored, since the trip was about 90 minutes in length. Once we reached Alpnachstad, we hurried through the subways to the cogwheel train station, where we were instantly duped by a tour group who ended up taking two whole trains to themselves. The rest of us got on the third train and were on our way.


On the boat, on the way to Alpnachstad… that church in the background is the one near our hotel


The reason behind those grimacing faces is the heat!


One of the many beautiful views available on route to Alpnachstad

Let me explain to you what a cogwheel train is, for those of you who, like me, have no idea what it is. It is basically one of those angled trains (so that the seats aren’t perpendicular to the slope of the ground) that is basically made so that you can go up inclined paths safely. There are all sorts of “cogs” on the track so that no slippages occur. The train was known as “the world’s steepest cog-wheel rail” at “48%” which I can only assume to be “48% vertical”. My parents deduced it to be “48 degrees”. With the Europeans strange decisions about manipulating numbering systems, I don’t know which it was… but it was pretty steep.

There were some spectacular views provided along the way, of which I didn’t capture any because I happened to be seated in the middle of an 8-compartment box. Once we got to the top, there were a lot of trails to explore, of which we decided to go through one, which took us through a little cave. The cave offered some awesome locations for photos, of which I will leave you with some:


The view from a cave in Mt. Pilatus


A different angle from the same cave


A peek at the peaks!

So, the emblem for the Mount Pilatus tourist trip was a dragon and it turns out it wasn’t just some random mythical creature. There is a whole backstory behind the Pilatus mountain range, involving  humans and dragons and the latter protecting a member of our species. There were signboards throughout our mini trail (which was supposed to last 5 minutes but took more like 35) talking about the story. My Mom read the first few out loud before getting bored. We took a lot of photo s and debated going to one of the highest points before my mother announced that there were far too many steps. So we instead retreated to a restaurant (we carefully avoided the self-service option, here) where we had lunch.

This time I went with a rosti containing chicken, my Dad went with one containing ham and my Mom went with the unexciting dish known as “fish and chips”. I also had a local brew (Eichhof Lager) whereas my parents went with wine. The meal was pretty tasty and the highlight was probably the electronic ordering system wherein the lady punched our order in and our drinks were delivered to our table within a couple of minutes. It was pretty sweet, to be honest.


I thought this was a pretty sweet look at the bottle of beer


My choice of nourishment–ham rosti


Mom chose to enjoy Fish ‘n’ Chips atop a Swiss mountain…


Dad chose a slightly more German dish–Sausage with Rosti


These yellow-beaked crows were aggressive scavengers!

There were a ton of crows around, to be absolutely honest. The same, yellow-beaked, variety that we had seen while heading to Jungfraujoch. Except these guys were aggressive. My Mom made the mistake of tossing a few French fries on the ground, which instantly attracted a whole bunch of them crows. By the time we were finished, there was a whole squadron squirming to attack our leftovers, which they did, once we got up, before the waitress attacked them and scared them away (probably temporarily).

Once done with lunch, we were filthy tired, as well as sleepy (siesta, anyone?) so we decided to go ahead and head back to town. Our route this time consisted of a gondola (a large-ish cable car) followed by a personalized cable car for just the three of us. This offered us some great views, especially of cows munching on grass. Once we got to the bottom, we had to walk about a kilometer to get to a bus-stop that took us to the train station from where we walked back to our hotel. We did stop by in the kiosk at the train station to purchase a Swiss wine (forgot the type now, sorry). We also purchased two large bottles of water that later turned out to be aerated water (ugh). Turns out that the Swiss (and the French, too) sell three types of water: Natural (normal water), Eau Légère (semi-aerated water) and Eau Avec Gaz (normal aerated water). We learnt our mistake by buying the second. We also bought a few bars of Toblerone, which made up for our folly.

After having a cup of coffee outside our hotel and freshening up, we headed out to the old city, where my parents had purchased their cuckoo clock earlier, in search for dinner. My memory fails me as to what we did for dinner that evening, but I do remember finally settling for a restaurant in the middle of the old city. Once we were done with dinner, I think we headed back to our hotel and chilled on the edge of the lake (which was but a few thrown stones away from our hotel). Thus ended our last day of serious sight-seeing in Switzerland.

eurotrippin’ in switzerland (day 2)

After our naps the previous afternoon and a refreshing night of sleep, we were up on day 2 at around 8.30 in the morning and ready for breakfast, which was provided complimentary. Breakfast consisted of several items, including cereal, milk, tea, several different types of bread loaves (which we had to cut ourselves), cheese and butter of many different types, fruits, cold cut meat slices and 4 different types of yoghurt. In short, plenty of stuff to stuff ourselves with. After eating breakfast, we decided to check out of the hotel and leave our bags there, and then take the trains to Jungfraujoch–the “Top of Europe”.

We reached the train station at a brisk jog, reaching just about 10 minutes before the train was due to arrive. We were able to hit the ticket counter before the crowd grew (by the time we had paid for our tickets, the ticketing room was full) and then waited for the train to arrive. Our route would take us from Wilderswil to Lauterbrunnen, from where we would take a separate train to Kleinescheidegg. From there, we would take the Jungfrau Mountain Railways to the Jungfraujoch station. In all, the journey took something like 2.5- 3 hours each way!


A view of Jungfraujoch from the Kleinescheidegg station


The path taken by Jungfrau Mountain Railways to get to the top


The crows in Switzerland were all yellow-beaked

The ride from Kleinescheidegg to Jungfraujoch stopped at two or three viewing posts on the way, as we got progressively higher. I don’t remember the names of these posts, but we had only 5 minutes at each station hence a lot of time was spent running around lest we missed the train. Compounding this was the fact that we kept leaving our bags on the train so taking the next train wasn’t an option. 😛 We got our first look at the glaciers there, as the following photo shows.


The view of the glaciers from one of the “scenic stops”

After we reached the top, there were several choices of what we could do. There were several locations to view the glaciers, a place where we could actually step out onto the mountain, a “snow lift” or something like that that would take us up to the highest point at Jungfraujoch, an ice “palace” or food. We obviously chose food since it was already about 2pm! We got in the self-serve line and grabbed some unmemorable grub. My Dad and I both had a German-style sausage with beer and my Mom, with it being Monday, had a salad and the “vegetarian plate” which was apparently not very good. Anyhow, the purpose of eating was to fill us up so we could explore the actual place!


The view of the mountain from the station

We visited the “ice palace” first, which was essentially a cave in the ice with various ice sculptures around. It was extremely cold and slippery and it took us a while to convince my mother to enter it. Once we were in, it was fun viewing all the different sculptures in there, but the extreme cold forced us to get out of there as quickly as we could!


Sculpture of a bear with its baby


Proof that my parents were at the Top of Europe!


An E.U. mouse doll frozen in a rectangular prism of ice

After we were done with the ice palace, we took the elevator to the next floor, which dropped us off exactly at the location where we could step out onto the mountain. Interestingly, the snowy mountain-top was a good deal warmer than the ice cave, because we were in direct sunlight since there were no clouds. In fact, it was so warm that the ice had started melting and really getting our shoes wet. That didn’t stop me from grasping the opportunity to pelt my Mom with a couple of snowballs. 😛 The views were absolutely breathtaking. I think when it comes to pretty landscapes, nothing can beat the snow-peaked mountain.


The view from outside… that railing wasn’t helpful in stopping one from falling down!


Another direction… the snow looks so smooth but I bet sliding down it wouldn’t be fun


That’s me in the white hat in the center of the image

After we were done with our little foray into the snowy parts, we came back in and warmed up a bit before heading downstairs. It was starting to get late, considering the 2.5 hour journey in front of us to get back to Interlaken, followed by the anticipated hour drive to Luzern. Hence, we skipped the trip to the top of Jungfraujoch and instead headed back to the train station to prepare for our departure. On the way back, we went through Grindelwald (instead of Lauterbrunnen) since the proprieter of Hotel Baeren as well as the railway travel clerk had suggested we do it so we completed a circle of the Jungfrau region. However, the sun had started coming out and with no air conditioners, none of us were interested in leaving the train to admire Grindelwald. Hence, we simply swapped trains and came back to Wilderswil. At Wilderswil we loaded up our car, said goodbye to Hotel Baeren and were on our way to Luzern!

Luzern (spelled Lucerne in French) in Switzerland is also a pretty touristy spot and also features a lake–Lake Luzern. The directions for the drive to our hotel were provided by Google Maps again, and they worked really well until we reached the city of Luzern. Once we reached, we had no idea where to go. Unfortunately, the roads in a real city (Interlaken/Wilderswil were nothing but little towns) were a lot more complicated and in Switzerland, there were a ton of little roads and lanes all over the place. Not to mention that there was a dedicated bicycle lane which added to the already confusing lines and stripes on the ground.

To cut a long story short, we got lost. We reached Luzern in about 1 hour and it took us about an hour more just to find our hotel. Turns out it was on a street that seemed inaccessible and even if the maps had given us meter-by-meter directions (which is close to what it had done) we wouldn’t have been able to reach. In the end, it took me walking to the hotel and getting exact directions to get there. Once we got there, it was great. The hotel–Hotel Rebstock–was set at the base of a beautiful church. Our room was supposedly in a part of the building that had been built in the 1200’s. I didn’t get any photos of the hotel, unfortunately…

Once we reached the hotel, we freshened up a bit and then headed out for a walk around Luzern. We walked along the lakeside all the way to the train station where we crossed the road and started looking for dinner. We ended up finding dinner alongside one of the smaller creeks/canals that led into the lake that we later found out was known as “Old Town”. Unfortunately, what we ate for dinner has fallen out of my memory range. 😛 But I’m sure it was delicious and expensive! After dinner we walked back to our hotel and crashed for the night, picking up brochures for Luzern to study and plan for the next two days.

eurotrippin’ in switzerland (day 1)

So I decided to finally blog about my trip to Europe. It’s been 2 days since I’ve been back but after the frustration of having to upload photos in batches of 20 at a time because of the crappy internet here, I decided to take a break from thinking about the trip. Anyways, now I’ve quit the laziness and decided to write all the stuff down before I completely forget it. I’ve also decided to (and in fact executed already) upload the photos to Facebook instead of to this site. That way I don’t have to worry about diskspace. I’ve also decided to create a Travel category, which is a silly decision because I won’t be traveling too much from this moment on… Anyhows, enough formalities!

Our flight from Mumbai was straight to Zurich and left at around 12:50am. We decided to get to the airport early and have dinner there itself, since there have been a slew of development in the food options there. As it happened, they had a fully functional food court as well as a restaurant that was sponsored by IIFA (an Indian film institution of some sort). The dinner there was over two weeks back, so I have no recollection of what it actually was… but it was good! We had overestimated Bombay traffic by a country mile, though, so we ended up spending quite a bit of time waiting for our flight.

Day 1 – Interlaken/Wilderswil

At Zurich, we arrived and after picking up our bags looked for the rental car counter. Upon finding it, we started asking companies for cars, only to be met with rejections. Apparently it’s hard to get a car in Zurich for 4 days on a Sunday morning at 7:00am. This brings me to my first tip:

EuroTip 1: If you’re renting a car, book in advance. The rates are better as is the availability.

We ended up renting a satisfactorily comfortable car–a Renault Clio–for an overly inflated price of around 410 CHF (that’s Swiss Franc to you). The car was good, even though it was French. (jokes!!) We decided not to go with the GPS option as we headed out to Interlaken using directions we had printed out from Google Maps in Mumbai. I was the navigator and my Dad was the driver. My mom was the pre-elected backseat driver but she didn’t do her job and took photos instead. It worked out for the best for everybody!

After a false start wherein we pulled into a gas station and wondered how to get on the highway, we were off. The highways in Switzerland were quite awesome and the speed limit max’ed out at 120 kmph. Most cars were going a lot faster, though, so we decided to stick to the rightmost lane. My Dad was forced to learn the task of driving in a left-hand-drive, driving on the right side of the road with a stick shift (aka hands switched). A strenuous task considering that most recently he’s only driven on the left side of the road in the right side of the car with automatic transmission. He adjusted well, though, and the fact that we didn’t have to switch too many gears because of the nice highway system, was also good.

We reached Interlaken in good time and then got lost in Wilderswil, the small township where our hotel was located. As it happened, we just overdrove and missed it on the side, but found it on the way back. The hotel was a small inn-like hotel that seemed to be a family business. It had a restaurant on the lowest floor, then the reception and finally rooms on the next 2-3 floors. Our room was thankfully on the first floor, but we still had to carry bags up at least one flight of stairs. The doorboards were squeaky. The hotel was called Hotel Baeren, or “The Bear Inn”. Accordingly, there were several stuffed bears all over the place. Here are some photos of the hotel:


A few of the bears that welcomed us


An old-school typewriter

Unfortunately, we made time a little too well for our own good and ended up reaching Wilderswil about 2 hours before check-in time. So we walked around the area and got a feel for the places around. We also warmed up our camera lenses a bit. There were a view views of Jungfraujoch, the “Top of Europe” mountain-range available, but the cloudy skies didn’t create enough contrast for a decent photograph. We made our way all the way to the rail station, which was about 1.5km away, I’d say, and then headed back. There was still about 30 minutes to go before check-in time but this time the person at the reception, who seemed to be the owner of the inn, said our room was ready and showed us to it. We put our bags in and decided to have lunch at the inn.

The food was scrumptious, although a bit pricey, but this was something that we’d get used to in Europe. I ordered a wiener-schnitzel, my Dad ordered a pasta of some sort and my Mom ordered a rösti dish with chicken in mushroom sauce. I think that meal ended up being one of our favourites of the whole trip. Beverages were in the form of wine and beer (a local brew, known as Rugenbrau). Overall, it was a good start to the trip. We came back to the room and all took a nap from the exhaustion of a decent drive and a long flight trip and walking.

In the evening, the hunt for coffee/tea was on as well as the search for the actual city we were planning to visit: Interlaken. We had decided to stay only one night near Interlaken since most of the fun stuff there was for adventurous folks (paragliding, bungee jumping, river rafting, etc.) which we clearly were not a subset of. We got ad-hoc directions from the proprietor and set off in our car, only to get lost in about 10 minutes. Or rather, we thought we were lost whereas we were actually on the right track. Anyhow, safety prevailed and we drove back to the hotel and parked round the back, and then approached the train station and bought tickets to Interlaken there. This brings me to another tip.

EuroTip 2: If you’re driving in a foreign country with lots of changes from routine, consider getting a GPS navigation device. Local transportation in Europe maybe great, but it’s also pricey.

We found our way to Interlaken on a roundtrip ticket and then walked from the train station towards the city and the Thun lake (or maybe it was the Kriens lake… don’t remember). On the way, the many maps we passed confirmed that we had in fact been heading in the right direction. In fact, it was the shortcut from the owner of the inn that caused us to doubt our route.  Right across the train station there was a beautiful little cove/pier (I don’t know anything about nautical terms for shores) across from one of the lakes. There was a coffee shop there and we decided to end our quest for coffee and had a drink there. I had a Cafe Macchiato which came complimentary with a delicious little piece of Swiss chocolate:


Yummy Cafe Macchiato which my Mom kept referring to as “cold”, although it was warm

After replenishing our caffeine levels, we started walking towards town. On the way there we passed a small kiosk and purchased water, ice cream (for the parents) and a large pack of Maltesers for myself. Ooh, I think Maltesers are one of the finest chocolates invented. I was so busy eating them that I couldn’t take a photo. Oops. On the way to town we passed (among other things) a Japanese garden, several parks and several breathtaking views of the Jungfraujoch mountain range and the two lakes. We also saw many, many dogs. Apparently dogs are the national animals of Switzerland, or so it appears. Everyone had a dog. Most had two and some even had three. Not so many children around, though. It was the first place in my life where I saw a no-smoking sign in any sort of establishment accompanied by a dog-allowed or dog-not allowed sign almost everywhere.

The weather was a bit rainy so our pace of walk was brisk, but we had enough time to soak in the atmosphere. Interlaken is a completely tourist town and it seems that it is the destination of choice for Indian tourists. About 80% of the people there looked to be tourists, of which greater than 50% appeared to be of desi descent. In fact, we even passed a sign on the way that was in Hindi! I got my Mom to take a photo of it. Priceless… but I guess it’s the Yash Chopra effect? Anyways, as we walked back, we began to look for dinner options and settled on a place called Des Alpes, which apparently served great pizza. Sadly, I only remembered to take a photo after the pizza was consumed:


This plate contained pizza

We then walked back to the station, took the train back and walked back to our hotel. By the time we reached Hotel Baeren, it was approaching 10pm and the light had just began to fade. Yeah… them Swiss have long summer days and long winter nights, from what I hear. Anyways, despite the nap and the coffee, we were pooped and crashed hard. We decided to go to Jungfraujoch the next day on a relaxed schedule, instead of trying to catch the “Early Bird” special at like 6.45am. ‘Twas a great decision…

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