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.

back in mangoland

A lot has happened since my last post. In particular, I’ve graduated. Wheeeee. But let me go through all the events in approximate order.

Graduation

It has been exactly one week since I graduated (except if you are anal enough to look at time differences, in which case I’m probably about 11.5 hours short). Graduation was fun. Although I discovered new sweat glands in my body thanks to the beautiful Houston heat and humidity, it was worth it. The speaker was quite interesting although the choice of topic was kind of questionable given the event that the was going on. I’m all for gender equality, but I’m not sure how it was the most relevant topic to be giving at a commencement, where there are people of both sexes graduating. Additionally, given the current world climate economically, politically and environmentally, I feel like a much more appropriate speaker could have been chosen. Anyways, I’m not one to sulk abotu who spoke at my graduation so that’s that.

After graduation I participated minorly in the photo-taking dealio and then had to rush back to my room to pack. I pretty much had to pack all the clothes I was going to be bringing back to Bombay as well as all the little remaining things that hadn’t been packed (such as toiletries, etc.). Once packing was done, my uncle drove me to my storage room and I put everything in there. Finally I dropped off my guitar at Alice’s apartment and said bye for the first time (haha).

Post-Graduation Festivities

Post-graduation dinner was had with Tweety’s family at a Thai restaurant near the hotel my family was staying at. The food and wine was pretty good and it was a fun dinner as we recounted not only our days at Rice, but our parents’ days at college together. After dinner we went our separate ways and I fell asleep around 11:00pm out of pure exhaustion of the days activities! Also we were going to wake up the next day to leave for Canyon Lake at 8am, so we needed to go to sleep early.

The drive out to Canyon Lake took about 3 and a half hours. The four “kids” ended up housing up at the Holiday Lodge, which was about a 3-minute incline walk away from where my parents and uncle and Aunt were staying, at a treehouse of some sort. The first day, after all the driving, did not feature any non-lazy activities as everyone pretty much crashed and napped. We did go out to dinner to a BBQ restaurant called Cooper’s Old-Time BBQ, which was about 25 minutes away from our lodging. The food was delicious, but I think I preferred the Rudy’s we had when we went tubing a couple of weeks back. The rest of that Sunday was pretty nondescript.

On Saturday it was decided to sleep in late and then head out tubing on the Comal River. Luckily I had done this with my friends a couple of weeks back, since without my “expertise” we would have been quite lost. We rented the tubes out from Corner Tubes again and then went on the river. It took most people quite a lot of time to figure out how to maneuvre the tubes. I think my mom still doesn’t know how to do it. =P Once we finally got a hang of it, we went down the first chute. That is where the first problems began. My cousin went down the chute without his tube because he fell out of it just before going there. Luckily he was not (too) injured from that, and someone had held on to his tube at the other end. I got stuck in that current again and had to climb out and walk myself past the current which kept pulling me back.

The next issue was the second chute (the one near the dam). My mom ended up going over the dam instead of through the chute, just as the guy at Corner Tubes had told us not to do. So she fell out of her tube and waded her way to the side, while someone managed to recover her tube. Meanwhile, a bunch of the others were around the side waiting before entering that second chute because the first one had been so aggressive. I quelled those fears and we finally went through the second chute, although my cousin ended up ramming his foot into the poorly placed rock in the middle of that chute. Thankfully it wasn’t anything really bad.

The current was a lot faster than it had been last time I was there, so our group ended up becoming quite split up. My mom and uncle ended up taking the lead without wanting to. There were a few sour feelings there, but they managed to hang on to a few trees and wait for us. After the third chute, and waiting for Sunil to catch up with us, we finally floated the last 45-odd minutes of the river together. That was most relaxing and as my aunt said, it would have been nice if the whole river had been like that. Hope you’re taking notes, Mother Nature! 😛

The next, and possibly worst, issue was at the end. The current was pretty fast and the designers of the floating system were probably not using their heads when they decided to put the last public exit in one of the deeper sections of the river. What ends up happening is people need to hope to float to the left to take the exit, and if they miss it, they are at the mercy of the river, since they can’t walk back given that the river is so deep at that point. Only 4 of our group of 8 managed to hit the actual exit. I had to swim after Sunil and push him to the side and then do the same thing with my cousin. My uncle, meanwhile, had meandered off to the other side of the river and his tube had overturned. I swam across the river and against the current to get to him, at which point he had recovered his tube and I was nearly out of breath. We then waited for our shuttle driver to swing in to business. He swam against the current and recovered the people who had over-floated to the left and he then swam across the river and pushed my uncle’s tube (with him in it) to the other side. I swam across, having swum a lot more than I have this whole year! I guess the important thing to remember is that we all survived. 🙂 It was kind of an adventurous trip in the end, and we have the battle scars to show for it (mine are in the form of sunburns :().

We decided to then drive down to the closest winery since it was almost time for them to close. The winery we selected was the Dry Comal Creek Winery and Vineyard, and it was tended to by a sweet, old woman. Unfortunately winery tours were only held on the weekend (we were there on a Monday) so instead we decided to do a wine tasting. My dad and I tasted all 12 of their wines and their sangria whereas other members of our party tasted subsets of those. We ended up buying a bottle of their Unoaked Cabernet Sauvignon, which has made its way back to India because of full stomachs!

Dinner that night was home-made pork burgers courtesy of my uncle and aunt (and garden burgers for the vegetarians courtesy of the supermarket that prepared them). My uncle grilled the burgers and we ended up eating indoors in the treehouse because the mosquitoes scared us away. After dinner we talked and finally the four “kids” headed down to the Lodge for the night. My sister and her husband finished their packing (they were driving to San Antonio to fly out early next morning).

On Tuesday, we drove to San Marcos to complete the shopping portion of the trip. I didn’t buy much so I don’t have much to say. But my cousin and mother went a little bit crazy, since my cousin was buying stuff for his wife’s family and had to make a good impression. 🙂 I hung out with my uncle and dad, who ended up window-shopping in some of the more expensive stores, hence the lack of wallet-opening. After San Marcos we drove back to Houston and had a very delicious dinner at Pappadeaux. I then watched parts of the Rockets being blown out by the Lakers (we ended up losing by 40 points) and trying to make plans with my friends for the next day.

My aunt and uncle and parents left the next day. For dinner I met up with a few friends at Two Rows in the Rice Village. We took advantage of the $1 beers and I had a scrumptious grilled tilapia for dinner. Afterwards we drove to Amy’s Ice Cream for dessert and finally I was dropped off to my hotel near the airport by Tweety. It was nice seeing my close friends before leaving, one last time.

Traveling

Thursday was travel day for me. I, surprisingly, managed to wake up just in time for the free breakfast and helped myself to some cereal and juice. After that I went back to my room and showered and completed all final packing. At 11 am I checked out of the hotel and took the shuttle to the airport. There, I checked in and got past security relatively quickly and camped out at my gate for about 2 and a half hours. I spent the time listening to music and watching Pyar Ke Side Effects on my iPod since I had forgotten how the movie went. The flight was about 15-20 minutes late because of “maintenance” but it took off eventually and reached just a bit behind schedule in Paris. The Houston-Paris flight was pretty packed and did not feature a video-on-demand system. I ended up watching 3 episodes of House and The Tale of Desperaux during my flight. Apart from that I napped and listened to music.

We then reached Paris and I was exposed for the first time to the confusion that is the Charles de Gaulle (CDG) Airport. After seeing the mess of organization that is somewhat characteristically French (:P), I realized why it is that while flying through Paris my bags always get lost (sample size = 1). There are something like 7 terminals and they are named as follows: 1, 2A, 2B, 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F. I don’t know why terminal 1 got shafted as such. Must be a French thing. The only way to travel between terminals is by a shuttle bus that does not seem to operate on any specific schedule or order. You would think that if you got on the bus at Terminal 2A, it would circuit through the airport in order (2B, 2C, …). Instead, this bus went to 2C, then 2F, then skipped 2D and went to 2E, then to 2B and finally to 2C. I only assume that it visited 2D after.

Once we finally reached the terminal, the airport was pretty busy and messy. I didn’t have that much time to spend at the gate, luckily, since the shuttle bus took so long to operate. By the time I used the bathroom and came back out, the flight had “boarded”. Boarding involved stuffing everyone on the flight into one more of the shuttle buses, this time commissioned to take us to our flight. They stuffed and stuffed and stuffed the bus until we were packed so tightly like sardines that even if the bus braked abruptly, no one would fall. As it happened, the bus did brake abruptly on the trip and the theory checked out okay. What was even more ludicrous is that the ground staff realized, finally, that 2 buses would be needed. The second bus brought something like 10 people.

The bus then proceeded to drive to our flight, which seemed to be parked outside the airport or something. It took a good 20 minutes to reach it. I think it was parked near what would be the soon-to-cause-even-more-confusion Terminal 2G. Or maybe they would create a Terminal 3 or something. Who knows how these French people make decisions?!

I complain a lot but once we finally got on the plane (it was a really old Airbus A320) things improved. The flight was at something like 30% capacity, probably because the rest of the world realizes CDG isn’t the best airport to transit through and because of Air France’s poor reputation. I didn’t complain, though, and thought the service was actually a LOT better than airlines such as Continental and Air India. We actually got a menu card asking us to choose what we wanted to eat! We were served complimentary beverages, including wine, beer and even champagne. Take notes, Continental! Although I suppose that is why Air France is probably going out of business…

I took the liberty to occupy one of the middle rows of 4 seats since they were empty and hence was able to stretch out quite a bit. While eating dinner I watched Dostana on the video-on-demand system and then started reading the book I bought, Persuader by Lee Child. Still haven’t finished that up so I will discuss it in a separate entry. After that I slept for about 6 hours straight and woke up just in time to eat “breakfast”. The flight landed about 30 minutes behind schedule at about 12:15am. I breezed through swine flu checkup, immigration and customs since the airport wasn’t busy yet and also because my parents had flown with my checked baggage so I was traveling with just a backpack. By the time I got home it was about 1:15am and the TV wasn’t working so I entertained myself online by checking email and Facebook and the like. I finally fell asleep around 2:30 or 3:00am and slept lightly till about 8:30am. Let’s see how I tackle the jetlag today!

Today my mom and I went and ordered a pair of glasses (since she lost my old pair in the packing and moving confusion). We also stopped by at a grocery store on the way back and bought MANGOES! I am happy and am looking forward to sinking my teeth into that tasty deliciousness. We also bought ingredients for tiramisu. Well, kind of. We couldn’t locate ladyfingers so we substituted it with an Italian Puff Pastry biscuit thing of some sort. If it doesn’t work we may attempt to make ladyfingers from scratch. But at some point I’ll be making tiramisu again. Hopefully it’ll go well! (I’ll take photos for you, Alice. :))

That’s all for now. I think I’m about to inherit two used cameras (one digital and one really old Canon) from my parents so I’m going to go play with them now. And proceed to take photos of my mangoes. Mmmmmmmmmmmm.