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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