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 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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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.