Geneva – Interlaken (Jungfraujoch) – Lucerne (Mt Titlis) – Zurich-Bern
Recent demise of Mr Yash Chopra got a lot of media attention to Switzerland – his favorite destination to portray romance and seduction, Indian cinema style. He would have his leading ladies dance in chiffon sarees in snow laden Swiss mountains (brrrrrrr) and heroes do a somersault in the lush green hillocks. He captured through his lens, Switzerland’s natural beauty in abundance and enthralled the movie masses with heart-warming stories set in exotic locales. (Most of the times, it was Switzerland). So once upon a time when we used to stay in London, I and my husband decided to experience the beauty of Switzerland on our own.
|Yash Chopra in Switzerland|
Raj asked me, “Have you ever experienced knee deep snow?” “No!” I replied. “Let’s go to Switzerland.” He said. “What? In the peak of winters? Our blood will be crystalized by the time we come back.” I shouted. With a gleam in his eyes, he said, “Let’s plan, make bookings and pack our bags for 23rd”. So, in the hope of having some good time in the harsh weathers of Mount Titlis and Jungfraujoch, we decided to visit Switzerland.
Switzerland has always triggered my imagination, a place like Narnia, a wonderland, where mountains of chocolates and rivers of milk are very much possible. I know, that sounds like a 6 year old chirping away her last night’s dream. But I was excited. After online research, a travel plan was chalked out which covered both Titlis and Jungfraujoch and the major cities in Switzerland. Online hotel bookings were made and we were ready for the tour of a lifetime.
Plan: London -Geneva – Interlaken (Jungfraujoch) – Lucerne (Mt Titlis) – Zurich-Bern- Geneva-London
Time: 23rd to 30th December, 2008 (London is closed for Christmas holidays, followed by Boxing day and New Year, so this was the perfect time for vacation.)
23rd December, Tuesday: Geneva
|Geneva decked up for Christmas|
24th December, Wednesday: Interlaken Day 1
The central train station, Gare Cornavin is a beehive of activity in Geneva. We took a train to Interlaken next morning after check out. We saw little lumps of melted snow when we started from Geneva. Mid-way, we saw snow in its full glory. Trees, mountains, houses, all covered in snow, frozen lakes and little water bodies were dream like. It took around 2 hours to reach Interlaken, a quaint little city located between two Alpine rivers, Brienzsee and Thun. We got down at Interlaken east station and walked down to our hotel. Hotel Bellevue is a vintage property located next to the river Aare. A breathtakingly beautiful place with sumptuous breakfast (it was included in our stay). The room was comforting and our balcony opened next to the river and in the vicinity was a hillock.
|View from our Balcony in Hotel Bellevue|
After some rest we headed out to explore the city. We wanted to visit the St. Beatus Caves – one kilometre of lit limestone caves with stalagmites, but dropped the idea as it was a very cold day. Later we took a train towards Grindelwald the door to the highest mountain peak in Europe. It took us 40 minutes to reach Grindelwald, a snow capped village on the foothill of big mountains. There were ski resorts, hotels, a few pubs, some odd shops selling souvenirs and horse pulled carriages taking people around. The village had an old-world charm that is unforgettable. The train journey itself was mesmerizing with tiny villages appearing after intervals, snowmen built by locals, river flowing beside the train line, mossed-up wooden bridges and trees full of snowflakes - as I imagined, just out of Narnia. We went to the information centre and visited the local history museum. We had heard about Belvédère, one of the priciest hotels in that region located next to the station that has an outdoor salt water Jacuzzi. But we decided to give it a pass in that extreme weather. We walked from Grindelwald to Grund station which is a kilometer apart. On our way, we met smiling strangers; saw neatly cut and cleared snow, houses laden with snowflakes and their backyards full of knee deep snow. Alright! We indulged in a bit of snow ball throwing and tried to have a soft landing on the snow. And then, we realized that the walking shoes that we were wearing weren’t right for snow laden tracks, especially when the snow had grease or petrol over it. I will not like to spill the beans on who had a great fall. We got back to Interlaken late evening.
Next day, we got up early and again took a train to Grindelwald. From Grindelwald, we took a train to Kleine Scheidegg. Kleine Scheidegg is the base camp from where visitors board Jungfraubahn, a cog wheel train service for the continuation of the journey to the highest railway station in Europe at Jungfraujoch. It is also a popular hub for skiing and sledging. When we reached Kleine Scheidegg station, we realized that we were about to experience the first snow storm of our lives. The sky was clouded. Sun played peek-a-boo for a while and then everything went from dark to devilish. Snowflakes with stormy wind felt like shrapnel. We huddled together in one corner of the station to escape the strong wind.
|Kleine Scheidegg station|
The sun gleamed brightly; it blinded me for a while. We reached Jungfraujoch station and proceeded towards the attractions. We saw the Ice Palace, Sphinx observatory and Global Atmosphere Watch's atmospheric research station. Again, we experienced blizzard on the Sphinx deck. At -18 degrees, I felt my teeth chattering, my voice muffled, and my body shivering; even the facial muscles couldn’t react to my expressions. I soothed my brittle nerves with some hot soup and potato fries. We decided to get back to -8 degrees in Kleine Scheidegg where another adventure waited for us. Inspired by our fellow travelers, (most of them were skiers), we decided to try sledging. Intermediate sledging involves use of plastic sledges which has a rope tied to your arm (so that you don’t part ways before getting back the huge deposit).
|Plastic sledges for beginners|
26th December, Friday: Lucerne or Luzerne day 1
Next morning, we checked-out after breakfast and started walking towards the Interlaken west station. It was a beautiful walk as we saw river Aare in its full glory. Bright sun, melting snow, crystal clear water flowing below wooden bridges and fish huddled in one corner then moving away in harmony. We took a train from Interlaken to Lucerne. It took us roughly an hour. Train travel is a scenic marvel and absolutely comfortable. We checked-in to our city center hotel mid-morning. After lunch, we decided to go out and explore the city. The city has a vintage appeal with its half-timber structures across promenade and wooden bridges.
|Lucerne with medival architechture and half-timber bridges|
27th December, Saturday: Lucerne or Luzerne day 2 (Mt Titlis)
We started early morning for Engelberg, which is 40 minutes away by train from Lucerne. Engelberg has the Rotair Cableway or rotating cable car which takes you to Mt Titlis. Three different cable cars took us to the peak. The final one was Rotair. We boarded the rotating gondola which was packed with tourists from around the world. Once again, we were standing out in the crowd as we were not wearing any ski gear and equipment. The cable car gave us a 360 degree view of the glacier as it rotated once during the journey. Eventually we reached the peak.
|Cable cars taking us to the peak of Mt Titlis|
28th December, Sunday: Zurich
|frozen fountain in Zurich|
29th December, Monday: Bern
|Tower clock in Bern|
30th December, Tuesday: Geneva – London
After a lazy morning, we took a train to Geneva. Geneva was engulfed in biting cold waves as it was raining when we reached. We took a flight from Geneva airport and reached London the same evening. While landing, we got a bird’s eye view of the London Millennium Dome which looked pretty interesting with evening lights. Our journey concluded but I still feel excited remembering those moments spent in Switzerland – as some say – the heaven on earth.