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Swiss Trip - Boxed in!!!
It all starts where it ends...

Date: 2007-05-10 15:23
Subject: Swiss Trip
Security: Public
Tags:destinations, picture post, travel
They say the life of an average Indian is incomplete without a trip to the upper middle-class Indian vacationer's mecca, Switzerland.

Though three days in the Swiss Alps is just the tip of the iceberg, as friendly German teenagers in Swiss-rail compartment were quick to observe, this trip was, a real pure natural high as long as it lasted.

As usual, weeks before the trip, I was bogged down with maps and excel sheets and frommers.com. So many mountains, so less time! Finally zeroed in on Mt. Pilatus as opposed to the more popular Mt. Titlis with highly advertised revolving cable cars, the must-visit: Rooftop of Europe and finally, a bit of Zürich, Lucerne and final stop at the falls of the Rhine, Europe’s largest.

A morning arrival at Zürich airport and we set off to grab our youth passes for Swiss-rail, and hurriedly hopped onto the next connection.

Destination Lucerne : Light showers welcomed us to this quaint old city. Took the bus from Lucerne to Kriens, which was painfully slow and an initial mood wetter (literally!). Finally at Kriens, boarded the aerial panorama gondola. The fresh scent of forest vegetation and cowbells in the air revived spirits tenfold. Completed an ascent to Fräkmüntegg, also Central Switzerland's largest rope park, and featuring Switzerland's longest summer toboggan run of 1350 meters. We then moved to a closed larger gondola at this point. As we gained altitude, soft snowfall bathed the slope and ascent to Pilatus Kulm of 2132 meters, also known as the Dragon mountain.

Legend has it that the peak has been possessed by none other that the ghost of Roman governor Pontius Pilate, hence the name. Visited a few souvenir stores, checked out the viewpoints, and began descent to Alpnachstad, on the world's steepest cogwheel railway. Riding this very near to vertical mountain train was breathtaking, all the while getting a closer view at alpine vegetation and snow covered rock faces, with a sheer panoramic drop on the other end! Slowly chugging down, arrived at the vantage point at Alpnachstad, overlooking the picturesque Lake Lucerne.

The plan was to cover the return trip to Lucerne by boat, a slow idyllic two hour slice of paradise. Had a late lunch of spaghetti in the boat dining car, with a setting of various hues of green and blue. At the sides of the lake, strategically positioned summer cottages came into view. At the end of the cruise of the two whole divine hours, docked at the city of Lucerne, and proceeded to check out the old Musegg wall, and a quaint old wooden bridge by it, before hopping again onto Swiss rail and heading to Interlaken where we had our hotel reservations for the night.

The city of Interlaken does not boast of the glacial history of Lucerne or more commercial attractions of Zürich, but has it's own piece of clear blue sky and fresh blooms,  a city hemmed in by two lakes on either side. We roamed the streets of Interlaken, scouring for chocolate and army knives, and detouring ever so often to take in the scenery. At our hotel, we were pleasantly surprised by complimentary coupons for watches from the Kandahar Swiss watch company. Almost immediately, we turned in for the night.

The next morning, after farm fresh eggs and steaming cups of coffee, we set out to conquer the rooftop of Europe, Jungfraujoch. Boarded the Bernese Oberland rail from Interlaken East to Grindelwald. Changed to cogwheel railway here for ascent up to Kleine-Scheidegg, altitude 2061 meters, at the foot of the notorious Eiger North Wall. From here the Jungfrau Railway climbs to the station at Eigergletscher, well known for its mountain restaurant and polar dog kennels. The trip continues through the Eiger tunnel to the stations at Eigerwand and Eismeer, with a five minute halt at each to admire spectacular views right through windows hewn in solid Alpine rock itself.

Jungfraujoch lies in the heart of a glorious glacier world on the very roof of Europe at 3454 mts above sea level. The view from the Sphinx observation hall and terrace extends as far as the summits of the Vosges Mountains in France and the Black Forest in Germany. The Great Aletsch Glacier, at 22 km the longest ice-stream in the Alps, begins on the Jungfraujoch. Among other attractions is also a Ice Palace, with the most intricate carvings and statues of glass, and complete with tunnels and hallways of glistening ice.

On the way down, spent some time again at Kleine-Scheidegg, and this time descended through the other side of the mountain into Lauterbrunnen, which was undoubtedly the most memorable descent of the trip.

The valleys and mountain streams came into view in microscopic detail, the village of Lauterbrunnen viewed from various vantage points was simply breathtaking. We had also planned a trip to the Beatus Caves, a natural wonder of rushing waterfalls through 40,000-year-old stalactite, and the Alpine garden of the Schynige Platte, but had to abandon the same as we were running late.

Back in Interlaken, stopped by for a visit to the Kandahar watch showroom to collect our watches just as it was closing. This little known watch company is more of a family legacy of watch-making, private and non-commercial, and the name has nothing to do with the immediate connection which springs to mind of a city in southern Afghanistan. The name is, in-fact derived from ski-bindings, otherwise known as Kandahar. These watchmakers pride on fashioning custom-made watches as memorabilia for visitors to Switzerland, and we then proceeded to pick and fine-tone our own.

The last day saw us back in Lucerne for some sightseeing, visited the famed Chapel Bridge framed in the lake and a whole lot of swans swimming around, while the bustling city lay all around. Next stop, the Glacier Garden, where we steeped ourselves in the history of Lucerne at an video show, encountered woolly mammoths and fossilized ferns and a mussel graveyard in ice, and got ourselves quite confused and completely lost in a huge mirror maze.

Last stop on the agenda was the Rhine-falls, at Schloss-Laufen. Took the boat near the falls to the viewpoint flying the Swiss colors. For Europe's largest, however, the Rhine falls did not seem too much of a torrent.

And finally, all the way in Switzerland, we were able to interact with an arctic Husky, owned by a German couple visiting the Rhine-falls. The Husky showed as much intelligence as it did strength, even enunciating a form of speech by his barks! I was genuinely impressed.

Now winding up our three day trip, had dinner at the airport, and took the flight back, which left us with, this time, a birds-eye view of the glorious Alps, yet again.
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November 2007