Swiss sojourns

1st Oct 2018

The beauty of Switzerland

Photo of Swiss sojourns by Wanderlust&us

Why the tiny land locked Alpine nation shall remain one of the most sought after travel destinations in a long time to come..

Like so many other families planning for a Europe trip, we too planned and re-planned and tried to fit in as many places as possible into our Europe itinerary. Of course, we didn’t want to hear anyone say ~ oh! how could you miss that place! We also had multiple suggestions coming our way from friends and well-wishers on why we should not have Switzerland in our plan ~ With Austria and Germany probably offering the same Alpine views to the Swiss villages and cities potentially eating vigorously into our budget ~ we heard and evaluated all of them; yet we finally convinced ourselves not to skip the tiny country. Probably having “Switzerland” as one of the must visit places on my mom’s dream list helped us seal the decision.

Our first destination in Switzerland was Lucerne, the beautiful town along Lake Lucerne and surrounded by the majestic Alps on all sides. The canton of Lucerne is one of the 26 cantons in the country, the cantons being members of the Swiss confederation where ordinary citizens regularly participate in every level of politics and are involved in policy decision making and all other issues at a national and sub-national level. We chose one of the many superfast trains in Europe that took us from Paris to Lucerne in about 5 hours with a changeover in between. As we entered Switzerland, the scenery outside seemed as though someone had suddenly upped the colour contrast ~ the trees seemed greener, the water in the rivers clearer and flowers bloomed with myriad colors which simply appeared so much brighter. Switzerland has always conjured up images of postcard perfect scenery in my mind; with neatly laid farms, tiny mountain villages and glacier covered Alps, and rich cities that boast of a modern and idyllic way of life. In Switzerland, I realized the place was all of that and so much more.

At Lucerne, the train station is located just outside the famed Lake Lucerne and it is famed not without reason. The lake was blue for as far as our eyes could stretch, ducks and swans swam in the waters and beautiful ferries welcomed tourists for a ride to enjoy the mesmerizing views. Although we had our luggage with us, we still spent quite sometime strolling along the banks of the lake ~ on that early September afternoon we walked past fashionable ladies in their high boots, elderly women with their pets ~ big and small and tourists like us simply trying to grasp the beauty which the town had to offer. Lucerne is a small town, spread mainly on both sides of the lake and the entire town can be explored on foot in a couple of hours. A light refreshment bought us back to the streets to enjoy the evening by the famed Chapel bridge which is an iconic wooden footbridge decorated all along with flowers ~ no pictures can ever do justice to the night views of the sight! There are many little things to enjoy in the town ~ the Lion monument, the churches, little shops that dot the streets and of course not to mention the fancy cars that zoom past you! You do not need any other reminder that you are in one of the richest countries in the world. Yet a sense of calmness prevails. Going to Switzerland from France, it was not difficult to comprehend the quality of the life which the Swiss people enjoy; the country’s per capita GDP is among the highest in the world with citizens enjoying a quality of life which is privy to people in only a handful of North European countries like Norway, Denmark and Sweden. Despite this wealthy and orderly way of life, there was no arrogance in their way of dealing with the hordes of tourists that folk their towns and cities, there was no honking on the roads, every car stopped to let the ignorant tourist walk by and almost anyone you approached had a minute to spare to answer your questions. We settled for dinner at one of the many restaurants along the lake, letting us enjoy the night views for as late as we wanted.

Photo at Lucerne : Lake Lucerne with the Alps in the backdrop

Photo of Lucerne, Switzerland by Wanderlust&us

Photo at Lucerne : The iconic Chapel bridge

Photo of Lucerne, Switzerland by Wanderlust&us

Despite the wide spread prevalent opinions of the country being prohibitively expensive, a little careful planning will ensure that one doesn’t have to burn a gaping hole in the pocket. Public transport available in Switzerland is impeccable ~ buses, trains, boats and cable cars are punctual to the second and take you across the length and breadth of the country leaving no corner untouched. We opted for the Swiss pass which gave us unlimited access to all public transport for three days except the cable cars, gondolas and funiculars (our homework beforehand ensured we had to avail very little outside those on offer with the Swiss pass). And unlike countries like Italy where checks on trains are random, passes are stringently scrutinized in Swiss trains and we even came across tourists caught without tickets being asked to de-board at the next station.

Photo: At Lucerne. View from the cable car while descending from Mt.Titlis

Photo of Swiss sojourns by Wanderlust&us

On our second day in Lucerne, we covered Mount Titlis ~ the ride to the train station at the picturesque village of Engelberg was covered by our Swiss pass while the gondola cable car and revolving cable car rides were at 50%. As the cable car was a revolving one, it didn’t really matter where you managed to find a place to stand, the views were stunning throughout. Perfectly slopped mountains covered with trees, cows with their cowbells grazing below and the tiny wooden swiss chalets – all added to subtle scenic views which gradually changed as we gathered altitude from green meadows to snowcapped mountains. With Titlis having risen to prominence among Indians from the famous Bollywood movie DDLJ, there is even an Indian restaurant at the summit of the 3000 metre mountain. A visit to Lucerne remains incomplete without a boat ride on the crystal clear waters of the lake; we settled for an evening cruise enjoying the sunset views with the Alpine mountains at the backdrop.

The next morning after a sumptuous breakfast at the hotel, we left for Interlaken ~ we timed our travel to ensure we took the Golden pass train with large panoramic windows for our journey into the Bernese Oberland. The country is home to almost 20% of Alps and the Bernese Oberland region located north of the highest peaks is famous for the breathtaking views it offers. The two-hour train ride took us past crystal clear lakes, cascading valleys and beautiful mountains and soon we entered the Interlaken station. The Golden pass route continues upto Montreux, with two changes at Interlaken and Zweisimmen with views that promise to stun and captivate you. However if you are pressed for time just like we were, do not spend another three hours on the train and instead hop out of the station at Interlaken and be awestruck with the beauty and charm of the mountain peaks from this little town. Interlaken as the names suggests, is located between the two glittering lakes - Lake Thun and Lake Brienz and is also called the adventure capital of Switzerland. However you need not be an adventure enthusiast to enjoy this place. Like Lucerne, Interlaken can be explored entirely on foot too ~ there are the two beautiful lakes, a funicular ride to Harder Klum, Schynige Platte and innumerable small shops dotting the town. And you can simply chose to skip all of this, and walk to the 14 hectares Höhematte Park in the heart of Interlaken ~ find a bench and call it your abode for as many hours as you please. The Park offers jaw dropping views of the Jungfrau Mountain range and is surrounded by hotels and flower beds. Grab one of the gelatos (Did I mention yet on how many we ate while we were in Switzerland?) which the tiny cafes sell all along the park and watch as the heavens come on earth … we watched hang gliders fly high above the mountains and land smoothly on the grass bed of the park, flowers of myriad colors bloom in the pots (Someone rightly mentioned ~ nothing beats the colors of the Fall) and birds chirping away into the horizon.

While it is true that you should not spend time in the Swiss cities ~ the real beauty of the place lies in the villages and the mountains, we did visit Bern. The city derives its name from the bear pits that were established by the medieval rulers as a heraldic symbol; the bear pits are now part of the city’s popular zoo and we saw the large bears too. Bern is roughly an hour from Interlaken and my Dad was keen to visit atleast one of their cities. And we weren’t disappointed by the capital city ~ the cobbled streets, farmers markets, beautifully laid out cafes, the clock towers, countless fountains (aah! don’t miss out drinking from these! cool, refreshing and potable water straight from the mountain springs, and how much I loved them!), more gelatos and not to mention the Parliament square. I have never visited the Parliament in Delhi and I can only imagine the number of security guards and metal detectors I will walk past if I ever managed to gain an entry into it.

Photo of Bern, Switzerland by Wanderlust&us

And there we were, in a foreign land, peeping into their large office rooms, walking inside their buildings and no one questioned us or even glanced at us. True, travel leaves one richer beyond words, beyond what any treasure can offer. Of the so many developed countries that I visited, Switzerland is amongst the richest and rich not just in terms of a staggering GDP and per capita income, but rich in the ways the Swiss people conduct themselves and the standard of life which they can afford to lead for the years to come. Young adults in buses smilingly offered their seats to my parents ~ worth mentioning that my parents do not exhibit any signs of fragility ~ neither in their looks nor movements! You stare at a sign board for a few seconds more and someone pops out of the blue to ask if you need any assistance in comprehending the timetables, the clock towers at every nook and corner of the streets are accurate to the second and I can continue effortlessly just describing how much I admired the Swiss people and their societies as much as I tried to preserve in my memory lanes the captivating beauty of the landscape and of their beautifully laid out towns and cities and their impeccably clean villages.

Our beautiful Airbnb in Interlaken (we were simply too lucky with this one!) was just a 5min walk from the Interlaken station and we woke up the next day to the beautiful views of a clear morning, breathing in the fresh mountain air and enjoying our tea and breakfast by the windowsill. There are so many places which you can travel to from Interlaken ~ it is the base for all journeys up the Alps but being crunched for time we chose Gimmelwald, Murren and the peak of Schilthorn (I did do a lot of Rick Steeves reading during my planning phase and it helped immensely!) all of which are easily accessible and fully covered by the Swiss pass with directions delineated so clearly that even if you tried hard, it is impossible to lose your way. While on the way to the peak, we stopped for some time at Murren to enjoy the stunning views of the Lauterbauren valley; the beautiful flowerpots hanging out of the houses were impossible to be left behind with just a cursory glance. Once at the peak, the views from the Schilthorn observatory deck were beyond earthly, all hues of blue of the clear skies shone vividly, with the Jungfrau Mountain range in the horizon and the peak of Schilthorn as well as 200 other peaks in the distance screaming for attention. When you have your parents lost for words and seeing them quietly immersed in the what lay infront of them; you know it is well worth the money spent! We spent some time at the Piz Gloria, where many scenes of the 1969 James Bond 007 film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service were filmed; had coffee, snacks and yet another gelato and headed for the way back.

The view from the Schilthorn observatory deck

Photo of Interlaken, Switzerland by Wanderlust&us

On the descend, we hopped out of the cable car at Gimmelwald; a tiny car-free village accessible only on foot or via the cable car. At 4000 ft, the afternoon sun shone brightly as my husband and I walked out of the little station into the nearly uninhabited village. We found for ourselves the perfect bench perched under a tree, as our souls were treated to the spectacular scenery infront ~ the snow covered peaks, streams flowing down from the mountains, cattle grazing and an array of flowers covering every possible inch in the village. If only I could hold onto time! The arrival of the next cable car ensured we had to make our way out.

All three places can easily be enjoyed in half a day and we were well in time back at our Interlaken cottage for a home cooked lunch. We spent the rest of the evening in the town of Interlaken; bringing back with us some Swiss cheese and wine. I wish I could bring back all the cherry tomatoes too!

The heart of Switzerland ~ from the Bernese Oberland shall be etched in our memories for a long time to come; I shall go back to Switzerland some day, if not for anything else, to find the same old bench at the little village of Gimmelwald ~ have a small little picnic laid out in front with my dear family by my side, with the sound of the cowbells in the distance and watch as the world goes by…

At Gimmelwald

Photo of Swiss sojourns by Wanderlust&us

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