Trip Meter

Day 0 - EasyJet from London Stansted to Geneva Aeroport
Day 1 - Walking in Lausanne and along Lake Geneva
Day 2 - Exploring the 12th century Chateau de Chillon in Montreux
Day 3 - Walking the Old City of Bern
Day 4 - Boat Cruise in Lake Thun
Day 5 - Biking in Geneva
Day 6 - The Golden Pass Panaroma Train from Lausanne to Zurich
Day 7 - Tram Hopping in Too Rich Zurich
Day 8 - Roman Ruins in Basel
Day 9 - Decompress. Unwind. Relax. Lausanne to London

Day 0 - EasyJet from London Stansted to Geneva Aeroport

I sat at Stansted airport on a Friday evening as tiny rain drops pit-patted on glass panes of the window gallery. Dark gray clouds hung menacing low over London city. My project manager called in and said, "I have one good news and one bad news for you. Which one do you want to hear?" I didn't care about the good one. I already knew the bad one (he'd want me to login to work once in a while.) All I was thinking about was my upcoming 9 day vacation in Switzerland. 9 days away from work. 9 days in Bollywood's favorite destination. 9 days to unwind and explore a new country.

When I reached Geneva airport a couple of hours later, I rubbed my sleepy eyes and walked towards immigration. The airport corridors sported familiar cliche ad hoardings - investment and private banks, luxury watches, flights to exotic destinations, and vacations in Switzerland. I think it took me about 20 seconds in the immigration queue. This was the fastest immigration check I had ever come across! My luggage was on the conveyer belt in the next 5 minutes. As I walked out of the airport, I had to pinch myself twice. I was indeed in Switzerland for my vacation!

On the train from Geneva to Lausanne, I met an old gentleman in an old gray suit. The cuffs of his shirt were frayed. His hair were completely white and pink skin of his bald head was turning a tinge of yellow. I saw from his railcard that he was 76 years old and that he was a Leo. He initiated a conversation saying something in French. When I blinked, he started speaking in English. He was a retired professor of German literature in Geneva University. We had a good time talking and discussed travel, star signs, education in India and languages among other things.

I remember the first person I met when I landed in United States - a cab driver from Russia. He claimed he a was apparently computer programmer. That encounter was a little counter-intuitive. Come on! The first person you run into in the United States of America is a Russian? The gentleman I met on train today again countered the cliches like 'the Swiss are very quiet and insulated people' and 'the Swiss can make Germans look untidy and the Texans look poor.'

Adil picked me up at Lausanne station, cooked a meal of prawns in coconut sauce and made the bed. It was time to get horizontal.


Day 1 - Walking in Lausanne and along Lake Geneva

To get the word Lausanne right, try saying Low-zaan instead of La-o-sane. None of them would be correct, but I guess the former will be more closer to actual pronounciation than latter.

The weather prediction for Saturday was a bright and sunny day. And was it a bright and sunny day! When I woke up around 7 in the morning, I could see from window an orange rim of light over greenish blue mountain ridge line. In the foreground, I could see the ochre brown homes in shadow of the mountains. A few minutes later, the orange rim over the mountains grew brighter and sun ripped through the dull canvas and painted the sky with a golden patch of eye-piercing light. A few days ago, I was thinking that I haven't seen a sunrise in a while. Today was my day to put an end to that 'while'.

Adil lives in Renens, which is about 5 minutes away from Lausanne by an express train. We took the metro/ bus to Lausanne and reached Sauvabelin tower. After admiring the alps in France across Lake Geneva from the top of the tower, we started our city hike.

The houses in this part of Switzerland look like a crossbreed of a villa and an apartment. They are painted in bright English colours of light pink, yellow, pista green and sometimes white. The windows are an array of neatly arranged white vertical wooden frames. The windows in this country are completely lovable!

The cobbled streets, stone fountains with brass statues gurgling out water, and a lovely day only added to the atmosphere. A trumpet band (it's name I forget - Swiss Power Band?) stirred up the life in hep market street with biguls piping Bohemian Rhapsody. We walked past the gothic Cathedrale de Notre Dame and through mesmerizing Vieille Ville (old town) and reached Ouchy (Oo-shi), a long strip along Lake Geneva. This is where we munched our Swiss crepes (formage, ratatouille, banana) at Creperie D'Ouchy while taking in the panaromic view of lake and the mountains beyond it.

We started the hike back from Ouchy to Renens along the shores of Lake Geneva, roughly a ninety minute walk. It was almost dusk and nature was furiously mopping the sky with red, violet, blue and gold every minute. Beautiful. At twilight about thirty minutes later, the city lights of Evian in France on the other shore of Lake Geneva simmered like an army of torches.

Walking through the University of Lausanne, we finally reached Renens Adil's home. The plan for next was to do Chateau de Chillon in Montreux. I also had to buy the Swiss Pass railcard (for 8 days). It offered a kickass unlimited rides on trains, buses, ferries and urban transport and access to over 400 museums in Switzerland!



Day 2 - Exploring the 12th century Chateau de Chillon in Montreux

I have to tell you about the weather! The prediction was a clouded day with mild showers. And the day turned out to be the brightest and warmest day in the past few weeks. Excellent! Adil and I started a little late today. First, I forgot my passport at home and had to come back. And then I had to send an email so had to go to Adil's lab.

I bought a 8-day Swiss Pass and boarded the train to Montreux. The 20 minute train ride from Lausanne to Montreux winds along the shore of Lake Geneva; a beautiful sheet of water and towering mountains beyond it on your right and lovely green-yellow vineyards (it was autumn) on your left. Montreux is also the place which inspired Deep Purple's song Smoke on the Water when Montreux Casino on the shores of the lake burned during a Frank Zappa gig in 1971.

The walk from Montreux station to Chateau de Chillon (Shi-yawn) along the lake is itself a very beautiful experience. You can see several hotels lined up along the lake promising the customers a very Mediterranean experience to their vacation. It is also interesting to observe the pristine condition of these buildings even though some of them could be older than a century. Clearly, this country has been spared the ravages of war.

Chateau de Chillon is an impressive medieval castle built between the 11th and 13th centuries just like the ones you would see and imagine in fairy tales. The 13th century moat around the castle is still filled with water and the only access to the castle is a wood bridge which is more than 200 years old. This castle was the seat of Bishops of Sion, Counts of Savoy and later Swiss knights (Bernese). Apparently the rock on which Chillon stands was occupied by men in bronze age and later by Romans. Adil and I walked the ramparts of this castle trying to re-live all those soldiers and knights who did the same centuries ago.

On our way back, we wanted to walk the vineyards in Vevey, midway between Montreux and Lausanne. That didn't happen because we were stretched for time. So we gave our legs a little break while we enjoyed the sunset by the lake and nibbled the Gruyeres cheese we had carried. The energy was well saved for the following days.



Day 3 - Walking the Old City of Bern

Bern, the capital of Switzerland, is a 70 minute ride from Lausanne. One would wonder why Bern is the capital when the country has cities like Geneva and Zurich. Bern, like several other country capitals, is a compromise between French speaking east and the German speaking west.

I love train rides. I loved train rides in India (true fact) but Switzerland intensified this relationship several folds. Train windows are like 70mm movie screens and every frame in it is an artist's composition, a cinematographer's dream. The green grass, the mud houses with red-brown roofs, the black-white and brown-white cows, the blue skies and white clouds, the distant mountains.

I reached Bern a little after noon. The first thing I noticed about the city was the color of the buildings - a pale olive green. I wondered if this was done to camouflage and protect them from World War II bombings. But it made little sense because Switzerland was a neutral state in wars. Also, why would the recent steel buildings be painted olive? I found the answer to my question when I reached the old town a little later. The Old Town area from 17th century is completely built in olive green sandstone and is a protected UNESCO world heritage site.

I took me about an hour to get my orientation right in Bern. It was difficult to guess the east-west directions as the sun was directly overhead when I got off the train. The road names were so long, I could hardly read them, let alone remember several names at a time. Effingerstrasse and Bundegasse and Nydegggasse. New York City rocks with 42nd St and 14th St? But once I got the orientation right, I soon pulled away from the tourist drags and found myself walking along the River Aar. The water, not very deep, was perfectly clear and I could see the moss on the stones in river bed. The flow was fast and sometimes scary.

Around 4:00 pm, I was really hungry and walked into a restaurant for lunch, only to be told that dinner is served from 6:30 pm. Ouch! I walked into a local store and bought some bread, bananas, two kinds of cheese and an ice-cream. I fixed my own lunch on a wooden bench in the checkered shade of an almond tree. Ah! What lovely lunch for 8 francs. Two old women sat on another bench beside me. One of them got up to pick some fallen berries. It took her some effort to do that and for a moment I thought I could just sprint and pick them up for her. Then I realized, at her age, the only task in her long day could be to pick up a fallen berry. I didn't want to disturb that fine balance, that joy in bending to pick up a fruit. After all, the longevity in this country is 77/83 years for M/F. People live till they are old. Really old.

I walked upto the Rosengarten on an eastern hillock on the other side of the river. The view of Old Town red roofs was captivating; roofs that I failed to notice when I was walking the streets. The sun was setting behind the roofline. The view would have been even better in the morning when the sun would directly shine red roofs olive walls. A few more miles of walking through cobbled pathways and winding streets and I reached the point where I started; legs completely numb, curiosity dabbed for the day.

Bern was a like a city dressed up in military uniform. Olive green sandstone, red roses jutting out of window sills, occasional dashes of gold spires or coating. The electric wires for trams criss-crossed the blue sky, now turning purple at dusk. Occasional grafitti adorned the walls (Elvis the King) that challenged the picture post-card Swiss look and lent an East European grit.

I ate dinner at a Turkish restaurant. German menus did not help me. 'Kooh mini pizza' was hopefully beef. Later in the night, I could depend on the excellent Swiss train network to take me back to Lausanne. The ride back home would be time to reflect think brood meditate plan rewind unwind.



Day 4 - Boat Cruise in Lake Thun

The idea today was to take it easy today. Relax a bit. Give my shins the well deserved rest after carrying me through Lausanne, Montreux and Bern.

I started late from home. The timing of train connections to reach Thun couldn't have been better. I just managed to hop on a ferry that took me to Interlaken and brought me back. Except for few young girls, the cruise of full of old couples. I guess they were trying to take it easy. Annoucements in English with thick German accent were difficult to understand - I only got the 'Ladies and gentlemen' part.

This country was blessed with beautiful lakes, the water was scary crystal clear. I could throw a pebble and see it hit the bottom. Shafts of light poured through mountains on western side and glimmered on the lake's eastern coast. I sat on a table at the edge of the ferry and enjoyed some fine Italian dessert and drink. Soft light descended on mountain peaks like golden dust; fog laced the mountain necks like a string of jasmine. The cruise slowly zig-zagged the lake making about 10 stops, stopping at little hamlets with small castles that were just out of fairy tale books. As I sat there soaking in all this, it was the time to relax reboot rejuvinate and revive.

I dreamed about Kashmir. If I find this beautiful, ah Kashmir, you who sit in the lap of Himalayas, you who were praised by no less than Jehangir himself, how do I describe you?

After five hours on the cruise, I got back to Thun at twilight. The town clearly had gone to sleep - all stores were shut, there weren't many people around on streets. I walked the double level street - a unique way to architect a road - and a must walk for any street lover. And when it was dark enough to start getting eerie, I got back to some hot delicious home cooked food by Adil.



Day 5 - Biking in Geneva



Day 6 - The Golden Pass Panaroma Train from Lausanne to Zurich


Day 7 - Tram Hopping in Too Rich Zurich



Day 8 - Roman Ruins in Basel



Day 9 - Decompress. Unwind. Relax. Lausanne to London



Tags: Europe

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