We flew into a small town called Basel from Amsterdam. The Basel airport is real tiny and manned by the armed forces and shared between Germany, France and Switzerland. From Basel, we took a Euro rail to Zurich.
View from the train
Train travel in Europe, particularly Switzerland is an experience by itself. More so, because of the scenic beauty one gets to see all around. Green fields dotted with the trademark yellow buttercups, huge jersey cows grazing in the fields with the Swiss bells hanging from their necks, pretty little cottage-type houses with colourful flowered plants in window sills and snow-capped mountains in the background. A perfect setting for Bollywood movies (YFR? J)!
View from the train
The city of Zurich is a happening tourist destination and also the biggest city in the country. Numerous art galleries and museums dot the cityscape along with modern structures and a vibrant nightlife. Clubs & restaurants by the quay, the famous station road called Bahnhofstrasse (also Zurich’s fashion mile) and the old town area are the main attractions.
Zurich by night
The locals in Zurich are pretty cordial and polite and most people speak English, although instructions are in German and Swiss.
From Zurich, we headed to Luzern – a city nestled in a valley of snow-capped mountains along the beautiful lake Luzern. This is easily an adventure enthusiast’s dream destination. Water sports on the lake, hiking and adventure trails in the mountains and paragliding for those who want an adrenaline rush. We took a ferry ride on the lake and trekked up to Mt. Rigis, and came down the cable car. A fun hike, with a slight drizzle, some snow and picture postcard perfect scenery.
Chapel Tower & Bridge
For history buffs, there is the old town area with the Chapel Bridge and tower, statue of the injured lion, many forts and cathedrals.
Switzerland is synonyms with chocolates and cheese. We decided to try some of the “real’ home-made Swiss chocolates from what are called “Chocolatiers” – chocolate shops basically – as opposed to the packed branded ones easily available in retail stores world over.
Fresh home-made chocolate slabs
There are milk chocolate slabs, roasted nutty ones, truffles, liquor chocolates and fancy decorated ones. We sampled a bit of each variety before buying them and I must say they were delicious!
There are many different types of Swiss cheese in the market. Typically, Swiss cheese is pale yellow with holes. I was immediately reminded of Tom and Jerry type animated blocks of cheese. However, not all Swiss cheese is with holes. Gouda, hard, semi-hard and cream cheese are some of the popular varieties.
My cheese fondue experience was a bit of damp squib. Firstly, I had to literally hunt for a restaurant serving fondue in the old town area of Luzern. After finding one, no one attended to us even after waiting for twenty minutes in a half-full diner. While not blatantly racist, we realised we were being given the jibes and undertones. In a country that thrives on tourism, more so from South-East Asia and India in particular, it was shocking to note that these things still happen. We finally had to walkout, and it seems like that is what they wanted. Ended up having a decent margarita pizza and yummy tiramisu at an Italian restaurant.
Next evening, we discovered another joint. Pretty much the same treatment, but for some reason, they decided to serve us just when we were about to walk out. Although the fondue was creamy and rich in texture, it lacked distinct flavour and after a point, even for a cheese lover like me, the cheese smell became sickening. To say the least, the entire experience left a bad taste in the mouth.
Engelberg & Mount Titlis
A quick and picturesque train ride from Luzern to Engelberg brought us to the base of Mount Titlis – Switzerland’s highest peak in the Urner Alps. A typical touristy destination, we were pretty taken aback at the number of country cousins getting off the ‘coach tours’ and “organized tour groups”! Aunties in silk saris, red mouthed paan chewing uncles in safari suits, newlyweds holding mehendi decorated hands – phew! Added to this, at the entrance to the ticket counter is an Indian food stall selling “Indian Masala tea, Vada Pav, Paav Bhaaji” and other savouries!
From here, a ride in the revolving Rotair, an aerial cable car that provides an awesome 360-degree panoramic view of the snow-covered valleys, glaciers, lakes, and mountains delivered us to the mountain top. It was truly an exhilarating experience! Once on top, there are loads of adventure activities such as snowboarding and skiing.
But the noisy crowds, endless queues to use the bathroom, to click filmy photographs in certain places and even grab a quick bite were a total putt-off. The artificial snow cave is rather silly, the resort is not well maintained and the restaurant serves pretty bad food – including cold and stale Indian food!
However, the beautiful mountains and the cable car ride make-up for everything else that is not great at Mt. Titlis. Switzerland is a beautiful country with one of the best country sides, clean cities, great infrastructure and no visible poverty. The only sore point of our stay here was the racial undertone we experienced at the fondu place.