Thursday, May 24, 2012

Europe Travelogue : Part 3

France : Paris

Romance + crème brulee + french wine + fashion + art & history = PARIS

But personally, I found the hype around Paris city totally blown out of proportion. Crazy traffic, dirty metro stations, snobbish and rude people is what we pretty much got.

Of course, the art and history in the city is something that artists and architects will totally love. We spent one full day at the Louvre and maybe almost 2 hours staring at the enigmatic Mona Lisa painting.  Louvre took me back in time to art history classes while in college - paintings through different periods in history, neo classical and gothic architecture, sculptures and fresco.


The Notre Dame Cathedral was another place that took me back to art history classes - beautiful fresco on the walls and brilliant stained glass painting! 

Notre Dame Cathedral

 Notre Dame Cathedral

Stained Glass Paintings

We took a 'Discover Paris' walk with a guide in Montmartre Square. The walk was a lovely experience - from the oldest cabaret - Moulign Rouge, to the famous windmill atop the hill, to Picasso's house and the place where Van Gogh first lived and used to buy his breakfast from...loved every bit of it. 

 Montmarte Square

Last, but not the least - the Eiffel Tower. Looked lovely in the evening when it was all lit up. The place was abuzz with activity in spite of the slight drizzle and chill winds. 

 Eiffel Tower

The famous French crepes with chocolate spread is what we had by the Seine river the evening we visited the Eiffel Tower. It was just about okay, although my friends loved the ones with non-veg filling.

Crepes with cheese

Patisseries (French bakery) in France are a delight for people with a sweet tooth like moi. A treat here is the macaroons - light and crisp on the outside with soft natural flavour cream inside. Pistachio flavoured one was yumm. French croissants turned out to be my husband's favourite. He totally sweared by them and said they were the best he'd had till date. Baguette and cheese is something I tasted for the first time and pretty much liked it. The bread is a little hard though, but the cheese spread makes it very tasty. The cupcakes and pastries in general are very tasty in most Patisseries. We had a tough time restraining a friend from entering each and every patisserie we passed. :)
Louis Vuitton store on Champs Elvsee

My friend and I walked down Champs Elysee in the rain window shopping. We passed by the Louis Vuitton flagship store but dint go in as we were soaking wet and shabby! Almost every second person in Paris seemed to carry an LV bag (though most of them I suspect are fake!). I asked the Parisian guide on the walking tour about this and he said it was "a mass luxury" Parisians enjoyed given that LV was a French label. I wonder how luxury can be a mass thing.

Paris can be passed off as any Asian city. Except for parts around the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and few other well-known touristy spots, it is over hyped. Also, the city can be unsafe at times – thefts and pickpocketing are very common – mostly tourists are the target. And despite the multi-culture, a non-Parisian is treated as an outsider.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Europe Travelogue : Part 2



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.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Europe Travelogue : Part 1

Traveling in a train from Paris to Amsterdam via beautiful Belgium is what I am doing as I chronicle my two week Western Europe vacation covering the Netherlands/Holland, Switzerland and France in a three-part series.

Netherlands/Holland: Maastricht, Utrecht & Amsterdam


The culture capital of the Netherlands, this is one of the oldest cities in the country. Centuries of German, French & Roman influence has added a lively cultural overtone to the little city. Museums, forts and cathedrals dot the romantic city, as do the famous picturesque squares & cobbled streets.

Dutch Wooden Clogs


My favourite city in the Netherlands, this is a university town that houses the biggest university in the heart of Holland. Again, although Utrecht is a very old city, the modern cityscape reflects the old world architecture and manages to preserve the local character. The compact city centre, numerous canals, waterfront restaurants and the hustle-bustle of the student population cycling away or studying under the trees in parks gives Utrecht an almost village-like feel.

The landmark of the city - the Dom Tower, is a church tower standing 112.32 meters tall on a huge square, now called the Dom square. Shopping streets, bars and restaurants surround this landmark.

Dom Tower

Dom Square Canal

While we stayed at the Grand Karl V in Utretch, the chef in the restaurant was very friendly and obligingly whipped up a decent vegetarian pasta in white sauce garnished with rocket leaves (a popular green herb used all over Europe). I dint particularly warm up to the taste of rocket leaves as it has a very weird after taste that I’m unable to describe.

The friendly chef at Grand Karl V

Pasta in White Sauce

Strawberry Cheesecake

Grand Karl V is a heritage hotel and the building is more than 500 years old. The dining area, the kitchen and the restaurant have preserved some of the old dungeons.


One of the many canals

I fell in love with this city as tradition & history blend beautifully to offer a unique big-city life with an old world feel.  The student population lend a young, energetic and dynamic feel to the growing city.


The capital of Netherlands and the biggest city in the country, it was named after a dam was built in the river Amstel that flows through the city. A bustling and lively city, there are loads of touristy places such as the Ann Frank house, red light district, Van Gogh Museum, Keukenhof Tulip Gardens and historic canals.
This is one country that is very tolerant towards the use and sale of marijuana and it is actually legal. It is interesting to note that such drugs are available in “coffee shops” and if one is in need of caffeine, then head to a “café”.

Most Dutch food is predominantly non-vegetarian. Therefore, my choices were pretty limited to regular fare such as sandwiches and salads. However, we gorged on hot Dutch waffles with maple cream – absolutely yumm.  One evening, we decided to try something different from the breads and walked into a Turkish restaurant. Baked aubergine with tomato and cheese, and some sweet Turkish wine – a nice hot dinner on a cold windy evening!

Dutch Waffles

A chance discovery near the Ann Frank house was a lovely little bakery selling cake-pops – round balls of cake on a stick – much like the lollipops. It was absolutely delicious and rich with different attractive frosting and decoration. Some of them looked so pretty we hesitated to bite into them! 

Cake Pops


Beauty. brilliant colours, bulbs and flowers of various sizes, shades of green I’d never seen before -  that is the famed Kuekenhof  Tulip Gardens of Holland. A fantastic visual treat!

People make a country – and this is so true of beautiful Netherlands/Holland. The Dutch are such a warm and friendly lot. From personal experience I can say that they do not hesitate to help tourists, always have a smile and ever ready to chit-chat!

Another thing I loved about this country is that it is very pet friendly. Being a pet owner myself, I was delighted to see dogs pottering all over with their owners – on the trains, in buses, in cafes, in malls and supermarkets…just about everywhere!

Also, it is an English speaking country, so for people who do not know a foreign language, it is an added advantage. Would love to come back here!
Jij Bin Mooi Netherlands.