We are a bangkok based, travel friendly family of three - myself in mid forties, my wife, Ritu and our 9 years old daughter, Ayanna.
In April, 2011, we travelled across 5 countries in Europe to experience Belgium, Netherlands, France, Austria and Switzerland in a trip that lasted 24 days. With a passion to travel and to immerse ourselves in the prevailing culture of each country, we were all set to start off our dream journey to Europe.
1st April - Brussels
At 2.20pm, on 1st April 2010, we had taken the Qatar Airways flight from Bangkok to Brussels. Keeping in mind the difficulty of dragging our own luggages and after some brain storming on the kind of clothes to carry, we had finally settled to pack everything in two trolley bags and two small backpacks. From our notion, we had firmed up the belief that, in Europe, it is extremely important to travel light, as much as possible and we were not proved wrong, later. Our initial reluctance in flying by Qatar airways was soon proved wrong...the airline service was surely of superlative quality. The media and entertainment channels in the plane, kept our kid far too entertained, so sleeping at night became her last priority. We reached Doha Airport at 5.50am where we had a stopover for couple of hours before changing aircrafts for Brussels. After getting down the plane, as we moved ahead towards the Doha Airport, we were quite impressed by the very well organized exit and transfer facilities of QATAR airways. Surprisingly, it was really a long drive from the airplane to the airport terminals.The ride took us through a simulated, dessert like surrounding with glimpses of typical middle east architectures... we could also notice some buildings under construction. Later on, we came to know that the new airport is being built there. Coming from the land of smiles, we received some cultural shocks here to find the loud and aggressive people creating unnecessary commotion in the transfer lobby area.We had never travelled to Middle East before and so probably the shock was more on getting the first flavour of it. The duty free shops were limited to a small enclosure and a quick visual audit on the prices led me to believe that prices are somewhat similar to that of bangkok, with the exception of chocolates.
On reaching Brussels airport at 2.10pm, we took a Mercedes taxi straight to the hotel. Since my wife was not feeling well, we preferred to save all our energies for the real sightseeing instead of travelling in the most economical way. Otherwise the easiest way to reach the city could have been to take the airport train to the city which would have costed Euro 11 or taken the bus at Euro 3 per person. The Airport train travels every 15 mins and takes about 20mins to reach the city. Normally the taxi to the city would cost about Euro 40. The hotel Sandton Brussels Centre...was quite centrally located and just next to the famous cathedral. We stayed in the only triple room that they had. There was a small narrow terrace beside the room and we found the bathroom to be surprisingly bigger when compared with our room. Early morning, our eyes would open on hearing the sweet chimes of the church..audible distantly. My wife was simply delighted with this as she always yearned to have such an experience where she could be woken up by the church bells. Little did we know then, that we would be having similar experiences in most of the hotels that we would be staying in our trip...it was really rewarding.
Brussels - often said to be a fascinating meeting point between the last millennium and the modern day Europe. Grand Place is an obligatory stop on a tour to Brussels and we were not an exception...kicking off our Europe tour from this place. The 18th century architectural buildings encircled the beautiful 13th century square. The Maison Du Roi or the King’s house was found here too. Apart from that, we visited the famous Manneken Pis statue. Since the Grand Place was very close to our hotel, many a times we had to pass by the square and always found the place, bubbling with enthusiastic people. The Grand Place square is considered to be the grandest square in Europe with its splendid medieval guild hals, cafes and beer gardens all around. A special mention about a chocolate shop called Chocopolis which is surely worth visiting. The shop is run by a family, devoting their time in making delicious home made chocolates under a brand name. The chocolates that we found there was inexplicable...in different shapes, sizes and types. We devoured the chocolates as much as we could - some were filled with whiskey, some with liquors, some with nuts and some with dark cocoas, all tasted out of the world. During the 4 days of our stay in Brussels, there was not a single day that we missed to visit this store. The owner, who was very friendly to us and was generous in giving us 20% discount for all our purchases there. This shop experience alone would prompt my daughter in visiting Brussels again. We immediately fell in love with the city when we landed up in the old town area. It had a rustic yet vibrant look all over.
Brussels - a fascinating mix of history on one hand , with it’s narrow streets and smoky cafes - and on the other hand there were the modern EU offices along with the EU’s tens of thousands of employees. Brussels is famous for it’s mussels and Chez Leon is a favorite tourist place where their mussels can silence any critic. We did have a chance to dine out on delicious mussels, as we were invited by a fellow Belgian friend. We also had an opportunity to taste Indian food at Hare Rama Hare Krishna, which can be found in one of the many narrow food alleys in the old town area. This newly opened restaurant was a new addition to it’s existing range of 5 restaurants in Belgium. The Punjabi owner was very courteous to us but was quite disappointed to note, that we could not find his restaurant earlier to avoid the misery of not been able to watch the world cup cricket finals, LIVE
. 2nd April - Bruges
Early in the morning, we took a bus to the canal-laced and ivy- draped town of Bruges, which we had heard so much of. It took about an hour and half to reach the small little town. Generally, people do a tour of Bruges and Ghent while at their stay at Belgium. Ghent is a bigger town than Bruges and filled up by universities whereas Bruges is smaller, cosy and a laid back town. The touristic place would be hardly a square km long. While we enjoyed the serenity of the town....beautiful architectures in some churches could not escape our sights as well. The full day was spent by strolling lazily, through the maze of cobbled alleys, alongside the winding canals, over romantic bridges, by the sidewalks of the lake of love, having delicious food at the street side cafes and watching the horse carriages brushing past. The sound of their hooves on the cobbled streets made my daughter jump in ecstasy. After lunch, we took a canal cruise and visited the church of our LADY and Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child. When we got bit tired after walking through the pedestrian- friendly streets and alleyways of gothic budges, we decided to spend some time relaxing at the Begijnhof courtyard. By that time, it was easy for us to accept that why Bruges is known as the “Venice of the North” and why UNESCO included the entire medieval city center on its World Heritage list. On our way back in the evening, we were thrilled to stop by a shop of our choice - Belgium's mouthwatering exporting item - chocolates. The chocolates that we found, were also home made but less expensive than Brussels and tasted equally good, though my daughter would not agree.
3rd April - Keukenhof Gardens, Netherlands
Earlier, when we were planning for this vacation in April, we had our eyes focused on making a trip to the Keukenhof gardens in Netherlands. We used to be fascinated by the vast, colorful tulip gardens, made popular by several Bollywood films in the past. The question was how to make it as we did not make our entry point to Europe from Amsterdam. Figuring a solution was not really a problem because the Europe train service are quite convenient to travel with and we quickly chalked out a plan for a day trip from Brussels. We took the train from Brussels Midi station directly to Amsterdam Airport Schipol station and from there we bought the Connexxion combo ticket for the Keukenhof gardens. Connexxion is the bus company that runs in Amsterdam. The combo ticket included to and fro bus ticket as well as the entrance fee to the gardens. The bus leaves every 15 mins between Mon- Fri and about 8 buses ply in an hour during the weekends. The journey to the gardens take about 35 mins and the last bus that leaves from Keukenhof gardens at 19.51pm. These tickets can also be bought from the Amsterdam central station, Leiden, Haalem or the Hague.The Keukenhof garden is open between 8am to 7.30pm from end March to end May.
4th April - Brussels
By this time, we were getting really accustomed in Brussels. We decided to explore Brussels to the fullest. So, after Breakfast, we started walking on the opposite side of the old town for a city tour, carefully watching every monuments on the way. We passed the magnificent Michael’s cathedral, the Congress column, the Heizei District with the remarkable Atomium, the renowned Chinese pavilion and the Japanese tower through the Laken River, we walked on and on, enjoying every bit of the city. The small yet charming cafes with wooden floors, high ceilings, antique tables and decors were truly worth visiting. A combination of bar, eatery and ground breaking music venue specifically for the upbeat youngsters was also noticed by us, but dared not to go in with my grey sunburns. On our last day at Brussels, while we were having candlelight dinner beside a fireplace in a nice, cozy Greek restaurant, we were pleased to get acquainted to an elderly american couple who were out on a tour as well. Their plans were to visit Brussels, Bruges and Amsterdam, quite similar to ours. The candlelit dinner was sumptuous and romantic..mainly because of the fireplace. An evening spent on these street-side restaurants and cafes in the Grand Place area is highly recommended. It was quite late before we retired for the day and we were sure that if given an option, we would like to make a trip back to this city again.
PARIS - The great stylish city with the most familiar landmarks than any other city in the world. An enchanting city with something in the air that made us think to come back here again. Our 3 nights stay here was really not enough to unveil the real splendors of the city.
PARIS - 5th April We caught the 9.20am superfast train TGV to Paris. The train whizzed past almost everything and within 1hr 15mins, we found ourselves at the Paris Rail Station. We stayed at Hotel Beaugency, located in close vicinity of the Invalides and the Eiffel Tower. Though it was close to the main area of paris and to the Metro railway station, yet the hotel enjoyed privacy and a peaceful environment. The hotel was a cozy one, with pastel colored rooms and colorful upholsteries. From the hotel, the left bank and right of River Seine, Orsay Museum, Champ De Mars, Grand Palais were just steps away.Within 100 meters radius, we could find good bakeries, restaurants and almost anything that made our days happier in Paris. People say that walking is the best way to see Paris and soon we found out why it is so true. Paris is ornamented by splendid gothic medieval architectures whichwasarealfeast to our eyes. We explored the old cobbled streets of the city, the flower markets, the gardens and the hidden courtyards. The most visited historic quarter of paris with it’s beautiful architectures from picturesque medieval houses to marvelous classical mansions were frequented by us in the next few days. We visited the famous Notre Dame Cathedral, which was made more popular by Victor Hugo in his novel Hunchback of Notre Dame. We also visited the exquisite Sainte-Chapelle, the second of the most significant medieval gothic churches with spectacular stained windowsinParis,apart from Notre-Dame. The church which offered us gorgeous views of gargoyles,chimeras& the famous Rose Window. Walking through Avenue des Champs-Elysees from the Arch of Triumph to Concorde Square was simply a delight. While our legs started aching, we were getting tired but we did not fail to admire Vendome Square, the Orsay Museum, the Louvre & Madeleine Church which was along the way. We gazed, unbelievably, at the Eiffel Tower, the most recognizable monument in Europe. Reaching up to the top and having food at the restaurant was a delight. The large bay windows of the restaurant look out over the River Seine & the Trocadero to one side and the inside of the Tower on the other. We had done our homework with Rick Steeve’s self guided walks wherein all the monuments and other details were so nicely depicted that we could locate all the places easily and enjoy extensively.
Disneyland PARIS 6th April
At 8.30, we took the RER to the Disneyland. Though we had to change station at Invalides, it was just less than an hour before we arrived at Disneyland, it was quite convenient. The Paris metro, we thought, had a much extensive network across 7-8 different routes to cover the entire city, spanning across the 6 zones of paris. Between UK and Paris, we were unsure about which one was made earlier, but we found the Paris metro to be better maintained than UK but not as clean as ours back home. The whole day, spent at Disneyland was quite refreshing specially when we got the chance to spend one of those rare, worry-free, fun-filled days with our beloved daughter, who enjoyed immensely. As she had already done her research back home on the layout of Disneyland and the rides & shows she would like to visit, we could easily complete all desired activities well in time. Otherwise, without a proper plan, it would have been quite difficult to complete all the five magical lands in a day. Meeting and greeting the Disney characters in Fantasyland was a bonus for my daughter and she was thrilled. At around 5pm, amidst the main street full of visitors, crowding the sidewalks, all the Disney characters danced their way up in a parade, one after another..with flowing melodies to enchant all of us. There were options to have dinner with the Disney characters in the hotels, but we missed that as it became full already by the time we decided to join in. Advance booking is recommended for this activity.
PARIS - 7th April
After a tiresome day out yesterday, we got up bit late and lazed out in the sun nearby. It was quite warm in Paris, about 14-20 degrees centigrade and we started to wonder if there was a need to bring so many winter clothes. We took the bus to Versailles palace in the afternoon. Having heard about the palace so much, it was not a surprise to see the magnificent Versailles Palace, home of the Sun King, Louis XIV, to be standing there, gorgeously erected. We visited the Great Apartments, including the Queen's Bedroom, the dazzling Hall of Mirrors and the Gallery of Battles. Each room of the palace was so beautifully ornamented with rich and gothic furnitures. We were amazed to see the intricate details in the wall paintings and we found ourselves lost and really felt as if we were standing in the Victorian age. It took us much more time than anticipated to see the palace but every minute was worth spent. The huge garden at the back of the palace was vast and classic. After returning in the evening, we strolled by the banks of River Seine and enjoyed the illuminated beauty of Place de la Concorde , Petit et Grand Palais etc. In Paris, one can take the river cruise or the illumination tour by bus to see Paris by night, but we decided to take neither and decided to walk around. Since the sunset was around 9pm, we could stretch our city sightseeing enjoyment to the maximum. Our experience with Paris remains as the most charismatic city that we have seen..and we felt bad that we had to leave the next day. Though we had seen almost everything a tourist would, but we felt that so much was still left to be explored and experienced.
Pictures of Paris, Belgium and Netherlands can be found at www.facebook.com/media/set/…
VIENNA - 8th April
We took the early morning flight from Paris to Vienna and then by taxi we reached the hotel at around 10am. We chose Hotel Mailberger Hof as it was in the very heart of the old town in Vienna. Our plans kept on changing for Vienna but we were sure that we wanted to spend whatever time that we get, in and around Stephenplatz. This family run hotel was well located in the pedestrian zone of Vienna and only 5 mins walking distance from the Opera-House and the St Stephen’s cathedral. The hotel’s history dates back to the 14th century. Originally the house was composed of two gothic, gable houses which in the 17th century were converted to a small boroque palace complete with horse stables, coach-house and it’s own chapel. It used to be owned by the Knights during this period and later on in 1976, this was converted into a first class hotel. The entire building is now classified as a historical monument and is under preservation order. To our liking, we found the furnitures and decor very artistic in nature and since it was made of typically Viennese style, we felt well entrenched in Austria immediately. Vienna is a dream city for anyone with a romantic streak. Sightseeing opportunities can be found in abundance here. Walking the medieval alleyways or across imperial squares or marvel at the majestic architecture along the Ring boulevard.
VIENNA - 8th April
Without wasting much time, we left the hotel and headed for Stephenplatz. From a quiet alley where our hotel was, in 2mins, we were transported immediately to a vibrant, bustled street which eventually led to Stephenplatz. It was a pleasant walk down the streets, simultaneously enjoying the visual treats on the way. We could see people dressed in costumes of Mozart and trying to sell concert tickets, we could see the Mozart chocolate balls flooding the stores, we could see small and large Mozart souvenirs in stores, we could see street musicians with their violin, playing famous Mozart tunes...we had surely reached the Mozart city. The total ambience of Stephenplatz was enchanting and we could feel the rich culture of the city, all in the air. There were jokers, dancers, performers and musicians all around that made the atmosphere, so vibrant.
VIENNA - 8th April
It is hard to imagine the cityscape without Viennese flakers. Flakers are two- horsedrawncarriageswhich allow tourists to take a tour on that. It was an impromptu decision by our family to enjoy this ride aswefeltthattherecould not be a better way to see Vienna in such authentic and cozier way. On enquiring, we found out that the short tour costed € 40(approx. 20 min. through the centre of the Old City) and the long tour costed € 65.(approx. 40 min. through the Ringstrasse and the Old City). We negotiated with the carriage driver and seeing our desire to explore more of Vienna, he agreed to drive us for about an hour and half at € 90, which we felt was a good deal. Glad that we chose it this way as it proved to be a grand experience. We passed all classic monuments such as the State Opera House, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Natural History Museum, the Hofburg, the Parliament, the City Hall, the Burgtheater and the St. Stephans Cathedral. As the Flaker marched through the Ring Avenue passing Stephansplatz, Heldenplatz, Michaelerplatz, Albertinaplatz, Petersplatz and Burgtheater, we stopped at various locations and took some beautiful pictures. After that, as the sun began to set, we walked up the Danube Tower and from therewehadapanoramic view of Vienna. At night, around 9pm, we had our dinner at one of the traditional Austrian restaurants,finishingthe delicious dinner with the famous Viennese sacher cake. In Vienna, there are more than 27 castles and over 150 palaces. In our short stay of one day, we could only cover the small old town area and amongst many more that we missed to visit, Schönbrunn Palace was one of the notable omission. We really felt that had we stayed here for couple of days more, it would have fulfilled our heart.
SALZBURG - 9th April
The train journey from Vienna to Salzburg was quite enjoyable. Throughout the 3 hrs ride, we could see green fields surrounded by lush green hills. It was spring time, a time when we could see the tall lanky worn out eucalyptus trees, swinging their weary branches against a clear blue sky...the sight was beyond our imagination. Green meadows with far distant village houses was a treat to watch from the window aisle of the train. From the station, when we took the taxi to the hotel, it only costed us Euro 7.4. We were quite surprised to see such a low fare but soon realized that the town of Salzburg was quite small and end to end could be covered in half an hour by walk. When we checked into hotel Mozart, we were quite impressed to learn that the building was over 100 years old. The hotel was built in the 1950’s and we were greeted by the charming grand daughter of the owner, Amilie. She was very helpful in providing authentic informations about where to visit and to dine out. Everything that we needed was available literally at a stone’s throw. Though Salzburg is a small town, easily walkable, Hotel Mozart’s location was perfect for us. The hotel was a 3 mins walk to Mirabell gardens which was made famous by the movie, sound of music. Once we walked through the gardens, in no-time, we could reach at the foot of the mountains and the old town. The rates were very reasonable and combined with their personalized service, this hotel is highly recommended for visitors. If we ever go to Salzburg again, we would like to stay there itself. Strolling down from the hotel, across the Mirabell gardens and then through the riverside, we landed at a place called Museumplatz from where there was a lift to go on to the top of the mountains. Hiking on the mountain range of Monchsberg was an enchanting experience. Not too many tourists visit this part of the mountains but we would highly recommend to do so, specially on the way to Richterhohe. The view from the top of the mountains was simply outstanding. There was a restaurant called M32 at the Museum der Moderne Manchsberg which provided a bird’s eye view of the city, including the distant fortress Festung Hohensalzburg, which looms over 400 feet above the Boroque city. This romantic restaurant on the hilltop proved to be ideal for wine and meat at dinner. We purposely sat outside at the terrace to feel the cool breeze and at the prevailing low temperatures (8C), the ambience just proved to be too perfect to be true. During the time, we could finish enjoying the other part of the mountains, it was already dark and we had to return back from the vicinity of 300m distance from the fortress, but by that time, we had experienced one of the most beautiful evenings in our tour.
We chose to take the Panaroma’s ‘most unique Sound of Music tour’ for an entertaining day out to the locations of the movie and the famous Salzkammergut –Lakes and Mountains Region. We were entitled for the usual Rick Steeve’s discount by the tour operator, once his book was shown to them which had the discount mentioned. We travelled into the beautiful mountain area south west of Salzburg, the area Maria called her ‘Home away from Home.’ It was an enchanting trip through the Lake District of Austria and suddenly we could feel the “Hills are Alive....” when the bus turned on the music from the film, Sound of Music. This full day trip gave us an unforgettable insight into the whole Story of Maria Von Trapp and family. Travelling via Hof and Fuschl, amidst stunning landscapes, we had our first stop at St Gilgen, followed by St Wolfgang, a bit further down. There we found many delightful sights including the local church with its famous winged altar from the 15th century by Michael Pacher and the Hotel White Horse Inn - the setting for the famous operetta ‘Im Weissen Rössl’. We made our way to the postcard-pretty, lakeside village of Hallstatt and enjoyed some relaxing hours, communing with Mother Nature on foot. It was a day full of fun, amazement, history and adventure. After we were back from Panorama’s original Sound of Music tour, we thought of spending some time at the old town of Salzburg. Like most of Europe, Salzburg is also a small and perfect town to be seen, walking. Strolling under the wrought-iron signs of the Getreidegasse, we admired the Baroques at the Salzburg Cathedral, also explored the ancient cemeteries that felt more like gardens. We walked through the magnificent Mirabell gardens, watched the bikers whizzing past down the lakeside road. These were the same places where the children once sang..”Do, Re, Mi.”
We witnessed St Peters, a 1200 yrs old restaurant where Mozart used to dine and Pescheria which boasts of the best fish delicacies in town. For authentic Austrian food, one must visit Stieglbrau, a frequently visited restaurant by locals, highly recommended for their beef specialities. We had a palatable dinner there on the last day of our stay in Salzburg. Worth mentioning are couple of dishes which are loved by children as well as by adults are Schnizel, a deep fried chicken cooked in Austrian style and a delicious soup called Borlouch suppe.
Pictures of Austria can be found at www.facebook.com/media/set/…
11th April - SWITZERLAND
On 11th April, though we were scheduled to go to Innsbruck from Salzburg and stay overnight, suddenly in the train we decided to do otherwise when it was only 30mins away from Innsbruck. We were carrying two heavy bag of luggages and towing them all along specially in Switzerland, would be a torture....so noticing that the train was going to Zurich, we decided to go to Zurich and planned to keep the luggage in the station and then to St Moritz by the next available train. This sudden change of plans, resulted repacking of our goods and my wife really managed it efficiently in the train itself. Since, in Europe, the trains are mostly empty, these activities were executed without any obligations or embarrassments. The Glacier Express runs from Zermatt to St Moritz and vice Versa, passing through Andermatt, Disentis, Chur before reaching St Moritz. It is supposed to be one of the slowest Express trains in the world and it takes about 8 hrs to cover the entire stretch from Zermatt to St Mortiz. We did not have the patience or inclination to do the full stretch so we decided to take the train in short bursts where the sceneries are supposed to be the best. Once from Chur to St Moritz and again from Zermatt to Andermatt. The Zermatt to Andermatt stretch was done by us later in that trip when we were at Zermatt. We extremely enjoyed the picturesque journey en route to St Mortiz, as the train passed thorough deep gorges, valleys, numerous tunnels and bridges. On reaching Zurich, we were lucky to find a thai restaurant just opposite the railway station and we did not have to think twice in getting our lunch packed from there and eat in the train. The Thai waitresses were too pleased to see us speaking in their language..but unfortunately this did not give us any advantage on price or discounts which could have been a boon for us in this expensive country. We had to change the train at Chur and boarded the Glacier Express train on the way to St Mortiz. The luxury train had panoramic glass windows, big seats and free wine.
St Moritz - 11th April
St Moritz is a small town divided into two smaller segments, one is called St Moritz Dorf and another St Moritz Bad, each situated in either side of the St Moritz lake.
The hotel Hauser at St Moritz belonged to the Swiss chain of hotels. Through our advance correspondences we had ensured that we get one of the best rooms of hotel which had a balcony and a direct view of Mt Pers from room. The hotel had free airport pickup from the station and wi-fi int he rooms. The service was good with timely assistance and informations about the town. They had their own bakery and made their own chocolates in-house which were undoubtedly delicious. After a freezing outing, it was best to come back to the cosy warm restaurant inside and try out their some of their specialities like Pioda or Rosti. The food at the restaurant was good, along with good service so there was no hesitation for us to have food there, everyday. The rates were bit on the expensive side but we guess that is because St Moritz is an expensive place to be in. We reached the hotel at around 2pm and thought of spending the day strolling and exploring the city. We went down to take a walk along the lake and to our delight, we found the greenish blue lake, completely frozen. It was a sight which was totally unexpected. There were hardly any people around, one or two cars passed by occasionally...the place was empty as we walked down the shores. The temperature was minus 7 degree centigrade...along with that there was chilling wind which made things really freezing. Coming from Paris and Austria, the cold wave was bit unexpected but enjoyable. We found the surroundings of the ice lake and the small town of St Moritz, too mesmerizing to be depicted here. The basement restaurant of the hotel was very romantic. We had taken the table by the side of the window from where we could watch the dreamy, misty surroundings outside. Even though, it was almost 8.45pm, the sky still glimmered with the fading shades of sun. It was the start of our candlelight dinners in Switzerland. The waitress, a cute Swiss young lady, recommended us to order Pioda and without actually knowing what it is supposed to be, we fell for it. It was only after it arrived, did we know that everything had to be cooked by ourselves. It was a great experience, cooking raw meat with wine by the Alps.
St Moritz - 12th April
When we woke up, we were unsure about our plan ahead as we were confused or rather reluctant to do the things that people go to St Moritz for ....skiing. Suddenly after breakfast, we were struck with the bright idea of exploring the entire upper Engadin region which supposedly happens to be the nicest in that region. The touristic Upper Engadin includes the 11 villages that are lined up over 55 km (34 miles) and include: Sils, Silvaplana, St. Moritz, Celerina, Pontresina, Samedan, Bever, La Punt Chamues-ch, Madulain, Zuoz and S-chanf. St Moritz, located in the center of Upper Engadin, is the most popular and biggest of the lot and is accessible via the Maloja Pass and the deep Bregaglia Valley. It can also be connected by driving over the Bernina Pass into the equally idyllic Poschiavo Valley. These two valleys are distinctivelyItalianin language and culture.
From Pontresina, a scenic town, nestled in a beautiful valley to Poschiavo was indeed the most scenic part of the Bernina route. This was the same route that is followed by the Bernina Express. Though with our swiss pass we were eligible to take the Bernina Express but we decided to drive as we wanted to stop and explore the points which interested us. In the whole day, we covered all parts of the Upper Engadin, in short, we drove from St Moritz through Bernina Pass to Poschiavo and all the way to Tirano and Lake Bianco where the Italian border that separates Switzerland and Italy. When we drove through the highest pass through the Alps, the Bernina Pass, we realized why it is considered to be as one of the most beautiful routes in Europe. By thee, we had ventured into an amazing journey of sheer visual delight. We came across the small yet picturesque cities of Sils and Silvaplana, amidst the two frozen lakes. We learnt that during the winter months, hundreds of people assemble on these frozen lakes to run marathon. But when we visited, the ice on the lakes, though fully frozen but was not so thick...so treading casually on it meant, disaster. We noticed the point from where people climb to Piz Corvatsch with cable car and watch people ski. We thought of coming back for that the next day and carried on with our plan. Our car moved ahead, through the winding roads. There were no cars on the roads, no people around...we continued driving amidst mist and little drizzle. We got down at regular intervals during the trip and each bend of the road looked more precious than before. We were left amazed at the wonder’s of nature and gaped at the white magical beauty of the mountains that encircled the surroundings. It was to us, the most beautiful landscape that we had ever experienced..it was our dream to visit a place like this.
Driving & exploring upper Engaddin valley
The road went through the plateau via Samedan and Celerina, and crossed the point from where the cableway goes up to Muottas Muragi. It was closed then and opens only after May, for the tourist season. With the desolate landscape of ice-worn rocks commonly found on the high passes and with the beautiful views on both sides, we carried on driving as the road went up and down with several hair pen bends on the way and with magnificent views down into the valley, into the Val Agoné, the highest part of the 34km long Poschiavo valley. The nearer we drove towards the Italian border in Bernina, the density of the snow increased. On the way, we stopped at the Diavolezza Nordic Park where skiers collate to enjoy the sheer pleasure of riding the massive Alps range.The Berggasthaus Diavolezza, a hotel and restaurant at 3,000 meters, was situated amidst breathtaking glacial scenery at the top of the Diavolezza Berg Bahn with views of the Bernina Massif rock face and boasting Europe’s highest Jacuzzi. We stopped at various places on the way and took some fabulous pictures which would remain as an enchanting memory. Snow clad mountains, frozen lakes, incessant brooks that we found en route made our drive a memorable one.
We used to get off the car at regular intervals in places where we could feast our eyes on the eternal beauty of the Alps. At that altitude with freezing surroundings and temperatures hitting less than minus 4 degrees centigrade, with gusty cold wind and little drizzle, we struggled to keep ourselves out in the open for too long. When we finally reached the enticing surroundings that was created by climate then. It was such a peaceful and serene environment which can only be felt and not explained. We were spending some time there taking pictures and just enjoying the surroundings when suddenly, to our disbelief..it started snowing. It was our first experience of snow in Switzerland and we were overjoyed and thrilled to this beautiful natural phenomenon. We spent some more time there, trying to enjoy the snow but soon it became difficult to be out on open as the freezing wind was piercing our skins, so we had to scurry back to the car soon. Surely it was an impressive scenic route alternate to glacier express route, but this route at high altitude can be severely subject to weather...but as we experienced the same, it remains as one of the highlight of our tour and best cherished one day outing that we had in Switzerland. Italian border, the had to stop at a distance, away from military patrolling point.,and we walked out to the Italian border line. We could see Lake Lago Bianco, in front of us ...totally frozen. We looked in awe at the enticing surroundings that was created by climate then. It was such a peaceful and serene environment which can only be felt and not explained. We were spending some time there taking pictures and just enjoying the surroundings when suddenly, to our disbelief..it started snowing. It was our first experience of snow in Switzerland and we were overjoyed and thrilled to this beautiful natural phenomenon. We spent some more time there, trying to enjoy the snow but soon it became difficult to be out on open as the freezing wind was piercing our skins, so we had to scurry back to the car soon. Surely it was an impressive scenic route alternate to glacier express route, but this route at high altitude can be severely subject to weather...but as we experienced the same, it remains as one of the highlight of our tour and best cherished one day outing that we had in Switzerland. St Moritz - 13th April On our third day, since Muotta's Muragi was closed, we chose to spend some time by going up to Corvatsch, Corviglia and then going up to the highest altitude attainable , Mt Piz Nair (3057m). Comfortable cog railways and cable cars were available to all the 3,000 meter summits of Piz Nair, Corviglia, Corvatsch and Diavolezza that we went up to during our stay at St Moritz. Though these places were meant for skiing only, but as a tourist, getting on to these summits, under freezing conditions, made us feel that we really are at the top of the world. The entire day was spent on hiking and enjoying the snowy mountaintops. The temperature was bit warmer today at 4 degrees centigrade and with the sun blazing the snow tops, we could see all the peaks, clear at it’s best. With a panoramic view of 360 degrees, as we stood in solitude on the white eternal landscape, stretching all sides of the horizon and with clear blue sky all around...our spirits were immediately elevated...it was an unimaginable experience of a lifetime. As we returned to the hotel at dusk, we were still full to the neck with the Rosti lunch we had earlier in the day and could only consume some Cream of vegetable soup, which was delicious, followed by Apple strudel served with ice cream. We also tasted the delectable fendant wine of Valais, which later on became our standard drink everyday for the rest of our trip.
Lucerne - 14th April
We took the 8.02 train from St Moritz station towards lucerne. We had to change twice, at Chur and Thawill to reach our final destination at 12.25. The journey was a pleasant one. This time we boarded the train called Bernina Express, revisiting the beautiful landscapes that we enjoyed while coming. We noticed that about 3 coaches that is added up in the front of any normal train in the similar route and the same is either called Glacier Express or Bernina Express. The Bernina Express goes from Chur or Davos to St Moritz, Poschiavo to Tirano in Italy. The total trip on the Bernina Express through the World Heritage Site is a 4 hour railway journey across 196 bridges, through 55 tunnels and across the Bernina Pass, where we had traversed by car earlier. Lucerne - 14th April Lucerne is the most populous city in central Switzerland with a population of about 76,000 people and is close to Mt Pilatus and Rigi in the Swiss Alps. Lucerne was voted as the fifth most popular tourism destination in the world in 2010 by TripAdvisor. We reached the Tourist hotel, at 1pm and although we believed that it was a 10mins walk from the railway station, but we decided to take the taxi which took us there in no time. Since we arrived earlier than the normal check-in time at 3pm, we found that the rooms were not yet ready. So we decided to venture out to Pilatus immediately, after leaving our luggages behind at the hotel lockers. The moment we walked out of the hotel, we could feel the cold wind and temperature that prevailed. Frankly, we were not expecting this kind of temperature in Lucerne, specially when it was not up in the hills. Since we were going up the mountains, we did take our gloves, cap and sunglasses...fully equipped to combat any kind of weather. We tried walking to the bus stop which was surprisingly closer than we thought. Since our hotel was situated right beside the Lucerne Lake, we took the straight road ahead by the lake and as it meandered through the old town and shopping areas, before we could realize, we were at the bus stop already. Lucerne - 14th April On reaching Lucerne, we walked into Tourist Hotel and we were checked into one of their best rooms that the hotel had and we were fortunate to have it. We were truly impressed by the size of the room as well as the beautiful lake view that it provided from the balcony. Seeing the room, we felt that we should spend more time in the room than originally planned. The hotel is run by a couple for quite some time now. Margaret, looks after the hotel with her colleagues Peter and Chris in the reception. All of them provide excellent service whenever needed..whether it was excursion informations, food availability or even taking care of small personal needs like multiple adapters, iron etc. It was an easy walk to the old town, marketplace and the train station, so we saved on travel expense too. Taking bus no 1 and getting down to Pilatus stop was not really an easy task. Immediately after boarding, my repeated enquiries with the driver, yielded no significant results. It was obvious that we not understand each other’s language. While we tried to ask fare to Pilatus to pay that, he repeatedly said which we did not understand and from his gestures we could make out that he said that, we should go back and sit and he would let us know when our stop arrives. We tried to talk to couple of fellow passengers also, who failed to understand us as well. We began doubting whether people there did not know English or our English was so poor that we failed to communicate. We studied the monitor in the bus where the approaching name of stations kept on coming up, and suddenly seeing the pilatus name in the monitor, we scurried down in that stop. After getting down, luckily our eyes met that of the driver..from the looks of his face we could realize that we have made something silly...He opened the door of the bus, and waved us to come in. We thought that he must be calling us as we did not pay for the fare, so frantically we reached our pockets to get some changes but again, his bizarre dialogues did not mean anything to us..all we could figure out was to go back and sit down. We had no other choice. Some of the co-passengers felt pity for us but could not help us much. From their sign languages, we figured out that the Pilatus station was still far away. So we sat tight in our seats, eyes glued to the monitor ahead. It was less than 20mins, we finally reached our final destination. This time, we were confident that there cannot be a third Pilatus stop surely on way. We had already bought our tickets from the hotel at 50% discount because we had Swiss pass, so we could avoid the queue. Going up to the top was easy, changing gondolas. Though the cable car ride was enjoyable, but we were throughly disappointed with the view atop. There was hardly much snow and the place were under renovation so most of the places had barricades. We were lucky to have a clear blue sky with clear visibility of all the peaks that can be seen in a 360 degree view. Maybe, if our first stop in Switzerland would have been Pilatus, we could have been more impressed but since we had a breathtaking experience in Corviglia/Corvatsch, the Pilatus trip turned out to be stale. On our return back to Lucerne, we came back by the bus and confidently got down to our desired stop without even bothering to ask about tickets. After spending sometime in the Marketplatz, as it was getting late in the evening, we went in to the famous Chinese eatery, Tay Li Pian. Tay Li Pian was a well established poet, in the era of three digit century. The legend says that one fine day, he died by trying to embrace the full moon from his boat and was overboard. The food was delicious, even though little expensive.
On reaching Lucerne, we walked into Tourist Hotel and we were checked into one of their best rooms that the hotel had and we were fortunate to have it. We were truly impressed by the size of the room as well as the beautiful lake view that it provided from the balcony. Seeing the room, we felt that we should spend more time in the room than originally planned. The hotel is run by a couple for quite some time now. Margaret, looks after the hotel with her colleagues Peter and Chris in the reception. All of them provided excellent service whenever needed..whether it was excursion informations, food availability or even taking care of small personal needs like multiple adapters, iron etc. It was an easy walk to the old town, marketplace and the train station, so we saved on travel expense too.
Lucerne - Mt Titlis - 15th April
A visit to Mt Rigis was highly recommended from our hotel desk, but we were keen to go to Titlis as it’s more popular as a destination and going back home without visiting Titlis would have been a disaster...keeping in mind we decided to Mt Titlis after breakfast. Visits to either of these mountains would have taken a whole day, and with only 2 days in Lucerne we could not have afford to do both. We took the train to Engelberg which was located at the foot of Mt Titlis. From there we had to change three cable cars to go onto the top. By this time, we were quite habituated by this idea as we have been doing something similar for so many times since the St Moritz days. But, here we found the world’s first revolving aerial cable car which took us on top of Mt Titlis (3028m). Though it was off- season, but we were still surprised to see so many people on top, mostly Indians and Japanese. Everyone was laughing, screaming, waving in glee....everywhere it was covered with snow. We walked up a bit on the snow while our kid was busy trying to make a snowman. We stayed there for next couple of hours, giving our kid enough time to feel and play in the snow and then finally took a ride on the Ice Flyer...an open air lift which is generally used by skiers for a drop off. Amongst other activities was Tobagganing which was fun as well. There was a nice photo shop on the 2nd floor of the building and we took a family picture, dressed in typical swiss costume and it was a fond memory to be taken back home. On our return to Lucerne, we took a short cruise on the lake, which was pleasant and enjoyable..the temperature was minus 3 then. Soon, it was dusk and we opted for Asia Town for dinner. It proved to be a good place to eat, with reasonable prices in comparison to the Switzerland economic structure. The service of the restaurant was good and the quantity, sufficient. The Cantonese style fried rice reminded us of our home. After dinner, we walked the cobbled streets of old town and casually visited some shops. We noticed the shopping diversity here from excellent watches to designer clothes...all available at a decent price. Calling it the end of the day, we walked back by the chapel bridge back to the hotel. Due to shortage of time, we could not visit the Lion Monument, a tourist place as well.
BERN - 16th April
Today, as we were supposed to be in Zermatt, we really left early from Lucerne and since we had to change the train at Bern for Zermatt, we thought of getting off there and have a look around the city. It was around 8am when we reached at Bern and after leaving our luggages in the locker, grabbed the map from the Information center and soon we were on the road to explore the city. From our previous homework that we had done, we knew it was a place of gothic architectures and we were not proved wrong. There was only one main street which had most of the landmarks and alongside of the streets, there were long arcades of shops which we could browse on our way to the major attractions. There was a single statue at almost every half kilometer and each statue de-marked the start or end of a particular area of the city. It was in this city where Sir Albert Einstein worked, where Toblerone chocolates are made and also Emmental cheese,knowasSwisscheese reaches out to the world. We did not have the time to visit the chocolate or the cheese factories but we did make a point to visit the great scientist’s workplace. As we walked through the cobbled streets, we could notice the architectural wonders of stately towers, sandstone buildings and numerous fountains. No wonder Bern is listed under the UNESCO world heritage site. As historical cities always interests us the most, we wanted to have a quick look at the city for our own satisfaction and we were not disappointed.
ZERMATT - Gornegrat - 16th April
After Bern, we took the afternoon train to Zermatt. The railway network had direct connections in Brig and Visp to the modern narrow-gauge railway of the Matterhorn Gotthard Railway, which arrives in Zermatt after an hour and a half ride through the rugged and romantic Nicolaital valley.The new Lötschberg base tunnel from Frutigen (BE) to Raron (VS) significantly shortens the journey time to Zermatt by train. So, after a short changeover at Visp, we arrived Zermatt, after one and half hrs. There was a connecting train to Gornegrat which we took immediately on reaching to Zermatt, without wasting much time. The train uphill was a classic example of a scenic route..riding along with the landscapes. Mostly the landscape was snow covered but it gave us a feeling of experiencing winter in Switzerland. By the time we reached Gornegrat, we could see that the entire surroundings was enveloped in white snow. Gornegrat is situated at 3089m from sea level which makes it one of the highest place reachable by a cog wheel train and boasts of highest restaurant in the world. We stayed at Kulm Hotel, Gornegrat. We booked this hotel with reference from our friend who stayed there a year back and found it highly worthwhile. Only after reaching the hotel at 3092m altitude, did we be able to find out why this hotel is so famous....it was for it’s location and its rooms. The moment we entered the room, we could see the gigantic Matterhorn peak standing in front of us. We were amazed to see its beauty, specially when seen in the night and in early morning when the first rays of sun adorns the peak. We went during April, so the entire surroundings of the hotel was snow covered. There was no other way to experience this view other than staying at the only hotel in Gornegrat - the Kulm.
The furnitures of the hotel were all made up of knotty pine, which is grown there. The Hotel had only 23 rooms and all the rooms were made to provide a direct view of the mountain peaks of the Alps. Each room had been named by the peak that it has a direct view of. The hotel also had 2 observatories which is opened during summertime for star gazing in the night. One need to make an appointment at least a day in advance for this observatory tour. We, unfortunately, missed the opportunity as it was closed in April. From the hotel, there were some hiking paths which are made specifically for visitors to see the splendid view around. But one must be careful, if anyone has problems of height. At over 10,000ft , sometimes, someone may have breathing problems at high altitude levels. Also we were told to walk slowly and carefully since everywhere it was covered with ice.
ZERMATT... Gornegrat - 16th April
This was an isolated hotel on the top with nothing around...no shops, no restaurants...no people, other than hotel guests. Before dinner, we sat in the terrace and immersed ourselves in the beauty of the ever changing appearance of the peaks, sky, glaciers, sun and course. We had two choices for the main course though and followed by dessert and tea/coffee. In the main course, we opted for chicken and the taste was simply out of the world. Almost at the end of our dinner, we could watch the sun suddenly disappear, leaving a reddish-orange glimmer in the horizon. It was followed by extremely chilly and voracious winds which blew the clouds over the Matterhorn, like a blanket covering a sleeping child. An hour later, we looked out of the window and the clouds had vanished by then! Together with us, we could also watch the million stars that had come out to watch the Matterhorn at rest. She was a vision of ultimate splendor. We braved the cold, and walked outside in the terrace to watch her...to stand in awe at the mammoth sleeping giant, indomitable. We woke up early in the morning, about 4.30am, when it was still dark and waited for the first rays of sun to awake the mighty giant. At around 6am,we were glued to the window when we suddenly saw the sun showering her first blessings in the morning, the extreme point of the Matterhorn tip showed bright reddish orange color. Within the next half hour or so, the regal pyramid-like structure of the Matterhorn, continually changed color and shape as a result of the sun’s gradual appearance along with the cloud movements. Soon, she revealed herself completely, full woken, with her white, silvery stature against the blue sky...ready to rule the region for the day. A total splendor to experience her...a lifetime experience. We would recommend everyone to spend atleast one night in Kulm Gornegrat and experience this island of paradise high in the sky. the moon. It was full moon and at when the sun was setting, the sky reddish tinge, we could see the moon on the other side....as if saying, don’t forget me. We had to leave for dinner, with the sun not fully set. The hotel offered a full 4 course dinner all included in our “Half-board” price of CHF 360, which we felt was quite reasonable considering the priceless summit experience. The salad bar had fantastic offerings which included pate, lettuce, vegetables, a variety of fresh bread and local cheese. We had too much of the salad itself and we found ourselves too full for the main course. We had two choices for the main course though and followed by dessert and tea/coffee. In the main course, we opted for chicken and the taste was simply out of the world. Almost at the end of our dinner, we could watch the sun suddenly disappear, leaving a reddish-orange glimmer in the horizon. It was followed by extremely chilly and voracious winds which blew the clouds over the Matterhorn, like a blanket covering a sleeping child. An hour later, we looked out of the window and the clouds had vanished by then! Together with us, we could also watch the million stars that had come out to watch the Matterhorn at rest. She was a vision of ultimate splendor. We braved the cold, and walked outside in the terrace to watch her...to stand in awe at the mammoth sleeping giant, indomitable. We woke up early in the morning, about 4.30am, when it was still dark and waited for the first rays of sun to awake the mighty giant. At around 6am,we were glued to the window when we suddenly saw the sun showering her first blessings in the morning, the extreme point of the Matterhorn tip showed bright reddish orange color. Within the next half hour or so, the regal pyramid-like structure of the Matterhorn, continually changed color and shape as a result of the sun’s gradual appearance along with the cloud movements. Soon, she revealed herself completely, full woken, with her white, silvery stature against the blue sky...ready to rule the region for the day. A total splendor to experience her...a lifetime experience. We would recommend everyone to spend atleast one night in Kulm Gornegrat and experience this island of paradise high in the sky.
ZERMATT - 17th April
We found Zermatt, at the foot of the Matterhorn, a typical swiss mountain village, full of chalets and timbered houses. We spent one night in one of the chalet hotels. Hotel Helvetia, where we stayed, was conveniently located on Bahnhofstrasse, Zermatt's high street, midway between the train and lift stations. It took us about 5-7 mins walk to reach the hotel. As the road from the station goes straight ahead but it was bit hard to find the hotel on the right. Just as the road bends right, suddenly we found a big sign confirming the hotel’s existence. We found it hard to find the main door of the hotel and on enquiry we found that there were narrow steps going up by the side of the chalet which leads to a restaurant and that acts as the hotel reception too. Climbing the steep stairs to reach the reception when we were dead tired, put us off totally. The room given to us was on the fourth floor and it was impossible for us to drag our heavy luggage through the narrow steps, so we had no other option than to ask for a change of floors. Finally the room given to us on the 2nd floor turned out to be so small that we could hardly move within the room. Surprisingly, the breakfast was quite good but that reason alone was not a motivating factor to revisit again. The charges per day when compared with the facilities offered, were totally unjustified. ZERMATT Most of the day, we were out in the uncrowded streets of Zermatt....checking out the various shopping places around. As we found, it was a skiers paradise, with gondolas TOP OF THE WORLD and cable cars to numerous peaks and glaciers. For every train reaching the station, we could see, hundreds of people with ski equipments marching their way out of the station. It was a brilliant sight to see the skiers in their bright attires, gloves, sunglasses, heavy boots, carrying various sizes of skis...making a clinkering noise from their equipments and boots moving up to the top. Our hotel was midway between the hotel and the lifts, so it was convenient of us to walk down to the life area and visit Klein Matterhorn, a ski destination.There are no cars allowed in Zermatt, some private, battery operated taxis are available though but since the town is a very small one, everyone seem to walk. It really reminded us of Katmandu, Nepal where we witnessed similar sights. It was a relaxing, quiet, pleasant evening that we spent in Zermatt town, relaxing every minute. But we really felt that we should have stayed back one more night at the Kulm Hotel.
MONTREUX - Chillon Castle -18th April
The moderate climate makes Montreux, one of the most frequented resort on Lake Geneva and and earns it the name of Vaud Riviera for its lakeshore. Enhanced by the spectacular background of the Alps, the town of 20,000 inhabitants has charmed many people in the past and we were overwhelmed with it’s charm the moment we landed up there. Many Edwardian hotels are present here that are reminiscent of the French Riviera. We had booked a similar hotel, Eau De Palace which we found to be the best to our choice. Initially we had booked this hotel for 2 nights, but just after reaching the hotel we had to change our mind to extend our stay to 3 nights, specially when we were so impressed by the hotel decor and the services. The hotel lobby, dining areas, and rooms were all beautifully decorated. We had a spacious room with a balcony on the fifth floor, overlooking the placid and beautiful lake. The balcony had a set of chairs and table which proved ideal for watching the beauty of the lake in the evenings, while savoring wine. The elevator was whisper quiet and made up of all glass. This was an old property, but renovated nicely to have a very elegant and sophisticated look. Few steps down from the lovely lobby, it opened up to the garden and the lakeside promenade.The breakfast was sumptuous and had a very nice spread with almost everything that makes a continental breakfast, perfect. The hotel was within walking distance of anything that was worthwhile in Montreux and the staff was very friendly and ever attendant. The rates were quite justified for such a property by the lakeside. Would definitely recommend others to stay. temperatures. Not only trees, but flowers of varied kinds bloom by the lakeside all year long. We were particularly fascinated with the colorful displays of tulips, roses and hyacinths. Walking down the shores of the lake was a very pleasant and charming exercise. Before we could realize the long walk and strain in our legs, we could find ourselves in front of one of the most beautiful historic buildings in Switzerland..the Chillon Castle. As we delved deeper inside the castle, we were fascinated by the rugged interiors and a journey to the deepest cellars, gave us some insights of the hair raising incidents that once occurred. Right from the Medieval ages, history unfolded...wrapping our minds and thoughts as we slowly made our way to the topmost tower of the castle. We had to climb up several stairs on the way to reach the top, passing by the mannequins of armoured warriors and medieval weaponry. The day was well spent in the castle and the lakeside tour. Would definitely ask others to stay and we would would love to go again. The town has long been popular with celebrity musicians and writers, including Tchaikovski, Stravinski, Byron, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and--more. On the shores of the lake one can find fig, bay, almond, mulberry trees, cypresses, magnolias and palm trees flourishing at truly Mediterranean temperatures. Not only trees, but flowers of varied kinds bloom by the lakeside all year long. We were particularly fascinated with the colorful displays of tulips, roses and hyacinths. Walking down the shores of the lake was a very pleasant and charming exercise. Before we could realize the long walk and strain in our legs, we could find ourselves in front of one of the most beautiful historic buildings in Switzerland..the Chillon Castle. As we delved deeper inside the castle, we were fascinated by the rugged interiors and a journey to the deepest cellars, gave us some insights of the hair raising incidents that once occurred. Right from the Medieval ages, history unfolded...wrapping our minds and thoughts as we slowly made our way to the topmost tower of the castle. We had to climb up several stairs on the way to reach the top, passing by the mannequins of armoured warriors and medieval weaponry. The day was well spent in the castle and the lakeside tour.
MONTREUX - 19th April
After breakfast, we had scheduled to visit Rochers-De-Naye - the Marmottes Paradise. It is supposed to be a delight for children, as foretold by some fellow travelers. We had to take the narrow gauge train from the main railway station to Rochers-De-Naye and we were surprised to note that this small journey to the top of the hills was also a part of the Golden pass route. As the cog wheel train meandered between forests, lakes and mountains, it left small chalets down below, further and further. As we kept our eyes glued to the windows, we could see the train moving up the winding rail tracks, between the rocky surroundings and after halting at small villages of Glion and Caux, did the train finally reach the destination in an hour. The place was mostly covered with snow but far away we could see small enclosures which looked like big cages. These, we understood were the places where we could see mermottes..so we were all excited. There were few Yourtes - beautiful decorative tents where one can spend the night with the stars nearer by 2000 meters. The Yourtes here were derived from original Mongolian yurt or dormitories. The Expo was an interactive exhibition center where one can learn about all the 14 species of Mermottes in the world. From the top of this hill, we could experience a breathtaking panorama of the Alps and lake geneva.
In the evening, we travelled from Zweisimmen to Montreux, again a part of the Golden pass route and it took about one hour and half single way. Since it was a panoramic scenic train like the Glacier Express, the train moved quite slowly, enough time for us to take some beautiful photographs. The scenery was that of typical Swiss countryside and we decided to spend some time at Gstadd before going back. We found Gstaad a cozy, car free little town,
surrounded by the finest Switzerland’s alpine scenery. A rather charming, attractively located place full of restored weathered-wood chalets between four gently sloping valleys. We roamed around a bit, visited a local church, sat down on the meadows and listened to the ringing of cowbells. GENEVA - 20th April Today, we had a day to spare. We had it unplanned, specially chose to stay back in Montreux because of it’s magnetic charm and ambience.We went to the train station and we had two choices, either to go towards right which could take us to Visp and from there we could change to almost any other destination and the other was to travel on the left along the Geneva lakeside towards Lausanne.We chose the latter as we had a desire to visit Geneva, a passionate town which thrived in our memories from our childhood days, when we were first exposed to this town through the pages of Tintin comics. On way, the train stopped to Laussane, where we were tempted to get down and do some shopping, as it is known for...but finally decided not to and carried on the hour long journey to Geneva. At the very Geneva station itself, at the basement, we could see many shops and clearance sale offers of various items. We found that the price tags were the best that we could ever find elsewhere in Switzerland. On deciding, to buy certain souvenirs on our way back from here, we walked out of the station. We could see the array of shops infront that led us to the far western part of Lake Geneva. It was just a matter of time when we could complete our sightseeing...we saw the Reformation Monument, the old cathedral, the Jet d’Eau fountain and the United Nations building. The old town in Geneva also had similar sights like other European cities with cobbled streets that's lined with cafes and boutiques. It also had a flowered lakeside promenade and a lakeside park where a tulip festival is held in may. We returned to Montreux, satisfied with our day out in Geneva specially with the good sightseeing and shopping that we wanted to do there.
WENGEN - 21st April
We left the hotel early from Montrex and caught the 7.40am train to Wengen as we knew that we have to change at Visp, Speiz, Interlaken OST, Lauterbrannun before we would reach wengen. The entire journey would take about 2 and half hrs. As we knew Wengen is a typical hilly town with undulating landscapes, we quickly decided to keep our extra bag in the locker at the Interlaken OST station, and rushing against the time, was able to catch the connecting train within 10mins to Lautabrannun. While we passed Lautabrannun, we felt immediately in love with it...quite charming valley, quietly nestled with a steep cliff and waterfalls at the backdrop..it was wonderful and we knew we had to come back there soon after dropping our bags in Wengen. We had been informed by our hotel that there were hardly any taxis available nor there was any need of taking one in Wengen, and that we had no alternative but to walk the 10 minutes from the train station to the hotel. As we started our walk downhill, our eyes feasted on sights that we were totally unprepared for. As the narrow deep road carved its way up and down through the roadside tulip blooms and with the snow capped mountain cliffs surrounding us, we could feel the rustic beauty of Wengen entrapping us. We could see the pretty chalets with small gardens, full of flowers staring at us, as if smiling and welcoming us. The small town of Wengen, with its mysterious air engulfed us with it’s magnetic charm immediately and it seemed that we had arrived at the gates of heaven. We walked to the chalet hotel that we had chosen to stay for the next couple of days. Hotel Edelweise, Wengen - This seemed to be quite a popular hotel as we found while searching for the hotel in booking.com. After reading the reviews in trip advisor, finally concluded that this would be the right hotel for us. It was a 10 minute steep walk to the railway station and being in resident of the plains and specially since my wife was not well, it became little tough for us to do to and fro more than once inaday.Theroomhada beautiful view of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. Rooms were clean. Breakfast was typical with cereal, cheeses, meat, and breads. Unfortunately there were no fruits. The proprietors were very nice and took care of us. The best option was to have dinner in the hotel. At CHF 25, one can have a 4 course meal, which was quite reasonable. Schilthorn ....An amazing snowscape ..visual delight We freshened up quickly, and immediately left for the train station, and jumped into the train to Lautabrannun at 12.35pm, our challenge was to be at Shilthorn as soon as possible. As we came out of the station of Lautabrannun, we were guided to a Post Bus stopped by, headed in that direction. The bus drove us down to Stechelberg, from where the lifts took us up to Schilthorn. This was a place where we wanted to visit on a clear day and luckily we got the same. We could experience the spectacular 360° panorama of the Alps, including Piz Gloria (2970m). The magnificent sight of these massive giant mountains, left us speechless. it was a clear, sunny day, so we were quite lucky to see the Impressive views embracing some 200 snow-capped peaks, The ride to Grutschalp took only 4 minutes, and as we alighted, there was a train waiting across the platform to take us to Murren. We stopped by, as rightly described by fellow Trip Advisor members, to see the most awesome view of mountains that we could imagine, a full frontal of Eiger, Jungfrau and Monsch. From there we walked to Winteregg, rested for a while with chilled beer and then carried on to Murren. We had heard a lot about the popular hike that people indulge in from Grutshcalp to Murren and we could see lot of hikers along the way as well before we reached we reached Murren. In Murren, we decided to spend sometime and walked around the town a bit before continuing back to Stechelberg. On the way, we could see the peaks and scenery of the alps...quietly following us wherever we went. At Stechelberg we took the Post Bus back to Lauterbrunnen. It’s difficult to pen down how stunning we felt the beauty of Lauterbrunnen Valley was – no wonder seasoned Alpinists call it as the most beautiful valley in Europe! An immense U-shaped valley (the world’s deepest) with bluffs on either side rising 1000m sheer, doused by some 72 waterfalls, it is utterly spectacular. During April, we could the rolling hills covered in yellow wildflowers going off into the distance. Buying some Fendant wine from the local Coops store, we walked towards our hotel for dinner. ranging from Alps to Mont France and Germany's Black Forest. We could see the breathtaking view of the Eiger, Monch and the Jungfrau as it was a clear, sunny day. The ride to Grutschalp took only 4 minutes, and as we alighted, there was a train waiting across the platform to take us to Murren. We stopped by, as rightly described by fellow Trip Advisor members, to see the most awesome view of mountains that we could imagine, a full frontal of Eiger, Jungfrau and Monsch. From there we walked to Winteregg, rested for a while with chilled beer and then carried on to Murren. We had heard a lot about the popular hike that people indulge in from Grutshcalp to Murren and we could see lot of hikers along the way as well before we reached we reached Murren. In Murren, we decided to spend sometime and walked around the town a bit before continuing back to Stechelberg. On the way, we could see the peaks and scenery of the alps...quietly following us wherever we went. At Stechelberg we took the Post Bus back to Lauterbrunnen. It’s difficult to pen down how stunning we felt the beauty of Lauterbrunnen Valley was – no wonder seasoned Alpinists call it as the most beautiful valley in Europe! An immense U-shaped valley (the world’s deepest) with bluffs on either side rising 1000m sheer, doused by some 72 waterfalls, it is utterly spectacular. During April, we could the rolling hills covered in yellow wildflowers going off into the distance. Buying some Fendant wine from the local Coops store, we walked towards our hotel for dinner.
After breakfast, we caught the 9.20am train toJungfraujoch(3454m). Knowing that this would be our most coveted yet final tourist spot that we would visit in our trip, we were sad yet excited.Thetrainbegan its journey to the top of Europe. The speed was too slow but that was understandable because of the steepness. The cog wheel train stopped at two mid way places from where we could watch intermittent parts of the glaciers as well as the snowy peaks around. Once on top of Jungfraujoch, we underwent the same attractions that others did before - The Sphinx observation hall, impressive Ice Palace and hiking plateau. Riding a ski-lift, husky-drawn sledging and other adventure activities were closed unfortunately and poised to start in May beginning. Unlike St Mortiz, there were lot of tourists who had throngedthetop. Since, everywhere it was snow, we found it quite similar and enjoyable as the rest of our trip. Theremarkable Jungfraujoch round-trip journey has long been one of Europe’s top holiday attractions and it passes Kleine Scheidegg (2061m) on the way. The Kleine Scheidegg Railway Station is situated right at the foot of the notorious Eiger North Face. We decided to spend some time there on our way down from Jungfraujoch. We hiked up to the mountains from here and the view from the top of these slopes, was excellent.
Time to return back ...... April 23rd
We started off a bit late this morning and just lazily boarded sequential subsequent trains from Wengen to Lautabrannun to Interlaken to Zurich. By the time we reached Zurich, it was lunchtime and we had lunch at the same thai restaurant we found earlier. After lunch, it was time to collect our bag from the lockers and take the train to the airport. Our plane was at 4pm and scheduled to reach bangkok the next day around 11am. As we sat in the plane, we refreshed our recent memories of Switzerland - The natural and arranged, flowers, trees, peaks, waterfalls, clean air, benevolent people who speak several languages and the fauna, all those that might be a catalyst for my return to switzerland in future.
Pictures of Switzerland can be found at www.facebook.com/media/set/…
Travel is our passion ..... we live to Travel.. Travel leads to Happiness The scenic and artistic side of each country was explored to the greatest extent possible by us. At times, we gaped at the gigantic Alps range and sometimes we were amazed to see the sculptures and artistic imaginations that has made Europe famous for what it is till today. This European tour will be a memorable one and it will be cherished till our life end. Special thanks to my friends who had helped us in determining the best places to visit in this trip and their inputs proved invaluable by us. Swiss trains and travel are a marvel of engineering design and a pleasure to experience. Normally any train journey within the alpine country would not take more than 4 hours. There is always an option to take the fast connection or take leisurely the scenic trains. Changing trains within 3-5mins by interchanging platforms, is not difficult atall.Trainsaresmooth,andgiveyoua chance to walk around, visit the dining car, and enjoy the views. They are also quietly electric powered. Personally we think the Glacier Express is one of the most overhyped things in Europe - a great marketing campaign for of a rail trip which is a tedious 8-9hrs journey through often so-so scenery. If the idea is to take the Glacier Express only as a scenic train ride, then probably we would not recommend it as most part of the journey is not extraordinary, it is simply not worth spending 7-8 hrs on it. But if one wants to relocate to St Moritz/Chur or Brig/ Zermatt, then it has to be the obvious choice. Any train ride through the Alpine Wonderland is worth the ride as it . slices through cow pastures, flower- bedecked chalet houses and with the hills or mountains always in the background, etc., The journey is scenic and often awesomely scenic but after couple of hours it looks the same landscape overall. Here is a list of the best scenic train routes in Switzerland. We had the opportunity to take most of these: 1- Bernina Express 2- Jungfrau Railways Interlaken-Grindelwald- Kleine Scheidegg-Wengen-Lauterbrunnen- Interlaken 3- Gornegrat Railway Zermatt 4- Grutschalp-Murren 5- Martigny-Chamonix 6- Chur-St Moritz 7- Brig-Zermatt 8- Interlaken-Spiez-Lotschberg (old line) 9- Brunig Pass Interlaken-Lucerne 10- Golden Pass Interlaken-Zweissimmen- Montreux 11- Gotthard line Lucerne/Zurich to Lugano 12- Glacier Express Chur-Brig 13- Lausanne-Montreux-Brig up the Rhone Valley 14 - Lake Lucerne to the summit of Rigi 14- Centovalli Domodossola-Locarno 15 - Landquart-Davos-Filisur 16 - Lake Lucerne to Rigi Research is important For making any successful trip, a thorough research is required well before the final travel date. We had planned 4 months in advance and still felt that we could have done better. In Europe, hotels need to be determined by their location only.If its in the right location, half the worry is gone. Otherwise half the time will be spent travelling to the tourist places from the hotel. There are various kinds of trains in Europe, of which we found the ICE trains to be the best. The Thalys, RE and SBB are good trains too, but it is advisable to catch the faster connections. A good research on the train timings and duration is essential before visiting the cities.
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TRIP REPORT - Switzerland, Paris,Austria and Belgium
We are a bangkok based, travel friendly family of three - myself in mid forties, my wife, Ritu and our 9 years old daughter, Ayanna.
In April, 2011, we travelled across 5 countries in Europe to experience Belgium, Netherlands, France, Austria and Switzerland in a trip that lasted 24 days. With a passion to travel and to immerse ourselves in the prevailing culture of each country, we were all set to start off our dream journey to Europe.