01 December 2009

Switzerland: a small heaven on earth

Switzerland, a must visit place in Europe especially for people staying in South Germany. The place with which every Bollywood fan can associate himself/herself as it’s been glamorized by filmmakers for several decades. Above all, a blissful place to be for avid travelers.

  • Jungfrau is must visit.
  • Equate Jungfrau's ticket price with amount of money and time investment required for making to trip to Himalayas.
  • Carry sufficient warm clothes to beat the cold at high altitude.
  • While renting a car, do a double check for proper navigation system.
  • Food is very expensive in Switzerland. Prefer carrying some basic bakery items and fruits.

Driving Route:
Reutlingen-> Schaffhausen(Rhine Falls)-> Zurich-> Luzern-> Lauterbrunnen.

The Planning:
Staying in Reutlingen, i.e. in south Germany we had a plan of having a full-fledged trip spread over two days. And the obvious choice turned out to be Switzerland as it’s not so far away from play we were staying. First we thought of traveling by train, but later we decided to look for other options since traveling by train was not efficient and there was not much advantage w.r.t cost.

Then we thought of renting a car for travel, but the process of renting was not that smooth. Our first attempt was at EuropeCar, nearest car rental to our dorm Kolpinghaus, but they refused to give a car stating the reason that none of us have an international license. Then, Sivaram did some research on internet and got the info that with valid Indian driving license one can drive in Europe for first 6 months of his/her stay. So we enquired the same clause at other car rentals and ended up getting Volkswagen Turon from Sixt car-rental.

One of the motto of the trip was to save money on food. As soon as we got the car from Sixt on Friday evening(September 18th), we went to Penny Markt near university to load the boot-space with food items like bread, fruits etc which would be sufficient enough to fill our stomach while traveling.

The Beginning:
We started early on Saturday morning. As part of planning for the trip we had taken printouts of various routes from google maps. But practically it was not that helpful, as it was difficult to read the from paper for making decision when the speed of vehicle is greater than 100 kmph, so for convenience we followed orders of car navigation system.

From Reutlingen, we traveled towards Tubingen and then to Rottenberg. After Rottenberg we joined an Autobahn which was destined to German-Swiss border. In that stretch we had maiden experience of traveling in German Autobahns. It was an amazing experience to witness people just zipping beyond 200 kmph in no speed limit zone, especially people on Audis and BMWs. Within no time we crossed Germany borders and it was time to start our Swiss sightseeing. The first place on the visit-list was Rhine falls.

Rhine Falls:
The major problem traveling on our own vehicle is that there’s probability of missing the right diversion. Even after doing sufficient homework and taking print outs we failed to take the right diversion for Rhine Falls. Sivaram and Sameer, the driver+navigator pair realized it just one second late. Unfortunately, it was too late when we were moving at a speed greater than 80 kmph, so no chance of backtracking!

After missing the diversion, we somehow managed to reach Rhine Falls by Indian style of routing i.e. asking people. Fortunately we found a person at a gas station to help us with directions.

At Rhine falls, after parking our VW at dedicate place we proceeded towards the falls. One has to walk downhill, walk across the railway bridge in upstream of the falls and reach the front viewpoint of the falls. From the viewpoint one can take a boat-ride to island in actual falls area.

Amazing thing was while when we were walking across the bridge a train passed right next to us, it happened twice and very first time we were taken aback by sudden surprise zip of the engine. The boat ride to island(for 6.5 CHF) was also nice … and also climbing upto bird’s nest region of the falls. On the boat a phrase was written in several languages and in hindi it was written as – एक छोटा सा स्वर्ग.

While traveling on the boat, we met an Indian family of Husband-Wife, Father-Mother. The guy was staying somewhere in North Germany. The family were on one week Switzerland trip and were in the last leg of the trip. After realizing that we are planning skip Jungfrau in order to see more places, they suggested us to make a visit to Interlaken atleast, if not Jungfrau. Then after getting back to parking-lot we consumed our food items bread, jam, peanut butter, boiled egg and fruits.
Non-navigable Zurich
Next destination in our visit-list was Zurich. After reaching Zurich we realized that our car’s navigation system is not configured for intra city travel in Switzerland. The system just took us to the center of the city and from there on we had to be on our own. A helpless situation indeed, especially in a big city. Also, we faced a lot of trouble while parking our car. For understanding system of parking meter itself, we spent half an hour.

Then, we thought of making an attempt to fix the navigation system by calling customer center of Sixt car rental. Since the call charges through mobile was very expensive, we walked all the way to the HauptBahnnof(central station) for tourist information center to find out Sixt outlet in Zurich and also to make a phone call. The customer executive said that our car navigation system was configured only for streets in Germany, and only way it can fixed by taking the car back to Reutlingen! Our helplessness continued, the whole comfort of taking a car was partially annulled.

While walking to our car, we decided to head towards Luzern straightway as there was nothing much interesting to see in Zurich and to see some marginally good places also we had to opt for public transport which was indecently expensive for short term. The drive to Luzern was a different experience altogether. In one of the stretch of ride there was a railway track and a stream running parallel to the road adding more colors to the ride.

At Luzern:
In Luzern also we faced the problem as Zurich without proper navigation system. And as expected, we couldn’t find the way to Tourist information center and also to our accommodation. Then, we parked our car at some random place and with the help of directions from a backpacker we walked upto the HauptBahnhof. There we found the tourist information center next to the station complex and enquired there about the places to see around Luzern and also location of our accommodation. But again it was looking very complex to roam around in a car without a proper navigation system.

Then we walked back to the place where we had parked our car and started the search for youth hostel where we had booked accommodation for overnight stay . We came back to HauptBahnof by car, by retracing the route. We walked on foot and then proceeded ahead in the old town as per directions we got from the tourist information center. Finally with some amount of de-touring and stopping-n-asking process we managed to reach the youth hostel.

Day-2 planning:
At the accommodation after freshening up and making our beds, we started brainstorm for next day’s agenda. The place which we had eliminated because of price in prelims of trip planning i.e. Jungfrau came back to table of discussion. My proposition was even if we save time by visiting Pilatus or Titlis, we won’t be able to visit other places as it’s almost impossible to move inside a city without a proper navigation system. With cent percent consensus, we sketched out Jungfrau plan to utilize full day effectively. First we thought of leaving very early for getting "Good Morning Ticket" with 20% discount. Later we dropped the idea, on discovering that in "Good morning" scheme we have to leave from top on or before 12.30 pm. It was not really worthed, that to skipping free complimentary breakfast at Youth Hostel !

Dinner and Wooden Bridge:
Later in the night we headed to downtown for having night dinner. As a vegetarian I was not very enthusiastic, being conscious whether I will get something to eat or not at an affordable price. Surprisingly unlike Germany, there was an option of vegetarian burger in Burger king and as well as in McDonalds, may be the influence of veggie Indian tourist to the Swiss land. After the dinner we stepped our foot on famous wooden bridge of Luzern and witnessed beautiful 17th century placed in series along the pathway.

Drive to Lauterbrunnen:
After having the morning breakfast we started our drive towards Lauterbrunnen from the place where we had to board cog wheel train to Jungfrauouch. Again faced minor hiccupus without navigation system and got to the expressway with difficulty. The drive towards Lauterbrunnen and Interlaken was just superb. The signature tune of DDLJ was lingering in our minds while seeing breathtaking landscapes on both sides of the highway. At one place, Sivaram could not resist and made an abrupt half a location besides the lake "Lungerer See', which was one of the fishing spots. Experiencing the calm and clean water of the lake and simultaneously having a photo session flushed all the concerns of improper navigation system. [Recently while seeing DDLJ I realized that the same spot was picturised in one of the sequences of Tujhe Dekha song].

Getting to Jungfrau:
At 9.50 am we reached Lauterbrunnnen and parked our car in a huge multi-storey parking lot next to the station. At the ticket counters we bought tickets to Jungfrau for 111 EUR per head (which included entry fee to the top). The train to Jungfrauouch departed at 10.30 am and in between Kleine Scheidegg we had to change the train which took us to the higher altitude. Before getting to the top, the train halted at two stations Eigerwand and Eismeer.

On top of Europe:
At 12.30 pm we were on top of Europe-Jungfrauouch. First we visited ice palace, then to the open air plateau. There we got proper feel of the low temperature of high altitude and slipperiness of the snow. We moved towards food court section of the Jungfrauouch as were looking to have nice meal at Bollywood restaurant. But unfortunately the restaurant was closed for off-season, is scheduled to open at April 2010. Then we ended up having boiled eggs and chips which we had carried in our bagpacks as a backup. After having snacky lunch we went to Sphinx and the observatory deck experience more cold winds. I was literally shivering and without gloves it was difficult even to operate the camera. Sivaram took up the photography task voluntarily as he was well protected with gloves on and definitely in condition to operate the camera.

After spending some time at Sphinx we came back to the station for catching 3 pm train. The teen-patti saga of Sankar continued and that too in a train at top of Europe. We were back to LauterBrunnen at 5 pm and before leaving we had leftover foodstuffs to keep our stomach in right condition. We drove back to Luzern, shopped for souvenirs (famous DDLJ cowbell) at Kiosk, a convenience store near HaupBahnhof (the store was open on Sunday too).

Before saying goodbye to Switzerland, we roamed again in Luzern for a while, and again were enquired by some tourists for direction of a provision store. Don’t know if it’s because of our body-language, it happened four times in a span of 24 hours, tourists traveling in a car or walking on the road enquired for direction from us. Then finally saying Auf Wiedersehen to Switzerland we started the ride back to Reutlingen. And Sameer did major part of driving, with some zip-zaps in the Autobahn stretch making Sankar to keep heart in his mouth. And I had no option just to crib for not knowing how to drive a car, definitely missed a golden opportunity.

To conclude the trip was very exciting and memorable as we were able visit dream locations of Bollywood filmmakers. We saved a lot on food and also for transportation(40 EUR/head). The total trip expenses were around 180 EUR/head which included 111 EUR/head Jungfrau ticket. Pretty decent, if we compare the amount of time and money we have to invest for traveling to Himalayas in India.

Important Locations placemarked on Google Map:

View Switzerland in a larger map

More Photopraphs:

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:39 PM

    Hi Shande!

    This is Komal Srivastava from SPJIMR! I have got selected for the Student Exchange Program at Reutlingen Germany. Could you please share your contact details with me, so that I can get in touch with you over phone? My email id is pgp10.komals@spjimr.org