So I decided to finally blog about my trip to Europe. It’s been 2 days since I’ve been back but after the frustration of having to upload photos in batches of 20 at a time because of the crappy internet here, I decided to take a break from thinking about the trip. Anyways, now I’ve quit the laziness and decided to write all the stuff down before I completely forget it. I’ve also decided to (and in fact executed already) upload the photos to Facebook instead of to this site. That way I don’t have to worry about diskspace. I’ve also decided to create a Travel category, which is a silly decision because I won’t be traveling too much from this moment on… Anyhows, enough formalities!
Our flight from Mumbai was straight to Zurich and left at around 12:50am. We decided to get to the airport early and have dinner there itself, since there have been a slew of development in the food options there. As it happened, they had a fully functional food court as well as a restaurant that was sponsored by IIFA (an Indian film institution of some sort). The dinner there was over two weeks back, so I have no recollection of what it actually was… but it was good! We had overestimated Bombay traffic by a country mile, though, so we ended up spending quite a bit of time waiting for our flight.
Day 1 – Interlaken/Wilderswil
At Zurich, we arrived and after picking up our bags looked for the rental car counter. Upon finding it, we started asking companies for cars, only to be met with rejections. Apparently it’s hard to get a car in Zurich for 4 days on a Sunday morning at 7:00am. This brings me to my first tip:
EuroTip 1: If you’re renting a car, book in advance. The rates are better as is the availability.
We ended up renting a satisfactorily comfortable car–a Renault Clio–for an overly inflated price of around 410 CHF (that’s Swiss Franc to you). The car was good, even though it was French. (jokes!!) We decided not to go with the GPS option as we headed out to Interlaken using directions we had printed out from Google Maps in Mumbai. I was the navigator and my Dad was the driver. My mom was the pre-elected backseat driver but she didn’t do her job and took photos instead. It worked out for the best for everybody!
After a false start wherein we pulled into a gas station and wondered how to get on the highway, we were off. The highways in Switzerland were quite awesome and the speed limit max’ed out at 120 kmph. Most cars were going a lot faster, though, so we decided to stick to the rightmost lane. My Dad was forced to learn the task of driving in a left-hand-drive, driving on the right side of the road with a stick shift (aka hands switched). A strenuous task considering that most recently he’s only driven on the left side of the road in the right side of the car with automatic transmission. He adjusted well, though, and the fact that we didn’t have to switch too many gears because of the nice highway system, was also good.
We reached Interlaken in good time and then got lost in Wilderswil, the small township where our hotel was located. As it happened, we just overdrove and missed it on the side, but found it on the way back. The hotel was a small inn-like hotel that seemed to be a family business. It had a restaurant on the lowest floor, then the reception and finally rooms on the next 2-3 floors. Our room was thankfully on the first floor, but we still had to carry bags up at least one flight of stairs. The doorboards were squeaky. The hotel was called Hotel Baeren, or “The Bear Inn”. Accordingly, there were several stuffed bears all over the place. Here are some photos of the hotel:
Unfortunately, we made time a little too well for our own good and ended up reaching Wilderswil about 2 hours before check-in time. So we walked around the area and got a feel for the places around. We also warmed up our camera lenses a bit. There were a view views of Jungfraujoch, the “Top of Europe” mountain-range available, but the cloudy skies didn’t create enough contrast for a decent photograph. We made our way all the way to the rail station, which was about 1.5km away, I’d say, and then headed back. There was still about 30 minutes to go before check-in time but this time the person at the reception, who seemed to be the owner of the inn, said our room was ready and showed us to it. We put our bags in and decided to have lunch at the inn.
The food was scrumptious, although a bit pricey, but this was something that we’d get used to in Europe. I ordered a wiener-schnitzel, my Dad ordered a pasta of some sort and my Mom ordered a rösti dish with chicken in mushroom sauce. I think that meal ended up being one of our favourites of the whole trip. Beverages were in the form of wine and beer (a local brew, known as Rugenbrau). Overall, it was a good start to the trip. We came back to the room and all took a nap from the exhaustion of a decent drive and a long flight trip and walking.
In the evening, the hunt for coffee/tea was on as well as the search for the actual city we were planning to visit: Interlaken. We had decided to stay only one night near Interlaken since most of the fun stuff there was for adventurous folks (paragliding, bungee jumping, river rafting, etc.) which we clearly were not a subset of. We got ad-hoc directions from the proprietor and set off in our car, only to get lost in about 10 minutes. Or rather, we thought we were lost whereas we were actually on the right track. Anyhow, safety prevailed and we drove back to the hotel and parked round the back, and then approached the train station and bought tickets to Interlaken there. This brings me to another tip.
EuroTip 2: If you’re driving in a foreign country with lots of changes from routine, consider getting a GPS navigation device. Local transportation in Europe maybe great, but it’s also pricey.
We found our way to Interlaken on a roundtrip ticket and then walked from the train station towards the city and the Thun lake (or maybe it was the Kriens lake… don’t remember). On the way, the many maps we passed confirmed that we had in fact been heading in the right direction. In fact, it was the shortcut from the owner of the inn that caused us to doubt our route. Right across the train station there was a beautiful little cove/pier (I don’t know anything about nautical terms for shores) across from one of the lakes. There was a coffee shop there and we decided to end our quest for coffee and had a drink there. I had a Cafe Macchiato which came complimentary with a delicious little piece of Swiss chocolate:
After replenishing our caffeine levels, we started walking towards town. On the way there we passed a small kiosk and purchased water, ice cream (for the parents) and a large pack of Maltesers for myself. Ooh, I think Maltesers are one of the finest chocolates invented. I was so busy eating them that I couldn’t take a photo. Oops. On the way to town we passed (among other things) a Japanese garden, several parks and several breathtaking views of the Jungfraujoch mountain range and the two lakes. We also saw many, many dogs. Apparently dogs are the national animals of Switzerland, or so it appears. Everyone had a dog. Most had two and some even had three. Not so many children around, though. It was the first place in my life where I saw a no-smoking sign in any sort of establishment accompanied by a dog-allowed or dog-not allowed sign almost everywhere.
The weather was a bit rainy so our pace of walk was brisk, but we had enough time to soak in the atmosphere. Interlaken is a completely tourist town and it seems that it is the destination of choice for Indian tourists. About 80% of the people there looked to be tourists, of which greater than 50% appeared to be of desi descent. In fact, we even passed a sign on the way that was in Hindi! I got my Mom to take a photo of it. Priceless… but I guess it’s the Yash Chopra effect? Anyways, as we walked back, we began to look for dinner options and settled on a place called Des Alpes, which apparently served great pizza. Sadly, I only remembered to take a photo after the pizza was consumed:
We then walked back to the station, took the train back and walked back to our hotel. By the time we reached Hotel Baeren, it was approaching 10pm and the light had just began to fade. Yeah… them Swiss have long summer days and long winter nights, from what I hear. Anyways, despite the nap and the coffee, we were pooped and crashed hard. We decided to go to Jungfraujoch the next day on a relaxed schedule, instead of trying to catch the “Early Bird” special at like 6.45am. ‘Twas a great decision…