My journey to few countries in Europe in October 2008.
Europe had always remained a dream destination for me especially after reading Enid Blyton books when I was young, watching several movies filmed in London and Paris. Switzerland was completely out of my vision in the near future, only Roger Federer used to remind me of this place by his fascinating stroke play. I got lucky to come to the UK on an assignment for a short duration and after coming so close to many European countries, it’s a huge disappointment if you don’t get to visit your dream places. With all these thoughts running in my mind I started to search for some good tour agencies to get me going on a trip and that’s when I found out about Star tours, they were having a tour called the panoramic Europe a 5 day trip covering major destinations of Switzerland and France (Paris) and a little bit of Germany and Belgium. Hmm not at all bad for the price they quoted and the biggest bonus was that the Visa arrangement was taken care by them for a certain affordable fee and Indian food served on all days for lunch and dinner, who would want to miss nice Indian food after having cooked and toiled in the kitchen for the past few months trying to conjure some dish and appreciate it myself on a daily basis.
The days started running quite fast since the day the tour was booked, lists were getting drawn left right and center, things to do, things to take, time to leave, things to book etc…This was a coach tour with around 2500 – 3000 km’s to be done in 5 days pretty much of road burning and seat warming to be done. As the day neared my excitement shot up like a thermometer exposed to the hot Chennai weather. The shopping was all completed a few days before departure, the taxi was booked for 4 am October 1st and rechecked once again much to the drivers irritation.
October 1st (the previous year on October 1st I was in Wayanad, Kerala – beautiful place) (Oct 2nd is still special :)) came rather soon / started early, I woke up 3 am and got ready and waited for the taxi, the driver decided to take revenge for my repeated reminders by coming late by 20 minutes and didn’t he make me feel like a heart patient whose blood pressure was shooting up like a race car speedometer which had just won the pole position. I went and picked up my colleague and his family, Dinakar, Rajeshwari and their daughter Kavya. We reached Wembley Park at around 5:30 and were waiting for the bus with chattering teeth as the morning temperatures are quite stingy and stay low at 3-5 Degrees (nothing in comparison with the -4 degree as I write). The bus came and we settled down and I was busy battling my claustrophobic demons of a closed bus, I get hyper whenever I am caged up and the windows and doors are not in my control…anyways got settled down in a bit and started dreaming of the many places that were to present themselves to me. Another funny incident that happened was, in the morning when I just got out after having a bath, it was so cold that I started shivering for a few minutes and I tried something funny to stop it and I sprained my neck so for the first few days of the trip I was looking like a crane with a sprain.
We arrived at Dover for the ferry crossing to Calais, France; we got into the ship and got settled into seats. We were in for a rough crossing the channel waters were choppy and so the ship decided to play to the tunes of the water and we were tossed up, down and sideways and at this point I imagined the plight of the vegetables tossed about in a fancy salad prepared in restaurants. Many of us made slow, measured trips to the rest room to donate our breakfast by puking, with all our heads dizzy we were left wondering if it was better to be under the heater in office. Finally we spent an extra hour in the ship and reached Calais and our stomachs were literally growling ‘grrrr’ with the horrors of hunger exposed to it. After a 10 minute drive we reached a services area where we were to have the first lunch of the trip. The tour agency has a separate mobile kitchen which cooks on the move and gets to the planned services a few hours before us and serve a nice aromatic hot meal, we had a good vegetarian lunch and started our journey to Belgium, slowly people in the bus started opening up, many were software engineers or related to the IT sector, some were from other sectors as well, many with their parents. We reached Belgium after 3-4 hours of a sedate drive and were late to visit the Mini Europe center so we had to be content with visiting the Atomium center and a little bit of the town and then we moved on to the night stay in a town called Thionville in France, we got there passing through Luxembourg, Belgium. I checked into room number 404 in a hotel called Kyriad, pretty decent room. We were famished by this time and got to the eating center and gorged on a tasty prawn curry etc…Day 1 over!
Ferry Starts - Dover to Calais
When I went to sleep last night I wanted to make sure I wake up on time and don’t get left behind in a strange town, my brains were on a over drive to make sure I don’t over sleep, I was sleeping and I suddenly woke up and looked at my watch and the time was 8:30, shit we were supposed to leave at 7:45, ok they have left without me what do I do, I look out and see that it is still dark, I drink some water and again check my watch, please note this time I look at it the in the right direction and I find out that its only 2:00 am and am safe ufff a sigh of relief and back to bed….(if you look at the watch / clock turned upside down you will notice 8:30 corresponds to 2:00)
Woke up again on time and got ready and had a hearty breakfast of croissants, juice etc and we started from there to travel through Germany and more specifically the black forests and then by evening get into the borders of Switzerland. The highways matched all the good highways found all over Europe and we were travelling peacefully and after a few hours we stopped in the middle of the black forests of Germany and I must accept this place was filled with beauty. Black/brown trees with snow at the top, apparently black forest cake derives its name from this region that’s why the cake is brown in color and has white icing at the top. We then had lunch and then proceeded to a cuckoo clock making factory and we had a tour of the ways with which they make clocks and must say such an ancient art can still make you stand up and take note of the precision that the nimble hands of these craftsmen provide. I was lucky to see one of the earliest clocks ever made dating back to 1640 and after gazing for a few minutes at the over the budget cuckoo clocks which have a delivery for any place in the world and a service center in almost any part of the world. We stopped at Lake Titsee for a photo session and the other motive was to get every one to warm their legs. This was again a beautiful lake in a scenic location. We started from there to get into the Swiss border and we passed through a good part of South Germany which has a good number of maize fields. We were finally stopped at the Swiss border and our guide and driver left us sweating without the engine running for a good 20 minutes which left us all angrily muttering under our breath. We started to Rhine falls and reached soon, we again carried our cameras and then formed the queue to board the boat which takes you to the base of the Rhine falls and you can clamber upwards to a good view point. It was a 5 minute ride to the other side and we reached the vantage point to see the furious & swelled up waters of the Rhine falls flow defiantly not being bothered by the presence of so many tourists or by global warming. Again a few photos and we waited for the boat to return and a few minutes later we were back to the bus and all ready to go the next destination.
We travelled for a while and then stopped for some chow and had some yummy Chicken curry and ordered some Argentinean wine and then we checked into the hotel which was situated in a hill kind of slope and the bus could get us only half way and we had to walk the rest, I moved into the room 419 in the Hotel Terrace in the town of Engelberg. An interesting fact is that it has a population of c. 4,000, of which 600 are of foreign nationality (2007). On the way we had passed through the city Zurich and we saw the river Zurich. The rooms in this hotel were like a playground wide, spacious and comfortable. End of day 2
No midnight adventures like the previous night woke up and rubbed my eyes repeatedly as I was awestruck by the beauty that was seen from the window. The snow had just started that day for this season and the greenery from the previous season was still intact giving a combination of potent green and white art. Today was the big day as we were planning to go to the peak of mount Titlis a good 10000 feet high. Had a hearty continental breakfast and wore my thermals and got prepared for meeting the grail. After a 5 minute ride by bus we were at the base of the mount Titlis, where we were supposed to take the cable car to the peak. The last part of cable car way leads above the glacier Klein Titlis, and you could visit a glacier cave. Also this is where the world's first revolving cable car is present. With all this information we started the first cable car ride, we had to change at 2 stations and take 3 cable cars in total to reach the top of 3238 meters. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titlis The views were spellbinding, the snow on the tips of the trees as seen from the first cable car gave way to trees almost covered completely with snow, and the change at the second station was smooth. We saw many cows or yaks in the high altitude braving the cold and munching away what ever could be seen above the snow cover. The last stage with the revolving cable car was fantastic, standing at one place you get to see all sides as the floor rotates slowly (there is a revolving restaurant in Chennai - Carnival Heights Revolving Restaurant). It was something which I had never seen, whiteness as pure as milk spread over the entire distance viewable by my eyes. We reached the top and the temperature was hovering between -11 to -15 degree temperature and I really pitied the cable car operator and the staff working at that height. The world’s highest bar was present there and we had a glimpse of the place, we went into the glacier cave and then started warming up for the real fun – the real glacier. We had to rent shoes and we walked like explorers on the poles visualizing a saga of discoveries and wandering. It was white and white and white and snow flakes showering us, I have never felt this good in the presence of water or it’s by products. I was playing there for about 30 minutes, drenching my camera in the process and then finally got back under human conditions. We started the ride back down and we were treated to denser snow fall. We then left Engelberg and proceeded to the town of Luzern / Lucerne. Due to its location on the shore of Lake Lucerne within sight of Mount Pilatus and Rigi in the Swiss Alps, Lucerne is traditionally considered as a good tourist destination. One of the city's famous landmarks is Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke), a wooden bridge first built in the 14th century.
We visited the Bridge and the Lion Monument. Bertel Thorvaldsen's famous carving of a dying lion (the Lion Monument) is found in a small park just off Lowenplatz. The carving commemorates the hundreds of Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution, when the mob stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris.
After some souvenir shopping for Swiss knives in Swiss, we then moved to Interlaken http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interlaken .
This is where the world famous the Jungfrau peak (4158m) and the nearby Jungfraujoch railway station (3450m) is present. I must accept that this is one of the most beautiful towns (in terms of scenic beauty) I have ever visited. Blue waters, beautiful trees, snow peaks, greenery in all sides, I could go on and on. We saw some adventure sports like Para gliding etc being practiced. We were roaming for an hour far away from the town center to see the real beauty of this small town and then crawled back to the town center to catch a look of the various shops present. We then started back to Engelberg and the entire bus members were playing dumb charades and antakshari – reminded me of school and college days, what I won’t give to return back to school days but of course minus the exams, punishment and my chemistry teacher. We had a nice Indian dinner with Italian wine and got back into the hotel packed and got ready for a few hours of sleep in Switzerland.
[Few things learnt in this trip] King / Emperor – Guess what’s the difference between a King and an Emperor? While many say a king is one who rules a kingdom and an Emperor is one who rules an empire. While that is partially right the main difference is King is usually elected by hereditary right, while an Emperor has won a war and taken over the ruler ship.
From the cable car - Engelberg
Snow tipped trees
Me at the peak of Mt Titlis > 10,000 feet (-11 degrees)
View from the base of the cable cars
Me at Engelberg
The view near the Interlaken railway Station
Scenic Beauty - Interlaken
Adventure Sports at Interlaken
Beauty after life
Lion Monument - Luzern
Got up, got ready, had breakfast, moved luggage to the bus. Today was the longest drive from Switzerland to Paris – they were hoping to make it less than 7 hours. Pretty boring, was looking out of the window most of time, reading the book Zillij by Ameena Hussein a Sri Lankan author. My best savior was the kid Kavya; she used to amuse me with her knowledge, playfulness, energy, innocence and what not…time used to fly while playing with her. We stopped at a service for lunch and then again resumed my sleep. I have a vague habit, when I am in any moving object I get the notion that someone is rocking me to sleep and I blissfully doze. As we got closer to Paris everyone started bickering over every tall building, every telephone / TV tower to be the Eiffel Tower and we did get a proper view when we got off for the very important cruise on the River Seine. The 2 hour cruise starts almost at the foot of the Eiffel Tower and moves on to cover almost most of the cities important places and goes under all the important bridges.
We were screaming and running around the boat looking at different scenes of the French life around us. We finally got off and were treated to good scenes of the sunset and the Eiffel Tower standing tall giving an additional aura to the great sunset. We got back to the Novotis hotel had a wash and a good chicken roast dinner and were off at 10 PM. where??? For a night tour of Paris, Paris the city of lights in night is bound to impress the tourist in you and not the environmentalist in you. Every building small or big, every lane crowded or empty was dazzling with lights. I heard that the EU was moving a ban on lighting of many building and the Eiffel Tower in the night after a certain time as several hundred thousands of Euros are spent every day on the electricity charges. We witnessed the Eiffel Tower in full glory in blue lights.
The places that we got to see during the boat cruise and during the night tour are the Opera house, the Arc of Triumph, Concorde Square, Parliament buildings, Sean de alleys (the magnetic street with people at all times), the tunnel where Diana met her sad end, the back entrance of the hotel from where Diana left, Old England hotel (the place where Lakshmi Mittal has one of the worlds most expensive marriage of his daughter), Louvre museum, Notre Dame, the royal hospital built with gold and a few of more buildings.
Paris the eternal city of lights where people don’t sleep seems so true only when you are standing right there with them. At 23:00 – 1:30 in the night you see all the bars, eat outs are having long queues for people getting in, the streets are crowded like in India with party goers, people just walking around meeting friends and what not…The true spirit of Paris.
[Few things learnt in this trip] Roads – If you see the roads and by lanes of Paris you would see that the structures are perfect and a small little curve would be accentuated well by the buildings in that curve, when you look ahead for a fair distance the stretch would be visible with no blind turns. Napoleon III took an active interest in the architecture and construction and was very strict in enforcing good quality.
And we returned by 1:30 AM early morning, with fluttering eye lids and memories of vivid lights, busy streets of Paris, wonderful lanes, rash drivers, beautiful architecture, people full of energy and life.
[Few things learnt in this trip] Church / Cathedral / Chapel / Basilica / Abbey– What is the difference?
A cathedral is the chief church of a diocese in which the bishop has his throne.
Basilica has an architectural sense (St Peters Basilica, Vatican City, Rome). The pope can declare a particular church as a basilica.
"Chapel" - A place of worship that has its own altar. The word itself is associated with the idea of relics, since it is drawn from the idea that St. Martin divided his cape (chapelle) in half and left half with a beggar.
"Church" A place for public (especially Christian) worship.
Abbey - A church associated with a monastery or convent.
The first encounter - Paris
The majestic bridges - Paris
Lights on - Showtime
Yes 4 days of my wonderful vacation have vanished, have made stronger vows of returning back to Paris on my own. We got ready and went to the magnificent structure of the Eiffel tower, we were going to conquer the tower and get to the topmost floor of the structure. The tower is the icon of Paris, it is an iron structure, the tallest standing building of Paris, the most visited paid monument in the world, 1,063 ft high. It was built for a world fair to be demolished later but as it supported and worked as a good communication tower it was left to stand. They use 50 -60 tonne’s of paint every year to keep the structure rust free. The top of the tower moves up to 7 cm’s when there is a heavy wind blowing. Upon the Nazi occupation of Paris in 1940, the lift cables were cut by the French so that Adolf Hitler would have to climb the steps to the summit. When visiting Paris, Hitler chose to stay on the ground. It was said that Hitler conquered France, but did not conquer the Eiffel Tower. Another interesting story was that novelist Guy de Maupassant — who claimed to hate the tower — supposedly ate lunch in the Tower's restaurant every day. When asked why, he answered that it was the one place in Paris where one could not see the structure.
[Few things learnt in this trip] Picnic – The origin of picnic is from a French word pique-nique- for more details click here http://word-powers.blogspot.com/2007/08/word-powers-friday-fiesta.html
Coming to day 5 we stood at the base of the tower clicking away pictures, and to our sorrow we discovered the top most floor was closed due to the reason that the wind was so strong up there and could blow people off. So we had to contend ourselves with a visit to the second highest floor. We had to squeeze ourselves in an ancient OTIS lift which to my discomfort has been there from the past century. I was praying that the lift doesn’t decide in my presence to make a call to the mechanics. Hopefully we got up in quick time and had great views of the city and that’s when you realize that the Paris is indeed built with great precision and planned well – the roads and lanes are well cut and the city presents itself as being very organized. After clicking away to glory to the discomfort to my S3 IS camera we started our descent via the great steps of the tower 340 steps to the second level and 328 steps to the first level. We then went around the city center and then started our journey back home after 5 days of touring places, we got back to Calais and crossed the ocean which was in a better mood and did make us run to the rest room often. We reached East Ham at 9:30 and caught a series of tube, train and taxi and got home by 12:30 – 1:00 to end a fantastic, fascinating and fantabulous holiday. Though I had to wake up at 6:00 the next day and get to office by 8:00 and make up for my absence, nothing can beat the effort and the trip. Have a look at the pictures below.
The Main Foundation
The Welled Planned City of Paris - 1
For more pictures - http://www.flickr.com/photos/minmaxmim/