Hiking Mt.Rigi - 22nd June

Queen of Swiss Mountains

From Zurich we went to Mt. Rigi via Arth-Goldau a very short train ride. From there we took the cogwheel train to the summit at Rigi-Kulm (1,800m). Incredible vistas, typical Swiss farmhouses, and hundreds of cows with bells will surprise one throughout the trip. Reward on going to top is magnificent panorama of Alpine peaks crowding around the convoluted contours of Lake Lucerne. While going up it was a nice weather but slowly & slowly it started getting dark. On a clear day it seems one can see Mount Titlis.

Perhaps the most glorious hike I’ve enjoyed in Switzerland is from Rigi Kulm to Vitznau. This trail is not listed in the guide map. But we wanted to reach Vitzanu to take ferry to Luzern. As we did not wanted to spent any more money on those special Swiss mountain cog-wheel train. The trail is well defined. I believe most people prefer to hike up but it was just opposite in our case. The first part till Rigi Kaltbad (1438m) is easy. After that, steepness of down hill increased as we came down with a view of Lake Luzern from time to time.


With greenery all around & Swiss cows wearing engraved and embroidered cowbells; the lazy grazing of the placid beasts sends a tinkling melody rippling across the clear mountain air. Serenity all the way far from those hustle –bustle busy life of city is something worth. Lake stretching all the way on one side and while on other is Europe’s greatest mountains. Believe me, now I understand what it means to have hiking poles as at the end of this hike I almost killed two of my legs. After that I lost my normal walking style for next few days.


On reaching Vitznau we had our afternoon meal. We boarded a ferry and enjoyed the lovely boat ride to Luzern (one hour). Time at leisure, visited the city’s main sights of the Old Town, like the famous Chapel Bridge which is a main touristy sight of the city. After visiting top sights of the city we returned to Zurich for one last time.

Mount Titlis - 21st June

Staying at Sachin’s place at Zurich was just to save our 3 night’s hotel expense. After lot of discussion & surfing internet we came to final decision that on 4th day of our trip we will go to Mount Titlis via Luzern in order to make best use of our Swiss flexi pass.

On boarding the train from Luzern to Engelberg we realized that it’s more of Desi train. From train station, routes are well marked for heading towards Mount Titlis where one can see all Mr. & Mrs. Desi with family. There are few other Asian visitors also but they were well out numbered… thanks to our Hindi movie director who made our recent heroines dance in the valleys & snows of Switzerland.


There is even a small Indian take away restaurant at foot of mountain next to the ticket office. Check menu here. The number of Indian visitors has so much effect on Mount Titlis that you will find signs in Hindi along with other international languages and even there is “Indian Specialties” waiting for you at the top.

There are three cable cars that take you to the top of Titlis via four sections. The last section is in a world’s first rotating cable car. The top is at 10000 ft with glacier all around. We took a ski chair lift (Ice Flyer) to reach Snow Park where one can enjoy snow in the month of June.


The weather in the mountains is always unpredictable. It was a sudden change in the weather, while going up it was very sunny with blue sky and later it became dark. After spending an hour it started to drizzle so we thought it might be better idea to come down to Engelberg.

We had our “take away” lunch in the center park near to the railway station. On our way back from Engelberg it was a heavy down pour all the way to Luzern. But nothing stops our spirit, on reaching Luzern we strolled around the old town of Luzern.

Glacier Express - 20th June


Today we got up very early to take a quick trip of city as we did wanted to go back to snow clad beauty of Switzerland instead of its Mediterranean lake shores. But before having a heavy breakfast, we took a promenade in the park along lake shore where there are lots of open sculptors from Dada movement. After we took funicular ride to Madonna del Sasso.

We were determined to take glacier express from Andermatt to St.Moritz today. So, by 9.00 we reached station; Santanu saw a BBC program about Wilhelm Express on TV and was eager to board the same from Locarno till it connects Glacier Express. But due to train schedules we had to take an inter-regional train from Locarno to Goschenen via Bellinzona. Our compartment was vacant with two of us only. That left us to hop from one side to another in order to take photos as the train made turns to gain altitude. Being a standard train the chief advantage is the windows generally can be opened, for cool air and unobstructed views and take picture – with no ghost image.

On reaching Goschenen we immediately boarded another train to Andermatt where we spent an hour taking photos. Swiss trains are like Swiss watches never late-always on time so was Glacier Express


This train actually starts from St.Moritz to Zermatt or vice versa which is of 7 1/2 hr. journey across 291 bridges, through 91 tunnels and across the Oberalp Pass at 2033 m altitude. It’s really incredible journey via beautiful landscapes with valleys, glistening mountains & splendid greenery. It’s a train with huge wrap-around windows, allowing you to see through part of the ceiling no wonder why visitor do not complain spending bucks. You never know how alpine panoramas hits right in the face unless you experience it. But, the windows in the panoramic cars generally can't be opened, means photographs usually come with a glare.

As soon as we boarded the train, memories from Bollywood movies got refreshed. As there are umpteen of songs featured on this train. Unfortunately, we did not have window seats. And as it was mid-day lots of people were having their lunch at their seat. The dining car was next compartment to ours; we spent a good time there. Glacier express is a very touristy train as people from every corner of the world try to taste Swiss Alpine beauty. We had good conversation with our co-passengers who were Americans staying at Saudi Arabia.

On reaching St.Moritz we had a nice meal freshly prepared at Railway restaurant. As staying in the classic alpine resort was out of our budget so it was more economical to board a train for final destination to Zurich via Chur.

The train back from St-Moritz was a normal one which was good as that allowed us to take pictures with out glare. The journey from Chur to Zurich was also very scenic as the train runs along two lakes - Lake Walen and Lake Zurich.

Rescued - 19th June

By now, seeing the time I was discussing about hitch hiking to the next big town which was ruled out by Santanu as it seems not safe. Even I was suggesting him how about getting into a car of people who does not look that young and suddenly one car stopped and they asked if we need any lift… looking at their face we did not take a second to decide and say “YES” in unison (which came out as if instinct) with big smiling face. They really looked apostil to us. I & Santanu got squeezed at back of the small car along with our stuffs as the small trunk was already filled up.


See…my wish really came out true….taking lift from nice people with grey hairs. They were really so gentle which I can’t express by my words. The lady (Heidi) was more loquacious than her husband. They knew about India well and been there few times so we had lot to talk about. It really made it a more of a wonderful trip. But their first question was “what two Indians are doing at that bus station?” As per initial plan we were supposed to go to the next town on the road Domodossola in Italy and continue from there to Locarno. But soon we came to know that they are also going to Locarno so all the way to Locarno we had nice lively conversation.

With few minutes halt at Vigezzo where we had coffee –break at nearby bistro. The main attraction of the village is the church of “Santuario della Madonna del Sangue”. The original church was build around 14th century but then it was expanded later on. Its structure is more like Byzantine one then the gothic which are more common in this part of Europe.


On reaching at Locarno they were so much worried for us that they even helped us in looking for a hotel by asking there local friends & dropped us to the same. Really so kind of them to take care of us - a great Swiss hospitality and welcome to strangers.

Post Bus - 19th June

Till we are not sure what would be our next destination for today. The nearest attraction is Montreaux, but that being so close to Lausanne we were discussing to keep it for last day. After taking a hearty breakfast we reached railway station. We asked at the information desk about the Swiss travel pass and Post Bus.
Traveling with yellow Swiss post bus system is really breath taking experience as they connect any place in Switzerland which can’t be reached by train. As we had some print out from web sites but none were close to Lausanne. One of the routes that attracted our attention was Napoleon route from Saas Fee to Locarno. But the special tourist post bus operates once a day most of the time and you need to make reservation for the same.

After buying Swiss Flexi Pass from the Railway station, boarded a train to Visp. The train journey to Visp was nice as it gave the taste of Alps and its beautiful mountain ranges. The bus trip from Visp to Saas Fee was magnificent. We initially wanted to get the Glacier express today itself but being a special train we could not connect the same. So we spent only 20 minutes at Saas Fee also called pearl of Alps. Saas Fee is a very beautiful car-free resort nestling at foot of glaciers One local young gentleman invited us to little Himalaya of Europe while getting down from the bus. There we had our ‘take away’ lunch.


On our way back we continued till Brig by the same bus. From Brig we had two choices – either by a train or bus. Train goes to our next destination in the south of Switzerland via long tunnel while bus takes a longer route through Simplon Pass to some remote village of Italy from where we were to take a train after 2 hours to our today’s destination (Locarno).

Well, Santanu insisted on later uncertain one as we would have reached Locarno at 21:30 and we had no hotel booked for that night. No doubt the journey along this pass was breathtaking almost 2005m above sea level. As soon as we reached border station we were only 2 passengers left from the bus and we were transferred to a mini van where we had only one co-passenger. It was quite assuring that someone is going with us as it was already 5:30 PM quite late for a place in absolute no-where. We were told by our co-passenger in broken English and Italian that there will be a bus in next 5 minutes, but that 5 become 25 and we three are waiting for bus. There is no posted time table of the same. We started to realize that we were in Italy from the very systematic and punctual Switzerland. It was quandary that we were in. The last part of today’s journey to Locarno was a very memorable one as we got rescued by two gentle Swiss.

In short, trip via road across the most beautiful Alpine passes with spectacular views over the snow covered mountains, through narrow winding valleys, lakes and picturesque villages is something amazing.

Lausanne -18th June

Alors , trip started on Sunday morning 18th for Lausanne from Paris with out any plan for next 7-8 days to be done in Swiss. On Friday and Saturday we made few calls to our friends to get an idea about the top attractions in the Switzerland. Santanu got some print out from work MySwitzerland.com about Post Bus.

He reluctantly noted one hotel address for Interlaken and booked one B&B for Sunday night around Lausanne. The train journey from Paris was not much event full as Santanu slept most of the time and I enjoyed the French country side while listening to music. Thanks to Santanu for getting the I-Pod while he was snoring mildly.

On getting down at railway station we got all the information about top sights to be visited in Lausanne from very helpful tourist office but as it was Sunday the main Railway information center was closed so we could not plan anything for next day. Lausanne being a small city by northern part of Lake Geneva, home of Olympic Museum and Swiss court of Justice.

We spent that whole afternoon walking up and down its walkway. Starting our walk along the lake side from Olympic park to Château d'Ouchy. From there we went to Gothic Cathedral via central market after visiting Esplanade de Montbenon. It was bit long walk ascending all the time to the hill top.


While descending we realized the B&B that we booked was very far so we asked about hotels in tourist office and they found us some thing nice close to Olympic museum. After having bath we just walked along the lake shore which was very pleasant & relaxing. But the nice evening walk was very short lived as Santanu realized he does not have his wallet with him for which we had to make a sudden U-turn and walk fast back to hotel. Thank God it was such a relief to find it lying on the bed. We ended up having dinner in nearby lakeside restaurant.

C’est fou - part II !

Finally, world cup football came to an end where France lost to Italy. For me France lost but at same time Italy neither win as they just waited for the final penalty shoot out to happen. I do not like the way Italian play football in general. They make it dull and boring. Italian and their relation to non Italian footballer are well known. And this time the whole nation is waiting for the verdict of match fixing in Italian league. Well there must be google of blogs and news on the same but I could not stop making my post. This post is not about what happened in the last 10 minutes of the final match.

FIFA at least should change the rules and make it like tennis when there will be at least 2 goals difference for penalty shoot out; as just one goal difference makes it similar to toss a coin to find the winner.

Well being in Paris it makes it special when France is playing the final. France is a team which had great difficulties in qualifying for the world cup with a draw against Israel but at the end they entered group ‘G’ as top and found Switzerland again in the same group like the qualifier. In the first 2 matches of the world cup they did not played any thing great that one can expect them to be in Final. But in the knock out stage they really played well and they deserve their well earned place in the final.

 

A big credit goes to Zidane, and once again he reached the status of a God in France. But the way it ended will remain controversial for years to come. May be like that of 1986 Quarter Final between Argentina and England. Where every one talks about the first goal of Maradona which was a clear hand ball and he should have seen a red-card for that but no one talks about the very next goal where he beat 6 English player before scoring one of the beautiful goal of all time to my memory.

 

Yes, it was a good match but the face of French man on Monday after the final was so pathetic that looked like they lost every thing to a natural disaster or something. In France, I am sure this incident is going to be in the media for a long time unless they win world cup soon and forget all about.

C’est fou !


Football - the definition for the same may be quite simple but it certainly does have lots of colors. It is a mutli-billion dollar business from sporting to TV companies. For some it is as close to their religion. People can fight or hug with a complete stranger while ignoring his family or close one when there is a match.

As we live in Europe it is very hard to escape it. You personally can like it or hate it but you can not avoid it here. The French team as they are known as “les blue” - the blue. Since their jersey is blue but ironically it is a team of blue color people. It is one the place you will find people who do not have “de” or “sharp nose” and still can be a national hero. As there are very few from the same color people in French television serial or successful business man or high civil servant or elite to say in short to be in news. Although these are my personal views and I do not have many French contacts so my observation might be wrong.

Any way, yesterday we were discussing about the possible outcome of the last two quarter finals of this Football world cup 2006. The worst scenario for French would have been beaten by Brazil and England wining their respective match against Portugal. The “so so” situation would be still loosing to Brazil but England also lost their match. As at least they can face their worst neighbors “les anglais”.

According to me, Simple Fête would have been that French and England win and they both play Semi-Final. Reason - what happens in the Semis if they got beaten by “les anglais”? But voila! it turned out to be a “DOUBLE Fête” as French won and England lost. The whole France went crazy celebrating the result.

Uncertain Voyage

After traveling to so many places in Europe in last three years now we were thinking to travel to some other part of globe which can be easily reached from Paris within few hours maybe somewhere in North African. The very thought came was how about going to Morocco or Egypt but none of them was perfect weather wise to visit. Then also after too much of thinking we settled for Morocco and started to gather touristic information. It may be a backyard for most French but being Indian it means we need to get visa. So, process started by calling embassy to know more about it... getting a phone call answered requires lot of luck. Either line is busy or it gets dropped on half way when they try to pass the call.

Anyway, we went to there embassy in-person for submitting all documents which went on very smoothly; women in-charge said it will take 15 days to get our visa. On asking whether we should buy ticket for Morocco? hmm... its OK to get it and sends us to her higher authority to get it confirmed. Now this Monsieur says gently... after 10 days you should get it without any problem so its OK to buy ticket. Being excited we started to plan our trip and get more information. But Santanu being skeptical never showed any interest in buying the ticket and always postponed the same. But at same time he was so excited that just day before his CISM test he made a phone call to find out VISA status. Well it was negative, he went to consulate in-person on Monday 12th June and found the same negative answer and was told to come by on Thursday 15th June to take visa for a journey that was supposed to start on Saturday 17th. Well, Thursday didn’t bring any luck either which made Santanu furious.

Its well said "man proposes and god disposes". The whole euphoria vanished like a whiff of smoke as neither on 10th nor on 15th day of submission we got VISA. Since this holidays were forced one which means if Santanu doesn’t uses it he doesn’t gain anything.


There was one backup plan for Morocco, but it was never in place as we never thought seriously, the plan was to touch cities-towns of France that we have not visited yet like Nice, Bordeaux, Bayonne and Chamonix along with some part of Swiss. Well it might sound bit crazy idea but truly we are crazy when it comes to traveling. Now the search for last minute ticket started. Since there were no discounted ticket on SNCF web site and the only ticket that we could grab was round-trip from Paris to Lausanne on Friday 16th. At once started to make phone calls to our friends who have already been there.For this trip, Santanu wanted to travel with his big red North Face backpack and he was not interested to make any plans on itenary or any pre-bookings for hotels. As if he wanted to sing the famous Bengali song "Path harabo boleyi toh aaj pothey nameychi..." by Hemanta Mukerjee.(I got down on the road only to get lost .. )Bonne voyage!!!

Le Marche

The open markets in Paris have been in existence since ages. It's here that you find freshly picked fruit and vegetables, fresh fish from Brittany and Normandy, meat, flowers, farmhouses cheeses, breads – you name it ... its there. Food controls are very strict in France and be assured of their quality and cleanliness of preparation. French understands the quality in life and nothing demonstrates this better than the wonderful food markets in Paris. It is very lively all together different adventure to explore.

Parisians of all walks of life love to shop and browse among the open-air stalls as merchants cheerfully trumpet - often with humor - the quality of their goods. Rain or shine, the markets start early in the morning and close around 1:30 p.m. So, its best to go early in the morning as they do become crowded with Parisians doing their weekly shopping.

One at Boulogne we came to know recently after our 3 years stay at Paris. Here, you get every thing in cheap price….and also fresh items seems like just from garden. Freshness of the raw products itself increases the appetite of one. Not only food items even beaded jewelries to clothes, utensils to electronic kitchen wares are available. While taking these photos I was asked from which journal I belong …..whether I am from Pakistan, even one said for taking photos its 10 euros. So, it's truly a delight to visit these markets, whether to wander the aisles and savor the sights and smells, or to buy the veggies. You don't have to be a gourmet cook or spend hours slaving over the stove, as many vendors even sell fully prepared dishes, from Turkish food to rotisserie (roasted chickens).

Bike Route


Just uploaded few pictures from my bike route as promised in earlier post. There is a movie which I tried to shoot while riding with my digital camera (which is quite old now). Last weekend was very rainy and stormy so being at home tried MPG4 and QuickTime. MOV version is around 7 MB but the quality is so so while QuickTime version of the same is big around 26MB with better quality.The audio track is from Purbayan & Satyajit playing "Mishra-Pilo" at live concert Paris in 2003. If you are not sure about your connection speed please do not download the same as it might take a long time.
I never worked with video format so if you have any suggestion please add comment.

Uddan - Flight

This time for our trip to India we chose Qatar airways. Seeing its publicity Qatar Airways, one of the fastest growing airlines in the world. Taking you more personally! every now & then on BBC encouraged us to book for the same. This airline is based in Doha, Qatar covering around 70 international destinations. Check-in at Paris was very smooth though they were very strict about luggage weight.


In-flight service was good with very comfortable seats having enough leg room; quality of the food was better than what we had before and was good with choice of films and music on demand. In short, good service for almost 7-8hrs.of long haul flight. What let the airline down was ground services at Doha airport which was awful. Too congested, with no seats, toilets overloaded. There you can see all South-Asians in blue collar jobs. Services at airport were very poorly managed.


Qatar generously gave free dinner coupon for 4 hours stop-over in the age of no-frill air lines. Finding a long queue and no place to seat we opted for a quick stroll in the small duty free section. Having all kinds of perfume from France, small souvenirs, wines, cigarettes and YES last but not least is our yellow metal (gold) shop. Where every Indian was making a pilgrimage. Truly, wherever & whatever the price of gold be India’s fascination towards it will not lessen. We too went there especially Pamela who is no less.
Now having watched Syriana few days before it looks as if few of its scenes were getting played there. Arab men in there white dress and women in their black just 4 feet behind them. And the same goes for those South-Asian working community in middle east.


It was time to board for our next flight from Doha to Delhi. Everyone was in rush to get into the flight showing their so called Indian etiquettes as if they have bought the flight; and flight was going to leave without them. Again in-flight service was good along with food menu. As the flight landed people from rear end seem to be in more hurry then those who were sitting at front. Best part was the person from back who came running to be the first to take exit from economy class was the one who was asking for help at Immigration counter as he was not able to fill it himself.

May God bless those Indians! Otherwise rest journey was peaceful.