Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sweet Dreams are Made of This

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Ever since I acquired my first digital camera, I have preferred to let my pictures do the talking when sharing my impressions from around the world on this blog! But now, as I stepped out on the terrace of my chalet in the alpine village of Grindelwald, I quickly realized that no camera could capture the breathtaking panorama and scale of the sweeping alpine splendor in front of my eyes. (Click picture below for a larger, high-resolution version of the alpine panorama)

Grindelwald SwitzerlandThe majestic peaks of the Monch, Schreckhorn, and Eiger provided an imposing backdrop to miles of impossibly picture-perfect landscape. A landscape of beautiful streets winding downhill, of quaint cottages in the distance with brightly colored flower beds, of sweeping alpine forests on mountain-sides that disappeared into the clouds and of the snow-clad peak of Eiger that mightily burst forth from the top of the clouds. The gurgling of a nearby stream and the chimes from the village church added to the feeling of having been transported to a fantasy land from another time.

Alps at Grindelwald SwitzerlandEarlier in the day, we flew into Switzerland on a bright, sunny morning. The weather Gods had been kind so far to us on this vacation. We enjoyed completely dry and rain-free days in England which has seen some of the most severe rains lately and here we had a bright, sunny day with excellent visibility..

Grindelwald SwitzerlandWhile the Swiss Rail system was every bit as efficient as I had expected, we had to change trains thrice to get to Grindelwald. I had to take change trains at Zurich Central (which is different from Zurich Airport), Bern and Interlaken before I finally made it to Grindelwald. Since we had three suitcases, changing trains was a hassle (especially when one of the connections required me to change platforms). An unfortunate side-effect was that I left my only warm jacket behind on one of the trains. The journey via train to Grindelwald takes about 3:15 hours

Jungfraujoch ObservatoryWe had rented an apartment-in-a-chalet instead of a hotel. This consisted of two bedrooms, a living room, a dining/kitchen area, bathroom, and a large open terrace with flower-beds and a view to die for. The apartment was stocked with everything you needed to cook and eat at home. A bakery just across the street also stocked all essential groceries which was an added bonus (the girl at the bakery had an uncanny resemblance to Phoebe from Friends!)

Grindelwald SwitzerlandOn our first day in Grindelwald, we strolled down to the delightful Oncle Tom’s Hutte, for freshly made thin-crust pizzas. I remember ordering one with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, broccoli, bell peppers and mushrooms, and the other with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, smoked salmon, leeks, and sour cream. Both were delicious, and the glasses of Prosecco di Valdobbiadene (a type of sparkling wine) nicely complimented our lunch.

Grilled Pork in Grindelwald SwitzerlandAnother place I recommend is a small family-owned restaurant called the Riggenberg Tea-Room. The special consisting of grilled pork meat, fries and buttered peas was delicious, as were their freshly made ice-cream desserts.

We did try the cheese fondue during our last evening here; the fondue was served with lots of bread chunks, potatoes in their skin, and shallots. The dish was interesting but not particularly great.

On other days, we lazed around in our little wooden dwelling, made our own breakfast and dinner, and felt like we could be here forever without feeling home-sick. The local breads, wine and cheese were great, and in this setting tasted better than any gourmet fare I have had!

Jungfraujoch in SeptemberThere is a cableway from Grindelwald to a place called First (altitude 2100 m). From the summit station on First, you have a choice of high-Alpine hikes. The easiest one is the 50 min hike to Lake Bachalpsee, one of the most beautiful mountain lakes in the Alps. As well as admiring the stunning views of the mountain world reflected in its crystal-clear waters, visitors can also try out their angling skills here.

Switzerland is a treat for nature-lovers. Everywhere will notice the effort that has been taken to promote tourism in a manner that is friendly to the environment. Nowhere more than on the rail journey to the ‘Top of Europe’, Jungfraujoch. The trip takes you via Kleine Scheidegg and through the Eiger North Wall up to the scenic splendors of the Jungfraujoch in the heart of a wonderland of glaciers and eternal ice. Attractions include the Ice Palace, the Sphinx observatory building overlooking the Aletsch Glacier, husky-driven sledge rides and the Snow Disk Run. This is a popular site for skiers, hikers, and trekkers.

The scenic splendor as the train climbs the steep incline is extraordinary. The day was clear and sunny and we could see distant villages, gondolas (as the cable-cars are called) slowing ascending the peaks, tiny figures of trekkers in distant mountain trails, and vast, lush green valleys and hillsides speckled with colorful flowers and cows everywhere.

Jungfraujoch SwitzerlandThe Jungfrau railway was built in 1894 by a charismatic man with big dreams called Adolf Guyer-Zeller. The rail system took 16 years to complete, and right from inception was electricity-driven, even though electric-trains were still in their infancy.

During these years, the base camp for construction workers was located on the Eiger Glacier and in the winters, the workforce in the “Sea of Ice” was cutoff from the outside world, making it necessary for the advance delivery of the following provisions before winter set in:

  • 12 tons of flour
  • 1500 liters of wine (almost 1 liter per day per worker!)
  • 2 tons of potatoes (for the Swiss)
  • 800 kilos of macaroni (for the Italians)
  • 3000 eggs
  • 400 kilos of coffee
  • 50000 cigars
  • 4 tons of meat
  • 30 tons of coal (for baking and for the toolsmith)

Fireplace in my chalet at Grindelwald SwitzerlandJungfraujoch has the world’s highest post-office, a high altitude weather station, and an advanced research station to measure data on pollution, cosmic rays, and ozone depletion. But most interesting of all, it is also home to Bollywood Café, probably the highest Indian food restaurant in the world! Decorated with film reels, movie posters of Hindi and Tamil hits, the restaurant offers an Indian buffet lunch for CHF26 pax. While they have few items in the buffet and no Indian breads, the food was pretty good, especially the Turkey curry, the Chole, and the Alu-Gobi-Corn subzi. I also noticed Hindi signs (in addition to the usual ones in local languages and English) at cafes in Jungfrau advertising chicken and veggie snacks!

If you are planning a visit here, please remember to get your sunglasses, sun-screen, and warm clothes. When we stepped on the ice and snow on top of Jungfrau the chilly -7 degree temperature coupled with the glare from the ice took some time getting adjusted to. But then we were soon throwing snow at each other and trying to make a snowman. Great fun! Have to do this again some time; maybe during winter :-)

And for those who are planning a trip to Switzerland, here are some tips:

  • Figure out if renting a car is a good option for you. A car will give you the flexibility of stopping and admiring the splendid views as you travel. Americans will not have trouble since you are driving on the ‘right side of the road’. Indians drive on both sides of the road in India, so we can drive anywhere!
  • We traveled in Switzerland by rail instead of renting a car. While every visitor hears about the Swiss Rail Pass, please contact the Info Desk in the Airport Railway Station first; given your travel plans they will recommend the most cost-effective Pass for you. For us they recommended a Half-Price Rail Pass.
  • Remember to carry sun-glasses and sun-screen if you are planning to visit Jungfraujoch or any other snow-clad mountain
  • There are lots of vegetarian food options in Switzerland. The long-distance trains have a café on-board too.
  • If you are staying for over a week and plan to buy groceries and stuff for the kitchen, find out where the nearest Coop store is. They are a nation-wide grocery chain and you will find better prices.


foodette said...

Beautiful pictures! When were you there? It looks like winter.

Unknown said...

The light brown cottage in the first picture is simply gorgeous. I can't begin to tell how much envious I am of your globe trotting!

Bong Mom said...

Beautiful pictures and your vacation looks like the kind I love, just lazing and relaxing in a quaint & beautiful place. And loved the new header. Thought you moved to your domain :)

Bong Mom said...

The little girl in red and the Mommy look cute :)

Shantanu said...

@foodette: I was there just last week, on Sept 1-5. The snow you see is on Jungfraujoch,which is snow-clad around the year and which we climbed (or rather took the train, the higest altitude train in Europe!)

@vishal: I love these chalets/cottages too. That one is light brown because it's new; one winter of snow and I guess it will turn a little darker.

@sandeepa: Thanks! And oh yes, have to agree the girls in the picture are cute! :-)

Anonymous said...

Hey, that Riggenberg Pork et al looks completely awesome. It is just 9.30 am & one is already drooling - and I am the no-breakfast type! Keep these posts coming.

Mahesh Narkar said...

Wow, lovely pictures, great post. New spiffy banner on your blog too. Am definitely looking forward to your next one.


Anonymous said...

What a lovely guided tour through Swish beauty of nature. Even from Norway and loving skiing and winter sports I must admit I haven't been there yet.

You just have to visit and report from Norway one day - a very similar nature - check my wifes guest post - an American finding The Spirit of the Norwegian Soul.

Btw: Great planning tips - I perfer the rail:-)

Shantanu said...

@hari: And it tasted even better! :-)

@mahesh: Thank you!

@rennyba: Yes, have to do Norway some time too; your blog has been an inspiration for a visit to that part of the world some day.

Sig said...

Wow, what a vacation you guys had...sigh... beautiful pictures! I love that first pic, the high res version... breathtaking! LOL at the driving part, yeah Indians can drive anywhere :D


Simply outstanding.
Can I request you somthing. We would like to view more pictures. If you could use Picasa WebAlbum, we too can share the photos.

Bee Lee said...

Excellent post with all the details :) It is very beautiful there in Summer :)

Jaya said...

Ahhhhh... that first one
is so soothing to me! It
reminds me of when I used
to visit my older brother
in Switzerland, more than
30 years ago.

Shantanu said...

@sig: Thank you!

@harekrishnaji: I was planning to do just that!

@beelee: But this time I want to check out the winter, which I saw in your pics. :-)

@jaya: Welcome to my blog!

Anil P said...

There's always something about settlements in valleys, nudging the base of hills and mountains, isn't there?

Anonymous said...

Beautiful photos and great write up. The photo of the view from your terrace reminded me so much of Vermont (where mt wife and I live). I've seen a half a dozen places that look like this (more or less).

Your journey with your family makes me miss my traveling days. :)

Anonymous said...

What breathtaking scenery!

Shantanu said...

@anil: You are right.

@kirk: Welcome to my blog! Looks like there are many more lovely places left to visit. :-)

@laura: Oh Yes, and the reality is even better than the pics!

Bhavesh said...

3 people I know have visited Switzerland less than 2 weeks apart.. Switzerland seems to be the one place on every Indian's wish list. Thanks to Yash Chopra. :-)

I hope it is worth all that hype ( looking at the pics and all the pics of my friends I think it is .. )

Did u get to dine at the Bollywood Hotel ( think that is what my Fren told me it is called ) ?

Grindelwad --> name reminds me of The deathly hallows ! .. Nice to know u had a whale of a time.. Europe continues to remain the must see in every one's list and the reasons are obvious!

Anonymous said...

@justme: Good to see you again after a while. You know what, I didn't see a lot of Indian tourists here. But yes, I did eat at Bollywood Cafe on top of Jungfrau. :-)

Anonymous said...

Terrific post, Shantanu! I'm surprised you did not see too many Indian tourists - I remember seeing hordes of them. Also, some of the signage on the way to Jungfrau was in Hindi if I remeber correctly... Your blog is quite the tourist spot in and of itself :)

Anonymous said...

@jitesh: Maybe there particular times during the year when you find more Indian tourists. Re: my blog, like they say in Hindi, "tumhare muh mein ghee-shakkar"!

Anonymous said...

Thank you.

We found your data on grindelwald to be very accurate.

We tried both Oncle toms hutte and the Riggenberg Tea-Room. Both were very good.

Now this small city will replace my current fav of wildflower hall /Oberoi.

- A puneri bong.

Shantanu said...

@Anon/puneri bong: Glad to see this blog was of help during your vacation!

I have been meaning to visit Willflower Hall for a while now; however, the place doesn't seem kid-friendly and I have an eight-year old.

Anonymous said...

Hi Shantanu,just landed here while searching for a review on Baan Tao at the Ista,and just realised that I spent my entire Friday afternoon on a gastronomic journey across the globe. Thank You for a great read. Can you share the website you may have used to book the chalet in Switzerland?? Thanks in advance

Gautam Kulkarni

Shantanu said...

@Gautam: You know, I can't recollect right now. Let me see if I can hunt it out for you. Thanks for your comments.