Have you ever dreamt of waking up, expecting it to be another normal day full of mundane regular work and suddenly a surprise travel opportunity (one which you were secretly hoping for to come along) COMES!! Well, for me this surprise came true recently when I was invited by Swiss Tourism, Maison de Voyage and Rock-On Holidays by Thomas Cook India to visit my dream destination – Switzerland on a quick 5 day FAM trip.
Traveling to Switzerland has been a dream since ages. As a kid I grew up dreaming about a house up in the Alps and watching the moon and clear skies through the small window like Heidi by author Johanna Spyri. Then as a teenager my first glimpse of the Swiss Alps and the green meadows was through the cinematic lens of Yash Chopra’s movies especially with Chandni and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. And finally as an adult I met numerous fellow travelers, colleagues, friends, cousins, relatives – who all spoke about the beauty and magic of this country. In fact it seemed that everyone but me had been to Switzerland. So obviously when I was offered this opportunity, I didn’t think twice, requested my boss for leave (which was very difficult by the way ;) ), packed my woolens, and joined 3 other fellow travelers to Get Set and Go in Switzerland :)
This trip was unlike every other trip of mine. Everything happened in a whirlwind and at short notice, so I didn’t get my customary time to plan, research and fret about the cities that I was visiting, was completely unprepared and didn’t know what to expect. The sequence of events was as follows – decision made to go on Wednesday, visa application on Friday, shopping for winter-wear on Saturday and flight for Zurich on Tuesday. Everything in a span of 1 week, which is the quickest plan that I have ever made for an international trip. At times it really worried the compulsive planner / researcher in me but I ultimately let it go and decided to just sit back and enjoy the trip. This also worked well for me because for the first time I had no expectations from a place, no pre-conceived notions about what I was going to do or see, every sight was somehow fresh and everything I write about will be exactly what I saw and experienced first hand.
Apart from the compulsive planner in me fretting, I had also never been to Europe or anywhere abroad in the winters and was quite apprehensive about the weather and whether I would be able to take the cold. But after a quick chat with my friend P, who assured me that with the right winter-wear I wouldn’t freeze in zero and lower temperatures, I decided to go. And was enthralled by the new look that Europe dons in winters. Contrary to what everyone thinks, I felt that every traveler should brace the low temperatures and visit Europe at least once in their lifetime in autumn / early winters. Its like the whole landscape gets a new look in a color palette of green, red, brown and gold and in many places white snow interspersed in between. I truly believe that Europe’s true beauty is revealed in this autumn – winter season.
Also for some reason, my understanding of Switzerland was that it’s a romantic or family destination and doesn’t offer much for a backpacker / my kind of traveler. I couldn’t be more wrong about that, which I realised later. During my trip I realized that this is such a diverse country that it has something for everyone including the budget / offbeat traveler such as myself. And if you have the power of visa and swiss rail pass with you, then truly you can visit any city / place that catches your fancy on that day. Traveling within Switzerland with a Swiss Pass is seriously like having a train / bus at your fingertips. For the number of days that you buy this pass, you can literally do unlimited travel via all trains, buses and boats to anywhere within Switzerland. We literally tried this when at Visp we were headed for Zurich, but on the other platform saw the train to Lausanne and out of the blue just boarded it and went for a beautiful train ride (just like a long drive) to the French part of Switzerland. And still made it to Zurich in time.
In terms of the itinerary for this short trip, we visited Interlaken, Zermatt and Zurich and spent about 2 days in each city. Each city’s tourism department had painstakingly planned and arranged different activities for us and till date I am unable to decide which city or which activity was my favorite or the best. I feel this was because it was a continuous string of “once in a lifetime” experiences that I was lucky to have done in as beautiful a country as Switzerland. Don’t get me wrong, I had my lows and falls too but they were an experience too in their own right and contributed to all the funny stories / anecdotes of the trip :) The fun started right from the time when I boarded the flight, business class courtesy Swiss Airways and continued all throughout the trip.
With just a single trip I ticked off numerous “to do’s” of my bucket list and also discovered many new activities that I didn’t even know off. Each experience was unique with a special story or an anecdote to share. Curious as to what all we did? Well here are the highlights -
We began the trip with Interlaken where on day 1 we went cycling for 20 km on an electric bike in and around Interlaken, through its lush green fields, old villages, farms, forests,hills, lakes etc but the best part of this plan was the sight of the stunning Lake Thun and cycling in circles like crazies on a military runway. :)
On Day 2 we were out early for paragliding, where we jumped off a hill over the toy town of Interlaken and landed in the public garden right in the centre of town. It was too cool :)
We then took a bus and a gondola ride to visit Niederhorn for stunning views of Lake Thun and the entire Bernese Alps. I also saw my first patch of snow here. And then the afternoon was spent in riding / zooming totti bikes down hill. And here came the first fall :)
Post all this adventure and calorie burning, we went to the local chocolateria for lessons / demonstration on making and tasting Swiss chocolates. Well, don’t expect many photographs from this visit as we were all very busy sampling the local produce :) :)
On day 3 we sadly bid adieu to Interlaken and after a truly scenic train ride, reached the picturesque small town of Zermatt. We started our visit here with a quick walk through the town, saw the mighty Matterhorn from the church bridge and then went on to try a hand or rather legs at ice skating. And here quite a few more falls followed :) :)
Day 4 of my trip was like being a kid on a sugar rush. We took a gondola and went up to Klein Matterhorn and saw the magnificent Matterhorn up close and personal, played in the snow, saw the gorgeous panorama of the snow-covered peaks all around and then did the awesome glacier walk. Post a sumptuous lunch, we went for a nice easy hike in the snow-covered forests to a long suspended bridge. And just when we thought the day couldn’t get any better, we landed up in a beautiful place called Gornergrat.
However I feel Zermatt kept its best sight for the last when on the day of my departure (i.e. day 5 of the trip) it treated me to my first ever snowfall. I truly cherish that moment when I held out my hand and held that first flake of snow.
We then left for Zurich and after an impulsive train ride to Lausanne reached Zurich by afternoon. However due to bad weather we couldn’t make the most of our visit here and just had an opportunity to catch a few glimpses of this beautiful city. Well, I guess, something had to be left for the next visit too.
We then took a return flight back the next day.
And as for us Indians, Switzerland is associated so much with Bollywood, we had some of our own Bollywood moments too. On day 1, Sonali missed the train, in Zermatt we all sang Bollywood songs and danced on the streets, saw an impromptu carnival i.e. a local band (very similar to an Indian wedding band) performing on the streets, met another Brazilian traveler and recommended Bollywood movies to him, etc etc.
And as if all this wasn’t enough, I easily found tasty vegetarian food options in all the places that I visited. Many places also had a separate section in the menu titled “No meat and fish” and in one case we visited an entirely vegetarian restaurant :). I tried quite a few local dishes too such as fondue, rosti, etc but the highlight was being served an Indian samosa along with rice :)
During this trip I also tried another category in hostels in all these places i.e the Swiss Youth Hostels which are like 2 – 3 star hotels, reasonable priced, include breakfast, ecologically sustainable, and a great place to meet other fellow travelers.
And last but not the least met some amazing people who all went out of their way to make our trip comfortable, memorable and full of one of a “life mein ek baar” experiences. In my travel group too, traveled with Sonali only to discover a common traveler friend back at home. Talk about world being such a small place.
Overall I had a fantastic trip wherein in just 5 days I was able to collect numerous memories, experiences and stories for the precious album of my life called “my travel journey”. I saw another side of Switzerland that was truly stunning, adventurous, offbeat and has so much more to offer than normally what all travelers see and do. And I hope by now even you will agree, it was a really long-awaited dream come true :)