The hauntingly idyllic beauty of Switzerland cast a spell on Shivkumar Gaitonde. He could not help falling in love with the country’s luxuriant landscape, rich biodiversity, cultural heritage, exquisite cuisine and the typical Swiss hospitality offered at the Swiss Air flight.
We flew to Zurich by Swiss Air, the official carrier of Switzerland. Check-in at Muscat Airport was pretty fast thanks to the efficient ground staff and very thin outbound traffic. The airline had a stopover in Dubai for around an hour for re-fuelling and was filled to its capacity with passengers bound for Switzerland and other European destinations. The seats were very roomy and extremely comfortable offering a lot of elbow space. The interiors of the flight were very subtle and appealing especially to the business traveller bound for long duration journeys. The seats were fully automated- for adjusting to a convenient angle for comfortable reading or use the space as a workstation for the business traveller. I was greeted by a very friendly airhostess with sparkling champagne as a welcome drink accompanied by a deliciously tempting cheese tart which added warmth to the vibrant ambience. Our four-member team joined me in Dubai which included Waleed Ahmed from Rail Europe who is stationed in Dubai. Then we took off for Zurich.
Swiss Air flies non-stop from Dubai to Zurich in six hours. I used the bedside lamp and started reading a book. Swiftly I was approached by the crew member who asked me if I would want to read the international newspapers, magazines or other literature on board. The airline crew is extremely courteous and gives personalised attention. The seat turned out to be a kind of a message chair which gives a soothing message which completely relaxes you and it can be timed. The tilt of the footrest and other members of the chair can be adjusted from the controls on the chair. An excellent piece of technology, the seat is an epitome of comfort and the overall atmosphere in the business class leaves the traveler truly elevated. The crew passed on forms to specify dinner requirements from a very Swiss menu accompanied by red wine. Swiss Air truly reflects the rich culture and hospitable nature of Switzerland. Flying in Swiss Air is an experience which leaves a very positive impression on the traveler.
From Zurich to Lugano
We arrived in Zurich at 620am local time and had a refreshing bath at the airport. Then we left the airport by train to the Zurich main railway station. A few glimpses of Zurich that we had showed lots of cranes indicating the rampant construction going on in that area. As we started moving we could see billboards of banks, insurance companies and engineering firms and big names in pharmaceutical and food industries. Zurich wore the look of a bustling and hectic commercial hub. We boarded the train and started towards Lugano which is down south at the very bottom of the country. On the map I could see Lugano not much far from the Italian border and I was informed by our guide that we would be roughly 10kms from Italy and that the train journey would take three hours.
The train journey to Lugano was spellbinding. This was my first peep in to this wonderful country. The train had panoramic windows and the country side looked enthralling .Green meadows were dotted with picturesque cottages and spotted cattle grazed languidly and formed a very romantic sight. It looked all very green and fresh. Long stretches of green pastures were very alluring especially for us who came from the gulf. This was the first time we were asked for the Swiss Pass. We had been allotted the Swiss Pass by the Swiss Tourism Authorities which allowed us to travel across the country in the first class in almost all forms of transportations.
We arrived at Lugano Railway station at around 11:00am and from there we took a bus to the bus stop very near to our hotel. Now began the actual tour and sight-seeing and the real Swiss experience promised by the trip. From the hotel, we had a short walk to pier of Lugano Paradiso. It was around 12 noon and the air was crisp with a mild fog. We then reached Lake Lugano in which we had planned a boat excursion. We could get a fantastic view of the lake and breathed in lungful of deliciously crisp air. We saw clouds descending on church spires and the stone buildings at a distance on the mainland. The boat ride was for almost an hour and we reached Melide. A short walk took us to Swiss Miniatur. It was a kind of a park which housed more than 100 models of landmark buildings and structures which were made to the scale of 1:25. Among the structures were Bremgarten castle, Allwill Castle, Lenzburg Castle, The Town Hall of Zofingen, Cathedral in Basel and many more. I observed the models closely and to my amazement each one had exquisite, sharp and accurate finish to the very detail. Be it a spire or the roof top or the stone facade, it was Swiss precision at work literally. Extremely impressive and really worth visiting. After a sumptuous lunch at the nearby restaurant, we had a short walk to Melide station from where we took a train to Lugano Paradiso.
From Lugano Paradiso we took a short walk to the departure station of the Funicular Mount Salvatore. The Funicular actually goes uphill the mount which is almost 350m in height and one travels reverse as we go up the mountain. On the mountain top there was a beautiful chapel made entirely of stone. From the hill top one can get a 360 degrees panoramic view of the entire Lugano city with a larger view of Lake Lugano and other lakes speak out in the city. A walk by Lugano Lake is always a delight especially in the evening when it had started getting a little cold but overall it’s very pleasant. Then we also visited the Piazza Luini (Piazza stands for a public square).The Piazza had a beautiful fountain at the centre and it was lined with stone flooring. Beautiful, rustic cobbled streets were all over the High Street of Lugano flashing shops selling global premium apparel and cosmetic brands.
The next day we started for the city of Lucerne by the Willhelm Tell Express panoramic train. The journey again was mind-blowing with a different geography of mountainous terrain instead of flat plains which were visible in the earlier journey. It was drizzling slightly and it got much greener and lusher. We alighted at Bellinzona to take another train to Fluelen. We arrived in Fluelen at around 1 noon and had an amazing boat excursion there. It was rather sunny but felt very nice and pleasant. As the boat moved we could feel the breeze caressing our faces- a very soothing feeling which I would never forget. The Swiss air actually works on your nerves and one actually starts feeling an inner calm ascending to his mind. Hence this trip is highly recommended for overstressed business folk.
We were told that the boat on which we were travelling was more than 100 years old. It looked impeccably well maintained and in an excellent condition. Overall, landmark structures in Switzerland are 100 plus years but have been maintained extremely well almost passionately and really defy the time it has passed through. Then we reached Ameron Flora Hotel is located on Lake Lucerne. Its only 150 meters from the famous Kapelbrucke next to the Rosengart Collection in Lucerne.
We then moved around the city of Lucerne with our guide Jasmina Kuhne who took us around and showed us the Lucerne bridge which was destroyed by a fire and later restored with small paintings inside the wooden bridge. We also visited the Cathedral of Saint Francis Xavier and then the piazza and saw extremely pretty houses with their faÃ§ades painted in an artistic manner. It really looked very traditional. In its overall appearance, Lucerne was looked as if it were a shooting site for fairy tales or the movies based on the novels of Charles Dickens. Lucerne looks extremely charming and looks traditionally European.
The next morning we visited the Swiss Museum of Transport which had on display more than 3000 items illustrating the development of mobility on road, rail and water. The film theatre features the country’s biggest screen.
Stunning beauty of Grindelwald
Our next destination after Lucerne was another ravishing place called as the Grindelwald. It is a small tourist village and cannot be described as anything less than a paradise on earth. I have still not come across anyplace on this planet as beautiful as the village of Grindelwald. The beauty lies in its simplicity and abundance in natural beauty. Everywhere one’s sight falls looks like a postcard frame. We forgot Lucerne for a while and fell in love with Grinderlwald! Love at first sight, actually.
We also visited the Grindelwald museum which showcased its history, tradition, folklore, population, traditions etc. A small museum in size, it is really a very charming place and it once housed a school has been converted in to a museum. Grindelwald’s economy is 98 per cent tourism-driven. It has been promoted among the GCC Arabs who come and stay put for a week or two at a stretch. We stayed at the Hotel Schweizerhof (which literally means Suisse courtyard) a four- start property. The hotel was nestled in a group of beautiful gardens only two-three minutes from the Grindelwald Centre. This hotel enjoys a backdrop of the grand Eiger and Lauberhorn which is a jewel in its crown and thrills tourists from all over the world.
Next day we started early in the morning to visit Jungfrau, the tallest mountain peak in Europe. The train took us right to the top of the mountain where there are tunnels carved in which one can see beautiful ice sculpture and branding by Lindt Chocolate. And of course Jungfrau is actually positioned as a brand and is a brand in itself.
It was snowing and the temperature was minus three or four. We could not stay out in the open for more than 15 minutes as fingers started becoming numb and it was freezing cold – brrrr!!!.
Bern- The busy capital
We started in the morning with our guide to visit the Old Town of Bern and it turned out to be an actual treasure hunt of the most beautiful sights which are also UNESCO World Heritage sights. The stone cobbled streets and the Victorian architecture displayed by the buildings gave the place a grand look it deserves as the capital of the Switzerland. Streets were thronged with busy office goers as we had started at 8 am in the morning. Beautiful red coloured trams and red buses moved around silently.
Bern was the place where I observed young population – teenage working class. Most probably they all came to work and stayed in Bern; and places like Lugano is where their parents and grandparents stayed and led a retired life. Another beautiful remembrance is a luncheon at the Rosengarten (Restaurant Rose Garden) which offered a breathtaking and a beautiful view of the Bern’s Old Town. The restaurant served Mediterranean delicacies with other tradition Suisse menus which we really relished.
While going through one of the town squares, my sight fell on one building window which displayed a large poster of Albert Einstein and I checked it out with our guide who read it out. It read “Einstein Haus”-which meant Einstein’s House !!!.
I was so thrilled that I just want to climb the building stairs to have a look. I could do it later when our Bern trip ended with the guide. Haus of Albert Einstein was actually a small house containing a small hall and a kitchen. This house is now a small time museum because it also displays the Einstein’s working desk-a small wooden table and a chair on which he worked and in this very house he developed the “The Theory of Relativity”!!! which changed the course of world history. It was a hair raising experience as I moved around in the house and looked at the pictures and other things used by the genius.
I was told by the Swiss lady attendant that this place was also visited by two of India’s former presidents, Abdul Kalam (out of his admiration for another thinker and scientist) and by Pratibha Patil. This was my most prized find in the Old City of Bern.