Monday, September 21, 2009

Swiss Serendipity.... Camp Zermatt

I'd asked Dilber, our super duper travel agent, for an itinerary before we left for Switzerland. She replied saying that the thing about a Switzerland holiday was that you don't make plans, that you discover your own Switzerland.

I knew that she wasn't being lazy because she had guided us wonderfully at Turkey last year.

And this is what I've found out so far.

The Jazz Festival headquarters of Montreux can get quite empty when there is nothing on. And that's why the walk by it's lake can be so enchanting. That you have to go to the neighbouring town to get a Starbucks cappuccino. That the neighbouring town is ten minutes away. And that the Starbucks shuts by 7 PM. Unlike Gloria Jeans that welcomes us to Bandra even when we return at midnight.

And, as Kainaz said, Chandler is not as funny in French.

We discovered that all those who said Switzerland would be without character should say that while standing in front of the fairytale-like Chillon Castle. Or outside the Red Cross Museum or the UN Building. That both of these shut by roughly four in the evening. That Lonely Planet, for once, was wrong. You do have to pay an entry fee for the Red Cross Museum. Which has a very genial bearded elf at the reception who helps wipe away your disappointment at the shut museum. That it is not a problem if you missed these. You can head back again from the neighbouring town of Montreux in a train. Because the magical Swiss pass, as Dilber promised, opens gates to anything, again and again.

That the trip was totally worth it when you stand at the sobering Red Cross Museum. Or when you walk awestruck from conference room to conference room in the UN Building. Following the steps of Mandela, Clinton, Castro and Arafat. Past the room where the world huddled when India and Pakistan went nuclear. And yet 'Buddha would smile' (code for Vajpayee to tell him the Pokhran nuclear test was successful) when ever we met Pakistanis... we have always had some lovely encounters with friendly Pakistanis over the years at Thailand's floating market, at Istanbul's Grand Bazar and while looking for directions to Cabbages and Condoms at Bangkok and the Paradise Chalet at Montreux. Many more than we have with Indians abroad. As Floyd said 'leaders (OK OK) leave us kids alone).

That the best place to get the Turk national snack of Doner Kebab is not Istanbul, but outside Visp station in Switzerland. That ticket collectors in Swiss trains are the friendliest creatures in the world, and would give Santa a run for his money. We specially remember the happily yodelling gentleman at the train from Visp to Zermatt who would patiently answer all our questions. No matter how often we repeated them. And that they never check for tickets in buses and trams here.

That the friendliest concierge in the world is Frank who mans the desk at the magical and quaint Hotel Christiana where I am writing this from . He welcomed us when we reached, after a long day of some million train rides across three cities 'with a heartfelt 'Mrs Karmakar, we missed you...' And who spent close to an hour with me yesterday trying to transfer my photos from the camera to the pen drive. That conquering the French Keyboard at Montreux was of no use. They have German ones at Zermatt! That my trilling bon jour and merci was of no use here. This is the land of the German Dangke and Auf Widerschen. Muttering which in strange accents are not required as they reply in English to my attempts at German.

That the closest competition to the East German Frank was his female counterpart, Mikkenain, in the morning who patiently guided us to the majestic Matterhorn.

That we could roll out of bed and look at the majestic Matterhorn of Toblerone chocolate packs. That we could go mountaineering. Bengali style. A few cable car rides and you are on top of the Matterhorn glacier. The many layers, thermals, woolen socks and gloves that seemed so superfluous when we bought them in a hot afternoon at Bandra's Linking Road ... all came to the party here. And yet nothing worked like a tight hug in the icy Glacier Palace. Wrapping one's hands around a warm cappuccino cup helped too. And on the icy peaks of Matterhorn, we learnt that Bollywood is famous in distant Poland too.

That 'hiking, down the mountain meant skipping down a well made road. That God rewarded you for the effort as a quaint little village fair came out of nowhere as you walked down. With lovely 'raclette' - slice of cheese, smoked and melted, with jacket potatoes - to reward you in its merry tents.

And the final walk back the town square where you mysteriously walk into a chocolate shop called 'boitte a chocolate'. Find the most amazing chocolate. And another of Santa's grandchildren, the lovely, friendly Swede girl, Alexandra who leads you to the creamiest and tastiest hot chocolate ever in the poetic petite cafe upstairs.

Oh, and remember the wooden cottages with sloped roofs and little posies in the window in fairy tale books we grew up on? They are all there at Zermatt.

Interlaken later today. And a billion more discoveries I am sure.


k said...

to sum up - if you love switzerland, it will love you back :)

Scarlett said...

Wow! You seem to be on the trip of your life. What you've described seems so quintessentially Europe. Quaint cafes, snow-covered peaks, the world's creamiest we just need some cows grazing away in lush green fields :)

Saltwater Blues said...

Go to Fribourg and Gruyere - two station away from geneva if my memory serves me right. And please check the weather before heading to Interlaken/Jungfrau. If the weathers bad you end up wasting a good deal of money. There's nothing much to see in Zuerich, insted head over to the Rhine Falls near Winthetur.

The knife said...

hey SWB thanks for tips...we 'touched snow' at Matterhorn so are giving Titlis and Jungfrau the miss

Ash it is a dream... laughing at all those who said we'd be bored to death at S. Every moment has been memorable

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