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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Travelogue: Interlaken, Switzerland (Day 4- 6)

Going to Switzerland had always been one of the MUST DO things in my bucket list. Well, who wouldn't want to go there?! Friends who had visited the place had gone ga-ga over it and now I know why exactly! It is beautiful beyond words can describe! Switzerland is known as the land of skiing, chocolates & private banking.. but there is MUCH more to experience than just that..

So from Paris we headed towards Interlaken which is a small town between 2 lakes (hence the name) and is incredibly beautiful surrounded by soaring mountain peaks (the snow clad swiss alps). Though a small town, it wont fail to captivate your heart by its beauty! I loved it the first minute I stepped out of the train..

This was our first trip on Eurail and the journey took almost 1 full day as we couldn't get tickets on the fast trains. But if you take one of the TGV or Eurostar it takes just about 4hrs from Paris...

The hotel we stayed (Hotel Beatus) was a bit away from the city and close to nature, and the view of the lake and swiss alps from our window was simply amazing!! Imagine waking up and seeing the snow clad alps the first thing in the morning... It was truly blissful!! So always look for a room with a view, even if you have to pay a little more it is totally worth it.



Mount Jungfrau (13, 642 ft)
The next day we went on a trip to Mount Jungfrau, the top most point of Europe. Jungfrau is one of the main summits in Bernese Alps. Together with the Eiger and Mönch, the Jungfrau forms a massive wall overlooking the Bernese Oberland and considered one of the most emblematic sights of the Swiss Alps. The best time to visit is during the Summer of course.


To reach there, you have to take a train from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen and then the Jungfrau railways to the top of the mountain. The whole journey is about 2.5hrs. The train stops twice on the way, within the moutain tunnel where there are 2 view points and through the glass window you get to see the snow mountains. It gets EXTREMELY cold as you go up, so carrying layered clothing is a must! Once you reach the mountain top, you can trek upto the viewpoints and explore different places where it is snowing and admire the beauty of the majestic swiss alps, while you create snow angels in fresh ice! :) It feels like a heaven on earth and was one of the Out-of-the-world experiences for me!

Ice Palace
The Ice Palace is on the top of Jungfrau and is completely made out of ice - the floors, ceiling, walls and a whole bunch of sculptures!! It is something very unique and fun to see, though it is freezing cold inside!



Adventure Sports
Interlaken is also the adventure sport capital of Europe. If you love adventure then this is the place to be. They say that even if you have done sky diving before, you should do it here again coz diving down to the mountains in swiss alps is a breathtaking experience! Paragliding, canyon swings, rafting are among the other things that you can do.

People & Culture:
The Swiss have 3 official languages - German, French & Swiss. Which part of the country you are in will determine which language is used more. Interlaken is kinda in the middle, so there is more of French/German. The official currency is Swiss Franks and they accept Euros too.
Swiss people were the friendliest among the 3 countries we visited. They are so warm, helpful and welcoming! Not once do you feel intimidated. We had absolutely no issues in finding our hotel or figuring out the day trips and schedules...It actually feels good being in that country!

After admiring the snow and the lakes, we headed northwards to Luzern...



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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Travelogue: Paris (Day 1 - 3)

The first of our destinations in the Europe trip was Paris - the city of lights, love, dreams, romance... as it is popularly known. Landed there in the afternoon with a bright, sunny and a pleasant weather inviting us. The Charles de Gaulle airport is quite far from the city but SNCF (French Railways) connects Paris very well, so travelling within the city is very easy.

Paris Metro/Subway
A metro pass would be a good idea if you are planning to stay there for more than 4-5 days as it works out to be economical & cabs can get very expensive. Locating a hotel close to one of the metro stations will be a smart thing to do and we got lucky with that :). Like all city subways, you proceed downstairs past the human/automatic ticket dispensers and to the platform. The metro is very well signed and the lines are designated by colors, letters & numbers. It is clean, spacious and very convenient as we discovered it over the period of our stay.

Streets of Paris
We stepped out in the late evening with the weather still bright and sunny. Summer there has long days with the sunset happening around 9.30 -10pm. The streets of Paris are wide and nice and most of them are named after Mathematicians. The buildings have a rustic look and follow the same kind of architecture throughout the city.



Eiffel Tower and River Seine
The first thing to do was obviously to see the Eiffel Tower and River Seine. The river flowing through the city looks beautiful and the Eiffel Tower dominates the Paris skyline, being one of the highest points. It is definitely one of the best known landmarks in the world and a good piece of art with history, but I wasn't as impressed by it. My expectations were probably something more and it was way different from what I had thought I would see. There is a ride to the top and a restaurant at the first level of the tower where you can have dinner. But looking at the crowd and the lonnng queue, we decided not to take it. So just wandered at the base, admired the surroundings and returned back.



Food & Accomodation
In terms of food the city has a lot of options for various cuisines like Italian, Chinese and Indian too but limited options if you are a vegetarian. So make sure you ask someone if you are looking for a specific restaurant or a cuisine. The food is definitely very expensive, so depends on how much you wish to spend on every meal. There are a lot of hostels/bed & breakfast places available for budget accomodation which range from 40-60euros and 2 star hotels which cost approx 90euros a night..

Wine Tasting
The second day was the wine/champagne tasting at O Chateau, in one of the cellars within the city. It was a real good experience and we got to taste about 6 different french wines (red/white) including a champagne. This is something I would recommend as a must do, if you are a wine lover!

Louvre Museum
The visit to Paris is not complete without seeing the famous Louvre museum. So the third day morning we went to the museum (locating the entrance was a bit of a struggle). The entry is free on the first Sunday of every month but unfortunately we had to travel the next day which was the first Sunday, so had to buy the tickets . There is also a museum pass which grants multiple entry access to almost 70 museums/churches in Paris. So if you are an art lover, then this will be economical than buying individual entry tickets and you also get to skip the long queues.

I was thrilled to see the inverted glass pyramid and the Monalisa (something I've always wanted to see after reading The Da Vinci Code). The Louvre is composed of 4 floors with exhibits including sculptures, Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities and much more! It is said that you need 2 full days to see the whole museum in detail if you are a real art & museum lover but again it depends on your interset level. We spent around half a day and were quite happy with what we saw... It is no doubt one of the world's best museums!




Arc de Triomphe

It is one of the most recognizable symbols of Paris/France and stands towardst he north west of the city. You can climb up the arc to get a magnificient view of Paris but we didnt have enough time to go all the way up...
A couple of other things we saw includes Champ-Elysees and Bastille (Opera de Paris Bastille)

The 4th day we hopped on to the Eurail and headed towards Switzerland......





(Note: The images displayed are copyrighted and cannot be reproduced anywhere without my consent)