Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Moving to Amsterdam, first impressions


(I had initially planned to write this blog after just a month in Amsterdam (so in July 2021) but am writing it almost after a year. So obviously these are no more first impressions, but still initial impressions)

My first view of Central Amsterdam,
in summer
As I moved to Netherlands in the middle of the pandemic, getting to know the city took time. But it was quite an exciting journey for me, discovering a new city, a new culture and a new people while limited by the pandemic rules. Let me start with two statements. One, I love Amsterdam (or at least in summer😊). It’s a gorgeous and a crazy city. Or town I must say (it has less than a million people!). It’s small and cosy, and it is extremely easy to get anywhere in town within 20 mins of cycling. And within 10 mins, you can be in the countryside next to canals and cows and farmlands and so on, as there is a lot of nature nearby. The city is extremely pretty. And so chill! It’s like having the best of both worlds, small town life with all benefits of a large city.

Second, unlike my initial expectations, there was a lot that was different about Netherlands than the UK. Some of these differences came as a surprise to me while most of them came with a laugh. I don’t know why, I thought most European countries would be more similar than dissimilar. But that is not the case as I slowly learnt. I've finally come to the conclusion that even though Netherlands is a small country, the Dutch are quite a different kind of people. They have their very own culture different from their neighbours, and with a lot of unique quirks. And so it has been quite an interesting journey to find out about these differences.


The gorgeous Centrum canals, in fall
The city is gorgeous, and its beauty grows on you even more with time (instead of feeling like the same old). It is stunning across all the seasons, as you can see in the photographs on this blog. During my first month in Amsterdam, I lived in the central canal area called Centrum and walked around a lot during this time. I was blown away by the gorgeousness of the historic centre - criss-crossed by canals, lined with green trees on both sides, the narrow streets full of cyclists, and the towering old style colourful Dutch buildings on both sides. It was a pleasure to walk through this area, again and again.

Tree lined Centrum canals,
in summer
Some streets felt full of tourists and busy. And then suddenly you would come across a street completely empty and extremely charming. With its own canal, trees and flowers along it and not a soul to be seen. And just like that, you could be cycling along a zoo in the middle of the city, with flamingos along the road. These were always fun to explore. Amsterdam never fails to surprise me, there is always something new to discover around the corner. And so I still feel the same excitement about Amsterdam’s beauty today as I did when I first moved here.

Amsterdam at night, in winter
Amsterdam has many canals – wide and narrow, flowing and stagnant, and so on. Apparently, all the canals have their own character and story, but it takes time to figure that out. Some of them have houseboats lined along them where people live for the real Amsterdam experience. Some of them are lined with boats which people use when its sunny. Most of them are lined with trees and lot of them bloom with tulips during spring. I still can’t identify the canals from each other but will get there one day.

Canal bridges, in summer
And there are thousands of cute bridges everywhere. Different styles and all stunning. Some are even lighted at night. Most of them are also lined with flowers during spring and summer. Also at times you run into brightly painted cycles on these bridges decorated with flowers, for tourists to take photographs with. Each one of the bridges is a pleasure to walk along and always a fun to discover. Apparently, Amsterdam was a sea port for a long time, but after they built the dykes, the sea became the lake or a river Ij (there is confusion over what its called), towards the north of Amsterdam. But even now, some of the ships come all the way to the Amsterdam port. And some of the bridges even open up to let large boats through.

Trader houses, in summer
The old 14-15th century trader houses all along the canals also lend it a lot of beauty. The slim tall colourfully painted houses with huge windows just add so much charm to the views. And most of the windows are always open, so you can get to see quite a lot of what is inside (Apparently that’s an Amsterdam thing 😉). Also, after a while you start to notice how many of these buildings are tilted. Quite a lot! They are all leaning one way or the other, and lot of them have blocks now to keep them from falling over.

All these old Dutch houses are all painted in different bright colours which is one of the biggest reasons for the beauty of the old city. They also have their own unique architecture - narrow floors, with narrow winding staircases to go up. And some weird setups inside too as they were modernised much later. Like walking through a bathroom to get to the bedroom, having sinks in the bedroom and so on. Some of them also have sloping walls inside because of the leaning walls. They are always a pleasure to explore.

Unlike other European capitals, Amsterdam does not have a lot of grand stone buildings. Only a few that you can count on your fingers. Like the Centraal Station, Rijksmuseum, Royal Palace and a few others. The rest are just the trader canal houses. And this is also a Dutch thing – trying not to be too much of a show-off. This shows in its buildings, architecture as well as its people.

Quieter streets in Pijp
The different parts of the city all have a very different feel to it. Centrum is stunning but always crowded with tourists. So it’s avoided by the locals as much as possible. But it’s definitely the most gorgeous part of the city. (Btw its beauty can only be appreciated on Sunday mornings when the whole city and its tourists are sleeping). Jordaan in Centrum sometimes is quieter and fun to walk around. Outside the Centrum, Pijp is full of restaurants and has quite an active vibe plus is a lot more spaced out. It is quite a popular place with the locals. The east felt more industrial and modern in its buildings. The west has a more edgy feeling. And the north is being developed now, so is open and modern. But still not easily accessible as taking the ferry from Central is the best way to get there.

Street in Zuid
And the South (Zuid) is more suburban living. It has the Apollobuurt and Riverenbuurt which are fully residential and have huge wide roads and parks around to give it a homely feeling. And they also have their own tree lined canals within them which make them feel as charming as the rest of Amsterdam.

Beatrixpark, in fall
I walked through the Zuid area when I had got out for the first time in Amsterdam to get a covid test and fell in love with the area. I walked through Beatrixpark that day and I felt I had come out to the countryside, had left the city, the crowded Amsterdam behind. It had been such a great experience in the park. Who knew I would finally end up there itself😊.

Noord Amsterdam, in summer
Amsterdam is quite small (as compared to London), and the advantage of living here is that you can have a suburban life, with quiet and peace while being very close to the city. Like the Zuid and North Amsterdam area which felt suburban, while being just 15 mins cycling from the city. And these parts of the city are what the tourists never get to see as they always tend to stay within the Centrum. What a miss.

Streets in fall
Amsterdam has a predominantly windy, cloudy and rainy weather. Being near the sea, Amsterdam is never very warm (or at least I feel so). The winds which mostly come from the north sea side bring the temperature down from what it shows on the apps. So when the sun does shine (which it did a lot in June 21), all of Amsterdam is out! And half of them are on the boats in the canals, with their friends, just sitting in the sun, tanning themselves, listening to music and having a beer. And lots of them also take to kayaking or paddle surfing or stand-up paddle or other such activities in the water.

It was quite impressive to see people being able to do so much right in the centre of the city. All of summer, starting from early mornings, every day of the week, including weekdays! They definitely make the most of the few sunny days of the year, and being in the water is definitely the most popular way. I also saw some children living in the houseboats jumping into the canal every time a boat passed by, to splash water on them! It was funny to watch. And must have been even more fun for them. (In my first month, I was so impressed with all the boats, I almost wanted to buy a boat, even before finding a house for myself 😉.)

Fall colours
Amsterdam has all the four seasons, and looks different in all of them. Summer is warm and green everywhere. In fall, it has the fall colours and looks spectacular. Especially all its parks. Winter is dark and gloomy, with bare trees everywhere. And then it totally sparkles in spring again, with flowers springing up everywhere. I don’t remember when have I ever noticed all the four seasons in a year, like I did in Amsterdam.

The whole vibe of Amsterdam is very chilled. No grand buildings, not too much of a show-off. And so are the Dutch. Everyone cycles everywhere. So everyone is dressed up to cycle, not really “dressed up” much for anything else, which gives everything a very relaxed vibe to it. And high heels are a no-no, as they just don’t work well with cycles and all the walking around.

The culture is quite open and forward looking. So people are quite chill about most things, and no one is bothered by what others are doing. There is also very less judgement of what others are doing and less poshness about what they are doing, unlike the UK. It’s quite ok to just be yourself and unposh. Not sure if I am explaining it the right way but people just do what they want, like take chairs and put it outside their doors on the street to enjoy the sun. No one cares how it looks. And that's very different from the UK where being proper is more common.

The downside of this though is that people are quite individualistic here, and much less considerate of others (again unlike the UK). There is a lesser sense of fair play, and I notice it most around how cyclists ride the bikes around the city. With total disregard for anyone other than themselves, flouting all rules to get ahead. As well as drivers, trying to get ahead as much as they can. Unlike UK where there is more consideration for other’s comfort and convenience, and queues are so sacrosanct, I find that care and consideration missing here. The neighbours still talk to each other and help out more though, which is different than in the UK. And quite a welcome difference.

Cycling in the local forest, the Bos
 during winter
The focus on work life balance in Netherlands is unlike anything I have seen anywhere else before. There is a lot more acceptability of doing personal errands during the weekdays. Or of taking it easy when the weather is good. It somehow feels like work is an option most people “are choosing to exercise”, it’s not really a need😉. Talking about exercise, the Dutch are so active, its impressive. Everyone is always exercising it looks like! Running, boating, doing water activities and so on. It has inspired me to start exercising a lot more too.

Things can be quite bureaucratic in Netherlands especially with processes linked to the government. You must register at multiple places before you can start living here. And submit so many documents, it feels like there is no privacy possible from the government. There is too much paperwork involved for the first few months, really too much. There are also too many rules everywhere and they are followed to the T even if they don’t make sense. Which is a bit of a surprise as the Dutch don’t believe in following many rules themselves😊. I saw this everywhere, around driving, cycling, lockdown rules etc.. So I guess all the roles are mostly for the expats!

Almost everyone speaks English, so that is helpful if you are an expat. And the best part is, they are open to speaking in English (unlike the French!). That being said, Dutch is still the official language, and all written and automated communication is still in Dutch. For example, local and government websites, local apps, emails from utilities, housing contracts, packaging and instructions on everything in the supermarkets, road signs, letters from the government and so on are all in Dutch. So it is not easy to get by without knowing Dutch thought definitely possible. (I must say though, kudos to Google translate for having developed such an awesome app – it is a life safer, really!)

There are some other typical Dutch characteristics that I can vouch for, and some not. The Dutch are supposed to be direct, but I don’t believe it. In my experience, I haven’t seen everyone always say what they really mean. Though they do love to complain, so then of course it’s all communicated directly. And going Dutch is really a thing😊. They do love to split the bill, accurately! And for that, they have their very own Dutch app, called Tikki. Which can do the splitting and transfer of money extremely conveniently. And the last thing, they really do eat early dinners. Like at 6pm. This is followed quite commonly and is something I find tougher to get used to.

Vondelpark in spring
Cycling and cyclists are quite the soul of Amsterdam. Everyone cycles. Everywhere. All the time. There are separate paths for cyclists, on both sides of the road. Sometimes wider than the car roads even😊. And there are separate traffic lights for cyclists – the whole infrastructure is setup to provide enough space and convenience to being a cyclist. A lot of people buy bakfiets, which are special cycles with space in front for children to sit. As a lot of parents pick and drop their children in those family cycles. That is a scene I haven’t seen much earlier. Also the cyclists in Amsterdam don’t wear helmets as its not considered the norm or needed to wear one. Which is found quite suprising. Overall cycling is quite convenient in the city.

Cycling in the countryside,
10 mins from Amsterdam
Can’t say the same about cyclists though. They apparently own the roads in Netherlands but are not a nice bunch I must say. They are the ones to be most careful of on the roads, not the cars. If a pedestrian is on the cycling path, be prepared to be told off quite rudely. Cyclists themselves though don’t follow a lot of the rules – like stopping for red lights, only sticking to the cycling lanes and so on. Also overtaking and trying to get ahead is quite common. And racers are quite aggressive with city bikers especially when in the countryside. I really find this behaviour quite bothersome, and so different from the UK. This isn’t something that I will get used to soon, I think. And would be nice if this was a bit different too.

Also given how safe the city is, one kind of crime is quite rampant - cycle theft. Locals suggest buying cheap bikes but spend 3 times that amount on buying strong locks! Cycles are stolen so regularly, that it’s not even reported to the police. And lot of them find their way into the canals, wonder how. So people buy multiple bikes. Cheaper city bikes for biking in the city which can be parked anywhere, and more expensive ones for longer range cycling which are kept safely inside.

The roads especially in the Centrum are quite narrow but support different means of transport - trams, cars, pedestrians, covered "scooters" (they look like half cars) and cyclists (along with boats in the canals), with the cyclists ruling the road and being the most aggressive. Driving on the centrum roads is something I still haven’t tried; it feels so daunting. But one day surely, I will try it.

The Rijksmuseum, in spring
Summer is a popular time for lots of events to happen in Amsterdam. Everyone is out in the boats enjoying the sun. Or sitting at terraces (it’s a name for restaurants which have outside sitting). To be honest, terraces are just restaurants keeping chairs outside on the pavement or next to the canals, right on the road with cyclists and cars moving next to them. But still its something everyone enjoys a lot. Something unique that I saw here was that lot of people just take their chairs and tables and keep them outside their doors on the pavement, sitting there and just enjoying the sun. They really don’t have any hesitation in doing something like this. I love that!

In addition, during summer there are loads of festivals happening all over the country. Last year they didn’t take place given the lockdown, but apparently they are quite a highlight in the calendar. But there are smaller events happening within Amsterdam too during summer. One day, I saw a theatre performance happening inside a shop window on the street, with people standing outside and watching it. And another day, some children were dancing to Spanish music in a restaurant on one of the sunny afternoons. Basically in summer, anything goes 😊.

In the first few months in Amsterdam, there were some more interesting quirks I noticed around me. Which made me laugh, or say 'are you kidding me?' Am listing a few here:
  • Bank accounts in Netherlands are not free, plus they pay 0 interest. And if you have cash beyond a certain amount in your account, you need to pay an interest rate to the bank! Plus there are no free bank accounts, credit cards etc.. You need to pay for everything, which is a first for me.
  • Also supermarkets and smaller shops in Netherlands only accept local Maestro cards; global cards like Visa and Mastercard are not accepted (in this day and age!).
  • Taxes are super high in Netherlands. Still I was surprised to know that healthcare is not free in the country. You must buy expensive insurance even after paying all the taxes, to take care of your health. So it’s not as all like in the UK where you have the NHS for free.
  • Apparently the Dutch are one of the most heavily insured countries. There is insurance for everything and anything. And people actually buy all those types of insurances, especially the third-party liability one. Everyone told me to definitely buy that. It protects you from things like if you visit someone and drop drinks on the carpet or couch, just exchange the insurance numbers and you are done!
  • Processes in Netherlands are quite bureaucratic. I don't even remember the number of times, I had to fill up forms for so many things or filled the wrong form because there were multiple versions of the same form online, or had to call multiple numbers to get some information. Things were not clear a lot of times, and a different person on the government customer care line would give a different answer than another one! I found it quite surprising to be honest to see how things work here sometimes.
  • Finding good housing (rental or sale) is extremely tough in Amsterdam. Prices have been skyrocketing for a few years now, mostly driven by expats. Places are bid for and go 20-30% above the bid price. And this is when a lot of the houses in central are so small, stuffy and old. It’s a supply demand problem at a completely different level to what I have seen elsewhere.
  • There was no lockdown in Netherlands during the first wave. And even during the second wave, all there was, was a night curfew which led to serious rioting as the Dutch thought this was like taking away their freedom.
  • Even though for tourists, Amsterdam stands for weed and red-light areas, the locals don’t talk about it much. Like at all. Maybe because it’s just there and been there always, its lost any of its appeal.
  • There are multiple red-light streets in the city. While walking on a normal street, you can suddenly come across a few red lined windows, and then back to restaurants with people sitting outside in the sun and enjoying a nice brunch. It was quite jarring to see how streets change so quickly.
  • Netherlands is not a religious country anymore, lot of people are atheists. So a lot of the grand churches in the city have been turned into non-religious places. In fact, the two biggest churches in Amsterdam, Oudekerk and Nieuwekerk have now been transformed into exhibition venues.
  • There are loads of museums in the city – the Dutch love their museums a lot. There must be 100s of them, big and small in the city. But these are also tucked away along the streets, and it’s very easy to miss them most of the times.
  • Netherlands has its own types of bikes where the brake is in the pedal!!! A lot of people own those, as do the rentals. I was like, really? Why make them so different?
  • Dutch food doesn’t have a lot of dishes. As the Dutch were primarily farmers for a long time, their food is quite simple. As are their habits and customs, as they were all farmers earlier and led simpler lives.
  • The sun is as revered here as much as in the UK. The days the sun was out, everyone was out (even if it was a weekday). And the Saturday when it was cloudy, everyone was inside 😁).

And so the journey continues for me. Each day is about finding something new, something different about this city. And it’s quite a fun experience. I am very impressed with Amsterdam and enjoy it a lot – it’s a lovely place, with a lot to offer – small town living, relaxed lifestyle and nature close by. Totally a place to live.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Weekend skiing in Flaine, France


After a 2 – year break due to lockdown, I was able to finally get back to the ski slopes by late winter this year, in the ski resort of Flaine. The resort was small and quite modern (not a typical Alpine ski village), but still a good experience. I think it was getting back on the slopes after two years which felt so amazing, that we didn’t really mind the lack of cosiness at the resort. It was still fun to be back zipping through the snow, and we enjoyed the trip a lot.

Flaine is a small-ish ski resort, near the French Swiss border, about 1.5 hours drive from Geneva. We took a cab from Geneva to get there late at night and were surprised by the lack of snow for most of the drive. Even the last 20 mins through the mountains, where the roads were totally curvy, there still was no snow. The resort is just a collection of loads of high rise modern concrete apartments at the bottom of the ski slopes, and felt quite out of place in the Alps. It also felt like quite a quiet place when we reached, as there wasn’t a lot of activity going on.


Skiing

Mont Blanc ridgeline
The next three days, we just skied across the resort and the connecting valleys. The first gondola we took up got us to a picturesque panoramic view of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps, along with all its neighbouring peaks. And there were loads of people there just clicking pictures of the mountain.

The weather was sunny and extremely warm that day. And for the rest of the trip too. So it was comfortable to ski, plus all views around of the mountains and the valleys were quite clear and stunning. From the mountains, we could see till far into the valleys, and it was all green. And the last night, it snowed all night but the day still was sunny. So we got to ski on some fresh powder snow, while still enjoying a warm clear day.

Valley views
The slopes were quite nice to ski on too, with more reds than blues or blacks. It was good as it pushed me early on to try the red slopes, which I wouldn’t have done otherwise as I was getting back to skiing after 2 years. The slopes here had names instead of numbers. And two interesting ones were called Satan and Lucifer – these were some of the toughest slopes which though red had huge moghuls. These were the unmade slopes and quite tough to navigate – totally deserving their names.

There were lots of chairs and gondolas everywhere. Plus some really long bum lifts, which I haven’t seen anywhere. They just went on and on, and got quite tiresome. Also unlike some other resorts, all the lifts did not have a blue slope to come down, so we had to be quite careful to go up only the ones which had some easy way of coming down. There weren’t as much crowds as we have experienced on most trips, so we didn’t have to wait a lot for our turn at the lifts either. The restaurants on the slopes had pretty expensive food, even more than usual. Also, the food had limited French options and so wasn’t appetising either.

The first day, we stayed on the Flaine slopes. The second day, I went the other side towards Moulins. And there was lot of good skiing there. We could also see a lot more villages (with no snow) in the valleys there. But the last run of the day, when I was coming back to Flaine was the worst of the whole day. Though it was a blue run (tourmaline), it was just soooo full of moghuls, that I kept falling all the way back. It was quite a nightmare run, but somehow I was able to make it to the bottom. Other than the last run though, the rest of the day was quite a lot of fun.

And the last day we got some fresh snow but it turned out to be tougher to ski on the unmade slopes in the morning than we expected☹. The weather was again gorgeous though – lot of sun, so it was fun to ski. I had done a red slope the previous day, lapiz which had been an amazing run, smooth like a breeze. And today, it turned out to be a nightmare, it almost felt like I was skiing off-piste, with my skis having to make their way under the fresh snow!

End of cascades - Sixt
In the afternoon, we decided to do the 14 kms cascades run, which was supposedly a scenic ski run through the forests. It was actually quite a nice one, smoothly flying across different mountains and passing through some gorgeous forest scenery all the way till the town of Sixt. But the last 2 kms was a nightmare. It was just an unmade moghuly and slushy narrow slope all the way down till the village. And I think it took us more than 30 mins just to get through it. I fell thrice on this last stretch, and there was no real way of getting through it unscathed!

View of the Samoens valley
Thankfully though, right where the run finishes, there was a restaurant where everyone stopped to recover from the run. Everyone was sitting there in the sun, just enjoying the moment of peace after the moghuly ride. We also sat there a bit just staring at the mountains and getting our sanity back. Then it was a long trek back to where we had started – we took a bus till the village of Samoens and a trolley up the mountain to start skiing again. This valley was pretty and had lot of villages, but it definitely wasn’t as picturesque as the Swiss and Austrians alps. And then we did a few more slopes to come back to Flaine that day. We again went on the blue tourmaline but it was better today and we had lesser falls😊.


The resort

The resort was made up of modern apartment buildings, mostly run by apartment companies. It felt too sanitised, too modern. Also, as soon as you were at the bottom of the slope, there wasn’t a lot of snow in the resort, this winter had been quite a low season. So it definitely didn’t feel like a typical ski resort.

For dinner, we tried new restaurants every day, and though there were a few options, they weren’t really like the cosy ones that you can find in a village kind of ski resort. There was a row of small restaurants near the gondolas. The first day, we went to a small pizza place – Chez Lili - which was so small, it was a surprise how they had guests and the kitchen in the same location. The next day we went to one of the highest rated and most popular restaurant in the area – Les Chimes. And we were shocked by how tasteless the food was, we just couldn’t even finish it! (Note to myself: Stop trying out French cuisine, it doesn’t work for me). So the last day, we just went to a small Spanish place next to the pizza one and had a simple dinner.

But overall, I can say I wasn’t impressed with the food here. Or the French hospitality either. It is something that will never change I guess, though I keep expecting it. Everyone in the restaurants, at the information centre and so on has too much attitude. And just does not want to help you. We read, hear and experience it all the time, but every time its just such a surprise that French service can be so bad.

I guess all in all, we had a nice time skiing here, though I wouldn’t rate Flaine as one of the places I would like to go back to. I just missed the cosiness and activity of a ski village – I realised on this trip that that experience is also so much a part of skiing. But anyways, I was very happy to be back on the slopes again, and thats what counts😊.



Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Experiencing the Swiss life in Lausanne (and around)


In the summer of 2021, during the break in the pandemic, I got a chance to spend a month in Switzerland. The country has always had an aspirational value for us Indians since a long long time – thanks to all the stunning Swiss locations in Yash Chopra movies since the 90s. I had visited Switzerland a couple of times already but hadn’t been quite impressed. But I think it is this one month stay in the country that made me completely change my view. Switzerland is a true paradise. And apart from the places to visit, it is the experience of living there that made me look at it in a different way. And a big part of that change was the stay in the city of Lausanne.

Beauty of Lausanne
Lausanne is a city of less than 140k people. It is quite city-like, with apartment buildings, too many cars, restaurants and crowds. But of course, that is not what made me like it. It is the Lake Leman next to it which adds a different dimension to the city. It has such a calming but also uplifting effect to it. It was definitely the lifeline and crown jewel of the city. The mountains nearby and the easy access to the Alps also made Lausanne even more appealing. For sure, I wasn’t initially impressed by the city, but as I discovered Lake Leman and the areas around more, the place grew on me.


The city

The train journey from Geneva to Lausanne is quite picturesque, riding through lush green hills and grand wooden chalets. You don’t see as much of the lake as I would have wanted, but its still quite scenic (at least that’s what I felt on the ride in, though after a month in Switzerland, this same ride felt quite average to me on my way out 😋). When I reached Lausanne station, I realised it was quite a metropolis, so it wasn’t going to be like being in the Swiss hills for sure. But it still turned out to be amazing.

Lausanne is located right next to Lake Leman, and the city is spread out along the mountainside, going all the way up. It is fully mountainous with no real flat parts, and so you need to trek if you want to get anywhere. This is quite tough actually, especially if you have to go up the mountain even to get groceries!

There are lots of parks and green spaces in the city. From most parts of the city, you can see the lake spread out till forever. And then across the lake, the high mountains of France dotted with small villages, the lights of these villages twinkling so dazzlingly every night. Every evening (when not raining), I used to enjoy spectacular sunset views all around, with the lake and mountains surrounding me. The air always felt refreshing as if I were on a hill station. And so even though I was in a bustling city, it felt like I was very close to nature, water and mountains. All the time.

Jean-Jacques park
I spent some evenings walking around the city, exploring all it had to offer. There were a few parks nearby where I used to go regularly, just to run, admire the summer flowers, and get some fresh air. Most of them had magnificent views of the lake. One was The Jean – Jacques Mercier promenade, which though small always took my breath away. It was a very small green patch, with some stairs and winding paths for walking. But it had stunning views of the lake and beyond. 

The other was Parc de Mon Repos, a small park near where I was staying. It was gorgeous, with many green spaces, bright blooming flowers, loads of birds and walking paths through them all, going up and down the mountain. I used to go there for my daily runs, and it helped improve my stamina as I had to run up and down all the time 😳.

Open air jazz concert
One Friday while I was passing through this park, I saw everyone settling in for an open air jazz concert. Apparently it was a free for all summer concert. And I ended up spending a few hours there just enjoying the music and ambience. The musicians were standing in front of an old building, and everyone was sitting on the grass terraces in front, with their blankets, jackets, food and drink, ready for a picnic, from afternoon to night. A lot of people from the audience decided to start dancing soon, and it turned into a festive atmosphere. Women, kids, some men – all were dancing, through the night, it was awesome. It was good to also experience the Swiss summer life which is when a lot of these local events happen.

Lausanne from Sauvabelin tower
One of the Fridays, I visited the Sauvabelin tower slightly outside of town. It was quite a trek up there and the walk was quite delightful, with some gorgeous buildings along the way. I stopped at the Signal Point to observe the sunset across the lake. And then went up the tower – it is a huge wooden structure with panoramic views around Lausanne. It was still sunset time and I caught Lausanne in quite a captivating moment. The tower gave a 360 degrees view of its spectacular surroundings and I felt like being on top of the world while I was there.

One day, I decided to walk to a park further away – Parc de la Gottettaz. And even though the distance wasn’t much, it was still quite an effort to get there as anywhere one went to in Lausanne needed one to trek. Anyways, it was a nice green open space, had a stream flowing through it and some wooded areas. There were some nice sunset scenes that evening, with the sky turning orange above the lake. And it was also a nice walk around it, especially all the grand houses in its vicinity. But I think after this park, I stopped trying to explore further off parks as I didn’t really fancy trekking daily.

On all my explorations, I was surprised to see the number of luxurious palatial houses everywhere even though it was such a mountainous city. It was a bit of a surprise to see them given how tough it would be to construct a house here, but they were quite a fascinating sight to look at. And there were so many of them, everywhere I walked. Most of them also had breath-taking views of the lake.

Lausanne skyline
The Lausanne city centre was quite crowded always. The old town has the Notre Dame cathedral towering above the city. And the views from the cathedral hill, of the other church spires as well as all the orange homes and roofs everywhere gave Lausanne quite a charming character. This was the view I had seen on Google when I had decided to stay in Lausanne.

There are many shopping streets in the city centre, some of it new, some old. There were some cute cobbled streets with the old architecture, while the others were a lot more modern. For lovers of shopping, the city centre has a lot to offer. It has loads of shops, and all types of small and big brands are available there. It was especially good for shopping for hiking gear, and I kind of splurged a bit there.

When in the shopping area, I decided to book a Tesla test ride, and took out the car for a short spin around. It was a sunny day and I loved it - driving next to the lake, the mountains on the other side, the sun above, the wind a bit chilly and Bollywood music providing the background score. I decided to drive on the smaller roads in the countryside, and drove past some vineyards which looked stunning in the sun. It felt so much like being in a Yash Chopra movie, again.

There are a few other museums and other notable places to visit in Lausanne, but I didn’t have much interest in visiting them. My aim was just to be outside in nature as much as possible, and Lausanne did offer multiple such opportunities.


Chalet de Gobet

I had a slow start to my stay in Lausanne as for the first one week, it was continuously raining. Everyday, all day. And then when it stopped raining, I was able to venture out a bit nearby. One of the first places I went to was the Chalet de Gobet as I was looking for a place to run in the woods. So I took the metro and a connecting bus, and found myself soon in the Chalet area which was a green wooded area very close to the city.

(As an aside, I must say that the Swiss train system (SBB) is awesome. The trains and buses are aligned with each other on their timing. The whole system is setup to make it very easy to get from any place to another. You can also use the SBB app to start and stop your journeys. It detects where you are and charges the right (and minimum) fare automatically. Everything is extremely well organised and convenient)

Running track
Chalet de Gobet is part of the Jorat forest in the Mauvernay area. I took the bus till the Helsana running trails, which have multiple walking and running paths of different lengths. It was a wooded area with huge green trees and some grasslands. There were many routes, and they were setup for hikers, mountain bikers and runners. The routes also had some outdoor exercising setups on the way. The paths were all well marked. I partly ran and partly walked in the woods. It was a lovely evening out and a good place to run, with the light blue sky, the verdant trees and such a convenient way to get there and back.


Lake Leman

Lake Leman is the heart of Lausanne, and what a pulsating heart it is. The lake extends from Geneva to Montreux, with Lausanne being somewhere in the middle, all on the north side of it. The south side is the French side, and has many villages along it. As Lausanne is spread out on the mountainside next to the lake, you can see the lake from just about anywhere. And this is what adds most to the charm of the city.

Most of the times, I would walk down to the lake, but take the metro or bus back as it was quite an effort walking back up the city at the end of a long walk (I must say, living in a mountainous city is tough, where going anywhere is a trek up. So tiring)

All along the lake, there are pedestrian pathways for people to walk. In the city, the lake front has a lot of activity going on during summer, plus loads of restaurants lining it. A lot of the famous landmarks of Lausanne, like the Olympic park and museum are also along the lake. Away from the city, the feel becomes more resort-ish, especially in the areas of Lutry and Pully which are so fascinating to explore. They are quieter, less crowded and more relaxed than being in the city. And it was being here which I loved the most during my stay in Lausanne.

My first time along the lake was when after heavy rains for a few days, I decided to explore the lake at night during a rain break. I walked from my place to the lake, through the city and was shocked to see the whole city had gone to sleep at 9 pm! It was all quite empty by then already and most of the lights were off too. The walk along the lake felt extremely refreshing, with the French lights twinkling on the other side of the lake, the sounds of the waves in the air, and the street lamps showing the way. It was a good prelude to what was to come.

During the day, the place came alive with runners, walkers, children, hawkers and anything else you expect in a European summer. I walked towards the city sometimes - from the Olympic park and museum, towards the centre. It was a joy always to walk along the lake, especially when the sun was shining. People would be swimming in the water when it was sunny. And I spent many an evening walking and experiencing this path after work. It was also busier this side of the walk, with lot of boats lining the waterfront, lot of people enjoying the sun and many restaurants trying to get their clientele back after corona.

Sunset from La Lido
One of the days, I kept walking all the way till Theatre de Vidy, through some crowded and some not so crowded areas. The area was quite active, with loads of people picnicking next to the lake. There was also a strong smell in this area which was quite surprising. I walked past the green areas into a row of restaurants and had dinner at La Lido. It was one of the rare times I ate out in Lausanne given the pandemic was still on. But it was definitely worth it. It felt amazing to eat and watch the day set across the lake, slowly, from sunlight to twilight to twinkling lights. I just sat and enjoyed the scene for a long while, while enjoying my meal. I also enjoyed the music some locals artists were playing on the promenade between the restaurant and the lake.

On the way to Lutry
One of the sunny afternoons, I decided to walk along the lake in the other direction, from the Olympic park, through Pully to Lutry. And what an extraordinary find that whole walk turned out to be (surprisingly no one had mentioned it to me at all even when I asked people and checked online about things to do in Lausanne!). I started walking along the lake, and passed by beaches, small parks for kids, countless small and big restaurants (especially floating ones), gorgeous grand houses, rows of parked boats and yachts, beautiful flowers, lashing waves, vineyards, and so on, forever.


Boats parked along the walk
The sounds of the waves provided a background sound to all the walks. People were everywhere, swimming, sailing, doing water activities, picnicking and so one, totally making the most of the sun and warmth. On the one side, I could see the French Alps and villages. And far off, the vineyards along the cliffs of Lavaux. It was like the senses kept on getting hit by more and more spectacular scenes at every turn. It was like being in paradise. I kept walking till I came to an open music concert on the waterfront. I sat there for a while, enjoying the open air performance, and then walked back. The day felt like I had been transported to a different world altogether, to paradise. It helped that the day was sunny and warm. It was magical.

Vineyards far away
And I kept coming back here so many times, to feel the same again and again. Sometimes I would walk, and sometimes I did my daily runs along the stretch from Lausanne to Lutry. And every visit felt as refreshing as the first time. I had even figured out my favourite restaurants at the end of the walk where I had a meal every time (near the open air music concert location).

After watching others swim in the lake on every warm and sunny day, I finally felt brave enough to do the same and it felt amazing. Swimming in a natural lake, with the Alps and French villages far off, the water being a bit chilly, and being able to swim completely freely – it’s an experience I haven’t had for a while. The water felt cold for a few seconds and then it was bliss to be there, with the sun above you warming you. It was truly exhilarating.

Jumping into the lake
I also saw loads of old people swimming in the lake, and one of the days, I felt the average age of the people there was 85! My last days in Lausaane, I even tryied jumping into the water from one of the dive stands and I think it was definitely a highlight for me - it felt so liberating that I did it a few more times. And after the jumps and swims, I again went and ate dinner at the same place in Lutry 😊.

One of the days, I sat on a jutting boat landing which was near an open air floating restaurant. I just sat there watching the sunset and enjoying the music from the restaurant. The ducks were swimming, the waves were lashing, the sun was setting. And I was floating. I had so many such moments, such pleasant memories by the lake. It was so awesome to just be able to go to the lake every day, I finally understood why Europeans take a long summer off and go and live somewhere else. It’s amazing to experience living at such a fabulous place for so long.


Montreux

On my first weekend in Lausanne, the weather on Sunday was not-so-rainy, so I decided to get out of Lausanne, and visit Montreux, a small town at the other edge of the lake. It is famous for the popular jazz festival that happens in summer. And also for Charlie Chaplin (and a few other famous celebrities) who made this town their residence for a while. I for one wanted to spend time on the mountains, so I didn’t explore the town much, and spent my time high up or next to the lake.

Lake from up above
I took the train from Lausanne to Montreux, which was a picturesque ride right next to the lake. I had to get off at Vevey though, another small town on the lake and take the bus from there as the train wasn’t running any further. As I got to Montreux, I decided to go up the Rochers de Naye peak and got onto a mountain train going up the mountain. It was another stunning ride, through the hillside and small alpine villages. Slowly, we got above the clouds and into the fog. And whenever the fog cleared, we got some stunning views of the cities and the lake below. We passed by some cute little villages on the way up. Interestingly, the fare up to the villages was low. But one stop after that, the mountain train got quite expensive suddenly.

On the Jaman trek
I was planning to go up all the way to Rochers de Naye peak and trek down from there, but because of the recent rains, some of the trails were closed. So I got down at one of the earlier stops, called Paccot. We then trekked along the mountain all the way till the Jaman stop. It took us about 2 hours to cover the 7 kms around the mountain. On the way, there were some stunning alpine scenes, with small lakes here and there. There were loads of wildflowers everywhere along the mountain. We passed some via ferrata spots which is quite popular in Switzerland as an adventure sport.

It was still a rainy day, so the grass was green and fresh. And the clouds were down in the mountains. It was quite a nice way to start my exploration of the Swiss Alps. Small and sweet. In between, I also bought some cheese at a local farmers store, whose cows were grazing nearby. And towards the end of the trek, we could also see the lake from the top. We got to the Jaman station and took the same mountain train back.

Montreux lake walk
After coming back from the trek, I decided to walk along the lake towards Chillon Castle as it was extremely sunny down in town, unlike the fogginess on the mountains. It was a nice walk and had a resort-ish feel to it. Maybe that’s why, this walk is known as the Swiss Riviera. I walked through the waterfront which was lined with gorgeous flowers and full of people. Everyone was out enjoying the sun. Although the temperature was still chilly, it almost felt as cheerful as summer. And even though corona numbers were low, I still avoided crowded areas and wasn’t happy to see so many people around😊.

Swiss Riviera
As I walked further, the scenery changed to luxurious houses in the hills and cute boats parked along the walk. I also walked past some vineyards on the hillside.

 

 

Chillon Castle
As I continued walking, I reached the Chillon Castle. It’s a small one, but its location definitely makes it more picturesque. There were loads of people swimming in the lake there but I couldn’t have done it myself given how cold I was already feeling. One can keep walking all along the lake till the Rhone delta, but I turned back from the castle and walked all the way back to the city. And then took the train back home to Lausanne. It had turned out to be quite an active and pretty day out, and I slowly started to like Switzerland😊.


Lavaux vineyards

This has to be one of my best days spent around Lausanne. I had had two extremely strenuous weekends hiking continuously for days, so the weekend after I decided to just take it easy. The easy day ended up being a 20 km walk in the mountains😊. But that is what Switzerland does to you – makes you more active, and walking in the mountains a part of life itself.

Walk along the lake
I took the same lakeside train I took to Montreux, till Vevey and then started walking all the way back to Lausanne. Vevey felt like a nice little town on the lake, lazy and relaxed. I walked a bit around the waterfront there and then went up the mountains to Corseaux. There are lots of vineyards on the mountainside along the way and the aim was to walk through them. I walked up the mountain, and after that it was quite flat, walking through the vineyards.

On the Lavaux trail
And the next few hours were like a dream. It was sunny and warm. The lake was visible from the top, extending till forever. There were loads of sailboats on it, given the sun and wind were there. I kept walking through bright green vineyards, passing by some gorgeous chateaus every few mins. And lot of adorable small villages on the way, who had their own charming architecture. The walk had gradual ups and downs, so it wasn’t strenuous. I kept plucking a few green or black grapes from the vineyards and eating them on the way. In a while, I had figured out how to identify and pick the tastier ones of lot. There was some wind too, to make the whole experience like the Yash Chopra movies😊.

Vineyards
My friend met me midway in the village of St Saphorin. It felt like an old French village and was so cute and ancient. We saw a wedding happening there. And we kept walking along the trail through the vineyards. Interestingly we were looking for a place to have lunch but all the places on the way were already closed by 2pm! We found a great restaurant in the vineyards with a fantastic view but there was another wedding happening there. So we had to walk quite a bit and then found a small place all the way down next to the lake near the village of Rivax where we could finally get a bite. And then we had to walk up again all the way back to be in the vineyards up in the mountains.

We had earlier planned to walk a lot less, but then kept following the path all the way to Lutry, my favourite place in the city😊. We had dinner at the same place as I had had a meal many times before. And thus the day in the vineyards ended. It was so magical, its tough to explain. It was just like flying in the air, with vineyards, greenery and the lake all around you. What a day!


Impressions of Switzerland

Lausanne was my home for the month, so my thoughts about how it would be to live in Switzerland are based on just this one city. A few musings
  • Adventure sports are a big part of the Swiss way of life - trekking, mountain biking, via ferrata, paragliding, swimming in the lake and so on. It felt like everyone was active all the time. And it didn’t even feel like a big deal for them. I felt that the Swiss just ran up the mountains, not walk😊. Also the elderly were quite active, much more than other countries. I saw so many locals in their 70s and 80s being as active as me, hiking up mountains, swimming in the lake and so on. It was quite impressive and inspirational to see that.
  • If you are into hiking, its good to use the local app – Switzerland mobility. It is quite customised for Switzerland. Also if you are looking for activities to do, check myswitzerland.com
  • The Swiss transport system is brilliant. The SBB app is easy to use. I used the 50% discount card and it helped make travel more reasonable. The whole transport system is interconnected and very dependable. The intercity travel is fast and the mountain trains gorgeous. The metro in Lausanne was also very comfortable, especially when coming from the lake up the mountain where I lived
  • Recycling is a big part of the Swiss way of life. Everything needs to go in a different trash bin – compost, plastic, coloured glass, white glass, aluminium foil, paper, cardboard and so on. It’s a never ending list. It helps that everything you use has a sign telling you which bin to put it into! And its bleddy complicated. But once you get it, it feels like such an easy and environmentally friendly thing to do. It becomes part of your system and you wonder why other countries don’t do the same? I really respect Switzerland and its people for doing this
  • I found people quite friendly throughout my stay. So many times, someone would start chatting and telling me about their country. On the treks, on the streets, and so on. I hung out with a family during the Swiss national day celebrations in Geneva, who were quite mixed actually - Swiss father, his Peruvian wife, their son, and his Mongolian wife. A Swiss woman sitting on my table had helped me understand the French songs they were singing on Swiss National day on a boat party I attended. A group I met in Lutry when the open air concert was going on, another group while hiking in Montreux, a Maldivian woman when swimming in Lutry and so on. I really liked that. Maybe only the Italians can beat so much friendliness in Europe
  • I felt that Swiss people follow rules too much. Really too much. To the point where it doesn’t make sense. This was something I don’t think I can ever get used to. I feel rules should be followed when they make logical sense, not just because they exist. So the Dutch way of living is more my kind than the Swiss😉

Leaving

Lake Leman
Leaving Lausanne felt tough. I had got so used to mind-blowing beauty and ever present freshness around me. All the time. And also mountains😊. And Lake Leman. Its expansiveness really felt liberating, ever so often. But anyways I had to come back to Amsterdam, which was cloudy and gloomy the day I landed. And for a few days, the beauty of Amsterdam felt nothing as compared to what I had left behind. But of course, soon I was back to appreciating Amsterdam too. But the month in Switzerland will always stay with me as this magical period in life, when as they say in Bollywood ‘Ji li maine zindagi’😊.


Other Switzerland posts from this stay

 

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Mountains of Grindelwald


During my stay in Switzerland in the summer of 2021, I had a paradisiacal long weekend in and around the village of Grindelwald. It turned out to be a weekend with almost magical experiences, of staying in the scenic village of Grindelwald, hiking on a glacier for two days, staying in a remote mountain hut on a ledge overlooking the glacier, finishing the picturesque 20 kms Schynige Platte hike and spending the last day idling around the stunning villages of Lauterbrunnen and Wengen. I think it was this weekend that made me realise how striking and spectacular the beauty of Switzerland was. And Grindelwald is part of those memories that I will always remember.


Getting there

As was the norm when in Switzerland, I took the train from Lausanne to get to Grindelwald. The first train was to Bern, then to Interlaken and the last was the mountain train up to Grindelwald. The ride to Bern was different than the other train travels I had done before. We rode through rolling lush green hills, dotted with bright and colourful houses with red roofs, and dark green woods in between. It also did not feel like a mountain ride, it still felt like being in the plains, just extremely fresh and angelic. This turned out to be a surprisingly picturesque train ride.

The next highlight was the ride all along the Thunersee lake of Interlaken. Interlaken has the reputation of being a tourist town and is quite often, disregarded by serious tourists. But even that was so fabulous – the long ride along the lake, the sun and blue skies, the alpine houses and all the people enjoying themselves in the water or around it. I actually thought to myself, if this is the kind of place which is placed in the ‘to be avoided’ category in Switzerland, they have very high standards 😀.

On the way to Grindelwald
The next and the last train from Interlaken was through a valley with small villages, all the way to Grindelwald. All the villages were charming, but I have to say that Grindelwald takes the cake. It is in a wide valley with houses going all the way up the mountain side. And it felt like all the houses were surrounded by lush bright green meadows – for me this was the simplest and most magnificent view of the village. I really wanted to just walk around these houses but that didn’t happen. Also at night, most of the lights of these houses were switched off. So I guess most of them may be summer houses.

Grindelwald
And on three sides of the valley were these giant and bare gray mountains, towering above the village, all around. They felt really massive and all overpowering, but so so fascinating in their strength. Also, you couldn't see the mountains all the time, as quite often the peaks were covered by clouds. There were some huts on top of these mountains which shone at night when their lights were on till late. It never let you forget how high they are. Also, the mountains shone even at night, the snow on them glowed till very late.

It’s a feeling to be experienced – you feel you are safe and secure with the mountains all around. But at the same time, you also feel so small and miniscule in front of the grandness of nature. I had that feeling as soon as I reached Grindelwald, and the feeling stayed with me for the next 4 days.

We stayed at the Grinderlderhof hotel for the night, which was near the station. It was a nice cute hotel but nothing much to write home about. There were a lot more restaurants on the main street as Grindelwald seemed like a popular tourist location. There were loads of Indians around too, so it was definitely popular. As we had the evening free, we had a nice dinner at C and M café and for me, just the view of the mountains around was enough to enjoy it. It had a terrace from where we could see the other side of the valley as well as all the high peaks around. And just being there felt like we had come to another world already.


Trekking on Aletsch Glacier

Our first two days in Grindelwald were spent trekking across Aletsch Glacier, with Grindelwald sports. And what a mind-blowing experience that was. Grindelwald Sports say this about the hike on their website, ”… winding an impressive 23km from the famous peaks of the Jungfrau Region down to the Valais. This massive ice flow, shredded with deep crevasses, lined with moraines, and surrounded by 4000m peaks, lies in the heart of the Jungfrau-Aletsch UNESCO World Heritage site”. And that was exactly what we experienced.

Grindelwald from
the gondola
We had an extremely early start, and took the first gondola up to the Eiger mountain. It was quite a stunning ride up there, and I got to see all those houses on the meadows from up top😊. While going up, we noticed a single large very dark gray cloud along the Eiger (which looked weird). It seemed to not be moving at all. I wonder how that was formed.


 

Eiger glacier
Soon we went above the clouds and stopped at the Kleine Scheidegg, where we could see the Eiger glacier. From there, we took a train to the Jungfrau peak which was all the way through a tunnel in the moutain and took us to the top to Jungfraujoch. The view from the top was pretty and we spent a bit of time just exploring around and reading about it. There is a display of old photos when the tunnel was built which is quite inspirational. On the top, I also saw the famed Indian restaurant of DDLJ fame offering pure vegetarian thalis, which is well known among us Indians. It was closed now though because of corona.

We met our mountain guide who split us into 2 groups and we got onto the snow to get ready. We tied the harness to each of us, and then off we went behind him, along the glacier. Surprisingly, he didn’t brief us at all which I felt wasn’t the right way to go. For a lot of people, being on a glacier is a new and different experience. And it felt like we were thrown in the deep end without a clue. But anyways, we were able to learn as we walked along.

The weather on the whole trek was sunny and warm and it definitely made our walk a lot more enjoyable. We could see the scenery, and didn’t have to wear too many layers. It actually felt quite hot at times.

Smaller crevasses
to jump
Our group were all tied with the harness to each other for safety and we walked in a single file, and at the same pace. For the first half of the trek, we were getting down the Jungfrau mountain. It was the start of the glacier and covered in snow. It sometimes got a bit tricky to walk so fast down the steep snow and I fell a few times too. As we were walking, we saw some crevasses too but they were not too large today. But we still had to jump over a few of them which felt scary even if the gap was less than a feet. I would always stop before one, take a deep breath and then jump over. But overall, the walk was quite comfortable.

View of the glacier
Once we were down the mountain, it was flatter (this area was called Konkordiaplatz) and we were just walking on snow, slowly but surely. We stopped at times where there were rocks, for a quick snack or water, but generally just kept walking on. Its in Konkordiaplatz where we saw and learnt most about what glaciers are about. There were so many snow and ice structures to see, it was quite interesting all along. We walked past some icicles on the snow. Sometimes, we heard loud sounds made by crevasses falling off the glacier somewhere, but we could not see where it was happening.

Rivers on the glacier
In the middle of the trek, we saw sand from a recent storm from the Sahara give a brownish tinge to the snow, and further down, the snow had a pinkish tinge due to pink algae living there. There were rivers of water crisscrossing the surface. And some of these rivers were falling down holes which could be 100s of meters deep. We tested the depth of a few of these by throwing rocks in. And some of them were so deep, we couldn't even hear the sound of the rocks falling into the water, deep down. When we were looking down these holes, we had to be so careful so that only one person could stand there peering down, while the rest of us stayed far off. So if someone fell inside, the rest could stop the fall (hopefully). The whole thought was very scary though, how close we were from danger. 

River going down
a glacier hole
At one point, we saw a trekker from another group walking a few meters from us fall into a waterhole! Thankfully everyone was tied, so he was safe, and the fall was controlled. But it was a scary moment, and it made us realise how much we were playing with danger, which we didn’t feel earlier as it felt like we were just walking on the snow. Glaciers are different and hold so much within them, it is intriguing. And most of us don’t know much about them anyways.

As we walked deeper into the platz, we saw two other glaciers flowing down from the mountains on both sides and combining with the Aletsch glacier. The glaciers were very clearly demarcated, as on both sides of each of the glaciers, there are always loads of rocks flowing down the mountains.These flowing rivers of rocks are called moraines. Its like they draw the boundaries of their own glacier and can be seen from far away. These moraines hold a lot of information and are an interesting topic of study for scientists. 

We stopped for breaks mostly along these moraines, as some of the rocks there were huge enough to serve as a table for our lunch. On one such stops, our guide went out looking for small herbs to take back with him – schnapps, which are used to make the schnapps drinks! Surprisingly, there were some small plants growing here and there on the glacier. Wonder how. We also saw loads of birds flying above us, all of whom live on the snow. Its impressive how animals evolve and can survive even in such difficult terrains.

While we were walking, we were also visited by a few fighter jets who were practicing flying over the glacier! They came in from one side, flew deep in the valley and swooshed over our heads before continuing on their sorties. It was quite interesting to see them as they skillfully and loudly flew past our heads into oblivion.

Our hut on the ledge
When we were in Konkordiaplatz, we could see the Konkordia mountain hut where we would spend the night. It was on a mountain ledge far off, and it still took us a few hours to get there after spotting it for the first time. Towards the end, we got off the glacier and had to climb up the steep cliff on metal steps to get to the hut. It was the last part of the hike and quite tough indeed. Reaching the hut though made it all worth it. 

Hut terrace
The mountain hut had a terrace with a magnificent view, built on a rock ledge above the glacier. It overlooked the three glaciers all coming down their mountains and flowing as one, separated by moraines. We spent a nice evening enjoying the view, eating snacks and swapping stories on how the experience had been. We had ended up walking a bit more than 9 kms on the day, with a walking time of around 3 hours, while the total trip had taken us about 5 hours. 

We saw and captured the glacier in different lights – dusk, sunset and then under the stars. It got cold very soon, so we had a cosy meal eating the simple but hot and tasty dinner the hostel staff had cooked. We chatted with our group, most of whom were Germans (looks like Switzerland is a popular hiking destination for them). They all seemed to be well travelled, having done such glacier treks before. After dinner, we sat outside for a bit, looking at the stars on a clear night. There were a few more huts on the nearby mountains too and we saw their lights twinkling at night. But it got chilly very quickly and I called in an early night as we had another 6am start the next morning.

Glaciers at dusk
The mountain hut was quite well maintained for the location it was in. It was quite basic in its amenities. There was no running water there. The rooms were shared and had bunk beds. There was an outside terrace and not much else. There were very few spots to charge our phones, but they had wifi in the common areas! For where we were though, it still felt like real luxury. Apparently food and other deliveries were dropped there by helicopters regularly. The staff also had to walk a few hours from Jungfrau every time they wanted to come here. And I thought to myself, one really needed to enjoy something like this to be able to do it every week. The whole atmosphere in the hut was very jolly and lively. There were loads of guests, all in high spirits which made it fun. 

Morning on Aletsche glacier
The next morning, we had an early start around 6am and left the hut to walk more on the glacier before heading back to civilisation. The colours of the glacier during sunrise was quite spectacular to wake up to. The first part of the hike was getting down the mountain, through a steep rocky path. It was quite risky and scary, and we all took our time to get down. At the same time, there were a lot of groups leaving, so all the groups maintained a gap of 15 mins to avoid traffic jams on the way down.

Steep climb down
After we got down, we crossed two moraines to get to the last glacier and walked on it for the rest of our time on the snow as it had the least dangerous crevasses. The sun was up and much of the surface had got icy, so we all wore crampons on our shoes which was quite a new experience for me. It helped us walk on the snow comfortably as the metal spikes dug into the ice and provided a better grip.

 

Giant Crevasses
Today felt like a hike dependent on the skills of our guide to navigate and get us to where we were going. The crevasses were quite huge and we had to walk around lot of them to get to a place where we could safely jump. Even then, we had to cross some very large crevasses and at times had to depend on the crampons getting us a grip as we jumped. Our guide at times had to use his snow axe to create steps for us in the ice to step on. He had to use his knowledge of the glacier to decide what path to take, where to step, and where not. He also showed us some insects, called glacier flea which live in the freezing waters of the glacier. And just like that our glacier walk was over as we got off and turned towards green land.

The depth of the Aletsch glacier is about 1 km and it moves at a speed of 200 metres per year. On the sides of the flowing glaciers, we could see lines along the mountains up to where the glacier had been, 100 years ago. And that gives an idea how much the glaciers have melted and reduced over the years. Our guide told us that the Aletsch glacier has been receding every year and current estimates suggest that in 50 years, there may not be any snow left, but just a lake in its place. Hope that doesn’t happen in my lifetime 😧.

Leaving the glacier
Anyways, as we got off the snow, we stopped on the rocks to have lunch in the sun before heading off for a few more kms of hiking before we could reach a gondola to get down to the train. And as soon as we got off, the colours and views changed drastically. We walked past a few lakes, surrounded by wild white flowers. It felt like such a welcome change after the tough white glacier landscape of the last two days. And suddenly it felt so less hostile. We then kept walking for a few hours, through hills, valleys with some picturesque villages, a long tunnel and so on, enjoying the greener side of Swiss beauty. We also saw lot of people paragliding in the valley and I really felt like doing it soon.

As we were walking through the mountains, we saw a helicopter rescuing someone from the forest. They dropped off the medical attendant who went into the forest, found the injured person and tied him to the rope dropped by the helicopter so they could lift him off. It felt quite a skilled operation to me but apparently such helicopter rescues are quite common in Switzerland. It was sad to see someone being hurt, but on the other hand the rescue felt straight out of a movie, especially how the pilot was manoeuvring the helicopter in such a difficult terrain. Later, we also saw a few helicopters helping construction of a house where they were coming and dropping material for the building. Life must be quite tough in the mountains here, right? Sometimes we forget that aspect when we travel here as tourists for short times.

When we reached the gondola in the village of Fiesch, at the end of our hike, we had lunch in the sun, also patting ourselves for a hike well accomplished😊. We had walked 16kms today, walking for about 5 hours over an 8 hour hike. And then we were off, taking 4 different trains to get back to Grindelwald, on the highly efficient Swiss train system!

The hike had been an excellent experience, but I must say that I was not impressed with the guide. We would have enjoyed a lot more if he showed some more interest in how everyone was faring, shared more information about glaciers and allowed us some time to enjoy being there. It felt like he thought his only job was to get us from point a to point b. 

He just didn't give us any tips on what to expect and what to do, how to navigate glaciers or anything like that. And that was a bit scary. He behaved as if everyone in the group was an expert glacier climber like him already. He didn’t slow down while walking, didn't look back while walking to check if others were still following him and didn’t even stop enough for people to take photos. Most of our group were trying to take photos while walking, and many didn’t as it was too dangerous to do that. His comment when some people asked him to slow down was that falls and slips happen on the glaciers, and that everyone should treat it like walking on the street 😲. Definitely not very helpful advice. He also didn't explain much about the glacier and the landscape as I would expected on such a long walk.

It felt like he was on a mission - to get us to the hut at the fastest pace, and that’s it. Enjoying what we were doing wasn’t part of his thought process. I can understand that for him, being on a glacier was nothing new. But for someone experiencing this for the first (and maybe even the last) time, it holds much more importance. So it would have been good to have some more interest from him. He was surely not a good guide for someone walking on the glacier for the first time. But still, the glacier did not disappoint – it was spectacular, and a once in a lifetime experience for me.

Back in Grindelwald, we checked in to the Tsuggen hotel for the next 2 nights, which was another cute little place with very helpful staff. We treated ourselves to a tasty Indian dinner at the Golden Indian, to celebrate the successful hike😊. During the dinner, we saw a procession passing through the village with the locals carrying and blowing large Swiss bells. Apparently it’s a Swiss tradition to mark the cows coming back down after summer – Descent of the cows. And then we called it a day, as we had another (!) early morning start the next day too.


Schynige Platte

Train to Schynige
The next day, we did another long hike of about 19 kms along the Schynige Platte, a long mountain ridge with breath taking views. My friend had tried to do this trek thrice but hadn’t been able to complete the hike before because of snow and/or bad weather. But today, the weather was perfect – warm, sunny and cloudless. And we got our perfect day for traversing this stunning mountain ridge.

Top of Schynige Platte
We started early morning and first took a train back to Wilderswil (I think) near Interlaken, from where we took a mountain train up to Schynige Platte which was the start of our trek. The mountain train was very slow but breathtakingly picturesque. It chugged along the steep edges of the mountains, taking us through forests with some magnificent views of Interlaken and its two lakes. On the top, there was a restaurant and some gardens which worth visiting. From there, we started on our long trek around 830 am.

Interlaken and the lakes
First we walked along the top of the mountain while enjoying panoramic views of Interlaken and the two lakes. And on the other side, there were just mountains after mountains.





Views on the trek
Then we passed through some gorgeous small valleys all on top of the hills. There were cows eating in these grasslands, and the sounds of the cowbells were everywhere, providing a background to our trek. It was a scene and feeling that can only be experienced – surrounded by lush green mountains filled with green grass and wild flowers, cowbells ringing, the sun shining and the air as fresh as a cucumber. Wow.

Sagistalsee lake
We then took a turn and walked all around the Sägistalsee lake. It is quite a scenic lake, in a rectangular shape, down in the valley. And all around there were wildflowers as it was still summer.



Lunch stop
After the lake, we turned and then walked through some high mountain peaks on the side, and then crossed over towards the other mountains through a ledge. There was a restaurant at the crossover point which provided a welcome break after walking so long in the sun.

Wildlife :)
Along this path, there were more cows and some of them just sat lazily, chewing and staring at the trekkers going by.

Bachalpsee lake
And our next stop was the famous and spectacular lake, Bachalpsee. We could see it from far and slowly came closer, seeing new angles to it. It was truly an fascinating sight – this bright blue lake surrounded by lush green hills, reflecting the high snow covered peaks across the valley. And by now, the crowds had also become huge. It turned out, that there was a direct gondola from Grindelwald to First from where you just have to walk some 20-30 mins to get to the lake. While we had walked 7 hours to get here! There were also loads more Indian tourists here, and I knew I was in the popular part of Switzerland😊.

On the trail
Near the end, we also did the cliff walk to get a view of the mountains down. There were tens of people paragliding here among the mountains, and it was quite fascinating to see them all float almost weightlessly in the air. We also saw another helicopter rescue today. It is good to see that the Swiss have such an amazing infrastructure to get people out of mountains in case of emergency. But its scary too, to see how many people get hurt – we ended up seeing three such rescues on this trip.

Paragliding
We finally reached First (which was the end of the trek) around 5 pm, which was quite before the last gondola down. There were long queues of people waiting to go down the gondola, but thankfully we made it to it. As after the 5 lakes trail, I avoided walking down all the way back as those walks are extremely long, and not too scenic either.

Wildflowers
This trek was one of my favourite ones and I totally enjoyed it. The greenery, the fabulous lakes, the gorgeous scenes, the colourful wild flowers, the lazy cows with their cowbells – everything was amazing.







Avocado restaurant view
When we came back to Grindelwald, we had a lot of spare time at hand, so we walked around the town a bit. We saw some people yoodleing in the streets, which was fun to watch. We realised restaurants closed early here by 9pm. So we searched for some place open till later, and finally managed to get dinner at Avocado and Barrys lounge. And Avocado had a fabulous view when sitting outside.


Lauterbrunnen

Grindelwald in the morning
On the last day of our long weekend, we decided to take it easy and woke up a bit later than the last few days. We decided to spend the day idling in Lauterbrunnen. When we left in the morning and walked through Grindelwald, I fell in love with the village again. It looked so charming in the morning when its streets were empty and all you could see and feel was the nature around. The natural beauty of the village was more visible than when it was full of crowds. It had rained at night, and the village felt even fresher than before. It later rained in bits and pieces during the day, so we had to do our activities also in stops and starts.

the Lauterbrunnen valley
We took a few trains to get to the valley of Lauterbrunnen which is a village known for its 76 waterfalls. It is a wide verdant valley surrounded by mile high mountain cliffs on both sides. Supposedly 76 waterfalls fall down into the village from those high mountains. Once we got off the train, we just started walking along the valley, and along all the waterfalls. We could see some of them falling from high above, though lot of them were dry as it was late summer already. These waterfalls are quite popular with ice climbers in winter, when they freeze up. And these daredevils climb the frozen ice, to go up the mountains!

Lauterbrunnen
The whole walk and the village was so utterly divine, so heavenly! There was a surrealness in the valley which we felt within the first 5 mins of being there.And just like that, we kept walking along the stream in the village. We passed by the waterfalls, gorgeous alpine houses, streams with gushing water, vibrant green forests on so on. We bought some fudge from one of the self serve selling booths. And saw the ripe apples on lot of the trees here. We just enjoyed the serenity and breathtaking beauty of the place. And it is because of its serenity Lauterbrunnen is said to be the inspiration for the elvish place of Rivendell in Lord of Rings – a place of eternal peace and charm.

Waterfall in the
background
And then out of nowhere it started raining again. We were thinking of going to Murren but then decided to take the train to Wengen. It is a small village located on a cliff where the only way to reach is by taking the mountain railway. We took the train up from Lauterbrunnen, enjoying some majestic views along the way. The village was small and we walked around a bit. It was very quiet, and felt peaceful. We stopped at a restaurant for coffee, and I ran into an MBA friend of mine I hadn’t met for 10 years. What a small world we live in now, isn’t it?

And then soon it was time for us to leave the heavenly world of Grindelwald. We took a train back to pick up our luggage, and then started the long trek back to Lausanne. It turned out that this day we had ended up taking 10 trains in total! But it did not feel tiring at all.

It was raining in Interlaken and somehow it did not look as pretty as on the way up – things look so different with gray clouds and rains. Also we saw a lot of Swiss army soldiers travelling in the trains – this had happened the last Sunday too. Wonder why. I had to get out in Bern and take a connecting bus from the city – it looked like a nice cute town. The ride back from Freiburg to Lausanne was again spectacular. It was the golden hour and all the red roof houses on the way were glowing with the golden light. It almost felt like the Tuscany photos we see on travel websites. I loved the ride back as much as I did the way there. And it was a nice way to wrap up the trip.


It had turned out to be an extremely enjoyable weekend, where we stretched ourselves a lot and enjoyed every minute of it. I think Switzerland is a mindblowing place, and I can see myself coming back here regularly.