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Sankt Gallen near Zurich, Switzerland - Jungfraujoch - one of the highest slopes in the European Alps

Beatenberg - Appenzell -Appenzeller Bahn - City of Lucerne


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Travelogue European Holiday Destination

Switzerland, Heaven on Earth

Browsing through the travel magazines on exotic European destinations, Switzerland used to be on the top of the charts. The scenic photographs were so attractive that we used to scoff at the elaborations thinking it to be a tactic used by the tourism industry there. But reality dawned on us when we got an opportunity to stay in one of the un-spoiled yet so perfectly beautiful places on Earth - Sankt Gallen near Zurich, Switzerland. Thanks to our company, we had an assignment of 5-6 months and were ordained to stay in one of the most enchanting places on Earth.

We touched down from Swiss Air at Zurich and caught our train to our destination - St. Gallen which is small town - almost an agrarian village yet so well connected and technologically sound. The train, as expected, reached us at St. Gallen dot on time and we hailed a taxi to our studio apartment- our home for the next 6 months. The chill in the air was very refreshing after all that travel and we soon began revelling in the beauty of the surroundings. I, for one, envied the natives there for having been born to such a beautiful, quiet and peaceful motherland so much so that there hadn’t been a war since 1800s. Switzerland was not party to the World Wars either with its neutrality towards its warring neighbours and hence the people there are actually happy, blessed and peace loving.

Staying at one’s apartment, things were so quiet – no wonder that the place was called Friedhoff Bruggen – the place of the freed (in fact a cemetery) that the only sound to break the silence was the chirping of birds or the ding-dong of the nearby church bell. Come weekends ad most of the people would pick up their ski-equipments and rush to the nearest ski slopes such as the famous Grindelwald where you can get to see children as young as 4 to 5 years learning to ski down the Alps. It was during the Easter vacations that we decided to travel to one of the most visited places in Switzerland - Jungfraujoch - one of the highest slopes in the European Alps, in fact, the Jungfraujoch is the lowest point on the mountain ridge between Mönch and Jungfrau, at 3471 m in the Swiss Alps.

The Jungfraujoch can only be accessed through a 7.3 km long cog railway tunnel, served by the Jungfraubahn, the highest in a series of cooperating railway companies that provide access to the Jungfraujoch from Interlaken. We took a train to Interlaken (a favourite bollywood shooting location) where we checked into a small hotel for the night and found it to be cheap, spic and span and very comfortable (kudos to the hospitality of the Swiss hoteliers). The only difficult part was to find something to eat, being vegetarian and preferring something Indian to eat. Yet we did find a good ‘indische’ restaurant and enjoyed the meal thoroughly too.

Our ‘Nachste halte’ or next halt was Beatenberg. The main attraction of Beatenberg is its location. The village is one of the best vantage points set against the Bernese Alps and affords a view of deeply blue Lake Thun. Just about 10 kilometres by road away from Interlaken, Beatenberg is furthermore a perfect starting point for excursions to the Lake Thun and Jungfrau region we boarded a bus which took the winding route to the hill top covered with snow and home to many paragliders. We being one of the less
adventurous lots managed to scramble up the top of one of the hills overlooking the Jungfraujoch and enjoyed the rugged beauty surrounding us.

The best part of being in Switzerland was that everything was so picture perfect. Nothing could go wrong. Trains were dot on time (to a tenth of a second), roads and places were so clean, even the web sites never boasted of anything that they did not provide, quite unlike what we get to see in the Indian cities and tourist spots. Switzerland is indeed synonymous with hospitality.

The Train to Jungfraujoch

is an exciting one up the winding hills right up to the mountain top where you have the Sphinx observatory and of course, the ice- sculptors at the Ice Palace and a trekkers’ museum. Once up there, all you could see is a white sheet of snow which if not careful enough with one’s goggles, could blind you for a moment. Surprisingly, despite claiming to be -11 degrees Celsius, it never felt so cold. Perhaps because of all the excitement of being first timers.

We had a nice sandwich and coke in the restaurant which no doubt was quite costly and made our way back to the base camp-Interlaken. Our next destination was Appenzell. The small town of Appenzell and the canton of Appenzell lie in a picturesque, hilly landscape to the south of Lake Constance. Appenzell's respect for tradition is displayed when, on special occasions, you'd see Appenzellers decked out in regional costume, and Appenzell has long been one of Switzerland's most active centres for yodelling, alphorn playing, and other expressions of Swiss musical tradition. The local houses are also distinctive, with their painted façades and attached barns (often resembling fairy tale houses like those in Hansel and Gretel).

The Appenzeller Bahn (bahn is German for rail) was a quaint little train supposed to chug us up the hills trailing through the dark green deciduous forests to the enthralling beauty of Appenzell canton. Nowhere else in Switzerland is the transformation from the hilly landscapes of the Swiss mittelland to the rock-dominated Alpine world so full of surprise as in the Alpstein region. Mighty rock formations tower loftily to over 2500 metres in height – seemingly from nowhere. Walking or biking in the surrounding hills is a pleasant, inexpensive diversion. Appenzell is one of the greenest and prettiest regions in Switzerland, with 750 miles (1200 km) of well-marked paths that don't require mountain gear or a head for heights


Picturesque Beauty The view was nothing less than breathtaking Green farms with cows lolling on the fields, small clean road leading to traditional looking wooden houses There were many paths leading up the hills from where we could hear the distant roar of nearby waterfalls, however, since it was getting late, we settled for a meeker walk down the gurgling crystal clear stream near the overlapping mountains.

Temperatures & Weather Despite there being no special provision for tourists yet the pure virgin beauty of the streams and mountains and the little village itself was enthralling.

It being April, there was daylight till 9pm at night- something very strange for us Indians. Yet we managed to take the last train to St. Gallen and reached our home for a good and satisfied sleep. Another major tourist attraction was the city of Lucerne. Due to its location on the shore of Lake Lucerne within sight of Swiss Alps, Lucerne is traditionally considered first and foremost as a tourist destination. One of the city's famous landmarks is Chapel Bridge , a wooden bridge first built in the 14th century

Chapels We enjoyed the city walk across innumerable catholic churches dating back to hundreds of years and also the partly burnt Chapel bridge. The best part of Lucerne was the boat ride on the Lake Luzern wherein you could hire a pedal boat and have a glimpse of the city from the deep green waters of the lake.

Unlike a lot of other places that we visited in India and in Europe, the simplicity of these excursions leant an extra charm to the visits whereby it was mostly a simple walk through the city or an innocent boat-ride unlike huge malls or modern concrete structures that one indulged in. Our only regret was the few kilos that we gained after our 6 month stay in St. Gallen thanks to the melting dark chocolates, creamy milk and curd and other mouth watering cheese dishes. But undoubtedly, hospitality and warmth of the Swiss people is unmatchable and that is what adds to the beauty and charm of Switzerland.
Switzerland is without a doubt, Heaven on Earth.

Contributing Traveller  Jaya Rai  I am a software professional based in Bangalore who enjoys travelling and writing about my experiences at the same time. [email protected]

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