26 September 2008

Calvin Time Again!

I'm off on a loooooooong holiday to India...heading home for a simpler life...
Hope I dont meet a Hobbes on the way to dampen my spirits

25 September 2008

Jungfrau and Interlaken, Switzerland – Aug 2008

The next day of our trip started with a visit to the spectacular Mt. Jungfrau (at 3,454m above sea level) or should I say a visit to heaven…
Jungfrau - Top Of Europe
We drove till the town of Lauterbrunnen from where we were to take the cogwheel train to the peak. The Cog wheel train
Jungfrau was once very difficult to access, but now the Jungfraubahn cog railway runs inside the mountain, up to the Jungfraujoch railway station – this is the highest altitude railway station in Europe.
A village...The train journey from Lauterbrunnen to Jungfrau was just toooooo beautiful. It has some of the most awesome views of snow-covered mountains that you can imagine. Every glimpse of the mountain range had us gasping…and clicking away with our cameras…only about a 100 snaps from yours truly!!!
Eigerwand - We are higher than the cloudsThe train runs close behind the Eiger's north face. The train stops twice on the way for 5 mins to allow the people to go out and enjoy the view from the viewpoints. The first stop was at Eigerwand at 9400 ft. The windows here are halfway up the face of Eiger and have been placed in holes used to remove excavated rock from the tunnel during construction. This window was used for one of the scenes of the Clint Eastwood movie - The Eiger Sanction.
View at Eismeer -Sea of IceAt the second stop there is a window looking out on the Eismeer…described as the Sea of Ice…and it is like that…
Once at the top, we made our way to the Sphinx. Why it is called that…I don’t know coz it doesn’t look like a sphinx from any angle…but it does have some of the most spectacular views of the Aletsch Glacier. There is a vantage point and that’s where we spent a lot of time just soaking in the beauty of the place – chaste, pure and untouched.
I just felt this need to get one shot from each angle…no matter how many snaps I clicked…it just didn’t seem enough.

As we looked down, we saw these people walking across…its called ice/glacier walking. Ice Walking on the Aletsch Glacier For one minute I too wanted to be there, but we weren’t equipped with the right shoes etc…and damn the TV. I’m no TV freak but invariably when I do watch TV once in several months I end up watching some adventure/accident on some mountains and I still remember the dialogue from one such episode…"Hell is not hot, it’s cold". And all I could think was what if one of them falls into one of the crevices!!!
Having said that, I still think I want to revisit Jungfrau and try some ice walking!!!
From there we went to visit the Ice Palacethis is 30m under the surface of the glacier and is totally ice and has marvelous life-size ice sculptures. The walk down the tunnel was super slippery and we had to struggle to be on our feet. The sculptures were of course were brilliant – igloos, seals, eagles, kissing seals, bears and what not. There was one, which was a gloved hand that was nicely lighted with blue light…it just stood out.
The Ice Gateway links the Ice Palace with the glacier plateau. It was eternal…like walking in heaven. There was this lady who had got her poodle with her to the plateau and he looked so cute…
Out for a walk on the Jungfrau Plateau
After spending some time there we started on our way back…to earth and Interlaken to be precise. Interlaken is in the heart of the Swiss alps, situated between the Lakes of Thun and Brienz and at the foot the famous trio of peaks, the Eiger, the Mönch and the Jungfrau. Its just one of those scenic towns that one can walk around for hours in…just enjoying the scenery…

15 September 2008

Titlis Glacier Park Snaps

I was tooooo busy on the rides to click any snaps...just received these from someone...had to post them!

12 September 2008

Mt Titlis and Luzern - Switzerland – Aug 2008

As we reached our hotel in Engelberg, Switzerland we were told…in a very posh tone…it’s a Swiss chalet! View from balconyIt was a very cute place, the rooms had balconies with a wonderful view of the Alps - pic on right is the view from my balcony... but nothing out of the ordinary or exclusive. I was wondering if I was missing something so looked up the definition - A wooden dwelling with a sloping roof and widely overhanging eaves, common in Switzerland and other Alpine regions…Am I still missing something here? Isn't that what all houses in snow covered mountains are like?
Anyways, it was a very nice, cosy and comfortable hotel with beautiful views...

The morning plans were a visit to the picture perfect glacier – Mt Titlis. At 10,000 feet, it offers a snow and ice experience on the one of the highest viewpoints in Switzerland.
We decide to walk from the hotel to the Titlis Rotair Station. We had an option to take the coach, but Switzerland is a walker’s paradise…and a photographer’s dream…
My friends always cribbed that I do not take enough snaps on my holidays…but this time even I just freaked out…click, click and click… 500+ snaps for the entire trip (Heidelberg, Switzerland and Paris)

The journey from Engelberg to Mt Titlis is broken into 3 parts…A lake captured with a reflection of the mountain range
The first bit Engelberg to Trübsee is a 20 minutes cable car ride in Gondolas for 6 people each. There is just one word for the view – breathtaking. The famous cowbells ringing in the pastures below accompanied all this.
The next bit is a 5 mins zip up from Trübsee to the Stand from where you get on the final lag…the famous and first revolving cable car of the worldRotair. A unique experience that should not be missed …the majestic panorama of Mt. Titlis region as you stand in the cable car, the floor of which rotates once around its own axis.
As I reached the summit, I thought do such places really exist? It was AWESOME.
Do such places really exist
We then took the Ice Flyer - labelled as a Thriller experience. It was one of those open chair lifts and the view of the glacier crevasses is spectacular.. This chair took us to the Titlis Glacier Park… fun-packed rides on balancers, scooters and sledges on the snow runs are amazing. Luckily the ascent was easy and effortless with the Magic Carpet moving walkways, so we could try several of the rides. I first tried the individual scooter and a balancer… just zipped down the slope, with specks of the snow flying onto my face, I just wanted the moment to last forever…We then joined 4 of the sledges and zipped down…ohhh it was fun. I think that I enjoyed the rides the most and this was my favourite part of the holiday.
From there we went to do a touristy thing….getting dressed in traditional Swiss attire for a photo shoot…the dresses, hats, accessories really were excellent…

From there we went to Luzerne …more of a shopping trip… but there was a bit of sightseeing too.
First to the Lion Monument - Lion MonumentThe Swiss have a long tradition of supplying mercenaries to foreign governments since they have always been politically neutral.
The Swiss Guards' honor was put to the test in 1792, when--after trying to escape the French Revolution--King Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette, and their children were hauled back to the Tuileries Palace in Paris. A mob of working-class Parisians stormed the palace in search of aristocratic blood. More than 700 Swiss officers and soldiers died while defending the palace, without knowing that their royal employers--like Elvis--had left the building.
So the Danish artist Bertel Thorvaldsen was hired to sculpt a monument to the fallen Swiss Guards. The sculpture was carved in a sandstone cliff above the city center. It was beautiful…the pain on the lion’s face has been sculpted so well.
Next attraction – the famous 14th century wooden Chapel Bridge over the Reuss River. Whether it was the flowers on the side or the paintings on the inside of the bridge, it was beautiful…

A tiring, but wonderful day …I thought as we headed towards our CHALET!

08 September 2008

Black Forest, Drubba Cuckoo Clocks and Rhine Falls, Germany - August 2008

A Picnic Lunch in the Black Forest... so called because the pines and firs are so dense that at any time the ground looks black. In winters there is heavy snowfall and the tree tops are white capped. That is where the Black forest pastery/cake gets it’s name from too!!!
Because winters are very harsh, woodcarving developed as an alternative profession for the farmers when they were locked up inside their houses.
Post Lunch we went to the Drubba Cuckoo Clock Factory. The shop itself is in the form of a cuckoo clock and at every hour the window at the top opens and a cuckoo bird comes out and cuckoos. This is followed by music and the figures just below the window dancing…very, very cute.

We had a demo at the factory and as the person described some of the clocks we just couldn’t help smiling at the ingenuity of some of the designs.

This one above has the most intricate woodcarving and among the most expensive ones.

In this one the concept is a man at work and his wife standing behind him with a rolling pin to make sure he is working. When the clock strikes an hour, she hits him with the rolling pin :-)
There was a selection of Romantic Cuckoo Clocks. In one at the hour, the man and woman sitting on the bench come closer and kiss…

In another one there is a ladder and the man climbs up the ladder and kisses his ladylove who is standing at the window!!
And so many more…can’t describe them all here…but each was better than the other and it was do difficult to decide which one was THE best.

After some impulsive shopping, we went to the Rhine Falls. These are actually on the border with Switzerland. The first view as we descended the steps was awesome. There was also a boat that took you to this rock in the middle of the falls. Climbing up was easy, but once at the top if you look down it is SCARY!!! Very steep and I was so scared while coming down!

And the best was this bit…vada pavs, idlis here too!!!

04 September 2008

Heidelberg, Germany - Aug 2008

Guess standing in queue from 9:30 AM to 2:PM for the Schengan Visa was worth it...since I did have the most wonderful time on my recent holiday.
With a brief stop at Dover to see the famous White Cliffs, we took the ferry to cross the channel over to Calais, France.

On the ferry, we had this one seagull that kept following us…and I was reminded of the Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I tried throwing small pieces of Pooran Poli at it and you should have seen it flying backwards to catch it. Then an Italian guy started feeding the gull from his hand! My friends tried that and each time the gull would swoop close, grab the food and be gone! Amazing sight. I was too scared but finally I gathered some courage... I took a biggish piece of the Pooran Poli and held it out…everyone was like…he’s not going to be able to eat that! But he took it from my hand and then went to the side of the ferry and dropped it there and started eating it bit by bit...whoever said that gulls are stupid is stupid!

After an overnight stay at Ludwigsburg, we started early next morning towards Heidelberg on the river Neckar. We had a walking tour of the old part of the town – Altstadt (Old Town in German). It was beautiful with its cobbles, church bells and gorgeous architecture.
The first stop was the Old Bridge. At the gate of the bridge is a bronze sculpture of the Bridge Monkey holding a mirror in his left hand and with a sly smile on his face. The plaque next to the statue reads:
"Why are you looking at me? Haven't you seen the monkey in Heidelberg? Look around and you will probably see, more monkeys like me."
Crazy German humour? Not really …it means that Heidelberg is a city with visitors from all over the world, of different cultures, religions and nationalities. So don't stare – coz for somebody out there you're an exotic monkey, too! The touristy-thing to do is to stick your head inside the monkey's mask and take a picture, which of course we did!

The bridge itself originally was wooden. But now it’s made of red sandstone as the former wooden constructions were frequently destroyed because of high waters. It has 9 elegant arches and as you walk across the bridge there are sculptures on the left side representing the four icons of the most important rivers in this area: "Rhein", "Neckar", "Mosel" and "Donau", as well as the builder-owner Carl Theodor. On the south end of the bridge was a huge doorway, built in the 15th century.

From the bridge itself you get the first glimpse of the Heidelberg castle. It has a museum inside it, many parts of which were closed for restoration so we decided to give a miss going up to see it.

The next stop was the beautiful statue of the Madonna at the Grain Market ("Kornmarkt") square. Restaurants and cafes surround the square. In the middle of the square is a beautiful statue of the Madonna. It demonstrates three typical characteristics of this period: Mary is shown as the Queen of Heaven, as a virgin and as a victor.
Heidelberg is most visited for its University. Heidelberg University is ranked No 1 in Germany and has students from all over the world.

Other stops included the The Heilig Geist Church and The Hotel Ritter – one of the oldest hotels in the world. The brownish building in the pic below is the Hotel Ritter.

Heidelberg has a certain romanticism about it and was patronized by many poets.
One of the most well-known "odes" to Heidelberg is the song "I've lost my heart in Heidelberg". Its English translation is as follows –

"I lost my heart in Heidelberg on a balmy summer night.
In love head over heels, oh were she all mine
And like a rose, her laughing mouth my light as by the gates she said: good-bye.
That last sweet kiss, it did confirm once more,
I'd lost my heart in Heidelberg forever, my heart still beats on Neckar's shore.

Whatever happended to you, since you and I did part.
Oh Heidelberg of legend, you German paradise?
I went away and left you, Left wine & happy days.
I long to be, I long to be, back in your arms always"