Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Stanserhorn - A Heavenly Experience

I believe Stanserhorn is relatively new on the tourist front. That 'topless' cable car or the caBrio as it is called was introduced just last year. I signed up for this one mainly wanting to experience the ride on the open top caBrio , feeling the wind hitting my face. Spectacular views were promised and I was looking forward to that too but figured that it cannot be anything that I haven't already seen. After all , I have made trips to the Matterhorn , Interlaken , Appenzel , Neuchatel and the like. I figured that I have seen every beautiful view worth seeing in Switzerland and the rest would more or less be replicas . No cable car could possibly beat the ride or the views in Klein Matterhorn cable car , or so I thought. I was so wrong.

Nothing that I say here can aptly describe the view from Stanserhorn on a cloudy overcast day. I think this is the first for a review , but to everyone out there planning a trip here, do go on an overcast day. As we alighted from the train in Stans on the last weekend before the cabrio closes , I was a little disappointed to see rain clouds looming all over us. The funicular was pretty old , first built in 1893 and it cutely chugged up the hill . As you slowly climb up,  the beauty of the place starts unfolding . It was very cold and slightly misty which , combined with the lush greenery around , created a magical effect. After a few minuted we were dropped off at the cabrio base.
K was a little hesitant on letting me go up the top as I have a very low threshold to cold. A small breeze and I start shivering and this was a full blown ,open deck travel in biting cold to the top of a mountain. But I insisted. Somehow all the limits , threshold that I have get stretched beyond expectations when something exciting pops up. So off I went up and stood holding the railing , peeping out , impatiently waiting for the cabrio to start. As exciting it was to be here , I was a little disappointed that the promised view of 5 lakes will not be delivered to me as I had chosen a cloudy day to visit.

As the cabrio started moving up the view became more and more foggy and my face fell. After a couple of minutes we were completely enveloped with mist with absolutely no view. It was at this time that the gentleman managing the cabrio inside consoled us all saying that in a few moments there will be blue skies and sunshine all around . I don't think any first timer would have caught the meaning of what he said then , certainly I didn't. K seemed to get an idea though . And then we saw it. Slowly the view became clearer and we emerged out of the clouds to an absolutely blue sky and wonderful sunshine , the best part being that the clouds were all below us forming what looked like a fluffy cotton floor. And the mountains around us also appeared to be emerging out of the cotton floor. It was surreal to say the least. I don't know about the rest but I have never seen anything remotely like this in my life and I stood spellbound. I guess if we had been there on a sunny day then the view would be similar to the view from any other mountain top , it was the rain clouds that made all the difference. It reminded me of the devaloka scene from kannada movies , the kind of place that the apsaras danced while the pantheon of hindu God's watched.

Outside the sun was quite sharp on the deck as there wasn't a speck of clouds in the sky . Reason ? All the clouds were below us . hehe . What joy. Who would have thought such a thing existed .

There was a revolving restaurant that I guess didn't quite serve the purpose today. the clouds looked spectacular from every possible angle and you don't have to revolve to get to see the best possible view. Moreover , the revolving pane was fully occupied. Me and K took our order of Asian Noodles and sat at the first free table we could find. The dish was pretty good and prices surprisingly reasonable for a Swiss restaurant. After lunch , we strolled around , clicking the usual snaps and then headed to the restaurant again for a warm drink that was complimentary thanks to the SBB offer tickets.

Then we began the descent back. This time we knew what to expect but still it was enthralling . When we reached the funicular , we hopped on to the open seat next to the 'driver' right at the front . The 'driver' turned out to be a jolly good man, regaling us with stories on the place and himself.

On the way back to Baden we stopped at Zurich for some small shopping and the mandatory box of Sprungli's.
A beautiful day .

PS : I just realized that this post has the word 'topless' . I figure that my blog will get at least one hit now.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Weekend Show - Forts , Food and Friends

This weekend was one of surprises. A rather last minute decision to visit Bellinzona followed by an unexpected dinner invitation by one of K's friends. Both turned out wonderful.
The weekly Saturday morning market in Bellinzona was a delight , more so after we found a lady selling Indian sweets and savories . She told us that her husband is from India and he prepared all of the stuff to be sold there. The samosa and coconut barfi was pretty good but it was the jamuns that had us going there for seconds. And this time she gave away 2 additional jamuns for free. That was a sweet start to the weekend.
The castles were not really tourist friendly , by which I mean that there were no Audio guides or notes that we could read to know more about the place . But it was preserved in the best way a medieval castle could and somehow the lack of all things 'touristy' lent an authentic touch to the place. It was my first true castle if you don't count the visit to the small fort next door in Baden. The castle door that doubled up as a bridge across the ditch when open , the small openings in the walls that probably was used to open fire on attackers , the towers used to keep a lookout and the fortification -I hadn't seen all of this from such close quarters. The small museum we visited in the first castle wasn't great but the video was ok . I  huffed and puffed my way up to the second castle that was much lower, so going all the way to the third castle that was still further on top of the hill didn't appeal to me a lot and we skipped the third castle.
Instead we simple wandered about in the old town , bought some biscuits from the bakery , took a few snaps and then wandered back to the station to catch the train back home.
And oh , did I tell about the wonderful spaghetti with mussels that I had for lunch ? It was real good and so was the pizza that K ordered . Then there was this orange color drink that everyone else was ordering and K also tried it out of curiosity . I sort of liked it.  It had a bitter taste towards the end but still tasted interesting.
After this Saturday trip I was thinking of lazing around on Sunday and we were watching Madras CafĂ© (awesome movie by the way) , when one of K's friends called and invited us over for dinner. I immediately prepared a small batch of Rava Laddoo and packed some along for them . The hostess had really outdone herself . There was fish and chicken and prawns. What more is needed to make a Mangalorean happy ? I was delighted. Plus there was tom and jerry playing on TV and another friend S who love to chat. We were busy in our girl talk and the guys were busy talking whatever is it they talked about amongst themselves. I suspect they were also trying to listen to what we were chatting coz S's husband smiled to himself every time we spoke something silly. Cant blame the guys , girl talk is always more interesting :).
After a wonderful evening we walked back home . I had always dreaded Sunday evenings when I was working and even if there was something wonderful happening on Sunday the thought of Monday lurking around in the corner would dim the excitement for me. Its a beautiful feeling to enjoy a weekend without worrying about the start to a weekday. Few more months of those weekends and I hope I make the most of it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Independence Day Special

When I was in Rome amidst the 3000 year old roman ruins and artifacts  , I couldn't help wondering if there is any other culture that is as old as ours but is still alive and kicking in a society that is as evolved as ours. The belief system, culture and traditions of all the important ancient civilizations except our Indian is in history books , museums and for tour guides to spin stories from.
Commendable job by India !

On a related note , I love my country but I do not understand the concept of borders and excessive patriotism . I guess having a border is just a legal thing that makes the job of governing easier . People who aren't in the borders wouldn't understand this but people in the border areas , weather state or country , would understand that drawing a line in between doesn't remove the cultural and linguistic similarities that they share with their brethren across the border.
In my recent trip to Ladakh it was plain simple that Ladakhis have more in common with Chinese and Tibetians than mainstream Indians.  Their food , language , clothing , looks is nothing what anyone would associate with India . Nobody will say that Momos is part of Indian cuisine or that a slant eyed person has 'Indian looks' when in fact it is as much Indian as the region of Ladakh is.
Same with Tamilians down south . I guess their sympathies lie with LTTE for the reason that they share so much in common with them than say a Kashmiri.
The Punjabi dress ,language and food is similar to western Pakistani regions than anywhere else in India.

So let us not impose language , culture on someone just because they belong to a particular country or state because the country and state is man made. Its never existed naturally in the first place. I am sure south Indians would learn Hindi more willingly than they do now if it was not imposed on them and if they didn't have to hear lectures from everybody on how adamant they are.

Happy Independence Day folks !

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Rome Ramblings

Rome wasn't built in a day they say , that is pretty evident to anyone that knows a thing or two about Rome. What they should add is this - It cannot be seen in a month . Yes, there is so much to cover and so much to see. Its mindboggling.
When I drew up my Rome itinerary I was quite clear that I shouldn't cram everything into those 2.5 days . So I didn't include the Villa Borghese and Roma museums though everyone raved and ranted about them. The Vatican on one day and the trinity of Coloseum-Forum-Palatine on the other was my plan with Pantheon , Catacombs and St Angelo castle thrown in between somewhere. The next half day would be to stroll around a couple of churches. But there is no end to the history you see in Rome and everything is so beyond words , you get stuck in one place marveling at every bit of this ancient wonder. What a marvelous place . It also helped that we had wonderful guides. The Indian lady in the catacomb of St Sebastian was excellent in her description of the place . She had a musical tone to her voice that caught the attention of listeners even more . Apparently she has been a guide for more than 30 years and the experience shows . I was pretty surprised to find this Indian at the catacombs but more surprises on this followed when we saw 'Sadhus' at the entrance to the Vatican showing off their 'miracles' .Kaushik quipped that we shouldn't be surprised if there were Malayalam language tours of the catacombs and the Vatican.

Of the 2 we visited, the catacombs of St Sebastian impressed me more and it was also older than St Callixtus . Without guides it will just seem like an underground tunnel with lots of holes but the history it holds is what enthralls you. This place started off as being a burial place for Pagans and eventually Christians took over. The Pagan chambers were elaborate and beautiful . We were in just one level and the place has 3 levels of burial chambers covering many acres. At the end there was a place for the families to have refreshments and this place opened out to St Sebastian Church. The footprints believed to be of Jesus were one of the highlights of this place. The catacomb of St Callixtus was less impressive but a good visit nonetheless . It was a burial place for early Christians and the popes. Both the catacombs have been sanitized and there are no bones/bodies .
Those visiting St Callistx need to make a note of their lunch hours - They are closed from 12 - 2 PM  . Also note that the catacombs are under the jurisdiction of the Vatican and Roma Pass cannot be used here. 

I wanted to visit St Peters final resting place under the Basilica as well but the Scavi tours are limited to 250 people per day and the slots were full by the time I mailed them . The basilica itself is beautiful and ornate but as the husband put it , for people used to the grandeur of Indian temples , this doesn't seem like a breathtaking monument.  The main sanctum is nothing like  any of the churches I have seen . There was no crucifix that is usually a part of catholic churches. But it was interesting and beautiful . Michelangelo's Pieta is a beauty. The Cupola was closed by the time we were done with the church and this was a bit of a disappointment .
There was more of Michelangelo waiting for us at the Sistine Chapel . A part of the chapel is under renovation but even that didn't diminish the grandeur . The Vatican Museums as a whole is too large and has too many artworks to be able to enjoy in a few hours and even if we had the time it was too complex for an art illiterate like me to take in. Though we did love many of the items on display by the time we reached the end of the tour we were exhausted .

That day dinner was in the Piazza Campo di Fiori , The place is absolutely alive. And the Lamb was delicious. My husband gave a thumbs up to the pasta as well. We went to the same place for dinner the next day too , a different restaurant though and the food was just as good.

The next day was a big one - Colloseum . I hadnt booked the underground tour online but once we reached we decided to take that and boy , I am glad we did. Our French guide was charming and delightful in her description of the colloseum and the history behind it all. It was now pretty clear to me that visiting any historic place without a guide is just not the same.  Like the catacombs , the colloseum is simply an ancient ruin without a guide to explain the details.

Next in our itinerary was that Forum-Palatine combo. I knew there were acres to walk and the peak summer sun was quite unmerciful . And with no guide to help us we were a bit lost in the Forum. Audio guides aren't really very helpful here . There are so many things hidden from plain view that you need someone to point it out. Nevertheless , the whole place leaves you marveling about the architectural skill of ancient Romans. And the ruins are endless. Its a good thing there were portable water taps everywhere else the expense for drinking water would have beaten our airfare and hotel bill combined.
The palatine which I thought would be least interesting threw up a beautiful and huge ruin towards the end . By that time sudden showers had forced us to stop and the unplanned rest gave me my breath back . Plus it cooled the place down and so I really enjoyed the last hour or so in the Palatine.
We were quite hungry by the time we were done but there wasn't time to stop for a bite. The castle of St Angelo closed at six and we made a dash towards it. This place needs just needs about 2 hours and the view that I missed in St peters basilica was seen here. It gives a birds eye view of the whole of Rome. The Audio guide here is pretty good too.

The Spanish Steps that we visited next is really not a worth a visit but then if you have the time , why not.

My culinary experience in Europe is improving by the day . It started with Austria. The Schnitzel was pretty good and so were the traditional Viennese deserts - Apple Strudel and Sacher Tort with whipped cream. I tried chicken , pork , lamb in Rome and each one was excellent. The gelato near the Vatican was massive and it was a 'medium' cone. It had me wondering how big the 'large' one would be .
Dining under the stars in Piazza Rotunda near pantheon and Piazza Campo di Fiori were one of the best dining experiences I have had. Both the Piazzas are absolutely bustling under the stars.

Pantheon was the last monument we saw in Rome. Incidentally, it was the first one too . Right after we landed in Rome , we went to check out the look of Pantheon at night. . The amazing fact about Pantheon is that its the only Roman monument that is standing in its entirety till today . Its 2000 years old and still as good as new. Come to think of it , an apt place to welcome our special day - July 5th. Papa tried to get us hunt for a temple in Rome and visit it on our anniversary and I guess pantheon is the closest we got to a temple that day - It was originally built as a temple to the Roman pantheon of Gods and is now a church . Interestingly we started the day at this church  , went to another church in the morning - St Sebastian's and then ended the day with the mightiest of all the churches - St Peters Basilica and the Vatican . So July 5th was spent in holy places , albeit a little different than what our parents would have liked.
And my best moment in Rome - As the plane touched down on the Rome Fumincino airport , my husband turned to me and said that it has been a happy year together and it dawned on me too that , contrary to what all well meaning friends had warned, staying together as husband and wife has been even better than being a lovey dovey  'hitched' couple(Knock on wood)  . Nothing can beat what I felt at that moment.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Morgan's Gate to Morges

"Fish with legs" this is how the only English speaking waitress described the days specialty in restaurant we entered in Morges. As I was trying to form a mental image of bangude or buthai with legs, the lady sitting in the next table bent over and said "Octopus" freeing me of the shame of being a Mangalorean and not knowing that there existed edible fish with legs . Ok , so that was ruled out. Nothing else in the menu suited my tastes and it suited my husbands tastes even less . So we finally ordered omelets. Me with cheese and he with herbs. Geez , being in France border and having omelets . "I am always determined to taste the local cuisine but I always end up eating burgers and pizza wherever we go" I complain to my man . "That's because the local cuisine is mostly beef that you don't eat" he says matter of factly. No arguing with that. I should lower my expectations with food in Europe. But the beauty of Morges more than made up for my disappointment in food.

Earlier as the train whizzed past the canton of Aargau into Vaud , I was admiring the hills when suddenly Lake Geneva emerged from behind the hills and I was spellbound . It looked surreal.

The tulips were of every conceivable color. Mom and Amma both would have had a field day if they were here. Mom would definitely have tried a best to take some saplings home as well. back home any visit to a relative with a garden is not complete if Mom hasn't got a few saplings home. Kaushik was a wee bit disappointed . He expected the whole area to be covered with Tulips like shown in Yash Chopra movies . Here it was multiple patches of tulips , each of a different color.

After lunch , we strolled to the lakeside for a few photos. A very helpful gentleman not only offered to have our snap taken but also answered our queries on the other attractions around in detail. Taking his suggestion we decided to walk along the lakeside and then take a bus to Lausanne to the Cathedral of Notre Dame. But first the castle .

Being a history buff , this castle , my first , left me mesmerized though it didn't have much . The view from top wasn't great too. The gallows room gave me goose bumps . Some of the artifacts , specially the arms and weapons were worth the visit. Kaushik on the other hand seemed happy to end the castle tour ASAP. "What's this fixation with castles and all things old" he wanted to know. Since I landed in Swiss , he has been suggesting going to Zurich and Milan and I have been suggesting Chillon castle and Hapsburg castle and when he decided on this trip I asked to be taken to Morges castle.

The walk was 6 Kms. We kept chatting along the way , took a few wrong turns , asked for directions everywhere and finally after about a good 2.5 hours reached the bus stand to take the Lausanne bus. The walk was tiring but the views all throughout was excellent .

The cathedral is an imposing structure and has been standing since the 12th century. The glass work inside looked beautiful . I could see a few tombs inside. Loved the view from top. There was a good amount of reconstruction work done on the church . The husband tells me that Swiss rebuild even those monuments that are reduced to a rubble and make it close to the original one as possible.

Morges was a lovely place for a visit. But as I see more and more of the western world , I think I am starting to appreciate the chaos of my home country more.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Not Lost In Translation

Sreto , the Swiss guy here to fix my window is telling me that my laptop is a good interpreter. I used the google translate to converse in German with him and apparently its doing a good job.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Here and there

As a child I did not travel much ,hell I did not travel at all . The only summer holiday retreats were my cousins place 4 miles away and my grand aunts place 10 miles away. Bangalore was the only other city I had set foot on till I joined engineering college. I vaguely remember wanting to visit 'foreign' places , but there wasn't much of a craving to move out of Mangalore.Home was the most happening place on earth - spending time with family was the most fun thing to do , and still is.It was good to have had both parents around at home all the time for most part of my life along with a guardian of an uncle. A dog and few cats completed the picture. There wasn't a dull moment at home. The last decade in general and the past 3 years in particular took me places. Starting with the awesome trip to Kigga falls in Shimoga , the first memorable trip with friends. Then Mysore , Coorg , Chitradurga , Munnar , Wayanad , Kochi , Tiruvalla , Chikmaglur , Karwar , Sakleshpur , Chennai , Chicago , New York , Vegas , Arizona ,followed by that awesome Ladakh tour with Delhi thrown in for a good measure. And now Switzerland.