Backpacker’s Diaries – The Hike along the Lakeshore

14th September 2018

Waking up to another breathtakingly mesmerising sunrise, I was slightly disappointed to leave Interlaken soon. The past couple of days had been the most eventful, and I really wished I had the luxury of more time. I had only about six hours until my Flixbus to Munich, and I intended to make every second count.

The night before, I had reached the Villa pretty drained after a long day of exploration. “No point in continuously overexerting yourself” Rafael advised as I pondered over my last few hours in Switzerland. “Take it easy before the travel – if you like nature I know just the thing you will enjoy” he said, while suggesting me to take a bus to Iseltwald village, followed by a hike to the Giessbach Falls.

Coming back to my last morning in Interlaken, I decided to take it really easy and enjoy the sumptuous breakfast buffet (certainly the best breakfast spread I had seen during my trip). Considering the long walk that lay ahead I decided to stuff myself. Having multiple Nutella sandwiches never felt guilt-free before (and the blueberry yoghurt demanded that I help myself to multiple servings). To save time later in the day, I decided to complete the check-out formalities and lock my belongings before I left for my mini-adventure (which in hindsight proved to be a really smart choice).

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Walk from Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof to Casino Kursaal

I waited in front of Casino Kursaal for my 10am bus to Iseltwald. It was pretty fascinating to see that the pets were welcome on public transport as well – the dog curled up under my neighbour’s seat looked just adorable. With the privilege of the window seat, most of my time was spent gazing at the beautiful vista outside (which ended up deepening my newfound love for Interlaken with every passing second). Almost thirty minutes of an eventful journey later I disembarked at Iseltwald, more than excited to begin my solo hike. Everything about the day had me smiling – right from the kind hospitability of the Swiss to their attitude in general. The amount of enthusiasm people have towards maintaining a healthy lifestyle is just admirable – and not just the people, the pets seem to enjoy it as well!

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Iseltwald Village

Everything about the tiny village appealed to me – right from the breezy fresh air to the Swiss architecture of the houses to the perfectly manicured lawns replete with lawn ornaments.

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Iseltwald. The tiny flower bushes liven up the already beautiful Swiss architecture!

The balconies lined with tiny flowering bushes kicked the aesthetic beauty up a notch. The wide trail at the end of the village marked the beginning of my hike.

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Starting point of the hike

It was just a normal forest trail – a walking lane under the canopy of trees, rocky at some places and muddy at the others.

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A welcome break from monotony of the trail… rock-tunnel!

The mini rock-tunnels, wooden bridges and occasional sight of mushrooms acted as a welcome break to the monotony of the hike.

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Here are the mushrooms I spoke about

I loved the idea of putting up rock and wooden benches en route (for some reason I could visualize my mom sitting there enjoying the view and capturing its splendor on her canvas).

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And that’s the bridge with the crystal blue glacial lake in the background…

The thing that set it apart from the usual forest hikes was that the entire trail was along the shore of the lake Brienz. The bright crystal blue hue of the lake was certainly the cherry on the cake.

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A glimpse of the trail….

The picturesqueness of the place accompanied by the slight wind chill was certainly an experience to relish. I realized that the route was somewhat popular among the local population there some of them were even riding their bicycles on the trail.

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My trail was full of surprises – got a taste of Swiss hospitality yet again! 

Having begun my journey a little later than I should have, I was concerned if I would have enough time to complete the hike. With my bus to Munich departing at around 3.30pm I reckoned I had a little over 2.5 hours. I planned to return to the Villa an hour before my bus and grab some lunch on the way. Slightly concerned about the situation, I decided to speed up as much as I could (at one point I was almost sprinting) and ended up breathless after a while. I ended up reducing the pace a bit after ensuring that I had more than enough time on my hands.

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First look of the waterfall after an hour worth of hiking. The fruits of labour are really sweet!

My heartbeat raced a bit as the sound of gushing water grew louder. Tracing my route along the course of the falls, I walked up the slope until I was as close to the falls as I could be.

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And that’s Giessbach Falls… in all its glory!

Standing inches away from the strong force of the water, I was awed by the feeling of droplets splashing onto my face. The deafening roar of the falls and the misty droplets instantly made me forget my tiredness.

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Would certainly have hiked to the point where the couple is standing if I had the luxury of time…

Having some time, I just sat by the waterfalls allowing myself to get completely lost in its beauty for a solid twenty minutes. Post that I began walking down to the point where the waterfalls met the lake (which coincidentally was one of the stops of the ferry ride back to Iseltwald). Passing by the Grandhotel Giessbach, I caught a glimpse of the Funicular during my descent.

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Waiting for my ride and chatting with a fellow tourist, I saw the ferry pull in.

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And there comes the Lotschberg, my ride for the afternoon to Iseltwald!

As I walked stepped into the Lotschberg, I realized that I had chosen a befitting end to Swiss leg of my journey. I was rather fortunate, as the ferry wasn’t very crowded and the weather was really pleasant for an afternoon.

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Titanic mood anyone? 

I would certainly recommend the ferry ride, as the 15-minute journey offered a view of the Brienz from a completely different perspective.

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The view!!! Felt like the clouds were closing in on us!

Although ecstatic for the amazing morning, I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed as my time in Switzerland and my backpacking trip drew to a close.

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Back to my starting point – Iseltwald! Just loved how I could drink straight out of the fountain, and how the bus back to Interlaken was waiting for us to jump in!

I really enjoyed every second I spent in Switzerland – right from the heartwarming Swiss hospitality to the enthralling landscape to the crystal blue glacial waters and fountains I could drink right out of without the least bit of worry. Special thanks to the Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof team for making my stay really enjoyable. I wish I had the opportunity of meeting Rafael again and thanking him before my departure. I hope I get the opportunity to visit Switzerland again in the near future (probably to go skydiving or checking out the Reichenbach Falls).

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Backpacker’s Diaries – The Treasures of the Alps

13th September 2018

The morning had been dreamlike – travelling in Eurail to the Top of Europe, frolicking in the snow, interacting with lovely people and finally enjoying amazing chocolate truffles. It was time to say goodbye to Jungfraujoch, which had me head over heels with Switzerland’s beauty. Thanks to my early bird ticket (which needed me to leave Jungfraujoch latest by 1.13pm) I learnt that I had more than enough time to explore other places on the way back to Interlaken.

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View from Jungfraubahn

The bright afternoon sun did justice to the picturesqueness of the Swiss Alps – I was just as lost in the beauty of the scenery as I was in the morning, if not more. I didn’t intend to spend much time in Kleine Scheidegg. However, as fate would have it, I bumped into my roommates from Lucerne and we ended up having a nice 20-minute long hike.

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My mini-hike at Kleine Scheidegg… and that’s my roomie from Lucerne!

The weather was perfect – it wasn’t very hot even though the sun was overhead, and the cool afternoon breeze added to the pleasantness of the afternoon. I sprinted from the hill as on seeing the bright yellow Wengernalpbahn approaching in the distance. Having skipped one train, I was reluctant to miss another as an ambitious plan for the day awaited me.

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When I saw the train pulling in… Rushed to the Bahnhof!

It took me a little bit of time to plan my journey once in Lauterbrunnen. The conductor in the 141 bus suggested me to check out the Schilthorn first. I found myself purchasing a ticket at the Stechelberg Station about 20 minutes later. To be honest I hadn’t done much research about Schilthorn – just the thought of an adventurous adrenaline-filled cable car journey had gotten me intrigued.

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Waiting for the Cable car ride at Stechelberg to begin…

The cable car journey to Schilthorn has multiple legs – and the journey gets more and more immersive with increase in altitude. The first leg is from Stechelberg to Gimmelwald, followed by a switch to Murren. The final leg of the journey to Schilthorn starts at Murren, with a change of cable car at the intermediate Birg station.

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And that’s one of the cable cars… frankly speaking, the journey to Schilthorn was the real adventure 

The cable car was an insanely captivating experience to be honest – there was room for about 50 passengers to stand at once, and the spectacle of the view elevated greatly with the altitude.

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And the view gets better with altitude…

The weather was pleasant at first, with a little drizzle as we left Stechelberg (here is the video). Temperature dropped from a comfortable 17-18 degrees to about 11 as we reached Birg and the rain had become a little stronger.

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The craziest part of the journey… the infinitely long 2 minutes with near-zero visibility… pure adrenaline if you ask me!

The journey from Birg to Schilthorn was the most intriguing part of the afternoon – the worsening weather coupled with zero visibility and rocking cable car sent adrenaline pumping through my veins, while eliciting worried glances and occasional screams from my co-passengers. Our heartrates finally normalized as we docked and alighted at Schilthorn.

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The weather seemed to clear a bit… only to become foggy again moments later…

My trip to Schilthorn was more-or-less impromptu, and I hadn’t really seen many reviews before visiting so as to avoid expectations.

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Although the weather was pretty cloudy and foggy outside, I ended up enjoying the view. Schilthorn really did pique my interest a bit.

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Rather interesting welcome-party don’t you think?

I was really interested in checking out the panoramic revolving restaurant Piz Gloria though, which completes a 360 degree revolution in about 55 minutes.

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Piz Gloria – The revolving restaurant…

I wasn’t surprised to find out that the restaurant featured in the 1969 James Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – the place is basically a shrine for James Bond fans.

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Simulated rides… just one part of the James Bond shrine!

Right from the restrooms for Bonds and Bond Girls to time-bomb-themed countdown timers showing the time remaining till the next cable car ride, everything about the place literally screamed James Bond!

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Usually people run away from dynamite sticks… especially when they are connected to timers

My journey back to Stechelberg was something I would have enjoyed more had the weather been pleasant. I would have definitely tried the cliff walk at Birg if the hailstorm had been a little kinder.

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As much as I enjoyed seeing the hail, I was disappointed as the weather was too bad for a cliff walk…

 

Having finally alighted the cable car at Stechelberg station, I decided to check out the second attraction in Lauterbrunnen – the Trummelbach Falls.

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Pure Power – Trummelbach

The part that makes the waterfall really interesting is that it alone drains the glacier defiles of Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountains, and that is the only glacier-waterfall in Europe which is inside a mountain yet accessible.

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Am I the only one or does anyone else see the skull of the Ghost Rider?

Carrying more than 20,200 tonnes of boulder detritus every year, one can safely say that the Trummelbach Falls pack a serious punch. It is a series of 10 waterfalls, which can be accessed either by walk or a tunnel-lift.

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The tunnel-lift mechanism

I particularly enjoyed the tunnel-lift experience as the dark, damp and cold lift was a stark contrast to the bright late-afternoon outside. Everything about the place was bewitching – the deafening loudness of 20,000 litres per second demanded my attention, and the nature’s wild rawness was beautiful beyond words.

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Just staring at the force of the water is enough for a dose of adrenaline…

Enthralled by its beauty I ended up getting almost drenched twice and realized that navigating the way inside could be a bit tricky – the dampness of the stairs made it really slippery in a few places. Nevertheless, the visit was every bit worth the effort – especially the force of the water and the amazing views outside.

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And then began my walk to Lauterbrunnen… as I had missed my bus

Having spent a little over an hour, I ended up missing my bus back to Lauterbrunnen Bahnhof and decided to walk instead of waiting for the next one (remembering Rafael’s suggestion back at the hostel). It turned out to be a memorable experience – the lush green plains and the occasional waterfalls appeared as though a jigsaw puzzle scenery just came to life.

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Not another soul on the roads for nearly  half hour…. yet I wasn’t the least bit worried…

I was literally the only person on the road for as far as my eyes could see, and the only company I had in the amazingly lovely weather was of cows, calves, and their jingling cowbells.

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And then there were cows, calves and their cowbells to give me company!

I am glad I chose to walk – I really enjoyed the beauty of the Staubbach Falls on the way to Lauterbrunnen station.

Arriving in Interlaken just in time for the sunset I decided to visit Harder Kulm. It out to be a really special experience– not only because I finally had the pleasure of the funicular ride, but also because I got another dose of the Swiss hospitality.

“Rush in – it seems I am waiting just for you!” joked the smiling motorman as I made my way to the bright red Harderbahn after purchasing the ticket. We chatted a bit as the funicular gained altitude.

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Walk to the view point 

A short walk brought me to a restaurant and the viewing point.

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That’s the restaurant in the background…lively music to compliment the evening

One can clearly see the crystal blue lakes Thun and Brienz on either sides of the town, and the alpine hills in the background.

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And that’s the tiny town of Interlaken – sandwiched between the Thun and Brienz lakes

The mesmerising beauty of Harder Kulm was such that the hour spent staring at the panoramic view felt as long as the snapping of fingers.

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And my day is finally complete…. with the glorious sunset! 15-hour-long finally draws to a close….

Personally I enjoyed every second of watching the sun disappear into the western side of the horizon.

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Would love to go to Interlaken again sometime in the future… and to Harder Kulm just for this spectacular view

Nothing else seemed to matter as I stood transfixed against the railing – it was almost like a trance. Finally reaching the hostel at 8pm, I decided to retire to my dorm earlier than usual – 15 adventure-packed hours had come to an end, with tiredness and sleeplessness finally catching up with me.

Backpacker’s Diaries – Top of Europe

13th September 2018

Putting on the snow boots, I rushed out the door of my hostel Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof. Being aware of the lack of public transport at the early time of 6.10am, I had no choice but to sprint to the Interlaken Ost Bahnhof a kilometre away. On my way out I was fortunate enough to find Jan, a fellow hosteller from South Korea, who had a similar itinerary planned. Having really limited time and trying to make the most of it, I chose a really ambitious approach to planning my itinerary.

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My day had begun at 5.45am, after oversleeping my 5am alarm and going into autopilot mode as soon as I woke up. My early bird ticket meant that I had to take either the 6.35am or the 7.05am train to Jungfraujoch, and that I had to leave the hill top latest by the 1.13pm. After making it to the railway station with a couple of minutes to spare for the 6.35am train, Jan and I settled into our seats. I was really psyched about another Eurail experience – and the journey to the Top of Europe was divided into multiple legs and was going to be a couple hours long.

 

It started getting brighter as we completed the first leg of our journey in the Berner Oberland Bahn– from Interlaken Ost to Lauterbrunnen. I was grateful to the adrenaline from the sprint, for it kept me more than awake.

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Once there, we changed coaches and made ourselves comfortable in the Wengernalpnbahn, which would take us to Kleine Scheidegg.

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I enjoyed every moment of the ride – the snow-clad alpine mountains left me awestruck.

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My eyes fell on the picturesque village of Wengen en route and I wondered how the entire sight felt like something straight out of a fairytale.

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My excitement peaked as we ascended the hills in the bright red Jungfraubahn during the last leg of the journey.

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Gaining altitude, we passed by a really picturesque lake.

 

en route 6.jpgThe fifty minute ride had me spellbound for the entirety of its duration, making me wonder if the entire episode was real or just an unimaginably beautiful figment of my imagination.

 

Reaching Jungfraujoch early had its own benefits and drawbacks. Although I got more time to explore different attractions before it got too crowded, I was slightly disappointed as the food options available were really limited (the staff had just arrived and were setting up the food stalls).

 

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After a quick bite I headed out to explore the different attractions that the unrealistically beautiful place housed. My first stop was the Sphinx Observatory, which is one of the highest observatories in the world.

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I enjoyed looking at the observatory, even though I couldn’t stay out for long as it got cold and visibility reduced drastically.

 

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Following the path ahead led me to the snow fun area at Aletschgletscher.

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The twenty minutes I spent there were certainly the part of the day I relished the most – it took me some time to get acquainted with walking on ice.

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The terrain was a little tricky for me at first. I enjoyed every bit of the experience – every slip and stumble, the powdery texture of the snow

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(which interestingly wasn’t as cold as I had expected) and the footprints that my lovely baby pink boots left on the ice.

 

I met some really interesting people during my journey too – the most memorable and inspirational of them were Koruth and Jeemol, who literally were the definition of relationship goals. Just talking to them made me so positive and happy – I would love the opportunity to meet them again soon.

Although tempted to stay and enjoy the glacier a little longer, I decided against it as there was a lot to explore and I was running out of time. My route took me to the Alpine Sensation, which is a 250 metre long projection tour between the Sphinx Hall and the Ice Palace.

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A shiver ran down my spine as I came to know about the effort that went into building the Jungfraubahn, and the number of people who sacrificed their lives to make Jungfraujoch accessible to the people. The other part of the Alpine Sensation experience was a moving walkway full of romantic paintings that captured a longing for the Alps and recount the story of tourism (here is the link to the video).

 

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The oversized snow globe was the loveliest sight – the changing colours of the lights made it really visually appealing.

The Ice Palace was exactly as cool as it sounds. I highly recommend giving this attraction a visit – the level of detail on the ice sculptures is just impeccable.

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The penguins and the eagle seemed to just come to life. With a temperature of -3 degrees Celsius, my fingertips felt a little tingly as I walked through the long frosty tunnel. Needless to say, I didn’t spend much time there.

My last stop at Jungfraujoch was the Lindt Swiss Chocolate Heaven, which is perfectly described by its name.

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For chocolate lovers (like me) it is the definition of paradise. Mountains of Swiss chocolate truffles awaiting to be just filled into bags – and the flavours had me spoilt for choice.

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There was no dearth of sizes or options either – I ended up filling my basket with literally whatever I could set my eyes on. The only thing which made me stop was the capacity of my rucksack (I had a long day planned ahead, and Jungfraujoch was merely the beginning!).

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For those on a budget, you are in luck as the chocolates are available at a discount at Jungfraujoch. The sweetest part of the experience was at the billing counter, where they let me taste a couple of complimentary chocolates. This was a pretty smart move, as I was tempted enough to go back into the store and fill another bag with chocolate truffles before I made my way back to the railway station (speaking of which, the really sweet conductor handed me a couple more chocolate truffles for my journey back to Kleine Scheidegg.)

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For those who intend to visit Jungfraujoch in the near future, here are a few tiny bits of advice.

  1. Do check out the passport at the beginning of your Jungfraujoch experience (and get it stamped if you like). It has everything you need to get an idea about the attractions Jungfraujoch houses, and you can choose to allocate your time accordingly.
  2. If you are a solo traveller like I was, be prepared to witness a huge Asian crowd, comprising of mainly Chinese travellers and Indian honeymooners.
  3. Ideally, I would suggest going with friends or making friends on the way – snowfighting at the Aletschgletscher is so much more fun than being there alone.
  4. I strongly advocate going for the early bird ticket. Try to beat the rush, as you tend to just get lost in the crowd at times.

Backpacker’s Diaries – The Town Between the Lakes

12th September 2018

I had learnt to trust Akshay’s choices by now – especially when it came to food (and travel…and pretty much everything else). Needless to say, I was pretty satisfied with the Egg Canape and the Berliner (a bun with a gooey strawberry core) he chose for me at the Bachmann Bakery.

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The sumptuous breakfast at Bachmann Bakery on my last morning in Lucerne

Although slightly disappointed that he wouldn’t be joining me for the Interlaken leg of the journey, I was excited for the Eurail experience that awaited. Akshay and I reached Luzern Bahnhof well in time for the 12.06pm train to Interlaken Ost Bahnhof. After a brief struggle with the ticketing system I made myself comfortable in the second class compartment waved goodbye to my dear cousin.

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The 12.06pm train from Lucerne to Interlaken

I was mighty impressed with the train. Although it left my travel card significantly lighter than I expected (approx. 30 EUR for a journey less than 2 hours in the second class coach) I really didn’t mind – the train coach itself was a class apart (check out the video here).

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Honestly, I have had my share of train travel… and this DOES NOT seem like a second class coach! Which got me thinking – what would the first class coach be like then!

Adding to that the kindness of the co-passengers and the enchanting Swiss scenery outside, I was completely floored.

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Hello Interlaken!

Relying on my trusty old friend Google Maps, I began my kilometre-long journey on foot to my hostel from the Interlaken Ost (which basically translates to Interlaken East in German).

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Beginning the kilometre-long walk to my hostel – Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof

Although it was pretty bright outside, it wasn’t as hot as I anticipated. As I wasn’t packing much luggage, the walk turned out to be comfortable as well.

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Finally reached the Villa! The first impressions look pretty promising

I was in awe of the Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof from the very moment I stepped in. This was hands-down the coolest hostel imaginable (and rightfully voted one of the best in the world) – the beds were nice and spacious (I got to choose my bunk as I was one of the first people in my dorm).

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And the rest of it is pretty awesome too! Can you believe this is the view from the dorm room window!

The sight out the window was breathtakingly beautiful too – snow-capped alpine mountains that one could just spend all day looking at!

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My dorm room balcony. Honestly I could stand here for just hours drinking in the view. Just imagining what the winters would be like!

What’s more, they gave a complimentary breakfast buffet, a bus pass for exploring Interlaken for the duration of the stay and “Villa Coins” so that one could avail services such as high speed internet and laundry. They even had a HUGE rack full of snow boots that the hostellers could borrow! Last but not the least, for those interested in a free walking tour, the Villa was one of the starting points.

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And that’s me and my roomie Masumi!

Feeling too lazy to cook something in the kitchen downstairs, I was reminded of the salad and the sweet croissant that Akshay had packed for me back at Bachmann’s.

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Using Masumi’s suitcase as a makeshift lunch table! Already missing Akshay and the fun we had in Lucerne!

My new Japanese roommate Masumi and I bonded over it (using her suitcase as a makeshift table nonetheless). She was in Interlaken to try out adventure sports and had just returned after a skydiving session, and planned to explore Europe over the next few weeks.

Being in Interlaken for only a couple of nights, I wanted to make the most of the little time I had. After a brief chat with Rafael at the reception, I reckoned that the best way to spend my first evening would be checking out the town through a free walking tour. I was pretty much in luck, as the walking tours started in less than an hour. We were a decently sized group – about 15 of us from all over the world. Our guide for the evening was an enthusiastic guy called Gianni, who was just out of high school and was to begin college the very next day! After a brief round of introduction, we began our mini-adventure.

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Beginning of the free walking tour

It didn’t take me long to fall in love with the tiny picturesque town. Every tiny thing about it fascinated me – right from the absence of traffic signals in the town limits to the brilliant blue water (which I later learnt was owing to the glacial minerals).

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Belonging to the Canton of Bern, Interlaken is a peacefully rare place – probably one of the only places where one can see the Catholic and Protestant Churches right next to each other.

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The old Coat of Arms – Interlaken

After learning a little bit about the coat of arms at the Interlaken Castle, we hiked a bit to get a look at the animals local to the area – the marmot and the ibex. Marmots are really cute creatures – they look a bit like squirrels. One of them even posed for us.

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Someone loves posing! That’s the photogenic marmot!

Ibex, on the other hand, are mountain goats with really long horns (incidentally, the ibex is the animal on the Interlaken coat of arms). We hiked a little further to a point from where we could see a panoramic view of the town a little before the sun set. Sitting down for a bit, we discussed a little about the local treasures while passing around a packet of homemade chocolate nuggets.

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Hiking to a nearby point to get a panoramic view of Interlaken!

Pointing to the valley below, “You will definitely enjoy Harder Kulm if you like this view. The sunsets are pretty spectacular,” Gianni remarked as we were about to begin our descent.

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En route to the Harder House Mountain. Just love the deep blue hue of the waters. Interestingly almost all the water in the public water bodies is drinkable (Honestly, I tried drinking from the fountain, and it was sweeter than packaged water!)

On our way to the final point of the walking, we paused a bit to look at the Harder House Mountain. Gianni tried to help us visualise the face of Hardermann in the mountain. Legend has it that a monk molested a young girl, who then jumped to her death. The monk’s punishment was to look down at the scene of the crime and repent for thousands of years. “Interlaken has a population of 5500, who all know the story. Now that you all do, you are one of us too!” said Gianni. On January 2nd every year, Interlaken is haunted by the masked figures of the Hardermann and his followers who run through the town screaming and pulling the spectators spreading mock fear. A lot of effort goes into the procession – the carving of the masks by hand is an arduous process. After the event the people socialize in pubs in a congenial atmosphere.

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We walked along the water channel connecting the lakes Brienz and Thun, and through the lanes of Interlaken, discussing the local food and culture for a little longer.

For those looking forward to trying the local cuisine, Gianni suggested the Fondue, Raclette and the Älplermaggaroni. I found the town limits pretty interesting – by walking across the bridge on the water channel, one enters the adjoining town of Unterseen.

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It is possible to be in 2 places at once haha! I am in the town limits of Interlaken AND Unterseen at the same time 😀

The Convention Centre and Casino Kursaal was the last point of interest of the free walking tour. The place piqued my interest for a number of reasons.

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The first one was the modernistic convention centre itself, which hosted the Swiss Economic Forum not long ago. Although it was designed to showcase the stunning Jungfrau (the second-highest alpine peak in Europe) the view was blocked by a number of really tall trees.

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Convention Centre

The second most interesting point that caught my eye was the Hooters restaurant nearby – it was probably the only one in the world which was literally outside a 5-star hotel! The last thing which I really was interested to find out was that the ambassador of the tiny alpine town was someone from my own land – actually from my own city – none other than Late Mr. Yash Chopra! Turns out, Bollywood was instrumental in making Interlaken a popular tourist destination among Indians (I guess DDLJ was shot in Interlaken!).

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Mr. Yash Chopra – the Ambassador of Interlaken!

After returning to starting point and saying goodbye, I returned to the Villa and spent the most of my evening charting out my next day with Rafael’s help. I retired to my dorm a little earlier than usual, pushing myself to get some rest for the crazy ambitious adventure that lay ahead.

Highlights of 2018

I am really grateful for the amazing year I have had. This has probably been the most special one till date, as I have experienced a LOT of things this year. I have tried to continuously do things which challenge me and help me extend my limits. Here are a few of the most memorable moments from this year…

  • Beginning the year on a productive note, by celebrating the first day of the new year with colleagues.
  • Attending the engagement ceremony of my cousin Nitya back in my hometown, and live streaming the event for the cousins who couldn’t attend it.
  • Celebrating my grandpa’s and mom’s birthday at Lavasa and having an amazing time there. The bright mornings, the cool afternoon breeze, the picturesque evenings and starlit nights are definitely worth the 4+ hour drive.
  • Impromptu visit to my maternal grandmother on her birthday (over the weekend), and spending a good amount of time preparing a Gulab Jamun cake for her. The best part of the stay was organizing a party for my relatives in Bengaluru at Howard Johnson, and spending a lazy Sunday at Clark’s Exotica gorging on amazing food and playing games with cousins before flying back to Mumbai.
  • Speaking of cakes, baking a ton of cakes and eating them up like Bakasur with absolutely zero regret
  • Reading – a crude attempt at understanding (or rather attempting to understand) human psychology. “The Power of Habit” is a real eye opener.
  • Speaking of reading, each novel i read takes me on a unique journey into the author’s thought process. “Keepers of the Kalachakra” just blew my mind away!
  • Going on an impromptu trip to Mahabaleshwar and trying Airbnb for the first time
  • Spending time with cousins at Hyderabad and getting spoilt rotten by my uncle and aunt again
  • Singing in front of a small audience after a while. Probably will do it more often
  • Seeing Nitya get married. Wow we did grow up pretty fast – it only seems like we were in school yesterday, discussing our class projects!
  • Playing football with the teammates at the office – kicking ass and getting my ass kicked. Enjoying every moment nevertheless as it brought us closer
  • Going on a day-trek with my office team to Lohagad and enjoying the rain, mist and the hills, and the authentic Maharashtrian cuisine. Most of all, sharing the amazing experience with them – I would go for the trek again in a heartbeat!
  • Going on a solo trip to Europe for a couple of weeks. I got the opportunity to meet and interact with so many people from across the globe, as well as explore new places and cultures, and finally understand what sort of traveller I really am. Each place I went to gave me countless treasured memories. Budapest pushed me to savor every moment of life. Prague inspired me to discover the magic and beauty in everything around me. Regensburg reminded me that there is beauty in simplicity and vice vera. Lucerne and Interlaken had me swooning over their amazing natural beauty and impelled me to seize every moment irrespective of whatever happens. And finally, Munich pushed me to be my best and put in my heart and soul in everything I do. I would love to explore more of Europe in the coming year too. Seriously heartfelt thanks to my dear cousin Akshay, without whose supreme guidance and help the trip would have been a train wreck
  • Within that solo trip was a small road trip that I took with Akshay in his car. I am so in love with his BMW (and its seat warmers). Absolutely loved Garmisch Partenkirchen and its fierceness. Extra motivated for another trip in the following year (that’s if he wouldn’t mind putting up with me again :P)
  • Starting an Instagram account and photoblogging my journey there. You could see my profile me here
  • Getting to know people better, shifting offices after a year at work, seeing friends at work move on to other avenues, and finally joining hands with a new team to achieve new heights. The constancy of change never felt truer.
  • Speaking of work, I really enjoy working on different challenges
  • Participating in a 24-hour hackathon with a couple of colleagues, and staying up in my college campus all night trying to figure it out. Although we didn’t win, I am glad we participated and pushed ourselves to the edge. I cherish every moment we spent there and would love to go back once more next year. Meeting one of my professors after a year was the highlight as well – it seems so long since we spoke!
  • Visiting Lavasa with my family and enjoying a lazy weekend there with absolutely zero regret
  • Spending Diwali with extended family and enjoying an amazing afternoon at Sula Vineyards is an amazing memory that I am always going to cherish. I finally got the opportunity to go wine-tasting (although it honestly was an overrated experience)
  • Probably the most important among the list – learning to be grateful for every morning I get, and finding reasons to be happy. It makes all the difference in the world!
  • Getting in touch with an old friend and meeting up after seven long years – was one of the biggest highlights of the year. It was also a gentle reminder about how much everything has changed.
  • Learning important life lessons like detachment and mindfulness. These two are something I will carry with me on my journey ahead.
  • Re-learning how valuable the time we have is, and cherishing every moment of my life – Oscar I will really miss you buddy. I am sure you are in a better place now.
  • Going camping with four of my colleagues to Bhandardara, and having a ton of fun despite it being a comedy of errors. Barbecue in the dark, the full paisa vasool campfire, playing antakshari in the most besura tune ever, laughing it off huddled into the tiny tent till 2.30am, and struggling to sleep in the tent until 7am (only to get up exactly an hour later) because of the wind chill was an experience I will never forget.
  • Ending the year with a bang – going on a road trip on Christmas eve to my hometown with my cousin Nandan after cancelling the flight ticket I had booked earlier. Never thought that the long trip would be so much fun!
  • Seeing my dear cousin Nikhil get married. Seeing him begin a new chapter in his life fills me with immense happiness.

Backpacker’s Diaries – First Taste of the Alps

11th September 2018

From the very first glance I knew that the hostel I chose was a pretty good one. Backpackers Luzern was a really nice place – centrally located yet spacious. The loveliest part of the room was the tiny balcony outside.

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Mornings @ Backpackers Luzern

With a table and a couple of chairs, it looked just breathtakingly beautiful with a backdrop of the luscious green garden. The golden sunrise added a magical element to the mornings, encouraging everyone to go out and enjoy everything Lucerne had to offer. This was my fourth hostel in eleven days, and I couldn’t help but notice how this one had a few interesting rules in place – especially that the bedspread and pillow case were provided after the check-in formalities, and had to be returned while checking out.

Akshay and I stopped at Bachmann Bakery nearby for a nice breakfast. Grabbing an orange smoothie and a sandwich, we decided to split a cheesecake for dessert.

The sandwich turned out to be a bit of a challenge – the bread and cheese was a bit too hard for my palate. My respect for the Swiss palate increased manifold after having just one bite of the cheesecake. Appearing seemingly harmless at first sight, it was so dense that I could feel my brain shudder at the thought of a second bite. Needless to say, Akshay ended up eating my share of the cheesecake too.

Following our breakfast at Bachmann, we left to explore Mt. Titlis. The drive to Engelberg was an experience in itself. Swiss countryside is really remarkable.

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Drive to Engelberg

I didn’t want to take my eyes off the scenery outside – alpine mountains and lush green meadows ran along the highway, and occasionally the drive would be punctuated by a train running parallely, adding to the picturesqueness of the situation.

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En route to Engelberg

“Only in Switzerland” Akshay remarked admiring the marvellous setting, “will you see a sight as stunning as this!” We arrived at Engelberg after driving for a little more than an hour.

 

Parking the BMW in a parking lot, we began our short walk to the ticket counter. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the place was pretty crowded even on a weekday. The composition of the crowd was something that I had expected to some extent – a good chunk comprised of Chinese tourists, and the majority of the remainder were honeymooning Indian couples. Needless to say, I wasn’t really surprised to see the signs in Hindi and Chinese in the washrooms.

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Beginning of our Cable Car journey to Mt. Titlis

There are a couple of intermediate stops en route to Mt. Titlis – the Trubsee and Stand stations. The cable car goes right up to Stand, from where one has to take the Rotair (a 360 degree rotating cable car) right up to the top.

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It began with a beautiful start. Wondering how interesting it will turn out to be…

Taking a cue from his previous trips, Akshay mentioned that Asian tourists usually start at the bottom and explore each intermediate station on the way to the top. To beat the crowd we planned the exact opposite of that – exploring Mt. Titlis first and then exploring Trubsee and Stand stations on the way back.

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Don’t feel like we gained much altitude yet…

As a backpacker on a budget, I found the 92 CHF tickets to Mt. Titlis to be not exactly pocket friendly at first. However in hindsight I feel it was pretty much worth the experience. To be honest, the cable car ride itself had me swooning. Although it was meant for 4-6 people, Akshay and I were fortunate to have a cable car to ourselves on our way up.

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That’s Lake Trubsee! On our way to Stand Station now…

As we gained altitude my eyes fell on the grassy meadows and the deep blue Trubsee Lake. The sound of the cowbells chiming made us look out the window and scan for the cows. The Rotair, although packed to the rafters, was definitely an experience to remember – the 4-minute rotating cable car experience offered panoramic views of the Alps. By the time we reached the top I struggled to locate the Trubsee Lake – it was a mere speck in the Alpine vastness!

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The coolest cable car ever – the 360 degree rotating Rotair!

The scenery at the top was the diametric opposite of what we had seen until then – the bright luscious green was replaced by an expansive white and the mountainous shades of grey. The weather was pretty pleasant too – a beautiful 7 degrees centigrade with a lot of bright sunlight.

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First glance of Mt. Titlis…

Warm and cool at the same time, it took the eyes a short while to get used to the unusually high level of icy brightness and terrain. Although I did trip a couple of times, it was definitely fun.

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Titlis Cliff Walk… Scared me a bit at first

Europe had brought the adventurous streak in me – I had been looking forward to the Titlis Cliff Walk ever since I read about it. I mean how crazy could it have possibly been – a one-metre-wide bridge having a length of 100 metres suspended 500 metres at an altitude of 3+km! I enjoyed every second there – right from the cold railings to the mild shaking as the people walked on it. The views were just breathtakingly beautiful. The scariest experience I had that day was dropping my phone and grabbing it just in time it before slid off the bridge into the white abyss (“I told you so” muttered Akshay, having asked me to be extra cautious with my phone exactly a moment before!)

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Walking down to Glacier Cave

We walked down to the glacier cave on the other end of the bridge via an underground tunnel. The icy blueness of the cave reminded me of the Disney movie Frozen. Interestingly the ice there is about 5000 years old!

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Glacier Cave

Although the cave is only 150 metres long, it did seem a lot longer. With a temperature of -1.5 degrees centigrade, the coldness was beyond what I had ever experienced (well… me being a Mumbaikar explains it). My fingertips thanked my brain as we walked out of the frigid tunnel – even the gloves proved futile. We left for Trubsee station after buying a few souvenirs and enjoying the view of the Alps.

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Alighting at Trubsee on our way down… and that’s my cousin Akshay btw photobombing my shot

The afternoon felt refreshingly good as we alighted the cable car at the Trubsee station. The beautiful sun accentuated the deep blue hue of the lake. Trying to live up to my 10km routine, I began my short journey to exploring a waterfall in the distance.

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Could Trubsee get any more picturesque

After a satisfying walk we went to an Indian restaurant called Spice Bistro to gorge on pav bhaji and vada pav (although I’m not proud to say this, we did glut ourselves like Bakasur). Although I rolled my eyes at the thought of going all the way to Switzerland to have Indian food, it turned out to be pretty satisfying. They certainly nailed the spicy dry chutney in the vada pav. The mango lassi ensured that neither of us felt hungry anymore.

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The evening turned out to be a lot more memorable than I imagined –a nice long stroll near Lake Lucerne (which seemed a lot like a beach to be honest), followed by watching YouTube stand-up comedy sessions with Akshay. The day ended with us playing foosball in the hostel’s recreational area (although I did have my moments, Akshay schooled me) while cooking Maggi for dinner.

Backpacker’s Diaries – Wandering in Lucerne

10th September 2018

Another lazy morning in Garmisch followed a nice night of sleep. My cousin and I checked out of the cozy room after our breakfast. Reluctant to waste food and too lazy to drive for breakfast, we decided to have the leftovers from the past couple of meals.

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Common area at Hostel der Athleten, Garmisch

This was my fourth consecutive meal comprising only of pizzas – essentially ensuring that I would avoid pizzas altogether at least for the following month. Craving the blueberry cream for dessert we walked to Sport Quartier again only to realize that it was closed on Sundays. Well, although slightly disappointed, I was glad that we got the opportunity to taste blueberry cream the day before.

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Beginning of our drive from Garmisch

Akshay and I began our picturesque drive to Lucerne (Switzerland) at about 11am. Although more or less used to travelling on smooth roads along the hills, I was captivated by the European countryside every single time. I learnt quite a few things on this leg of our journey. The first one being that Europeans really enjoy exploring. We saw cars from a number of places at both Garmisch and the intermediate stops that we took en route.

Another factoid I found out about was about the vignette or the road tax that drivers are supposed to pay while entering a few of the countries. It is essentially a tamper-proof sticker that has to be affixed to the car windshield, purchasable from any gas station within about 5km of the international border. The baffling thing about crossing international borders is that one doesn’t really get to know when they crossed it – on most occasions there is a board welcoming the travellers to the new country, other times there isn’t. The drivers have to be extra cautious as not having the vignette sticker affixed attracts heavy penalties at times.

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Drive to Lucerne

Our 4 hour long drive through Austria and Liechtenstein was eventful to say the least. Listening to music, we chatted about different aspects of European culture. Listening to a German radio station, we heard a child requesting the RJ to play Shape of You by Ed Sheeran. It was then that I realized the kind of relationship much of Europe shares with English as a language. They enjoy the music and everything but don’t want to speak it. The experience reminded me of my days in Chennai – where almost everyone could comprehend Hindi but just chose to avoid speaking in it on most occasions.

The other thing which fascinated me was the number of tunnels as we neared the Swiss border and Lucerne. Several kilometres long tunnel punctuated our ride, at times making me wonder at times if it was night time already.

We had intended to visit either Mt. Titlis or Pilatus. However, considering that we reached Lucerne only a couple of hours before their scheduled closing for the day, we decided to give both of them a miss and explore the city instead.

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First look at Lucerne… and I was in awe!

“Where was this place when I was here the last time?” Akshay exclaimed as we drove through the city. He had driven to Interlaken (which was supposed to be my next stop after Lucerne) a couple months earlier, and was completely unaware that the beautiful town lay on the way.

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Near Luzern Bahnhof

Our first evening in Lucerne was something that will certainly be etched in my memory for a while. After checking into our hostel Backpackers Luzern, we set out to explore the town. We ditched Akshay’s BMW at one of the public parking lots, relying on Google Maps to guide us to the McDonald’s near Luzern Bahnhof (railway station). Having a quick lunch at McD, we proceeded with our sightseeing agenda on foot. There were only a few places I really wanted to explore in Lucerne – a couple of bridges, Lake Lucerne and the old town were on my list (obviously in addition to Mt. Titlis).

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Wandering through the town, Lake Lucerne was the first one that caught our eye. It was a marvellous sight really – crystal clear water in the lake, allowing us to clearly see the lake bed. The other obvious sight that had me thinking was the bright blue hue of the water. I couldn’t help but wonder if everything I witnessed was actually real or if I was just enjoying my sleep in Garmisch and all of Lucerne was just something that my mind concocted. I have to commend Akshay’s planning skills – he had ensured that each place on my itinerary was more eventful and scenic than the previous one. Among all the places I had visited, Lucerne certainly topped the list.

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Kapellbrucke!

We really enjoyed walking across the Kapellbrucke, which is a long wooden bridge built diagonally across the Lake Lucerne.

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Kapellbrucke

Walking across it while admiring the paintings was an experience in itself.

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Paintings on the Kapellbrucke… definitely a sight worth mentioning

We sat for a bit gazing at the old wooden bridge enjoying the sight of the flower beds that adorned the side of the bridge. The simple red flowers elevated the beauty of the old bridge to a new level altogether.

The old town of Lucerne felt exactly like Regensburg. Walking through the lanes, Akshay remarked that everything felt just the same.

We grabbed a couple of souvenirs and snacks en route. I realized that I really liked the dreamy town.

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Near Spreuerbrucke

I would have certainly extended my stay by a couple more days if I had the luxury of time – I could spend hours just walking around the town exploring the architecture and the statues.

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Spreuerbrucke!

The next place on our itinerary was the Spreuerbrucke Bridge, which was more or less on similar lines of the Kapellbrucke.

 

Well, it is the bumps in the road that people tend to remember and laugh about later. Same was the case here – Akshay and I share a laugh every time the evening at Lucerne pops up into our conversations.

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Something really satisfying about this sight – the way the water falls like thin sheets and then suddenly changes its hue to bright blue!

After having a hearty time exploring the town, we decided to head back to the hostel for the evening. As we began to trace our way back to his BMW, both of us forgot where we had exactly parked it. After a little bit of racking our brains, we did the only logical thing we could think of – used the Maps to reach McDonald’s again and then trace the route we took back to the car. We spent a good amount of time just wandering around different streets looking for the car. We decided not to split up and look for the car, as we would end up spend more time tracking each other down in case either of us lost our way. We finally found the car after a good 30-minute search, making a mental note of marking the location on the Maps next time we were to do such a thing.

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My bro had no idea I was capturing him on my camera… probably shouldn’t have walked in front of me if he didn’t want his pic clicked!

The rest of the evening was comparatively uneventful – we chilled in the dorm room for a bit while chatting up with our South Korean roomie and munching on the snacks we bought at the old town. I was pretty excited about the following morning as we tucked in that night, wondering about the experiences that awaited us in Mt. Titlis the following day.