Visiting Switzerland ~ A Real Swiss Experience

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Travel Features >> Visiting Switzerland ~ A Real Swiss Experience

Visiting Switzerland ~ A Real Swiss Experience

March 29, 2011

The view from the train window was soothing to the eye. Miles of countryside with a church steeple or a clump of houses setting a village apart, a hint of blue and the lazy hum of some far-off engine…. What more could the heart desire? The students in my compartment were probably French but had the look of students anywhere in the world, complete with canvas shoes, faded T-shirts and knapsacks. We were travelling by Eurorail from Brussels to Geneva, at present passing through France.

One has to change trains at Basel on the Swiss border. All of a sudden the French is interspersed with smatterings of German and one catches a few words that sound similar to English. My fellow passengers tell me that the German-speaking Swiss speak not in pure German but a sort of dialect called Schwyzerdutsch. Italian is also spoken in some parts. Basel is situated on the dual border of France and Germany and is a commercial and cultural centre and has a large student population. We exchange pleasantries with fellow passengers, have a cup of coffee and a torte at the station café while waiting for the train. A while later we pull in to Geneva. Compared to other European capitals, Geneva appears to be a small city. The Swiss are very correct and civilized, maybe a little distant and reserved; but most of them are quite friendly. As one saw more of Geneva, comfortable is the word that kept coming back again and again, as opposed to exciting and stimulating. A pleasant foray into the Migros supermarket gave us an opportunity to buy some of the famous Lindt chocolates. Chocolates, fondue, watches and cuckoo clocks are what I always associate Geneva with, apart from bankers in neat gold framed spectacles, suave in their elegant, unobtrusive dark suits. And of course, meadows brimming over with primrose and edelweiss!

The next day we planned to drive up to Mont Blanc and Chamonix. Mont Blanc has a wide range of climbs, challenging but not inaccessible. Some of the peaks are pretty high and only experienced mountaineers should venture up. The highest mountain in the Alps, Mont Blanc is on the border with France and Italy. Chamonix is on the French side and is one of the most well known resorts of the Alps. Once in Chamonix, the aim was to get up to Valee Blanche, a 20 km glacier hanging from the shoulder of Mont Blanc. The best way to reach this is by the cable railway and on the way one is able to get some spectacular and heart-stopping views of the peaks and valleys. No wonder so many couples come to Switzerland for their honeymoon.

In Chamonix, one can hire ski equipment and enjoy the gentle slopes as well as the more challenging ones. But that day we were out to have a relaxed and lazy day just savouring the beauty, the sights and sounds of the Alps. With us in the Aiguille du Midi cable car were some families clad in ski gear in bright shades of red and purple, the skin- tight, luminescent material standing out in the grey of the mist covered mountain. The view from the cable car was spectacular and I caught my breath as the car swung precariously from side to side and all I could see below was a deep gorge that looked particularly dangerous. There was snow all around us, a strange, stark light that is only seen on snow-covered mountains. On solid ground again, a cup of hot chocolate and Crepes Suzette, Swiss style did the trick and we felt warm and happy again. There is something fascinating about watching people skiing, the ease with which even children, especially children, twist and turn and whiz past always amazes me and the fact that they actually seem to enjoy the cold.

Back on the road again, we headed for the picturesque town of Gruyeres, that has a cheese named after it. The 15th and 17th century houses and castle are worth seeing and it wasn’t just my imagination that I caught the wafting odour of cheese. Gruyere cheese is used for the well-known Swiss fondue and we were able to see the process of cheese making at one of the local dairies. Twelve different stages are involved in cheese making and the whole process takes three months. At one point the cheese was fed from the vats into moulds and shaped into cylinders of different sizes. We were able to sample the cheese and buy some to take back with us. At the local restaurant, we had a delicious meal of wurst (sausage) and rosti (crispy potatoes).

Switzerland is a paradise on earth as far as scenic beauty is concerned. The varying altitude of the Alpine peaks creates it’s own beauty; lush valleys, picturesque villages and placid lakes are something that cannot be described. One has to drive through this beautiful country to experience the beauty. The dichotomy of Switzerland lies therein…a wild, rugged side with breathtaking natural beauty juxtaposed with tame, neat, precise cities and towns. And that is what makes it so interesting.

~Poonam Surie

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