Western Europe

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Into a reversal of seasons

When Schilthorn remained closed for yet another day, I was rather foolish to hope that the continuous snowfall would when we stepped out of the Berner Oberland into Vaud and Fribourg. Our route was fairly complicated, long but very scenic (I spent lots of time convincing myself during lull periods that it really was the journey and not the destination that mattered) and with the number of train/bus combination and changes to make any programmer blush, it finally looked like this: Murren cable car – Stechelberg via Gimmelwald, Stechelberg – Lauterbrunnen – Interlaken Ost – Zweisimmen – Gstaad – Montreux – Lausanne. I’m fairly embarrassed to say that I hardly...

Snowed into the Berner Oberland

We stepped out of the miserable rain on a Monday morning in Luzern into a heavily snowing Berner Oberland via the Golden Pass route (Luzern – Brünigpass – Interlaken – Zweisimmen – Montreux) – it would have been all that was promised, except for the perpetual low cloud cover and the grey, washed-out landscape. Mürren, our final destination, was quite mercifully, the pretty and silent ghost town before it throws open its doors to the skiers and the ski season starting this saturday – our crippling disadvantage however, lies in the sheer lack of options in eating and outdoor activities. On our last evening, we stayed close and dined downstairs, and...

Yodelling through

Finally visiting Switzerland after decades of near-libidinous desire of wanting to is turning out to be a long-realised dream – and a nightmare where the budgeting suddenly became the last straw that broke the strings of our purses. I was introduced to the incredible prices when we took a short stop in Basel to get our Swiss half-card, but ended up spending nearly 40 minutes at the SBB Travel Centre with an enthusiastic salesperson (who was possibly showing exemplary behaviour as Teamcoach) who issued us all of our tickets that we were ever going to need in for the rest of our time in Switzerland. If transport – mostly train...

Debauched in the Alsatian vineyards

The bloody fickle internet connection is perhaps the only failing of Chez Leslie – a quiet pension on a residential street off Colmar’s train station – since we’ve arrived 4 days ago. I’ve been relegated to sitting by the door in a lonesome chair like a errant child being punished just to get 1 small bar of connection. There’s even Fluffy, the house cat for occasional entertainment. Beyond that, Colmar has thus far, defied all expectations. Visiting Alsace is like getting an insider’s tip to travelling in France; there are many Europeans here (most are German it seems, and even more from the other parts of France) and I’ve hardly...

La Petite France

It seems everyone is captivated by Paris, but I’d fancy a more romantic notion of Strasbourg as a miniature model of France, even though the actual Petite France occupies merely a corner of the old city. Sitting at the German border and several miles west of the Rhine, metropolitan Strasbourg hums with activity always, combining the whimsical nature of the French and the precision timing of Germany – even the trams glide smoothly on every couple of minutes! Accommodation is near impossible to get when the European Parliament is in session, but even all the more so when an influx of European tourists (many predictably hail from the right side of the border) descend...

From the Blue Lagoon to the Alsatian flats

A 12-hour journey that began at 4am in the morning in Grindavik, Iceland’s Blue Lagoon clinic ended on a whimper (literally) in Strasbourg, a city sitting at the edge of the German border, tiring enough to erase a near-perfect day yesterday spent in the Blue Lagoon and soaking up the silica mud. We joined busloads of tourists for the 45-minute shuttle from Reykjavik, driving to snow-covered lava moss with the distinct advantage of staying over at the clinic for a night – which simply meant we got free entrance into the Lagoon and more time to dally. Situated 5-10 minutes walk down a winding path from the actual building through flammable...

Main(hatten) Transfer

The country of precision engineering, verbally-direct people, curry wurst and David Hasselhoff lovin’ came into view from the small oval of a plane window after an interminably long flight that lasted a good 18+ hours. Frankfurt am Main greeted the Travel Companion (TC) and I like a terribly familiar bedfellow (read: a sprawling city) – but the sight of terra firma is always a welcome feel despite its incredible urbanity for those who have been in limbo for too long. The International Airport is a surprisingly short 15 minute ride by S8 or S9 into the main train station and from there, a mere short walk to the Star Inn Frankfurt. Off we went...

Exhausting defiance

My travel planning process typically runs across 2 veins: juggling foreign, captivating landscapes from which the instinctive need to explore arises (the heady rush is really quite intoxicating) and the harsh reality of cost-cutting after realising that the reckless planning is potentially busting the humble budget. It’s a common sensibility that probably fits me squarely into the peg called “budget travel” but the penchant for seeking out strange itineraries such as this upcoming one that crosses that oh-so-fine line into “luxury travel”. I’m also quite certain that the travel companion (TC) – who had initially agreed rather enthusiastically to another jaunt in Europe after my sales pitch – is regretting...

The Road Out

A fond farewell in the form of sugared strawberries to the host signals that it is time for me to leave Hamburg. But not before I took a ride around the neighbourhood in that bicycle that’s been the most solid thing I’ve ever ridden. There is much I am going to miss in this place – the bewildering slower pace of life that I’ve been leading for the past month, the fretful weather (though gorgeous when the air is cold and the skies are blue), the beautiful scenery and its varied suburban areas. Learning a foreign tongue for so long and for so intensive a period here has momentarily left...

Down the Red-Brick Road

Brugge without the sandy footpaths, Brugge with the cold and volatile weather – that was Lübeck at first glance. Günter Grass, many turquoise church steeples, the Hanseatic League, extraordinary architecture, Thomas Mann, and…marzipan – if I could only sum up Lübeck with several key words. A Schleswig-Holstein Ticket took the 3 of us to Lübeck during the second weekend of the course – the once-mighty fortress and capital of the Hanseatic League of merchants that has been remarkably restored and is now a UNESCO heritage site. Lübeck lost its greatness when the politics of the 16th -17th centuries overran the Hanseatic League’s political and economic influence, but not its shape. Characterised...