Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe !!
Our maiden Europe trip had started off on a little messy, yet somewhat pleasant note. Flying out of Kolkata on 23rd April we landed at Doha on schedule but were dismayed to learn that our connecting flight to Paris had been overbooked and we would be accommodated in the next flight to depart after five hours . The usual arguments and haggling over, a petite Qatar Airways girl then ushered me and my wife to a five star lounge with unlimited food and drinks to cool our heels, though our incensement with the Airline’s faux pass dissipated somewhat after they handed us two compensation coupons worth $250 each !!
The visit around the city of Paris started with a cruise on the Seine with majestic edifices on both banks grandiosely proclaiming the city’s glorious past and also probably the stark political clout the P5 country often wields over world politics . The sight of the burnt out facades of the Notre Dame however offered a somber look to tourists mostly Indians and Chinese. After visits to other monuments of renown including the famous Louvre Glass Pyramid followed by the imposing Arc De Triomphe commissioned by Napoleon to be built in 1806 to glorify the French Army of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, we were at the Eiffel Tower soaking in the cool evening breeze clicking the city’s spectacular panorama from it’s second level .
Brussels followed Paris with its Mini Europe – a sprawling park that showcases hundreds of buildings and monuments from around eighty European cities through their eye-catching prototypes, the majestic Grand Place, and the historic Town Hall among others.
Our first day in Germany started with the magnificent Cologne Cathedral which since its completion in 1880 six hundred thirty two years after construction began had remained the tallest building in the world for four years, subsequently also surviving fourteen air raids during World War II amidst the otherwise bomb flattened city. Next was a cruise on the Rhine that offered a rare scenic vision of the country’s limited hilly landscape , a tortuous rail track running parallel to the river. Our last stop for the day was Heidelberg , a serene historical city of palaces and castles that boasts the oldest University in Germany from the 14th century .
After a leisurely bus ride next day through the typical European countryside with verdant meadows, farms and arrays of gigantic windmills we passed the famous Black forest region of Germany and finally set foot in Switzerland. All throughout the bus trip our sprightly Punjabi driver Harpal Singh kept the group regaled with his hilarious banter and anecdotes from his ten years’ experience of riding hundreds of Indian tourist groups across Europe.
The first stop in Switzerland was Schaffhausen where we savoured the beauty of the boisterous Rhine Falls as the river hurtled down it’s cascaded stone path into a vast expanse of misty water before embarking on its northward course to Germany and Netherlands and emptying into the North Sea . The day ended with a visit to the city of Zurich by a picturesque lake dotted with multitudes of skiffs and canoes.
We rode to Interlaken next morning , a valley immersed in tranquil pastoral beauty with lush green forests , flower beds and turquoise placid lakes surrounded by snow capped mountains. Proud was the moment for all Indian tourists as we clicked pictures with a statue of Yash Chopra erected here by the Swiss Govt to honour the late film maker for promoting the country’s natural beauty through his very many Hindi movies shot over there.
A further one hour ride from Interlaken meandering by the besnowed alpine greens and we were at the most exciting segment of our the trip : a train ride on Europe’s highest altitude railway right on the bosom of the Alps ! An Engineering marvel, construction of this rail track had started in 1896 and after phase-wise completions of various sections it was fully commissioned on first August, 1912 . As the electric driven cogwheel train constantly trundles up a vast expanse of ice – wriggling in and out of snow shrouded tunnels at regular intervals , one is left spellbound by the splayed vistas of umpteen pine trees – their snow laden boughs a sparkling white ! By the time the train scaled up a height of 11322 ft , we were at Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe, a dream destination for honeymooners from across the world !!
Our visit was to Mt Titlis the next day , an amazing cable car ride over the snow draped Alpines that takes you to a height of 10000 ft , an idyllic place to wallow in snow – trekking, skiing or just strolling on the Cliff Walk , a 100 metre suspension bridge perched so high above the ground !
It was the last day of the trip and time now to indulge some laid – back moments at the bustling city of Lucerne ambling by the abutting lake that skirts snow covered mountains and buying souvenirs and Swiss chocolates for the dear ones back home !!