Friday, May 29, 2009

Panoramic Europe Tour - Day 5

This day would be spent mostly on water. First the cruise on the Seine, then on the ferry back to England.

At 1130, we board the “Bateau Mouche”. Passing through the calm waters of the Seine, we get another perspective of the entire city. Such is the beauty of the city that it is believed that Hitler who came to invade the city fell in love with it. And the city was not much different back then. So if Hitler rises from his grave I guess he’d be more excited than my parents were to see Paris. The Louvre pyramid however would be new for him as well.

The bridge passes under innumerable bridges where the local inhabitants wave to us on the boat from the top of bridges. The city has warmth and an undisputable charm that would captivate anyone.

After the cruise on the Seine, it’s time to go back to England. Switzerland and France had been unbelievably warm with the temperature going up to 30 degrees. We were sure England would not be the same. As we approached Calais, the port city of France, we could feel the English weather already

This time our coach goes into a ferry. We get out of the bus and go upstairs to enjoy the ferry. There were options for shopping, eating and drinking. But I chose to go to the deck and gaze at the Channel.

At the top, it was phenomenal. Legally speaking half of the channel is French territory but meteorologically speaking, the whole channel’s weather was bloody British with occasional rain and chilled wind blowing across us. I’m sure the water could make anybody numb. Chilled breeze, no land till far away, water ripples formed by the ferry and clouds of all sorts decorating the skyline; It sure was the bliss of triviality.

After the 30 minute ride, the Panoramic Europe tour ends with a beautiful view of the channel. Now I was sure they didn’t fool us on the Euro tunnel, we really did pass under water. 5 days, 4 countries and infinite memories; I guess I’ll stop before the praises and emotions become superfluous. I also have to take into consideration your patience for having read all of this. Thanks again!

Panoramic Europe Tour - Day 4

Next morning after breakfast, a six hour drive and the Swiss-French border, we reach a busy traffic jam. The graffiti filled subways lead us to the world’s most visited city. Paris! My parents had been coming here after 20 years. So was I but absolutely nothing in the city would ring a bell.

As we move closer to the city, from a distance we could see one of the few things in the world which deserve their hype, la tour Eiffel.

Standing at 324 m high, this iconic structure towers over the scenic city. The tower comprises of angular legs, followed by first and second floor and then if you move further upwards, you reach the top. The first elevator takes us up the leg. The elevator which takes up to 40 people travels diagonally up the leg. We get off the lift at the second floor. We get an image of Paris from above. Things are only to get better now. Next, we head to the top. After our ears popping a couple of times, we reach the top of the world’s most photographed monument.

What a spectacular view! The entire Paris is laid in front of you. At one side you can see the River Seine with innumerable bridges over it and on other sides monuments and buildings in shades of mostly white and off white. When you’re at the highest point in Paris, romance is definitely in the air. It’s there all throughout the city. As you watch the skyline of Paris you would not miss the sounds of kisses coming from all around u.

After coming down and popping our ears a couple of times again, we head to the Place du Trocadero, which is just down the road from the Eiffel tower. We cross the Seine and we’re amongst huge monuments. My parents were really excited walking down the same roads they did 2 decades back.

The Place du Trocadero gives a beautiful view of the Eiffel tower, one of the most photographed views of the tower. The place is always buzzing with activity as there would always be some performance or the other going on, ranging from street dancing to magic shows.

Soon after we’re done with Trocadero, we move to check in to our hotel but the night doesn’t end there. We would soon be on a night tour of Paris.

At three minutes to 11 pm, we again land up in front of the Eiffel tower lit in golden lights. Just in the nick of time we reach to catch a spectacular light show. At the stroke of 11, sparkling lights shine all over the tower. A huge roar of applause from the spectator adds to the fervour. The 5 minute show of sparkling lights was just breathtaking and I guess I could see it everyday and still get amazed.

Once the sparkling lights go off and the tower is back to its usual golden lighting, we head back to our coach. From the coach, I can see a convertible car with a middle aged couple kissing right in front of the Eiffel tower just after it was at its prettiest. C’est la vie! That moment could be a picture perfect ending to a paperback novel!

We next head to Arc de Triomphe. An arch built in the memory of the brave Frenchmen who laid their life for the country especially during the Napoleonic war. It’s situated on a round about but it could only be seen from the other side of the road. You’re not allowed to get up close and personal with it.

We then pass besides the Louvre, seeing the pyramid. The pyramid was built in 1989. So that was the only part of Paris which my parents had not seen earlier. None the less, it was a great reminiscence for them. From La Louvre, we then pass besides the Obelisk, a gift by Egypt with hieroglyphics. We then pass through Place de Concorde.

The city was so well planned centuries ago that the Arc de Triomphe, Place de Concorde, Pyramid of La Louvre and Obelisk are in a straight line. It would be a bit hard to explain if you haven’t seen the place but nevertheless, it’s great trivia. And it’s now time to catch some sleep. It’s nearly one at night even though you wouldn’t know by seeing the streets, still bustling with life.

Panoramic Europe Tour - Day 3

We get up in the morning again watching last night’s trailor. Soon we were heading towards Mt. Titlis. After breakfast, we head to the cablecars at Engelberg. The cable cars which take upto 6 people goes uphill from Engelberg towards Trubsee. From inside, other cable cars look like pearls on a necklace. As you pass over the hills, we suddenly hear a symphony of bells. The bells sound more like triangles. We look down to discover they’re cows with huge and different bells.

The cable car stops at Trubsee, from where we change to a bigger cable car which would accommodate more people. This would take us to Gletscherstation Stand. (I just had to refer to the picture of the stand to get the name right). As we move higher, the view just keeps getting better and better. We can see a frozen lake from the cable car. After we reach the Stand, it’s now time for a third cable car, the world’s first rotating cable car. With a good capacity, the cable car had a rotating floor. So the handle attached to the window, which we were holding, had to change after every few minutes. The cable car gave us a good 360 degree view

We finally reach Mt. Titlis. From the final stop, we still had to climb 2 stories and Voila! Snow!!! Seeing snow after around 15 years was too much of euphoria to control. I just ran onto the snow, fluttering my arms like a small kid. I slipped and fell a couple of times but then I got up again and started running all over the place.

We spent a lot of time playing in the snow, throwing snowballs at each other, sliding downhill, and making snowmen. Well, actually destroying others’ snowmen. The place had an igloo, a skiing track (only for professionals), a special cable car to bring the skiers and a breathtaking view. Snow all around and greenery if you look a bit lower. I was surprised I would get to see snow at this time of the year even though Switzerland was really warm. Even Mt. Titlis just seemed to be cool because of the altitude and the earlier lying snow.

I just couldn’t get enough of the snow and Mount Titlis. I was reminded of a magazine on Mt. Titlis I saw the previous night at the hotel. It read “Mt. Titlis – It’s heaven” It indeed was. Coming down the cable car was great as we got to experience the beautiful Alps, frozen lakes and the musical cow bells once again. This time however at a distance, we could see many colourful parachutes hanging in the air. Engelberg is an important destination for paragliding as well.

Later on we have lunch and head to Interlaken. Interlaken is situated between two lakes, namely Brienz and Thun, hence the name which means between two lakes. As we enter the city, we get to see more paragliding. Interlaken is a prime destination for adventure sports. The city is a prime destination for shopping for those with extra surplus disposable dumpable income. Since I don’t fall into that category, I just saw the river Aare which passes through it and left the place

Next was Geneva. As we headed Geneva from Interlaken, the boards changed from Ausfahrt to Sortie (exit in German and French). Geneva would be our first place in the French part of Switzerland. Geneva is a worldwide centre for diplomacy. With the headquarters for the United Nations, many of its branches and the Red Cross, Geneva makes for a perfect global city.

From the United Nations headquarters, across the street is a monumental sculpture, the broken chair. The giant chair with a broken leg symbolises opposition to landmines and bombs. After clicking pictures of the Broken Chair, United Nations Headquarters and many more other headquarters like WMO, UNHCR etc, we head to the water jet.

The jet d’eau located on lake Geneva or Lake Leman is a hydraulic pump which has been fitted on the lake to create a fountain as a tourist attraction. The pump which throws water to a height of upto 140 m is so powerful that at any point of time, there’ll be 500 litres of water in the air. Near the Jet d’eau, my parents bump into an old friend after a couple of years. I’m sure the backdrop of Geneva would’ve made it more special for them. A few snaps later, we head to retire at the hotel

Panoramic Europe Tour - Day 2

The next day we make our way through the deciduous black forests of Germany to the home of the famous ‘Cuckoo Clock’. The factory itself has been shaped as a huge Cuckoo clock. As we reached there at 11 o clock, a huge wooden cuckoo bird came out of a window and made the cuckoo sound, followed by statues of couples dancing which came outside rotating and dancing.

Inside the factory, the entire procedure of making the clock, its history and the variety of clocks were demonstrated to us. The whole description would take up an entire post, so I stop it right here. We leave the factory at 12 sharp, to see the big cuckoo bird and dancing statuettes again. That was the end of our stint with Germany. Even though we can’t really say we saw Germany.

After lunch, we cross the border into Switzerland to see the Rhine falls, Europe’s largest waterfalls. Passing through deciduous forests and the German-Swiss border, we make our way to the gushing falls. The water was just divine. Its bluish green colour was very tempting. The colour resembled the colour of a glass slab seen from the side. As we wait for out boat which would take us closer the falls, ducks and swans approach us. The swan gets up and does a little act and takes away a lot of applause and attention.

We then get onto a boat which would take us closer to the falls. Passing through the beautiful river we’re now just a few metres away from the falls. As we approach the falls, a zephyr of droplets blows across us. As the heat was rising, the aerosol spray came as such a relief! It was a wild experience as the boat was getting rocky.

Later on we get to move around the falls and see it from the top. The falls were just stunning with lots of greenery around. In the area, they had also instilled a manually operated turbine. The turbine was inside a cylindrical glass container with water and attached to it was a handle which we could rotate. As we rotate the handle, we would create a whirlpool. This was to manually demonstrate how hydropower works.

Our next destination is Luzern or Lucerne as it is called in French or English. The city which is split by River Reuss is a good blend of tradition and modernity. A witness to the turning pages of history, Luzerne ranks high among the topmost tourist destinations in Europe. After a stroll through the city roads and besides River Reuss, we later on go to the Lion Monument.

The lion monument is a carving of a wounded lion. It was built to commemorate the hundreds of Swiss guards who were massacred in 1972 during the French revolution. It’s believed that the artist who carved it was not paid well on time, so he carved the outer frame in the shape of a pig. Even though you might miss the pig while watching it face to face, it’s hard to miss it on a photograph.

That evening, we head to Engelberg. We would stay at a hotel facing Mt.Titlis, one of the most popular mountains in Switzerland. As we moved towards Engelberg, the view was just spectacular with mountains and rivers flowing on either side. At a far distance, a snow capped mountain was visible. That was Mount Titlis. We passed through various picturesque landscapes as we started to ascend uphill towards Engelberg.

Unwinding roads, mountains and small waterfalls everywhere were making for a beautiful spectacle. The picturesque sceneries were only picturesque until half way. After that it was time to keep cameras away and experience the beauty. The air was so clean that anyone from an Indian metropolitan city could get an asthma attack. We finally reach our hotel at Engelberg from where we could see Mt. Titlis and cable cars leading to it.

That night at Engelberg with a balcony facing Mount Titlis was a movie trailor for the whole night. We would be watching the real movie the next morning

Panoramic Europe Tour - Day 1

On may 21st, 230 am, we set out on the tour. I was accompanied by my parents, my brother Nitin and Anannya, his wife. We leave from Birmingham early in the morning and move towards Folkestone from where we’d catch the Eurotunnel, a tunnel which passes under the English Channel.

Soon we’re next to a railway track and the bus enters a huge coach of the train. The train was a string of huge containers into which all sorts of vehicles could fit. As the train moves it suddenly enters a tunnel and that’s all we could see for the next 40 minutes or so. After the 40 miutes, the train comes out of the tunnel. No signs of water anywhere. We could’ve still been in England. But they told we were in France so we believed them.

From Calais we head for a chocolate factory in Belgium. A small cottage industry with loads of chocolate and luckily free samples too. Chocolates were there in all shapes and sizes. I disregarded buying a few because all shapes and sizes would be the same once they entered India and melted.

After lunch, we head to Brussels. We enter Grand Place, the central market square of Brussels. It is surrounded by guild houses, the city's Town Hall, and the Bread House. One of the most important tourist destinations in Brussels, Grand Place is an architectural marvel with larger than life gothic structures. Built in 1402-1455, the Grand Place has been declared a wolrd heritage site by the UNESCO.

Next, from Grand palace we move through a busy street downhill to catch the world’s most pictured wee. The Manneken Pis was quiet different from all pictures and imitations I had ever seen. It was way smaller than expected. I mean the statue. It was black and not bronze as I had thought it to be. On many occasions, the statue is dressed in a costume. We happened to catch one of the occassions as it was dressed in a black suit with a bow tie.

We next head to get some foreign exchange as we still didn’t convert our British Pounds to Euros. Unfortunately it was 430 pm and all the foreign exchange centers and many other shops shut by 4. Strange as it may seem, 430 is too late to get foreign exchange in the capital of Belgium.

Then we go to see the Atomium. The structure built in 1958 was just built for an Expo. The Atomium is a unit cell of an iron cell magnified 165 million times. Each atom is represented by a huge steel ball with a diameter spanning 18 m.

After seeing the Atomium, we retire at a hotel at Strasbourg in France on the German border. The next day we would head to black forest and the cuckoo clock factory in Germany


For those handfuls of jobless people who make it to this page, first of all, thank you. From here on this blog offers you more. Because now, the game goes international.

2 days after reaching my parents’place in Birmingham, I set out to see Manchester. This time on the tour, I would meet Robel, a long-lost school friend, after 10 years. He was coming from Stoke on Trent, which happens to be midway between Birmingham and Manchester. The plan was to meet at Manchester, but miraculously he joined me on the same coach and I happened to recognize him. Thanks to facebook. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t have even known about his whereabouts, leave alone recognising him.

So we reach Manchester by 1130. Unfortunately, my health and the weather are not on my side. Once out of the coach, we hit old Trafford stadium, the home of Manchester United, as per special instructions by my brother, Nitin, who’s a Manchester United fan. This was just two days after they won the FA title. Unfortunately the official merchandise store was closed. So I settled for an unofficial Manchester United scarf. We take pictures there and plan to hit Peter’s square next.

At the centre of the city, Peters square has a huge central library which resembles the pantheon and many huge medieval structures on all sides. Manchester as a city is a good combination of modern and medieval buildings. The city has old cotton mills and many museums. There’s nearly a museum for anything. Perhaps your grand children might find the watch you’re wearing right now in a museum at Manchester. But lack of time and my fever would not permit us a visit to the museums.

We next head for lunch after a lot of failed attempts at converting Indian Rupees to Pounds. There we meet up with a Manchester united fan who happens to see the Manchester united scarf kept on the table. Elated to see a foreign fan, he approached us with a local newspaper supplement. More than half of it was on Manchester United’s victory. He enquired about my whereabouts and if I would be going to Rome to watch them play EUFA. Finally while leaving he said “It’s a good time to be a Manchester United fan” asking me to keep the supplement as a souvenir. This off course, was way before the UEFA finals at Rome.

Later on we head to the Manchester Eye, a cheap imitation of the London eye, also considering the fact that Manchester doesn’t offer as much of an aerial view as London. I recall a British gentleman who once told me that you can’t say you’ve seen England if you’ve seen London. I don’t know if he was talking about interior England but as far as the cities are concerned, if you’ve seen any one city, you’ve seen it all.

So later on to kill time and to seek refuge from the atrocious weather which was taking its toll on my health, we head to one of the million starbuck coffee shops there. As we enter the café, the rain stops and resumes after our 2-3 hour stint in the café. Left with a couple of hours and with a not so favourable weather, we spend the last one hour or so in the coach station.

To sum it all up, Manchester seems to be the most liveable city in England. As cosmopolitan as London, yet not as expensive. Also not ill-reputed like Birmingham. If you like the British architectural magnificence or if you’re a die hard Manchester United fan, do plan a trip to Manchester.