Sunday, May 18, 2008

Montreux Trip

A weekend stretched in both the sides to include a Thursday and a Monday and just two weeks into client location, that too in a place like Switzerland. I had a whole new country to explore and had already started pushing my boss to find a place to holiday at. Any place was fine as long as it was outside Zurich. With very less planners in the panel, it was not too difficult to zero in to the destination: Montreux.

Geographically Montreux lies on the eastern end of Lake Geneva. Being located at a height of approximately 1300 ft above the sea level, the weather in late March was chilly. Montreux comes under the district of Vevey in Vaud Canton of Switzerland. Thanks to its rich history and strategic location, it had become an earlier settlement during the Roman Empire. Back in the 12th century, the sunny slopes near the lake became an important wine growing region. Montreux also boasts of a close tie to Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of Queen. The main square of the city features a statue of Freddie Mercury facing the lake. At the edge of the town there’s a castle too: Chateau de Chillon, but that would be covered in a new chapter.

From the description of the place it would be quite clear that there was nothing particular to explore except for the long walks along the lake. That was exactly what we had wanted, a break from Zurich. Moreover we were not too particular on what sightseeing Montreux had to offer, but by the end of the trip none were complaining other than Divya... a camera loss was the only casualty of the trip.

Just one day before the trip was to start, it rained as if all the flood gates in the sky had been opened… removed rather. I knew there would a few dropouts and was counting heavily of my boss, the organizer. I didn’t want my first trip to be scraped and there were two more days to go for the end of the holidays. My apartment was just not the place where I had intended to spend it. Luckily boss had called and confirmed that the trip was not scrapped, though a few people had expressed their pullouts.

Our plan was to meet at HB meeting point. It’s right beneath the big dial clock at Haupt Bahnhoff, Zurich. The team was Ganesh, Lavanya and their two kids; Sasi, Divya with their daughter; same for Srinath; Kotaiah, Shankar and me. Chandra and Gunjan were to join us in Montreux. Our plan was to reach Lausanne and change a train there for Montreux. At 11:04 AM we started our two hour journey for Lausanne. Oh, I forgot to mention… that day was cloudless and clean, perfect for travel.

Just as we settled in the train, out came the snacks. This is what I love about traveling. We also made a short trip to the pantry-car and were not surprised to find Shankar befriend someone. No points for guessing that it was a lady. Some say Shankar is good at it, I think he’s serious about it. This was also my first encounter with the Swiss countryside and I loved the sight of it allcovered in a white sheet of snow. Also the railway stations were not too different from the ones back home, only point being the density of human population- there were hardly any faces in the stations en-route. My two hour journey was spent playing a few games with the kids and then admiring the state-of-the-art drawing by Ganesh’s kid.

At Lausanne, we had boarded a different train, but the team had got split. Shankar, Divya and Aishu, Srinath and family and I and Ganesh’s kid were in the first train and had to wait for a few moments when the rest of us joined us. By 13:45 PM we all were in Montreux. While we were waiting for the rest of us to come, I went a bit ahead and got a glimpse of the lake… it was vast and beautiful.
We had to walk down for two levels when we were finally on the shores of the Lake. However hard I try, I cannot describe the sight… the snow covered Alps, much higher than the layer of mist and the lake in front of it. The wind was chilly but the sight was breath taking. After some initial information hunting, we walked along the shoreline towards the city square.
Our first halt was to eat something at McDonalds’. It was warm inside, the food and the ambience. Our booking was in the Youth Hostel, Territet and from the town square a bus took us there. A short walk and we were in the Hostel, all along the shores of the lake. While we were distributing and assigning rooms, Shankar, Kotaiah, Sasi and I were speculating what to do next. I was in no frame of mind to be in the Hostel for the rest of the day. Sasi, Ganesh, Kotaiah and I then went for a walk to buy wine. Our bad luck or whatever, every shop was closed; but we did a fair amount of walking to see how the town looked like.

The architecture of the houses had a distinct look about themselves and I realized that being close to France, the influence was quite resilient. A band in the Indoor stadium near the Freddie Mercury statue was playing jazz to a sparse crowd. I didn’t enjoy it much and was out faster than I had expected. On our way back we were joined by Chandra and Gunjan.

We had dinner at Maharani[an Indian restaurant]. The food was good. After having walked for a good amount of time, I dropped dead on my bunker bed, while Shankar and company had plans of visiting the local casino. Later in the morning I heard that they were denied permission due to unavailability of an identity card.

Beer is my substitute for alarm. Never till now have I woken up late in the morning after having beer the night earlier. I was up and ready by 6:00 AM while the others were dragging themselves out of bed. I made a quick tour along the shore line on the other direction, towards the Chateau de Chillon. The flowery path, the slight mist and the cold winds were my company for the next 15 minutes when I reached the castle. It was just as one of those Castles that I’ve seen on television… the moat, the watch towers, it was all so familiar. I would be covering about the castle in another write-up and it’s so captivating that it deserves to be on every traveler’s list visiting Montreux. I made an even quicker walk back to the hostel and had a filling breakfast with the rest of the gang. Bread, butter, cheese, jam, cornflakes with milk, orange juice… all I can say is, it was YUM!!!

After our breakfast we again went to the castle, this time me with gang. I viewed the castle from the inside. My early morning excursion had not taken me even across the moat.

My castle excursion was more than an hour and after that we moved further up to board a bus for the Montreux railway station. I was asked to be careful, since the French border is so close-by that a wrong bus could take me in France, without a visa. I received a much awaited call from India and the whole team was on that call. Thanks to Srinath we have a camera clip of the same.

We had buffet lunch at one of the restaurants and I tried Russian salad. When I reached the counter to pay for the salad, Shankar told the attending girl that I was single and looking for friends. The girl gave a weak smile not knowing what to say and I gave a confused look as I fumbled for the coins in my wallet... I wanted to disappear from the place as soon as possible. I even would have not minded to collect the change... anything to leave that place as soon as possible. All this time Shankar had a one mile smile etched on his face. I don’t even know whether I should consider Shankar’s company lucky for me. The food was excellent and it helped me forget the near embarrassed situation I had come out of. For the rest of the trip, I was careful to keep Shankar at an arm’s distance.
We had another hour for the next train and I had wanted to wander around that place for some more time, some more roads. The whole team was spread in a fifty square meter area, based on our walking speed and I was at the farthest end. I was happily clicking photos when Kotaiah called me. We were returning back too early, we still had time. Casualty number one hit us- Sasi’s camera goes missing. A few frantic searches took us nowhere and we finally gave up as we boarded the train for Lausanne and then for Zurich.

Our trip was almost over, there was nothing noteworthy to write about, but Shankar had better plans. I was chatting with Kotaiah when we came to know that Shankar had separated from us and was busy “hunting”. Ganesh, Divya, Srinath and I paraded to the place were he was with the prey. Shankar looked at us as though he could see through us. Divya later mentioned that he hadn’t even acknowledged us. Come-on Divya, not while he’s on the prowl. I would not comment on the hunt, but it was enjoying the company.

That is all about the trip to Montreux. A good break in which we did nothing in particular and were glad about it.

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