Is it the destination that entices the traveller ? Or could it be that the anticipation of the destination buoyed by the imagination lends a romantic feel to the journey? The little incidents and experiences on the way quietly and stealthily so enrich our sojourn that we turn around to thank them for having layered the trip with little nuances.
It was the second day of our stay in that Alpine country and the plan was to do the Golden Pass Line from Interlaken in the Bernese Oberland to Montreux perched on the shore of Lake Geneva. Having done the Bernese Oberland upto Lucerne the day before, we decided to head the other way towards the French border. After skirting the lake Thunersee for a while, the train climbed up the Alps. Our 'oohs'and 'ahs' were silenced as the clouds lifted gradually to reveal the snow clad peaks and impeccable grassy slopes thickly forested in many places.
Then of course the trademark of any Yash Chopra movie worth it's salt, the flowery meadows teased us around quaint villages with lace curtain windowed timber homes and carved eaves. I wondered what was cooking in those homes? Something with Gruyére cheese, sausages or roasting meat with butter, herbs and potatoes? Or did the homes warm up with the aroma of home made chocolates? That made me want to have something. We asked for some apple juice for the kids and coffee for ourselves. That is a pittance of a substitute I know, but when you earn in rupees and spend in Euros and Swiss Francs, every cent is accounted for. * smile*
We changed trains at Zweisimmen and so did the weather. It was nippy yet bright as sunshine cascaded into the train through the huge glassed windows; the "Danke Schun"s had changed to 'Merci"s and 'bahnhof ' to 'garé' for we were moving into the French speaking region of Switzerland away from Deutsche influence. Gstaad, Cháteau d'Oex, Rochers-de-Naye...exotic names and picturesque locales. Flowers dotted the sprawling meadows as the mountains in forest cloak stood guard. Every perspective offered a spectacular view. Roads winding into villages, alleys leading to homes and lanes far above in the mountains that reached out to solitary cottages, chalets and then disappearing tantalisingly round a bend or into a thicket. I would have confused many of the train stations to be chalets if it were not for the boards hanging over them announcing the arrival of a place. You don't come across those kinds very often, with timbered structure, heavily slanted roofs and lace curtained windows with bright flower boxes. Only thing missing was an aproned lady peeping out wiping her hands after some baking...There see, my imagination runs away with me...
"Monsieurs and Madames, this train route was carved to give the perfect experience of the Swiss Alps and the Swiss way of life. On both sides of the tracks, you have seen the pretty homes. Very soon we will be crossing one such whose front yard is on one side of the track and the home is on the other. The owner, an old lady, never fails to wave at the passengers with a smile. Do keep a lookout from around the next bend and do wave back. We only hope that it is not yet her lunch time!"
We kept our eyes peeled with much anticipation on one side of the train and then the other. It was not a major event but a small gesture that would have added to the warmth to the entire trip. We did cross the home but there was no lady. A little patch of green rose from the track leading to the steps of the lady's home where she was probably having her lunch. And I am very sure this is not how she keeps herself occupied everyday!
But Montreux was so exotic that I wished we had more time to explore the place at leisure. It was like the mountains had thrown open it's arms to reveal a vast expanse of blue sky, shimmering waters dotted with sail boats and a pretty city stretching languorously along the lake. The train station itself was a heritage site from where we walked down a slope and crossed the road that brought us to the lake front. The promenade along the lake in Montreux is touted to be among the best. A steady breeze blew as we took in the lovely park along the shore where artistic roles were given to junkyard pieces of old tyres, broken cars, chairs that transformed into fountains and plant holders. Little sparrows frolicked around in the water.
A quaint structure had caught our attention when we were descending into Montreux. A quick peep in at the information desk, confirmed that we could make it to this place, Chateau De Chillon, and in fact board the cruise from there. What luck! So a short bus trip of fifteen minutes brought us to this lovely 13th century castle set against the backdrop of the lake. We would have loved to walk along the promenade to reach this chateau but paucity of time made us hop on to a bus. Turreted and towered, and said to be a conglomeration of hundred small structures now difficult to discern, it stood on a little island just off the shore connected with a canopied bridge. The sturdy monument is every tourist's delight never having been plundered or ravaged in all its years of existence. Only changed hands amicably from one victor to the other.
Chateau De Chillon
What is it with Montreux, the nearby Vevey or all those lovely locales that stir the creative minds to find their Muses here? Is it the picturesque location, the rich history or the sunshine weather? I think it's the combination of the trio and generously cocooned in tranquility. Lord Byron is said to have penned "Prisoner of Chillon" inspired by the tale of the political prisoner Francois de Bonivard, a Genevois monk who was imprisoned in one of the dungeons. Byron is said to have carved his name on the pillar where Francois was chained. Henry James is said to have incorporated the chateau as one of the settings in his novella Daisy Miller. Stravinsky, Ernest Hemingway, Charlie Chaplin... the list grows with all of them making homes here. You will find a statue of Charlie Chaplin in Vevey like the one of Freddie Mercury we found in Montreux ready to '... break free' into a Bohemian Rhapsody. Freddie Mercury was so taken in with the serenity of the place that when the band Queen acquired the famed Mountain Studios, he adopted Montreux as his second home. He greatly appreciated the townspeople's respect for his privacy.
Bronze Satue Of Freddie Mercury
One can spend hours and hours just strolling around those streets or spending some quiet time along the lake. Montreux was truly bliss. From the Chateau De Chillon we boarded the launch that was to cruise us to Lausanne, yet another pretty place on the Lake Geneva. Sail boats dotted the waters as birds flew overhead. We had a clear vista from the lake, of the Swiss Riviera region with slopes covered with vineyards gearing up for the next season. Excited voices filled the air. We were a motley crowd of three Indian families, a group of school going local kindergarten kids escorted by their teachers, a bunch of boisterous American teenagers out on an excursion, some Japanese tourists, some well heeled and perfectly coiffured Caucasian ladies. I couldn't help admiring one of them for her coordinated look down to her accessories and nail paint - the lady in pink perfectly in control of the elements while we were wind blown and sunned . After sometime the chatter of the other passengers also died down. It was the whooshing wind, the bright sunshine, the blue sky, and a view of the shoreline.
Changing Views From the Lake Geneva
Stay :- B&B at Dietikon 12km approximately from Zurich
Pick and drop to the train station arranged by the host.
Swiss Flexi Pass :- Covered all the travel expenses within Switzerland including the cruise.
Children travel free.
Time travelled :- 7.30am to 8.00pm approximately each day with kids.