Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The future is here... Dubai

Remember those episodes of Simpsons which are science fictionish and show the future? Vast expanses of land with air bubbles for humans, located far from each other.

Dubai reminds me a lot of that. Long roads and highways snaking all across. With futuristic, gleaming steel buildings cropping up suddenly. And buildings like you have never seen before… towers reaching into the sky, sailing boats, pyramids, spheres, lakes… as if Picasso had been given an open canvas.

Many of these have amazing malls. Huge. The sort of space we can’t think about. The price of most of the stuff, INCLUDING the food, is the same as Switzerland. A country which the Lonely Planet says even Westerners would find expensive.

We’ve come a long way from the time where the whole of India would head to Dubai to shop. But the scale of the place makes you imagine what the future could hold.

And the malls are welcome oases of air conditioning which protects you from the desert heat.
The new Metro takes you from one mall to another.

The steel and chrome modern wonder of Dubai is a complete contrast to the Swiss cities with their 19th century stone buildings, fountains, narrow cobbled streets… all in a concentrated area. Cities like Zurich, Lucerne, Geneva represent the old order.

Our cities in India are like gangly teenagers trying to get there.

Does Dubai represent the future? Cities created on an architect’s elm?

Are we ready for it?

Monday, September 28, 2009

ZZZZZZZZZZZZurich..... Camp Zurich

We landed at Zurich yesterday. Was a bit lost at the station before we finally found a Tourist Service office to guide us to our hotel. For once our hotel was far from the city centre. A full eight minutes by tram.

Our hotel, Leonardo Rigihof is really nice. Each room is named after a Zurich intellectual. Ours is named after a gentleman with a long name and has a German explanation on who he was.

K did a song and dance number when she stepped into the small but very modern room. Wooden or Pergo finish on the floors, wooded paneling on the bathroom exteriors making it look different from the rest of the room, a water colour like sketch of old buildings with calligraphy on the wall by the very comfortable bed, modern and aesthetic lighting, well designed bathroom gleaming and yet pleasing to look at, glass doors curtains with watercolour strips which open onto a largish balcony which looks onto a lovely stone house with a slanted wooden roof and bright flowers in the window.

Most of our hotels in this trip the aristocratic Villa Toscane at Montreux, the cottage like Christiana at Zermatt, the stately early 1900s building with a 21st century soul Waldstatterhof at Lucerne and now Rigihof go against the popular belief that base level three or four stars in Europe have very small and dingy rooms. Each of these hotel rooms have been quite different and distinct.

We had kept all our shopping for Zurich which was a bit of a bummer as all shops were shut as it was Sunday. The city looked like the Fort area of Mumbai on a Sunday. An office district, with European buildings from the beginning of the last century, completely empty. We have faced the biggest language problem here so far.

We were bored and for the first time got onto a river cruise. The staff at Toscane and Ricky at Waldstatterhof had warned us against a river cruise. They were right. It turned out to be the singularly most boring experience in Switzerland. The sort of thing where a boy and girl might enter as friends, decide to get married in between and file for a divorce by the end of the trip.

K and I rested our weary feet for one and a half hours and joined the jubilant exclamations of all around when the cruise ended.

Hopefully today, a Monday, is another day.

Switzerland, the final hours .... Camp Zurich

Last night we realised that it was the first day that it was the first day on this trip when I didnt blog in the trip. Its -the apostrophes and brackets don’t work on this comp- been really wonderful writing about the trip. Thanks for reading it and commenting.. And I guess a big thanks go to K who didnt mind my disappearing to business centres and cyber cafes for hours.

Today is the last day of Durga Puja. I remember we used to look forward to these five days all year long in Calcutta. Nothing much happened otherwise there. And the last day sucked and we used to feel so crestfallen. Just like the last day of a great holiday.

Legend has it that the Goddess Durga returns to heaven with her family after fived days on Earth. Ironically we leave Switzerland on the same day.

Which says it all.

A short stop over at Dubai at my aunts and then home.

More Swiss travel tips....Camp Zurich

When you ask for the restaurant closing time here specify restaurant vs bar... we missed a lovely dinner at Luzern as we were told that the restaurant would be open till 1 am while only the bar was

You can have a sit down dinner for two at Mac D for 10 swiss francs or Rs 500, handy when the recession has set into your holiday budget

Zurich is completely shut on Sunday and is very avoidable. Dont plan any shopping on Sunday

The river cruise here is the singularly most boring experience in the world. The staff at the hotels of Montreux and Luzern had warned us against it. Took one last evening as there was nothing else to do. Its the sort of thing wher you might get in as acquaintances, decide to get married half way through and plan your divorce by the end. K and I used the one and a half hour to catch our breath

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Berne identities.... Camp Lucerne

We completed twelve days in Switzerland yesterday and it was symbolic that we got a glimpse of the non touristy face of the country on the sane day.

K wanted to check out the Museum of Psychology at Bern. I wanted to check out the Chinese restaurant at Bern station. So we jumped into a train from Lucerne and headed to Bern.

The museum was well into the city and it didn't seem to be part of the main attractions. We reached there after a number of bus changes. It was apparent why too many tourists don't go there. It was an old mental hospital which was converted into a Museum come school for psychiatry. Just up K's street as she has studied psycholgy and it's her passion.

The problem was that it was all in German. K was excited first and then crestfallen as it was all Greek to her.

We headed back.

We got to see another side to Bern as we returned to the central, touristy part of the city.

I had earlier gushed about the lovely buildings and cobbled streets of central Bern?

Well we had strayed into its underbelly. Empty streets. Rows of clinical, coldhouses. Reminiscent of the world behind the Iron Curtain of yore. Very different from the picture postcard Switzerland that we had seen so far. This part of Bern was far bleaker than the Bern I had fallen in love with.

I was so relieved to get back to the fairyland of Unesco's heritage section of Old Bern.

I am on a holiday. I am an escapist. I want the full blown Yash Chopra 70 mm experience,not a black and white Mrinal Sen on vacation. If I want stark reality I will head to Chinchpokli in Mumbai.

Freud would have smiled somewhere. We got a glimpse of the Schizophrenia of the country on a day when we were headed to a Psychologie Museum. Perhaps a rub off Satnam Sanghera's excellent 'Boy in the top knot' which I am reading here? Schizophrenia features prominently there after all.

Notes: Like old Albert and his wife, I fully acknowledge K as an equal partner on the post as she suggested the theme and the heading. What the hell, she started finely chopped and named that as well as faraway diaries for me. So like Albert I too promise that if I ever win a Nobel for blogging, she gets it ... we'll leave the percentage vague shall we?

More Swiss travel Lucerne

  • Most departmental stores shut by six pm, across cities. So do food counteres there so don't bank on them for dinner
  • A lot of restaurants shut by 5 PM. If you see a place you like and and plan to have dinner then better check if they will remain open later
  • The only way to get hot coffee at Starbucks is to ask for a takeaway. The cold weather could be a reason why the coffee in a mug goes cold quickly. Still at six francs or 300 Rs, tepid coffee sucks

Friday, September 25, 2009

Swiss army travel tips ... Camp Lucerne

We have been at Switzerland for about twelve days now. And its symbolic that we had to stand in a train for the first time today. Are the touristy kid gloves wearing off?

But the place is growing on me and I have got dangerously used to clean roads, cool weather, hopping between cities without a worry on trains, picturesque roads, big smiles, beautiful buildings, lovely bakes and a stress free life. Gosh, how will I get used to the Curry Road bridge traffic again?

These are some of the things that I have picked up so far which could be of use to anyone coming to Switzerland:

  • Come with one piece of luggage per person. A suitcase with wheels. A lot of travel happens across trains and this is important
  • Food - cheapest eats would be the takeaways from departmental stores at stations and malls. You can get sandwiches, quiches, bakes, pizzas, salads and the works. Mid range sit down dinners could come to about 20 - 25 Swiss Francs (Rs 1000) per person with a main course and a drink. Which is cheap by local standards. Mac D could be a bit cheaper. Fine dining? Search me!!! But seriously, comes to at least 50 Francs per head from what I've seen in the menu cards outside restaurants. There are enough vegetarian options around and people would understand what you want in big cities. Big cities have Indian restaurants too. I've not been there so no idea on prices
  • Water from the tap is drinking water. So you can save some more here by buying a bottle or two and refilling them. Otherwise a bottle costs 2 Francs or hundred bucks
  • They often have sparkling water (soda) so be sure you ask for 'still' when you are buying water
  • Coffees are very good and must haves here. The departmental store dispensers are cheap and very good too. Much better than most coffees in India
  • Swiss Railway pass - A must. You can buy this in your base countries. Opens doors to all trains (except the mountain ones), buses, trams and even a lot of museums. The country becomes an open canvas once you have one and we make plans once we wake up and go wherever we want with this. You can get discounts on places like mountain trains which are private and not covered by passes
  • When you are moving across cities you can keep your luggage in the vestibule of the train and sit wherever you want. It's safe
  • K will hate me for this but some sliding doors in trains do not open automatically if you are 5 feet or below as it doesn't sense you :)
  • Clothes - you will need upper and lower thermals, sweater, jacket, woolen cap, woolen socks and gloves in the snow no matter how silly they seem while buying them in India. Carry an open jacket too. The cities get hot and you might want to take it off at times
  • Most hotels do not offer a porter so you will have to lug your luggage up to your room
  • If you have a bad back then get your medication from home. A back spray cost me 15 Francs or Rs 750 here. Very effective though
  • Don't feel embarrassed to go to a chocolaterie and buy a single chocolate. They seem to be used to it
  • Don't believe anyone who says that Switzerland is very montonous and is only about natural beauty. Each day has been a different adventure for us
  • The German speaking areas are quite comfortable in English and the French speaking areas make an effort too. Folks generally are very friendly and offer to help in case they see you are stuck with someone because of a language issue
  • Electric charging points are a problem. Only two pointers work here so make sure that you have the right ones for your mobile and camera chargers
  • Most big train stations have only 'Mr Clean' loos which could cost you anything between one to four Francs depending on gender and er, use. Using the reasonably clean ones in the train before getting off is a better idea
  • Ticket collectors in trains are very friendly and double up as travel consultants and babysitters. Feel free to ask them anything. Ideally about the town you are going to
  • Shopping is fairly expensive here so write a lot of blog posts as gifts for your friends at home :)

Will add to this as I think of more

A Christmas Story ... Camp Lucerne

Remember I was crying over our not having enough days at Lucerne and at the Hotel Waldstatterhof last evening?

Checked my mail after blogging and saw that we have THREE and not two nights here.

Ran up and told K who in her excitement had a M&M Mac Flurry at Macdonalds and has declared that it is the best ice cream in the world as it has 'M&M in every bite.'

K was always also telling me in the morning that it would have been nice if we could stay an extra day at Dubai at my aunt's on the way back. The first thing I saw when I opened mail last evening was that the Emirates flight from Dubai was cancelled and that we had been. So we are trying to get an extra night beyond the two we are spending there.

Truly Christmas time. Or should I say Durga Pujo.

Off to a day trip to addictive Bern in a while.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Luverly Luzerne and the wonderful Hotel Waldstatter Lucerne

In case you've been reading Faraway Diaries you would have read about our Interlaken and City Oberland woes.

Well, seems like Thor is smiling again. Or is it something to do with the fact that today is Shoshti, the first day of Durga Pujo, the biggest festival of us Bengalis?

Our desire to get out of Interlaken was so acute that K and I got up well in time and reached the station before the train did. So for once there was no DDLJ scampering into the train moment.

We landed at Lucerne, or Luzerne, as the local call it and exclaimed Oh my God in unison, a bit like Janice in FRIENDS.

It seemed like the Europe once again. There was a nip in the air. Church steeples all around. Flowers. Bridges over crystal clear rivers. Paradise regained.

Interlaken was a distant, damned memory.

We entered our hotel, Hotel Waldstatterhof (a tongue twister). This was the first time that we stayed in a hotel that happened to be mentioned in the Lonely Planet. This is just opposite the station. Looks like an Old Gothic building. We entered the cheerful red lobby. Was greeted warmly unlike the reception we got from 'Jungfrown' at the devil's lair, Hotel City Oberland.

We went to our room and K began to do a song and dance number which would do a Yash Chopra heroine proud.

The room was so lovely. If Villa Toscane was aristocratic, Christiana was like a cottage from the Andersen brothers, Oberland the bear's pit ... then this was an uber cool wonder. Very modern. Very chic inside the Vicotorian facade. Wooden flooring. A lovely modern artish green and red screen over the bed, a cheerful red leather arm chair, a very well desigen bathroom with steel and chrome plumbing and a sparkling glass shower cubicle - small and yet with spunk like a young Lolita... electronically operated screens which opened to a vernadah from an era gone by. Electric kettle for the first time in Switzerland.

Kainaz described this as the best hotel room that we have stayed in abroad ... and this was in comparison to contenders such as Amari Orchid Pattaya, Berjaya Langkawi, Marmara Istabul and Musem Hotel Cappadocia, which is saying a lot.

It is almost as if the universe had read my City Oberland woes and decided to reward us.

And the staff are so sweet. The recognise us by face though its just been a few hours and take out our room keys without our having to give the numbers. And the friendly gentleman manning the reception right now said that I can use the net for a while today without having to pay. Which I thought was a very kind gesture.

Such a relief after staying in a horrible hotel where I had to fight a grumpy gnome to change a lousy room.

Our only complaint to our travel agent would be about why are for two days here while we were for three days in Oberland and Interlaken?

Luzerne's great as a city too. We went to a museum next door and saw tons of original paintings by Picasso and photographs of him. Boy, did he sleep through art class or what?

Went out and walked through the old bridge which was burnt in a fire and restored, saw the prison tower, stumbled upon a Mass in the biggest church here with two huge spires. The huge Lion Monument which Mark Twain called the saddest statue in the history of man. And a park where there is a crater from when a glacier rolled down million years back.

In between had a lovely ham pate croissant and some very good coffee by the river in the evening chill. Kainaz finally found a shop with some reasonably priced clothes and the future holds forth a lot of shopping and possibly a river cruise squeezed in and more Starbucks Coffee.

There is a Mac D next there and I can loudly say that when it comes to Lucerne, I am lovin it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Addicted to Bern ... camp Bern

We tried to give Interlaken another chance. Went to the nearby lake, Neuhausen, not a patch on the Montreux lake, nothing inspiring, no place to sit and we ran back after a never ending wait for a bus.

What about Jungfrau you will say. True, Interlaken is a feeder town to hit the mountains. But we already did that in Zermatt and each of these trips cost a lot.

So we jumped frantically into a train at Interlaken and went straight into the laps of Bern which we have just fallen in love with. The meandering walks down the lovely Gothic buildings. The unexpected food delights - gelatos, steaks, chocolates and crepes popping every two steps, cobbled streets, friendly people, big smiles, giggly babies balancing on precarious blocks in the park, Far Eastern tourists marching the streets, cameras in hand, a medley of shops selling wares ranging from Prada to wooden puppets to handmade cheese to postcard of old ads to piggy banks in the form of cuddly cows ...cheerful red trams, never needed because of short distances ... Gothic squares, quiches, cafes, roadside waffles and Mc Donalds

We are truly addicted to Bern.

Getting over Hotel Oberland ... Camp Bern

This is my first post dedicated to a hotel. which is funny considering that the last three hotels (two here and park Hyatt at Goa) that I stayed in were so divine.

I was cribbing about Oberland yesterday. Felt perked up at Bern. Headed back. To a hotel room where the beds looked worse than if they had been made by me. And that calls for a lot. The pillows weren't fluffed. There were strands of hair all over the bed ... hopefully ours. And there was the odd crumpled tissue lying on the floor.

And this is an upper mid range hotel! And after we stayed at the aristocratic Villa Toscane at Montreux and the prince's mountain retreat like Christiana at Zermatt.

Should have know what to expect when we lugged our luggage and got into a musty lift. When we got a card when we entered the room which said 'we will be charged money if the bathroom flooded... that the bathroom didn't have a drain. That we would be charged if we took away the 'room decorations'. We looked around the gloomy room with stained carpets and eighties German kitsch brown tiled stinky bathroom and wondered, 'what decorations?' When we opened the window and almost banged our head against the window of the adjacent house. When we got our room changed for a better view and fewer square feet and a stained pot in the loo. When we were told that we would be charged as we had stayed in the first room for a couple of hours. When we were welcomed in the morning breakfast with a sign which said 'don't pack your food'. When I looked at the bathroom mirror which instead of the usual flowery spiel on the envt they tersely wrote ' we wash a lot of towels everyday. A lot of them are unused. Please help us conserve the environment'. When they wrote that they could give us a fan, electric kettle, iron etc for a deposits of 100 francs or 5000 Rs. When I saw that instead of toiletry bottles they put a one size fits all - hair, face, body gel - in a tube attached to the wall. When the key card didn't work twice in succession. When they didn't clean the cobwebs in the verandah grills despite my asking them to. I would have myself but that might qualify as 'taking away' their property.

I can go on and on. But there is a silver lining. We are leaving tomorrow :)

After the last few inspired suggestions this was a big let down from our T A.

And someone should tell the guys at Oberland that surprise surprise that most guests here (50 p c Indian) have travelled the world and have stayed in real hotels.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Bern free

Just figured out the best thing to do in Interlaken ... head to Bern.

And that's so possible in Switzerland. You just skip across trains with your Swiss Railway pass and keep yodelling across the plains and valleys.

And Bern was just what we needed. Cobbled paths. A picture postcard town with a series of early 19th and 20th century European buildings. A bit like Ballard Estate or Fort of Mumbai or Dalhousie of Kolkata but clean, less crowded, well maintained buildings and naturally air conditioned.

And the fragrance of bakeries when one gets off at the station. Hevenly.

After gruff Interlaken we are back to the land of Mary Poppins. Very sweet and friendly people, who are very excited to know that we are from Mumbai.

We saw the loveliest of clock towers, the Parliament Building and then walked into the apartment of someone who turned out to be a funnier Jew than Jerry Seinfield, Alber Einstein. Yes, THE Einstien himself. We went to the apartment where he worked on his theory of relativity. Saw the actual furniture that he used. Comedian? Just saw some of his quotes there. His self deprecating and wry humour was an eye opener for me. Will put up photos later when i am back.

We went to the Munster Cathedral which has the highest tower in Switzerland. K climbed it and said it was a riot of colours. Was bit of a 'Monster Tower' for a calustrophobic person for me.

Shopping was great and we picked some lovely posters - classical ads and stuff.

The icing on the cake is this self service internet cafe that we found. Very cheap after the fortune I blew up blogging yesterday.

Both K and i are typig furiously before we start on our cafe walk to the station where we head back to Interlaken.

Auf wiederschen

Monday, September 21, 2009

Interpatel ... better known as Interlaken (Camp Interlaken)

K and I had our DDLJ moment today.

(For the uninitiated, Shahrukh Khan met Kajol in the film Dilwale Dulhaniye Le Jayenge in a train in Switzerland just as it was leaving)

We were switching trains at Visp on the way to Interlaken. I stepped across to the Doner Kebab shop while Kainaz waited at the platform. I got a missed call from her and grabbed the Donner Kebab, paid and ran to the train. Jumped in in the nick of time.

Which was a bit symbolicas I had just read in Lonely Planet about how DDLJ led to a rise in Indian tourists in Switzerland. And then we had our DDLJ moment.

And our next town of Interlaken is full of Indian tourists AND shop keepers. Hardly seems like a foreign country. Interlaken isquite dull and doesn't have the buzz of a Geneva or even of the smaller, but more lively and beautiful, Zermatt.

Our hotel, City Oberlands, is not a patch on our earlier hotels. Though I managed to get us moved to a better room (stained pot, cobwebs in the verandah, but a better view and nice bright lights and paintings on the wall) after convincing the frowning desk manager whom K call Jungfrown after the Jungfrau mountains here.

No more free biz centre internet so am at an Internet Cafe now.

We have three more days here and I hope things begin to pick up.

Wish us luck!

Swiss Serendipity.... Camp Zermatt

I'd asked Dilber, our super duper travel agent, for an itinerary before we left for Switzerland. She replied saying that the thing about a Switzerland holiday was that you don't make plans, that you discover your own Switzerland.

I knew that she wasn't being lazy because she had guided us wonderfully at Turkey last year.

And this is what I've found out so far.

The Jazz Festival headquarters of Montreux can get quite empty when there is nothing on. And that's why the walk by it's lake can be so enchanting. That you have to go to the neighbouring town to get a Starbucks cappuccino. That the neighbouring town is ten minutes away. And that the Starbucks shuts by 7 PM. Unlike Gloria Jeans that welcomes us to Bandra even when we return at midnight.

And, as Kainaz said, Chandler is not as funny in French.

We discovered that all those who said Switzerland would be without character should say that while standing in front of the fairytale-like Chillon Castle. Or outside the Red Cross Museum or the UN Building. That both of these shut by roughly four in the evening. That Lonely Planet, for once, was wrong. You do have to pay an entry fee for the Red Cross Museum. Which has a very genial bearded elf at the reception who helps wipe away your disappointment at the shut museum. That it is not a problem if you missed these. You can head back again from the neighbouring town of Montreux in a train. Because the magical Swiss pass, as Dilber promised, opens gates to anything, again and again.

That the trip was totally worth it when you stand at the sobering Red Cross Museum. Or when you walk awestruck from conference room to conference room in the UN Building. Following the steps of Mandela, Clinton, Castro and Arafat. Past the room where the world huddled when India and Pakistan went nuclear. And yet 'Buddha would smile' (code for Vajpayee to tell him the Pokhran nuclear test was successful) when ever we met Pakistanis... we have always had some lovely encounters with friendly Pakistanis over the years at Thailand's floating market, at Istanbul's Grand Bazar and while looking for directions to Cabbages and Condoms at Bangkok and the Paradise Chalet at Montreux. Many more than we have with Indians abroad. As Floyd said 'leaders (OK OK) leave us kids alone).

That the best place to get the Turk national snack of Doner Kebab is not Istanbul, but outside Visp station in Switzerland. That ticket collectors in Swiss trains are the friendliest creatures in the world, and would give Santa a run for his money. We specially remember the happily yodelling gentleman at the train from Visp to Zermatt who would patiently answer all our questions. No matter how often we repeated them. And that they never check for tickets in buses and trams here.

That the friendliest concierge in the world is Frank who mans the desk at the magical and quaint Hotel Christiana where I am writing this from . He welcomed us when we reached, after a long day of some million train rides across three cities 'with a heartfelt 'Mrs Karmakar, we missed you...' And who spent close to an hour with me yesterday trying to transfer my photos from the camera to the pen drive. That conquering the French Keyboard at Montreux was of no use. They have German ones at Zermatt! That my trilling bon jour and merci was of no use here. This is the land of the German Dangke and Auf Widerschen. Muttering which in strange accents are not required as they reply in English to my attempts at German.

That the closest competition to the East German Frank was his female counterpart, Mikkenain, in the morning who patiently guided us to the majestic Matterhorn.

That we could roll out of bed and look at the majestic Matterhorn of Toblerone chocolate packs. That we could go mountaineering. Bengali style. A few cable car rides and you are on top of the Matterhorn glacier. The many layers, thermals, woolen socks and gloves that seemed so superfluous when we bought them in a hot afternoon at Bandra's Linking Road ... all came to the party here. And yet nothing worked like a tight hug in the icy Glacier Palace. Wrapping one's hands around a warm cappuccino cup helped too. And on the icy peaks of Matterhorn, we learnt that Bollywood is famous in distant Poland too.

That 'hiking, down the mountain meant skipping down a well made road. That God rewarded you for the effort as a quaint little village fair came out of nowhere as you walked down. With lovely 'raclette' - slice of cheese, smoked and melted, with jacket potatoes - to reward you in its merry tents.

And the final walk back the town square where you mysteriously walk into a chocolate shop called 'boitte a chocolate'. Find the most amazing chocolate. And another of Santa's grandchildren, the lovely, friendly Swede girl, Alexandra who leads you to the creamiest and tastiest hot chocolate ever in the poetic petite cafe upstairs.

Oh, and remember the wooden cottages with sloped roofs and little posies in the window in fairy tale books we grew up on? They are all there at Zermatt.

Interlaken later today. And a billion more discoveries I am sure.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Coffee, cultures, conversations, cheese

a chat with an Uruguayan settled in Argentina about Calcutta football... watching a presentation comparing market search with a restaurant...the Stravinsky hall, base of the Montreux Jazz festival, filled with market researchers... tender slices of roast beef... fresh poached fish ... a chat with a wise and warm African American couple about the new socialism in the US and watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S in Mumbai... Swiss blue cheese, American bourbon ... a Nigerian presenting on the recession with a big self deprecating smile ... Starbucks coffee with the wife in the neighbouring town of Vevey in between conference and banquet ... work emails on phone ... picture postcard buildings... chatting with a German from Cologne on Indian culture and A R Rahman... Waga borderish exchanges of visiting cards all around... the frantic ones ticking off their networking lists... bright flowers ... a computer with rigour mortis and stalled apell, sorry 'spell', check.. weary bones, wondering if one can stay up in the banquet coming up... an understated anxiety about the next day... and a bit of hope and crossed fingers

Need Tony Bourdain to sum it up in his soulful, singsong manner

Mumbai rocks... Metrotwin Mumbai

Hey, this is something very close to my heart and a dream come true for me.

Metro twin is a BA effort to add colour to Mumbai for foreign travellers. I am a strong believer in the tourism potential of Mumbai and India.

A lot of things suck in terms of infrastructure but there's so much to see and do here, there is so much character. We just need to get people excited. We can give tons of popular destinations a run for their money. We can't fix the roads and loos and the Governmental apathy but we can definitely help build the romance of India. The rest will change I am sure.

So please introduce Metrotwin Mumbai to your friends overseas.

Let's spread the Mumbai story.

Welcome to Europe ... (Montreux Live)

We got off at Montreux airport after breaking at Lousanne.

Couldn't fine anyone who understood English at the station. Very different from the English yodellers at Zurich airport.The only French we knew between the two of us was Kainaz's Parles no Francais (If i've got it right).

A few broken directions later the two of us pulled our strolleys down the winding lanes of Montreux. The town looked like a picture postcard. Correction. It didn't then. I had a Polaris missile of a headache from hours of travelling.

After a while of strenuous tricep and bicep flexing we reached our hotel Villa Toscane, our hotel. A restored villa. Looked as picturesque as promised. We reached the reception.

There was no one there! You apparently have to go to the Royalé Plaza hotel opposite the road to check in. I went. Was give the keys. End of story. No porters, etc.

We went up to our room. It was dainty, clean, smartly done AND was the smallest hotel room in the world. The bathroom was the size of a loo in an Indian train with the trappings of the regal Place on Wheels trains of Rajasthan perhaps.

You needed the grace of a Russian ballerina to get around the suitcases and the bed and your shoes. And the yogic flexibility of Baba Ramdev to sit on the pot of the very petite, as they say here, loo.

I have neither.

Kainaz and I looked at each other and said aah this must be what they mean when they speak about the tiny hotel rooms of Europe and its do it yourself service. 'Where else can you wake up and see a lake and a mountain rising above it lost in the clouds' said K to comfort me. And I reconciled mysel to my Ian Wright experience.

We remained naively understanding till I met a few friends who booked a week back and said that they had huge rooms in the same hotel.

We had booked three months back.

So I walked politely to the reception during the break after I presented my paper on the second day. The normal thing to do would be to storm down and not 'walk politely'. But I am not a storming sort of person. And everyone is so sweet and friendly here.

In hushed tones I told the girl at the reception that we had booked three months back but our room was very small which was a bit difficult to live in and could do they please lease do something since we were here for five nights.

In equally hushed tones, she said she'd try and two minutes later gave us a key to another room.

This room was huge, regal, the bathroom was as big as the earlier room, opened onto a private terrace at one side and a huge private balcony on the other. Both faced the lake, on the mountain, lost in the crowd etc etc.

If the earlier room was from Ian Wright's backpacking world then this was more from Samantha Brown's indullgent travels. (Both are hosts on Discovery Travel & Living)

I was so happy that, at the risk missing lunch at the conference, I packed our bags and we shifted immediately.

The conference beckons so more later.

Note: Unlike at the station English takes you quite a distance in the rest of the city. The colour of the skin is a good indicator. Dark shades starting from brown in this multiracial country are more comfortable in English. Everything, except the restaurants, shut by 6.30 PM. And the people are very sweet, straight out of a Mary Poppins set.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The reverse spice trail (Live)

We are at sleepy Montreux in Switzerland now. Am here for a conference. A fairly empty town. A contrast from packed Mohamed Ali Road in my last night at Mumbai. I have a feeling that our conference has tripled the population of the city.

We then break and go to Lucerene, Zermatt and Interlaken. Hope I get the net there for live updates. Blogging furiously from the hotel conference centre here.

We came via Dubai as I wanted to meet my aunt on the way back. At the risk of someone I know telling me I told you so, avoid break journeys. Specially if you have a crashed out travel agent. The night before we left I realised that we were scheduled to spend 8 hrs at the Dubai airport while going thanks to her uninspired booking. And we've been at this for three months!!!!!!!!

A few frantic calls, and a desperate attempt to save my marriage (I had visions of K storming out of my life after hour six at Dubai) the very helpful guys at Emirates suggested a morning flight with a two hour break and a minor rescheduling fee. I breathed again.

I must say that Emirates turned out to be one of the most pleasant and helpful international airlines that I have ever flown and the comfortable seats and leg space, even in coach, helped us sleep like babies.

Got of at Zurich airport. The staff at the enquiry counter were very helpful, yodelled happily in English in response to whatever you ask and were probably my grandparent's seniors in school.

We took our suitcases, crossed the airport and got into train station just as Dilber, our super duper fantastic travel agent and friend, had told us with the Super Saver Swiss pass she advised us to buy.

What my other crashed out TA, who did the conference part of the trip, didn't tell us was that Zurich to Montreux was a four hour break journey and that we'd reach at six!

Lesson in life, if you find a great travel agent like Dilber, hold on to her with your dear life. Metaphorically of course. She guided us on our lovely Turkey trip earlier.

The Swiss trains weren't a hassle. We put our strolleys beside us. Seats weren't reserved in second class but it was quite empty, clean. Dirty loos from what I heard. The windows were big and the view was suppose to be great. Don't ask us. We slept most peacefully.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Swiss dreams

A trip which was in the offing for close to four months is about to start on Sunday night. I am going to Montreux to present a paper at a conference.

Honestly, Yash Chopra- land was not on our holiday list. But Kainaz and I decided to use this opportunity and have a little trip around that. So Montreux would be followed by Zermatt, Interlaken, Lucerne and Zurich and possibly a two day stop over at Dubai where you can be assured that we won't go to the Snow Mall!

I can see a lot of chocolates and cheese in the trip. And clocks won't feature prominently once the fun part begins. After the trip is over we won't have any funds to bother banks, Swiss or otherwise.

Would love to hear from you if you know more about Switzerland than the cliches that I mentioned - weather in September, clothes to carry, places to eat, good books to read while there.

And I promise to fill the blog up once we are back.

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