Friday, October 26, 2012

The North face of the Eiger : Mannlichen without the crowds

Repairing the Grindelwald- Mannlichen gondola with the North Face in the background
Mannlichen, a little village in the Bernese Oberland, 7,600 feet in the sky. In the summer it overflows with tourists and hikers and in winter with skiers but go there as we did on a week day at the end of October and see it revert back to a sleepy hamlet with more cows than people.

Sun and fog playing hide and seek at Grindelwald
The route to Mannlichen begins at the famous tourist resort of Grindelwald. A must on every tourist itinerary, it seems to be a frequent haunt of the Japanese given the large Japanese information centre in the town centre and the unusual spectacle of several signs being written in Japanese as well as German. Grindelwald is the start of the 6 km 30 min gondola ride up to to Mannlichen, in what used to once be the longest ropeway in the world. But there is a bus that offers a cheaper option. And of course the fit and daring can bike or hike up.

Our day began with a dose of Swiss hospitality. At the outskirts of Grindelwald, we stopped at a hotel to ask directions. The friendly waiter did his best with the help of a German map and his limited English and was nice enough also to give the aged parents who were with us on the trip, permission to use the restroom. No sooner did they go in however, out came the grim faced owner who in an accusatory don't you know this already voice told us that we should not stop in front of her hotel as it was not allowed and that her restrooms have to be kept free for guests at all times. That there were no guests of any kind for miles around and that the little road in front was more likely to see a cow than a car seemed not to matter. Suitably chastened we proceeded upwards.

Jungfrau as seen from Mannlichen
But ruffled feelings were soon forgotten amidst the symphony of the tingling cowbells and the majesty of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau looming before us. The North Face looked every bit the 'murder wall' and both its allure and its treachery that has taken the lives of so many were not hard to imagine. Mannlichen provides incredible views of these three Alpine giants.

I don't know what the village feels like when full of people but seen as we saw it, framed by its mountain magic, endless walking possibilities, the restaurants all closed, and human company limited largely to the occasional farmer chopping wood  is Swiss beauty at its pristine best  ..........the kind that makes you want to say 'If there is paradise on earth, its is here, it is here'.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Camping ...Swiss style

A tent in the wilderness, you against the elements….a river to bathe in, a wood fire to cook rice and boil eggs after a long day out walking …………basic, back to nature.
Armed with tent and these romantic clichés of camping trips back home in India, we set out on our first camping adventure here in Switzerland. But there is no raw wilderness and unexplored expanses in the middle of nowhere in this country. And even if there were, you would not be allowed to camp in them. Well, though I know a few people who did  end up camping in the woods; trying anything that could conceivably be illegal, takes a lot of expat courage in Switzerland so we felt morally compelled to limit ourselves to designated campsites.
So there we were, tent in hand at a four star camp (yes camps here have star ratings too) in the Valais, our romantic notions still largely unshaken. An hour later we find ourselves on a small  square pitch of land on a street lined cheek by jowl with orange, red and green contraptions (some with multiple rooms) on either side and separated by a narrow ‘street’ to park cars.  Washing hanging out to dry, kids running amuck. An incongruous, inappropriate, irreverent thought flashes past my mind before I can stop myself .. ‘Dharavi, Mumbai’ …….. (for those unfamiliar with this, according to Wikipedia, this is a locality in Mumbai where nearly a million people live in an area less than 1 square mile).
It didn't take us long to discover the other luxuries that lay in wait ………

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Wine not water ........

My cuppeth run over ..the steel barrel where the wine ferments

I came drunk to work last week ………well ok I didn't swagger, stagger or sway. I suppose I could have counted from 10 to 1 backward had I tried. I didn't slur, except of course when trying to pronounce Rolle in my French class …………………but I reeked of the stuff. Wine to be precise. Fine La Cote Chasselas, I might add. Strange looks from fellow commuters while I bore a sheepishly stoic look  but hey at least I got ample sitting place on the train that morning!!
Drinking binge at 6 am on a Wednesday, you ask? Mid week office blues notwithstanding, I did no such thing. I only slipped and fell on my way to catching the usually 30 second late train (for which I was 45 seconds late) …………Well, big deal, people all over the world slip and fall into puddles when they run for trains. Except, that in Switzerland, puddles of water are passé. If you fall, it needs to be a lake of wine …
My run to the station takes me through a winery. At this time of the year it is abuzz with activity: harvested grapes being de stemmed and crushed and the juice being pressed, crushed and left to ferment in several story high large steel barrels that line the courtyard. Invariably, the barrels overflow and it was into one of these pools that I unsuspectingly fell! A quick change of clothes (I always keep them handy at office in case of alcoholic accidents you see) and I was sober. Well, maybe not quite ………well they do say that alcohol does get absorbed through the skin. So my first drunken experience …………and I don't even drink!!

swiss trains are never late ...or are they?

Trains in Switzerland are never late………. You can set your clock by them. Not quite …… least not here in Geneva. Being a commuter, I know this only too well. Where I lived before our recent move, my daily routine consisted of taking a train that arrived at my little one track station at 7.37 am (or 7.38 or even, god forbid, 7.39), getting off 17 mins later to dash for the 7.58 bus that took me to office. Four minutes …………. perfectly timed for the average Swiss citizen, to athletically take long quick strides to the bus stop and reach there with all of 24 seconds to spare. Catch is ……the timetables are probably made by makers of Swiss clocks, no accounting for real people or real life.