My rationale for choosing Zurich than Lucerne or Interlaken is because it was the most easily accessible by train from Paris. However from the outset the idea was to take some day tour to Alps region. The best one to see is Jungfraujoch but its a 12 hour trip, with a kid it was impossible. The next choice was to go to Mt.Titlis. Its a 8 hour trip from Zurich. The group tours, by bus, depart from Sihlquai near the main train station. Our bus tour was to include a stop in the famously picturesque city of Lucerne en route to Titlis. Only when I reached the departure point did I see another tour operator going straight to Titlis, ah well one can only do so much from so far. I shall tell later as to why that would have been a better choice.
It's an hour and half drive to Lucerne from Zurich. The route reminded me a lot about Kodai. Ooty is ugly while Kodai is cleaner, at least in 90's. The Blue ridge skyway trail in the Smoky mountain bordering Tennessee and N.Carolina is famous for its scenic trail but it was a huge disappointment for me, typical American marketing hype. This drive though was really beautiful.
Once we reached the city the tour guide pointed out the famous Chapel Bridge decked with flowers. Window sills in homes were usually decked with flower pots. Lucerne is really exotically beautiful, one has to really experience it. We stopped for 40 minutes, supposedly to eat and shop. But time was not sufficient for neither activity. The bus actually stopped in an upscale shopping area that had lakeside restuarants. I don't know if they get some commission, I bet they do. The guide told us to be punctual because any delays at Lucerne would shorten the time at Titlis. One raucous family promptly disregarded it and delayed the bus for 15 minutes. We proceeded further to a rest area over looking Lucerne lake. Here we dropped off those going to Mt.Pilatus, also part of lower Alps, no snow. Another 20 minutes goes by. By now I regretted not going directly to Titlis or doing it on my own like I did at Versailles.
From Lucerne it was another hour's drive to Engelberg from where we ascended to Titlis via multi-stage cable cars. Our guide cautioned us that the cable car would stop at a junction but not to get off since we were to go to the very top. At the junction he warned about I was surprised to see a notice in Hindi saying "Do not get out please sit to to go Titlis". The final leg of the journey was the much advertised "rotair - 360 deg rotating cable car ride". We disembarked from our six seater car and lned up for Rotair. Suddenly a bottleneck. Guess what, a large family stood at the entrance for a picture, the one who took the picture took his sweet time. Indians. The Rotair ride was cool. The floor rotates 360 deg giving a good view of the mountainous range.
Having seen Hindi on the way up I must have expected Indian food at the restaurant. My parents were happy to see rice and curry served atop Titlis. The climate was balmy, our jackets lugged from NJ were a bother. A small chair ride called "Ice Flyer" took us atop a small hilly stretch. A little scary when there is a kid who has to sit to without a seat belt. I found the safety standards a tad lax compared to US. I guess not much of suing or ambulance chasing trial lawyers in Switzerland. I'd rather do snow tubing in Pennsylvania than at Titlis. The snow capped mountains were a sight to see. Jungfrau or Rigi would be more scenic. In fact Rigi is a popular ski resort.
Our trip down to Engelberg had a surpise. A sort of dhaaba was set up selling idli/vadai etc. For once the prices were OK. But we had to argue that vadai needs chutney not another bhajji. The masala chai was great.
That evening we went in search of Indian food for my mom. We went to that "Kerala" restaurant. They had only dinner buffet at 39CHF (almost 38 USD) per head. My head spinned a Indian buffet in US costs $15 max. At $38 per person for 3 adults it was too expensive. We got out. Not wanting to disappoint my mom I inquired 2 Indians standing at the station if there was another restaurant. Thanks to a Sri Lankan tamilian we found aSouth Indian restaurant close by. I really had to budget out and plan the dinner at a Tamil restaurant!!! Idli was 25CHF, Masala dosai 18CHF, Thali meals 30CHF, note Swiss Franc CHF was almost on parity with USD so each price is almost the same in USD. If I can get chicken pizza for 15CHF why not chicken curry too. Its the same bloody question as in US. Indian hoteliers think they are cooking something very exotic with ingredients rare to get and with chefs rare to procure. Neither are true. If an Italian can give affordable pizza in Switzerland why not Indian? In both Indian restaurants I was not surprised to see a single Indian eating, only whites who probably thought they are paying for ethnic cuisine. Swiss restaurants are expensive to eat and Indians true to form take it several notches higher.
The only jarring experience was at an Italian restaurant. We ordered 2 medium sized pizzas for 4 adults like we always do at PIzza Hut or any pizzeria. The server refused to give additional plates and in fact snatched the appetiser plate Preeth already had. Well if he can show his Swiss temper I had to show my American temper. We practically took the pizzas on napkins and ate it off cleanly. I later inquired and found that it is indeed true that no additional plates are given. Charging for water, no extra plates...boy the Europeans are truly snobbish. God bless TGI Friday next to my home which gives free water, any number of plates and crayons with paper to draw for kids, oh the kids get a kiddie cup with lid lest they spill.
The next day after shopping we did go back to "Kerala", since we decided to forego a trip a Lucerne I thought I have monetary leeway to do this. It was horribly overpriced but the food was just fantastic. The biryani was just out of the world. We ordered a second helping. The bill was a whopping 200CHF but at least we ate well.
About Zurich transport, shopping, Swiss economy in the next blog.