A trip to Germany & Switzerland (August 9th – August 25th 2013)

I can confess that this surely has and will be one of my best vacations over the last few decades. Nina, Arjun & I made a trip to Germany & Switzerland this August and had a blast of a time. This year was special being our 10th wedding anniversary, and wanted to make sure it turns out special as all these years had been. The plans materialized very quickly and we were able to book the tickets and get our visa’s as planned. The trip that was planned with our close friends DJ and Charu in 2012 eventually came through in August this year.

There wasn’t much super planning as such rather than getting our stay booked in Switzerland. As we started the hunt in late July, we soon realized that most economical options for apartment rentals were to book weekly accomodations. This altered the original plan of 3-4 days in Switzerland to a full week of bliss in the Swiss Alps. In hindsight, I am not complaining at all. The stay in Germany was with our friends and there was nothing much to plan but catch the flight and get into Frankfurt.

We didn’t have the luxury to book direct flights as we were entering the peak Summer season. Looking at available options, we opted for an itinerary with connecting flights and in the process landed up visiting a few more countries (at airports in layover).

We flew out of Newark, NJ on Friday. August 9 afternoon with a 3 hour layover in Ottawa, Canada with our final destination into Frankfurt. It was a 45 minutes flight in one of the small cozy United flights with 2 and 1 row split seating. Arjun was super excited as this was one of his true maiden long vacation. We were lucky to taxi out on time and were able to touch down in Ottawa a little before scheduled arrival time. It is always a relief, getting in time with a connection to catch. After a brief stint through immigration, we had a small surprise of finding our bags in the baggage claim area that we did not expect to recheck at Ottawa airport. Luckily all went well and we had nice 2 hours to ourselves for a stroll around Ottawa airport and time for a small snack.

We boarded the Air Canada flight around 7:35 pm and after a quick dinner and a pleasant nap, we were already descending into Frankfurt for an on time arrival of August 10 8:55 am local time. Arjun of course managed to get some me time watching movies on the in-flight entertainment system and play his DS. It was all kind of starting to seep in as the wheels touched down into Frankfurt, Germany. There we were and the time had come to kick start an exciting 2 weeks of our European vacation.

DAY-1 (Saturday – 8/10/2013)

It was a quick and easy pass through passport control and no delay in getting our checked in bags. We walked out of the customs area and were treated with a big hug and smile from our friend Dhananjay. He had just arrived and we soon moved to the parking lot and on our way out to his house in Viernheim. A 45 minute drive in the Mercedes Benz C180 and the first real glimpse of the Autobahn with no speed limits. It was a nice pleasant day and in no time we reached home to a very warm welcome from Charu and Dhruv. Arjun was super excited to meet Dhruv after a long time and there wasn’t much time before the 2 bonded playing soccer, iPad and Skylander Giants on PS3. The day was full of long discussions catching up on good old times in Delaware. Soon it was evening and time to begin celebration with our traditional tequilla shots. It was a great evening with wonderful food, German Beer and loads to talk about. We did keep our excitement in check as we had to head out early next day for our trip to Switzerland. We managed to hit the bed around mid-night and in no time were in deep sleep after the lengthy travel from the previous night.

DAY-2 (Sunday – 8/11/2013)

The morning began with packing up and getting ready to hit the road. We had to reach Engelberg by noon and meet the care taker to get our apartment keys. The distance from Viernheim to Engelberg was 242 miles (390 km) with an estimated travel time of roughly 4 hours. We took the A5 and A2 route into Switzerland. The German side of the travel was pretty zippy with the autobahn to our benefit. We did run into a few slow spots as a result of construction work but most of it was a smooth ride. With a couple of pit stops at a gas station and Burger King, we managed to touch down in Engelberg a little around 1:15 pm. The whole journey was extremely scenic, with great bridges and tunnels,  and we just couldn’t stop having our oohh aahhhhh moments throughout the drive. As DJ mentioned this would soon slow down as we get used to the heavenly beauty of Switzerland. We were able to grab the keys left in the mail box and were impressed by the cozy 2 bedroom apartment that was much more inviting than we had expected. A lovely well maintained apartment with a small kitchen, a room with bunk beds and a master bedroom. The most incredible part was the large balcony and lawn with exotic views of Mt Titlis. It was everything and a lot more than we had expected. Surely far exceeded our expectations. This was to be our home for the next 6 days in the heavenly Swiss mountains. All we did that day was explore the house, cook some lovely food, shop around for groceries (famous co-op stores) and of-course party until late at night. Loads of beer, vodka, single malt, tequilla….

DAY-3 (Monday – 8/12/2013)

This was the day of our trip to Mount Titlis. We woke up around 8 am and after the morning chores were ready to head out around noon. We managed to get to the Engelberg boarding station around 1pm. It was a wonderful ride through the multiple cable cars and the famous 360 degree rotair cable trolley. Mt Titlis stands 10000 ft and is surely a popular destination in anyone’s swiss itinerary. It was a wonderful clear bright day and had the company of lots of tourists. One of the  exciting rides on top was Ice Flyer which is a chairlift to Glacier Park. This was loads of fun and we were treated to some real beautiful views of the Swiss Alps and glaciers. We had some fun snow tubing and sliding down the snow slopes at Glacier Park. The last but not the least was the walk on the sky bridge ending into a gallery with amazing views. Soon it was time to head back down as the last trolley was at 5 pm. We managed to pick up some souvenirs at the shop – the famous cow bell and Swiss flag magnet. All in all an awesome day full of fun, breath taking views that would remain in our memories for ever. We couldn’t resist the hot vada pav and masala chai stall outside the ticket center. We were back to our apartment around 7 pm. As everyday, it was time to grab a beer, listen to songs, watch videos on YouTube and party late into the night.

DAY-3 (Tuesday – 8/13/2013)

This was a day to wake up late and laze around without any planned agenda. The kids played soccer in the garden, while DJ & I enjoyed an hour of badminton. It was nice day in the low 20’s and a perfect day for some exercise. The afternoon was treating ourselves to some wonderful pasta cooked by DJ. A few rounds of beer and a short nap. Evening was spent visiting the lovely quiet town of Engelberg. Kids had a great time in the local park with swing and slides. We all visited the local church and walked through cobbled streets, a place full of charm and character. This was the day for Whiskey. Enjoyed a few drinks watching some shows on YouTube.

DAY-4 (Wednesday – 8/14/2013)

The weather warranted a slight change in plan. It was a rainy day and we decided to spend the afternoon in Lucerne as opposed to heading to the Interlaken Jungfrau area to witness the Swiss Alps. The rain forecast was for the first half and soon it cleared off turning into a pleasant day. We drove into Lucerne city center, a 40-45 minute drive from Engelberg. We had a great time shopping in Lucerne, Swiss knifes, chocolates etc. Looked at some wonderful Swiss watches and managed to resist the temptation to purchase. A wonderful late lunch around the lucerne lake and some very beautiful view of swans and birds. We visited The Lion Monument and took walks around the city center. We spent sometime sitting by the lake and enjoying some healthy scoops of ice-cream. Soon it was time to head back and bid goodbye to Lucerne – a beautiful city with its own character and scenery.

DAY-5 (Thursday – 8/15/2013)

The weather was wonderful and time to head out to the Jungfrau region, aka top of Europe. We got up early and after a healthy breakfast buckled up to head down south. Our destination – Grindelwald – a base village for trips to the various mountain peaks in the Jungfrau region. We took the A2 and A8 route towards Interlaken covering a distance of around 110 km. It took us roughly 2 hours to get there with the winding roads through one of the most scenic areas I have ever been. The route was full of tunnels, and winding roads and a marvel in true sense. We headed to the local tourist center, to find out that we couldn’t take the trip up to the Jungfrau peak as the number of allowed tourists for a day had maxed out. It was a sad feeling, but the staff was helpful to suggest some other routes we could take to enjoy the beauty of the mountain peaks. We decided to head out to First, a minor summit on the slopes of the Schwarzhorn in the Bernese Oberland. It is mostly known as a cable car station above Grindelwald and as a popular hiking area with the Bachalpsee in proximity. We took a pit stop at Bort to have lunch. The place had a restaurant and park where the kids spent most of their time. The food and Swiss beer was delicious. The view from the restaurant was really beautiful and a place we spent taking most of our best photographs of the trip. We headed up to our final destination – First. Our friends headed to Lake Bachalpsee for a trek while our family spent sometime around the area. We were back in a few hours at the local shop for a few souvenirs and coffee in the wonderful open deck restaurant. We could see hang gliding up close through the deck and all in all a very scenic 360 view of the Swiss Alps from the roof top. It was yet again, time to head back to Grindelwald and spend sometime in Interlaken on our way back to Engelberg. We decided to split ourselves up in 3 cable cars. Dhruv and Arjun in one, Nina and I in second, and DJ and Charu in the 3rd. We spent sometime in Interlaken around the lake before driving back. A busy and completely fulfilling day filled with breathtaking views for a lifetime to cherish.

DAY-6 (Friday – 8/16/2013)

We decided to take it easy after a long tiring day in Jungfrau, Grindelwald on Thursday. The morning was spent trekking behind the apartment up a short hill. It was just me and my SLR. I soaked my self admiring the beauty of the region and grabbing some memorable snaps to cherish for years to come. Later in the afternoon, Nina and I decided to add a Train journey, a missing piece to this wonderful trip. While our friends decided to spend the time at the apartment. We took a 45 minute Engelberg express train ride to Hergiswil, a small lake facing town halfway between Engelberg and Lucerne. We spent sometime around the town visiting a few local shops. We grabbed a bunch of snaps from the large windows from the train and it was a wonderful overall experience as we did so much of the entire travel driving all places. The evening ended with a couple of beers, Bacardi and some lovely Indian home made food.

DAY-7 (Saturday – 8/17/2013)

Before we realized, six days had passed by soaked into as rightly said – one of the most beautiful places on earth. It was time to head back to Germany. We had to vacate the apartment by 10 am and hit the road to get back by late afternoon. All went as planned and we handed over the keys as planned. After a short photo shoot, and farewell to the lovely town, we hit the road for our journey back. We just had a few stops to fill gas and have lunch. We were back in Viernheim by 5:30 pm with plenty of time to rest, enjoy a drink and freshly cooked dinner.

DAY-7 (Sunday – 8/18/2013)

Sunday was a day to rest and unwind. After a memorable trip of Switzerland, we all needed some time to stretch our legs, sip on multiple cup of tea’s and take it easy for at least a day. With most shops closed, we spent most of the time resting throughout the day. The evening was spent taking a bicycle ride at the local park in Veirnheim.

DAY-8 (Monday – 8/19/2013)

Monday again was a lazy day. Nothing on the agenda. All we did was to visit the local Rhein-Neckar Zentrum (Mall). Picked up a few local goodies, chocolates and generally spent couple of hours window shopping. Evening was a trip with our friends for grocery and school supplies at REAL store in Mannheim.

DAY-9 (Tuesday – 8/20/2013)

Tuesday was a day marked for a trip to the historic and famous town of Heidelberg. We took the local RNV tram in front of Rhein-Neckar Zentrum. It was a nice 45-50 minute ride from Viernheim to Heidelberg (Bismarckplatz station). Arjun enjoyed the journey and was amazed to see how the tram traveled on its tracks like a train and at times merged into the busy streets and shared the road with cars and buses. We grabbed a quick sandwich and soon headed down the Hauptstrasse (high street) which is the main street that leads to the historic Heidelberg castle. This is the main shopping street in Heidelberg where we found plenty of opportunities to pick up some souvenirs and were able to buy on of the world famous German cuckoo clocks. The walk along the narrow Hauptstrasse, was full of European charm, and as we found out that until twenty or thirty years ago, trams used to run along here – which was really unbelievable! We decided to take the funicular lower railway, one of Germany’s most modern funicular railways, starting from Kornmarkt in the old town to the Castle (Schloss) station. The overall route is much longer, but we decided to hop of the first stop and spend all our time at the Castle. The Castle was a great sight and much beautiful were the city views from top of the castle. We grabbed more than a few snaps, rested at the park lawns and soaked ourselves admiring the great beauty of this historic town.Time flew by and it was time to head back to Viernheim. A day well spent and there we had our foot print on surely one the beautiful towns around the world.

DAY-10 (Wednesday – 8/21/2013)

We spent Wednesday visiting the local town of Viernheim and then heading to Mannheim. It was a tram ride again into Mannheim, another wonderful city in Germany. The main street in Mannheim was very charming, full of tram tracks and character lined with inviting coffee shops and boutique shops. Spent few hours around city center, visiting shops and listening street music. We took the tram back home and spent the evening watching a movie, drinking beer and ending it all with a big bowl of ice-cream.

DAY-11 (Thursday – 8/22/2013)

After busy and tiring back to back day trips, we decided to take it easy. Our friends were out at work and Dhruv had his school. DJ and I picked up Dhruv from school in the afternoon. Evening was spent at a local restaurant – some real good food, pizza and beer on the menu. It was a moment to thank DJ and Charu for all their hospitality and making this such a wonderful trip that would remain in our memories for years to come.

DAY-12 (Friday – 8/23/2013)

With only 2 days left to head back, we spent a day at the Mercedes Benz Museum in Stuttgart. A day well spent admiring the great history of the Mercedes brand. The museum is a must see for all car lovers. The space is very well planned and the overall architecture is very thought provoking and inspirational. My favorite was surely the cars built in the 1930-40s. Some of the models on display were master pieces from the past decades. We grabbed some souvenirs at the shop before heading back home in the evening. The 90 km distance from Stuttgart to Viernheim was covered in roughly 2 years with patches of traffic on a busy Friday evening.

DAY-13 (Saturday – 8/24/2013)

It had started to seep in with only a day left to head back home. The 2 weeks had passed by with so much action, history, architecture and loads of memories. As I said in the beginning, it will surely be one of the most wonderful vacations in my lifetime. The beauty of Switzerland will remain always in our memories. All we did that day was spending time chatting with our friends and of course packing our bags. We had to head to bed early, with a very early morning ride to the airport. We blinked and it was time (3:00 am) to wake up and get ready.

DAY-14 (Sunday – 8/25/2013)

It was farewell time. A little emotional after 2 weeks of close bonding, late parties and endless discussions. With a promise from our friends of visiting us in the near future – we headed to Frankfurt airport. It was a rainy day with roads empty that early on a Sunday morning. This was the last stretch of the German autobahn before we visit Germany next time again. Everything else went well, with our flight from Frankfurt to London and then to Newark reaching at 1 pm local time. The only twist through out the trip was the delay of both of our checked bags at Newark airport. The bags did not arrive on our flights and were home delivered 2 days later by United Airlines. By then we were back to reality. I had to get back to work on Monday morning and it was back to routine before we could all realize. It was nice to pen down the entire trip and look at the 000’s of photographs – an opportunity to go back and relive the trip again. Hope to be back to Switzerland in a life time again.

Adios for now!  Danke Schön to DJ and Charu.