As a child I fantasized visiting two places on earth; one was Salzburg, Austria which has been shown as the back drop in the movie ‘The Sound of Music’, my all time favourite. The other was Switzerland, popularized by Bollywood stars and directors.
So last summer my husband and I along with our son, Shaamak decided to go to these two holiday destinations. We took a straight flight from New Delhi to Vienna, the capital of Austria. Shaamak slept well through out the flight, so that helped my husband and me to catch up with some sleep as well. We reached Vienna in the morning and hired a car, our primary mode of transport for the next two weeks. We took a city tour and visited the Hoffburg palace, impressive but not grand enough to be called a palace. For lunch we had Schintzel with noodles and crisp apple struddles as mentioned in the song ‘My favourite things.’ The next day we headed to Salzburg. When we reached my dream destination, I was awestruck by its natural beauty and the warm friendly people. The city was stroller friendly, which made moving with Shaamak very comfortable. We checked into a nice comfortable hotel, in the heart of downtown. The front office at the hotel recommended we go for a long drive to Matsee. As we drove the song “The hills are alive with the sound of music” came naturally to my lips. We took loads of pictures and Shaamak could’nt stop giggling with joy seeing the vast open space surrounded by lakes and mountains.
The next day we took the Sound of Music tour. I was pleasantly surprised to realize that there were loads of people like me, who had come to Salzburg from various parts of the globe because of the movie. A wonderful ride with breathtaking views of the landscape where the opening scenes and the song ‘The hills are alive’ were filmed. It was wonderful listening to the original Sound of Music soundtrack. Our English-speaking guide showed us the highlights of the film, the historical and architectural landmarks in the city. The next stop was The Mirabell Gardens which was laid out in the 18th century. Maria and the children were seen dancing around the statue of Pegasus, the winged horse, and throughout the gardens singing ‘Do-Re-Mi’. My son loved the garden and we let him play in the lush green lawns. We then visited Leopoldskron Castle, the front side of which was used as the Von Trapp family home and the Mondsee Cathedral, where the wedding between Julie Andrews as Maria and Christopher Plummer as the Baron took place. The cathedral was undergoing renovation but has been kept in its original form dating back to the 19th century.
A special kind of adventure awaited us the next day on our excursion to Bavaria. In the Bavarian Alps above the Obersalzberg stands the former mountain residence of Hitler. Past the hunting castle Hellbrunn we crossed the Austrian-Bavarian border. Traveling along the Königsee River Valley, through the Bavarian mountains, along romantic farmhouses and Obersalzberg, we arrived at the highlight of our journey- Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest. During the journey we had a splendid view up to the ‘Hoher Goell’ and the snowcapped peaks of the Bavarian mountains. With the elevator, dug from inside a cave we entered the Eagle’s Nest at five thousand ft. I wondered how Hitler could have thought of such inhuman torture on the Jews with such scenic view and in tranquil surroundings. It was chilly and Shaamak’s nose almost froze, despite the layered clothing he had on him. I feared that he might catch a cold. On the way down our contented faces were living proof that it had been a successful excursion. It was a tiring day and we had to regain our strength with some Bavarian specialties – good food and good wine. In the evening we visited Mozart’s residence, a small three bedroom apartment which is now a museum. All souvenirs starting from chocolates, cds, mugs, perfumes etc in Salzburg had Mozart on them. Tired by the day’s activities, we decided to have an early dinner and go off to sleep.
The following day we drove to Innsbruck, ‘the capital of Alps’. A quiet countryside with fresh air and beautiful mountain landscape made the entire experience unforgettable. We were able to spend some quality time as a family, the basic purpose of our going for the vacation. We visited the world famous Swarovski museum and it was worth driving all the way to Innsbruck.
Our next stop was Lucerne, Switzerland, via Liechtenstein – a small nation sharing the border with Austria and Switzerland. We paused in Vaduz below the capital’s 700-year-old castle. It was a picturesque drive, following part of the Glacier Express route. I sat spellbound as white stone houses, lush meadows and snow-capped mountains slipped past. Fortunately we had the time to embark on Lucerne’s spectacular highlight – Mount Pilatus by cog-wheel train, the oldest operational train system in the world and it happened to be Shaamak’s first train ride. He kept on saying ‘chhok chook gari’ throughout the journey. From the summit, we enjoyed some of the best views of the Alps. After descending from Mt. Pilatus, we took a stroll across the Chapel Bridge, which divides the city into two and then to the Jesuit Church, before using our free time to shop for family and friends and indulging in the renowned Swiss chocolates.
Continuing our journey, we drove to Interlaken, the German speaking part of Switzerland. On the way, we stopped at a German café for food and beer. Interlaken proved to be an ideal summer resort, with idyllic clear mountain streams and waterfalls cascading off hills into lakes. We had booked a small cottage by the lake. It seemed all Bollywood movies must have been shot here. To my utter amazement, the downtown was filled with Indians on vacation with their families. It had these small roadside café, and excellent chocolate boutiques where they allowed us to taste delicious special Swiss chocolates for free- one of most enjoyable experiences. The following day, we decided to take a train trundling through magnificent countryside, coiling across mountain pastures to Jungfrou – the top of Europe and UNESCO World heritage of the Swiss Alps. My husband played with my son in the snow, much against my wishes for I feared he might catch a cold and the rest of the holiday would be spoilt. But he insisted, that if we have traveled all the way to the Swiss Alps, it would be a sheer waste if the little boy did’nt even feel the touch of snow. The journey was not cheap, but well worth the unforgettable mountain experience.
Our next stop was Zermatt, a mountain village at the foot of the Matterhorn, which has developed into one of the biggest summer and winter resorts. The view from our hotel was spectacular, facing Matterhorn. Till the recent past, it was predominantly an agricultural community, so the people are simple, warm and friendly. To prevent air pollution which could disfigure the town’s lovely view of the Matterhorn, the entire town is a combustion-engine car-free zone. So we took a cog wheel train from the nearest town of Tasch to reach Zermatt. Besides electrically-powered cars and bicycles, the only form of transport allowed is horse-drawn sleighs and carriages. We took a ride in the carriage and for those few minutes, I felt like a queen.
Our last destination was Geneva, a modern city on the north side of Lake Geneva, the French speaking part of Switzerland as it straddles the French border. We visited the picturesque Old Town, laced with sidewalk cafes, cozy restaurants, fountains and statues along with cobblestone streets. We went to a French restaurant and had trouble deciphering the menu as it was in French. A kind gentleman helped us with ordering food. On the way back to the hotel, we took a leisurely stroll along the lake from where we could see the sailboats, yachts and paddleboats in the water. The next day we visited the International Red Cross Museum and were able to appreciate the tremendous humanitarian efforts made by the organization during various wars. Located across the street is the office of the United Nations. Unfortunately we could not see it from inside as the UN was in session.
As we took a flight back to Delhi I felt this had been perhaps the best holiday I’ve ever had and I would love to do it all over again sometime.
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