Travel Tale – Europe
My dream of visiting almost all the Western European countries in 13 days was fulfilled when I successfully completed this tour on Tuesday 7th November. I had earlier seen European cities viz. London, Amsterdam and Frankfurt but this tour gave me an opportunity to see all the other leading European cities like Paris, Brussels, Cologne, Rotterdam, Lucerne, Innsbruck, Rome, Milan, Venice, Florence and compare them.
My journey started with a quick tour of London covering Madamme Tussaud’s wax museum, the House of Parliament, Tower bridge, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. Famous for unpredictable weather, London did not provide good photo opportunity due to mild showers. We started for Paris in the evening by Eurostar. The journey through English Channel took us just 200 minutes to reach Paris.
Paris was all glitter and charm and is known for its famous night life. The city of rich and famous also offers gastronomic delight, with some of the best cuisine in the world. The trip to Eiffel Tower and River Seine at night will remain etched in my memory forever. The Eiffel was all decked up like a beautiful bride. Eiffel by day was quite different with its robust charm. We were taken to the top of Eiffel in just 10 minutes and the view of Paris from such a great height was really mind boggling. The city looks so beautiful that you do not feel like taking your eyes off. Champs Elysees is the most famous avenue in the world and is used for major national celebrations much like our Rajpath. It also houses Arc De Triomphe (Victory Arch) where we salute the tomb of the unknown soldier. We visited the Louvre museum ,w hich was earlier the palace of Napoleon. It is the world’s largest museum that houses the original Leonardo Da Vinci’s Monalisa painting.
The trip took us to Netherlands, a rare country that is below sea level and has no mountains. Also known as the windmill country, Netherlands is also famous for Madurodam or miniature Netherlands reflecting the entire country in 1:25 frame. It has miniature Airport to windmills to soccer stadiums. The tulip gardens were closed during this time, that is something which we missed. On the way to Netherlands we had a small halt at Brussels known for Belgium chocolates and Mannekin Pis, the statue of little boy.
The real tour of Europe started as we entered Switzerland. Just before entering Switzerland we halted at Munich and visited the old Cathedral supposed to be one of the largest in the world. Switzerland is the land of cheese, chocolates and snow clad mountains made famous by our Bollywood films. We visited Mount Titlis and enjoyed the cable car ride. The journey to Mount Titlis by cog wheel train from the base was breathtaking. It started snowing on the way and green turned to white in few minutes. This was a remarkable sight. The same day we also visited Jungfraujoch, which is the highest railway station in Europe. Our guide swore by the beauty of Austria and till we reached this country nobody knew what was in store. The journey took us through Black Forest mountains, famous for the cake by the same name. We visited the cuckoo clock factory and then the Swarovski Crystal Museum. We saw the biggest crystal in the world and Chetak the horse all decked up in crystals. We discovered that Austria is a very beautiful country but has been overshadowed by Switzerland thanks to lot of publicity. The road to Innsbruck through snow clad valleys still remains the most memorable road journey for me.
Italy was the last country on the itinerary and we started with Venice, the romantic and quaint little city on the Mediterranean Sea. The city known for the gondola boat ride and the Venice Square made famous by the latest Bond movie was just the right recipe for a great Roman Holiday. Next we visited Florence and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which still remains an architectural wonder. Last on the trip was Rome, the icing on the cake. Rome is a beautiful city with well paved roads. It boasts of some of the best preserved buildings having great architecutural value. The Rome Colloseum reminded us of the brutal games being played in ancient history. The place is in ruins and was recently voted amongst the seven wonders. City of Rome also embraces a small country named Vatican City spread over just 22 square miles and is revered as the most religious place for the Catholics.
After coming back, many asked me as to which place or city I would rate the best. I had a tough choice between Paris and Rome but Paris ranks at the top. Among countries, Austria is much more scenic and beautiful than the much hyped Switzerland. Also the timing was just perfect for this tour. Snowfall had just started in Switzerland and Austria. Whereas England was gloomy as ever, the best weather was encountered in Italy. The time was however not perfect for Netherlands since the Tulips were not in full bloom. I also happened to visit the 1st and 4th smallest countries in the world - Vatican City (population of 800) and Leichtenstein (population of 3000) as also 2 modern wonders a) the Eiffel Tower and b) the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The best moments during this tour was encountered at the Lido show at Paris. I would rate this an experience of my lifetime although it cost me a fortune. The food especially Indian food was available at all these places and I rediscovered my love for coffee. The cleanliness, efficient traffic manners, warmth of the people were other highlights. Since I trraveled by road from Paris all the way to Rome, I experienced some of the best expressways in the world - the Autobahns of Germany with speed limit of 180kmph ; Autostrade of Italy etc.
Most romantic moment was on Top of Europe - Mount Titlis at Switzerland
Most sad moment - after seeing Diana's memorial at Paris near the the underpass where she died;
Most funniest moment - seeing Aishwarya Rai's wax statue being moved from next to Amitabh to close to Brad Pitt at Madam Tussauds (from the last time I visited Tussauds in Sept 2005)
Most thrilling moments- at the top of Eiffel Tower getting complete view of the most beautiful city, Paris >> the train journey to the highest railway station in the world at Jungfraujoch, Switzerland - 3kms above sea level >>> train journey by Eorostar through the English Channel from London to Paris
Most disappointing moment - Gondola ride at Venice where the smell of the canal water was just too much to bear >> paid toilets almost at all places in Europe sometimes costing Rs 60 per usage (1 Euro).