The single biggest reason this blog took so long to come to fruition is that I wasn’t able to decide whether I should be doing a blog for each country I visited or just cover everything in one post. I figured that a lot of stuff could be repetitive and thus its best to blend everything in one long-@$$ post. Don’t worry, I have tried to keep this as short as possible 😊
One of the ways you can help someone visualize Europe is by asking them to imagine if the states in India were separate countries. My first stop was Amsterdam, Netherlands. Netherlands is a bit smaller than Haryana. My next stop was Paris and France is about the size of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan combined. Then occurred London which is the capital of both England and United Kingdom. England is around the size of Tamil Nadu while United Kingdom (which comprises of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) is the size of Uttar Pradesh. My final stop was Switzerland which can be compared to Jammu and Kashmir (the union territory, not including Ladakh!) in size.
The population of these countries can also be compared to Indian states in similar fashion. I leave that to you because there’s a lot to cover in this post. By the way if you are interested in such comparisons, here’s a video that you might find interesting,
Anyone that holidays in Europe tends to cover a number of countries. That’s because you don’t have to travel far to do so,
- Paris to London – 466 km (Delhi to Kanpur is 496 km)
- Paris to Zurich – 656 km (Delhi to Udaipur is 663 km)
- Paris to Berlin – 1054 km (Delhi to Patna is 1086 km)
- Paris to Rome – 1421 km (Delhi to Kolkata is 1491 km)
- Paris to Moscow – 2836 km (Delhi to Kanyakumari is 2823 km)
If you didn’t notice the last point, Moscow is the capital of Russia which is in Asia. Apart from appreciating how big India is, this should also help you understand how covering different European countries is like travelling within India. Like I mentioned earlier, there’s a lot of ground to cover in this blog and at this point, I would like to pitch in a video that I did about the Euro Trip below,
This video should help me avoid jotting down stuff that I have already covered. If you have seen the video (if not, why not? 🤔) you already know about the Schengen visa and the 26 countries it covers. You also know how convenient it is to carry the HDFC Regalia Forex card instead of getting currency exchanged. But since you should also be carrying some cash, this blog will be of help. You also know what to expect when it comes to food. So let’s talk about the stuff you won’t find in the video above,
Travel and Local Transport
Now that you are ready to fly, make sure you follow the tips on acing the long journeys here. Also, I am hoping that you have seen the video above (it is important and that’s why I am pitching it again and again 👍) and I don’t need to tell you about the stringent luggage norms and how the size of the bags include ‘handles and wheels’. Bottom line – pay very close attention to the luggage information on your ticket!
One thing that was different on this trip, that I accounted for, was to plan lighter schedules and not run a marathon every day. A 4-day trip is different from a 14-day trip and you don’t want to burnout by the end of day 6! So your travel within Europe as well as your everyday commute within the city shouldn’t be too tiring. Travelling within the city shouldn’t be a problem, all thanks to one of the best public transport systems I have ever seen. All the places I have been to were covered by public transport.
There are some local apps like Citymapper, Paris Metro, SBB that you can try but if you have Google Maps, it is good enough. In addition to telling you the routes and suggesting metro trains and buses, Google Maps will even tell you what exit gate you should take at a metro station. If you haven’t noticed yet, you need data on your phone for all this to work so get a local sim. I used Lebara and it worked like a charm. Although a little brain-teaser that I went through was, an EU sim card won’t work in Switzerland and a Schengen sim card won’t work in London. I ended up getting two sim cards, both Lebara.
If you thought that was a bit confusing, let me introduce you to a London train that goes in two different directions! At a certain station, coaches 1 to 5 will follow a different route while coaches 6 to 10 will leave for somewhere else. So it is important to get the train AND the coach right.
Let’s take off from London and talk about the Switzerland local transport. Switzerland local transport isn’t really ‘local’ because unlike London, Paris or Amsterdam, Switzerland is a country and your travel is between different cities. I stayed in Interlaken which you can consider my base camp. You will have to travel to other cities and reaching anywhere can take up a couple of hours and before you know it, the day is over. So the names that people drop when it comes to Switzerland like Jungfraujoch, Titlis, Golden Pass train route, Matterhorn are all going to take a day each specially if you travel during winters when the daylight pretty much disappears at 5 PM.
An important point about Switzerland trains is that they are always on time. If your train is supposed to leave at 2:06 and you reach a minute late and wait a minute or two you will see a different 2:10 train. This is probably why Raj and Simran missed theirs 😃
Also, I got myself a Carnet, which is a set of 10 tickets for Paris metro, Oyster card for London and a Swiss Travel Pass for Switzerland which kept my local travels hassle free. One last thing, since I was staying in Interlaken and had to catch an early morning flight, I booked a hotel in Zurich near the airport (with a free airport drop) for the last day. It also helped me cover some places in Zurich. Something you too can consider if you have an early morning flight.
While we may think that it would be cold in Europe all year long, that is actually not the case. It gets hot there too and thus it is important to know the seasons and plan your travel accordingly. My trip had two main objectives, catch snow in Switzerland and celebrate the anniversary in London, so my flexibility with dates was limited. A quick pointer about Switzerland winter here, most shops close by 6 PM. Everything opens early too (which explains why my hotel served breakfast starting 5 AM) which isn’t ideal for a night owl like me.
Language, Culture, Surprises
I was surprised by the non-acceptance of English. A maid would come to our Paris airbnb and wouldn’t even understand numbers in English (1, 2, 3…). Most people at shop counters don’t speak English and people working at restaurants have a hard time explaining their menu. German is widely spoken in Switzerland and I could even observe Arabic here and there (beat that!). London offers respite and familiar faces thanks to a large subcontinental diaspora.
If there’s one cultural pointer I want you to walk away with, it will be to turn your ‘courtesy dial’ to maximum. I felt that the people were generally very courteous. But that doesn’t mean they would miss the train because of ‘pehle aap‘. I happened to be at the London Bridge during office rush hours on a weekday and that was as busy and crowded as you can imagine. It made me wonder if that’s really the life anyone of those dreamt of, racing from home to office back and forth every single day in large numbers almost as if an unruly herd is unsure of where it really wants to reach. Anyway, hustle and bustle is part of the city life. You can easily find women applying make up and filing nails on the train. But one thing that impressed me more than cosmetics on the train were the travelers in their golden years. It is no surprise that life expectancy in Europe is 80+ years while that in India is about 68 years.
While we are talking about the local commute, I would also like to mention the number of small cars in Paris. It presents a total contrast to something like Dubai where gas guzzling SUVs are worth a stare. But the trophy for the most surprising thing goes to automated check-in at the London Gatwick airport. You go in, scan your boarding pass, weigh your luggage, stick the printed information and see your luggage go away, all by yourself. There is no one at the counter. Now of course there is minimal crew present just in case you mess things up but that’s definitely a job you can place in the automation list in the coming years. What’s automated right now are placing orders at McDonalds and KFCs, billing at supermarkets, tickets at train stations and even photo studios!
Some other tips
I have mentioned this in the video and I would like to repeat it here – If you want to see maximum tourist places in minimum time, get yourself a travel package and off you go. If you want to travel on your own, which I prefer, find out the tourist attractions you want to visit and plan accordingly. That way you can skip on some of the touristic places that you are not interested in and plan for the places you would rather enjoy. Don’t forget to book tickets in advance to avoid the long queues. Eiffel tower, London Eye, Louvre Museum, mountains of Switzerland can all be booked in advance.
The Eiffel Tower glitters every hour for 5 minutes after sunset with the last ‘light show’ at 1 AM. Since I booked an airbnb with the Eiffel Tower view, I was able to catch the light show several times. Having the view of the tower while indoors kept me relaxed. If I woke up late and didn’t go out till noon, I didn’t feel like I was wasting time because Paris’ number 1 tourist attraction was right there.
Talking about tourist destinations, while Switzerland is a natural beauty, London and Paris have ample monuments and buildings that are very ‘instagrammable’. Victoria’s memorial right outside the Buckingham Palace is one such example. I won’t bore you with tourist attractions that you “must see” since that kind of “bucket list” is easily available on the internet. I think it also substantially depends on your personal interests and preferences. For example, Napolean’s Tomb and Grand Mosque in Paris and Trafalgar Square and Lahore Kebab House in London may not find a place in your “must see” list.
Anyway, enough of man made attractions, let’s head to God’s own chef-d’oeuvre – Switzerland. Let me be honest, no photographer, no camera, no drone, no amount of days you stay in Switzerland is going to do justice. A country so beautiful that no matter where you see, you’ll be in awe by its stunning natural beauty. Towering mountains covered in snow, crystal clear lakes, cozy olde worlde villages, you can get down at almost any train station and be pleasantly surprised. If you have forgotten, you are travelling by train using your swiss travel pass.
I can namedrop Lucerne, Bern, Interlaken, Zurich, Geneva here but I would like to mention Gstaad. A beautiful town perfect for spending an afternoon. It is pretty upscale and I spotted a showroom of Prada in case you are wondering my measure of upscale.
Quick DDLJ references for fanboys – Zweisemenn is the station where Raj and Simran missed their train. It still has a kiosk that sells those souvenir bells in different sizes. Saanen is the village where you will find the DDLJ bridge where the iconic “palat” scene was shot. A scene so dear to me, I used a reference of it in the short story I wrote – Doctor, Love
My return flight was from Zurich so the last day was spent checking out Rhine Falls and some shopping. Before I forget, the swiss travel pass allows you to take the public transport buses and boats too, that’s how convenient that pass is. Finally, below are some photos that should be a part of this blog,
Here are some videos from the trip,