More than the picture-perfect Alps, more than the pristine white snow, more than the furry boots and the mulled wine, what made me fall in love with Switzerland were its beautiful cobbled streets.
The temperatures hovered near zero, but the fairy lights strung across the streets turned every corner into a dreamland. It turned my solo traveller status into a bonus, leaving me with time to properly appreciate the little details in this landlocked European country.
Geneva, my first stop, isn’t impressive at first glance. Most tourists initially notice only its fantastic public transport system. Buses and trams run like clockwork, and hotels usually provide a pass that let you travel free on them. It’s no irony then that it’s the transport that shapes your memories of Geneva.
I’m an old-fashioned girl who loves real timepieces, not cold LCD screens marking the hours on my phone. So I headed to the Patek Philippe museum. It was a tick-tocking delight! It traced the story of how Patek and Philippe got together, how a watch is really made, and displayed some exquisite pieces.
As with most Swiss cities, Geneva has an old town. It’s where the little markets, quaint cafés and photo ops are. For a solo tourist, it’s perfect. It’s safe and you browse at your own pace. But head back early, if, like me, you have a train to catch next day.
All on track
Ah, the Eurail! Slick, quick and comfortable. My four-hour ride from Geneva to Interlaken was a breeze. I planned to visit Jungfrau-joch, the highest point in Europe. But I didn’t make it there in time. Heartbroken, the lovely snowfall my only consolation, I changed plan – headed to tiny Grindelwald, an hour from Interlaken. Solo holidays rule – the only person you have to adjust plans with is yourself.
And what a great plan it was! I loved Grindelwald on sight, even though it was covered in snow and half empty in the cold afternoon. My first port of all: a gift shop to pick up their quintessential souvenir – the cowbell, better known to Bollywood-loving Indians as the DDLJ Bell (the one Kajol buys in Dilwale...)! Another advantage of going solo: You can indulge your corny side and there’s nobody to judge.
I did make it to Interlaken the next day – though not to Glacier 3,000 since the cable car service was cancelled, allowing me to amble around the pretty city. The day’s highlight was finding a store that specialised in bakeware. The 45 minutes I spent there made up for any disappointment – and again I was lucky to be my own boss.
By evening, things began to look up. I found the Christmas market and made merry amongst colourful toys, woollies and curios. The next day, in Lucerne, was a lazy one as well. I headed straight to the lake, free to do nothing except watch ducks wade though the icy water.
Switzerland is as pretty from the top down as from the cobbled streets, as I finally discovered from Mount Pilatus point and the famous Mount Titlis. The latter offers a 360° view of the Alps, and all I could see when I boarded the cable car, was beautiful, pristine snow in every direction. Once you’re done indulging long-cherished Calvin and Hobbes fantasies by playing in the snow, you know why the Swiss are so contented.
I was lucky to befriend a student from Sweden and two best friends on holiday. Buddies especially help when you can’t find a bus back to the station and you have to walk in the snow – in running shoes. They’re also welcome when later, you’re taking in a pub quiz over some Guinness and a beef burger. Most of my pub buddies had been to India. They didn’t call my country “exotic”. How refreshing!
In Zurich, all tall buildings and fast-moving people, I saw the sights via the Classic Trolley vintage bus, which had headsets offering a commentary of the places we passed. A great option for single travellers.
This isn’t to say I was solo all through. I had a date at the cool Jules Verne Bar. Solo or otherwise, Switzerland beckons you to return.
From HT Brunch, March 24
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