Travel

For a destination called peace

An eight-day train journey across Germany, Switzerland and France offered beauty, adventure and heritage

Last year, we decided to celebrate Deepavali with an eight-day train journey across Germany, Switzerland and France. Veering off the package tour route, we bought a Eurail pass and picked places and activities of interest.

We landed in Frankfurt, Germany and took the regional Deutsche Bahn Intercity (IC) train to the baroque city of Heidelberg. Nestled between the Neckar River and the foothills of the Odenwald forest, the city is home to Heidelberg University, Germany’s oldest.

Early next morning, the charming mountain railway also called funicular railway, took us on a sloping joy-ride up to the famed ruins of the Heidelberg Schloss or castle presumed to have been built before 1214. Majestically perched on the slopes of Mount Königstuhl 300 feet above the Neckar River, the vast castle grounds offer spectacular views of the fairy tale town below and the Karl Theodor Bridge across the Neckar River.

For a destination called peace

The mighty fortress houses the biggest wine barrel in the world with a capacity to hold 221,726 litres of wine. Built in 1751, it is said that 130 oak trees were used to make the colossal barrel spanning seven metres across and over eight metres in length.

The nippy weather notwithstanding, we took a late evening stroll on cobbled streets around the Heidelberg Alstadt or Old Town. Narrow, winding alleys led us around the old-world Marktplatz (marketplace), KornMart, a grain market in the middle ages, the University bars and many more nooks and crannies of the city. A pair of prized German Birkenstock sandals made up the evening’s shopping loot!

For a destination called peace

We took the IC to Stuttgart the next morning for a much-anticipated tour of the famed Porsche and Mercedes Benz automobile museums. Our boys were ecstatic to meet the real Sally Carrera, a Porsche 996 motorcar featured in the Pixar movie, Cars!

Our next ride was another IC to the Swiss city of Lucerne via Basel. In the evening, a city map in hand, we jauntily set-off on a self-guided walking tour along the red line to explore Lucerne, famed for its medieval architecture.

Wasserturm or Water Tower, a common imagery on Swiss postcards is an octagonal tower built around 1300 as part of the city wall. It was used as an archive, treasury, prison and torture chamber. We walked through the Kapellbrücke or Chapel Bridge, a covered wooden footbridge adjoining the Wasserturm, stretched-out diagonally across the Reuss River. Built in 1333, it holds the distinction of being the oldest covered wooden bridge in Europe and the world’s oldest surviving Truss bridge.

Among others, the trail led us to the poignant monument of ‘The Dying Lion of Lucerne’, the famed war memorial of a wounded stone lion in memory of Swiss mercenaries massacred in 1792 during the French revolution. Mark Twain famously termed the sculpture, “the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.”

For a destination called peace

Early next morning, a short yet surreal train journey took us from Lucerne to Engelberg past lush green meadows with the proverbial grazing Swiss cows and charming thatched Swiss cottages. At Engelberg, we took a cable car to the middle station and lifted-off in the Titlis Rotair, the world’s first revolving cable car to the summit of Mt. Titlis.

Mt. Titlis is the highest peak in the Uri Alps at a lofty 10,623 feet above sea level. High-adrenaline adventure awaited us up in the Titlis Glacier. We coasted across the Glacier on an Ice Flyer Chair with nothing between us and the icy depths below but thin, chilly mountain air. We were suitably rewarded with stunning Alpine panorama for tackling the Titlis Cliff Walk, Europe’s highest suspension bridge built at 10,000 feet above sea level and officially the world’s scariest bridge.

The next day we zipped to Paris on an Intercity-Express bullet train at over 350 kms/hour. Paris is famously called the ‘City of Light’ as also the ‘City of Love’. The term ‘City of Light’ pays homage to its fame as a centre of enlightenment in the 18th century and its early adoption of street lighting.

The not-so-touristy Catacombs of Paris, also called ‘The World’s Largest Grave’ was high on our list of experiences since before the trip. The nondescript entrance led us into the depths of the ancient limestone mines converted to an ossuary. From 1786 to 1788, remains from Parisian cemeteries were transferred to the reinforced tunnels, and more remains added during later years.

After an entire day at Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios, we reserved our last day in Paris to go monument-gazing. We reached early and beat the queues at Eiffel Tower where riveting views of Paris’ famed monuments and the meandering Seine River carpeted-out on all sides.

Navigating the Paris Metro train network in the evening, we visited the Louvre Museum for a mandatory viewing of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

A late-night visit to the Arc de Triomphe revealed dazzling views of the ‘City of Light’ from the Arc’s viewing platform on its roof. Built as a memorial to honour soldiers who laid down their lives for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, the Arc’s vault has the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. The Eternal Flame that was first lit in 1923 at the tomb is kept burning to this day.

We rode the Paris Metro to Charles de Gaulle Airport, our last train ride of the trip, and promised ourselves to return for more of Europe.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 9:52:26 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/an-eight-day-train-journey-across-germany-switzerland-and-france/article23600888.ece

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