Cities Visited: Stuttgart, Brussels, Zurich, Lauterbrunnen, Lyon
Timeframe: September to December 2017
This was originally supposed to be an end of the year post, but no matter. Here’s wishing everyone who is reading this a very happy new year, filled with success and good health.
I usually write about a country in every post, but the second half of 2017 went by in a whirlwind. I didn’t have time to explore a new place, so I tried to fulfill long time visit commitments made to my friends. The year started pretty good, especially with Ireland in April. September saw me embark on my first trip for work to Stuttgart, where I decided to extend the one-day client visit into a weekend opportunity.
When I asked around about the things to do/see/eat, everyone gave me a mellow response. “Stuttgart? Why?”, “It’s just an old manufacturing city” and the like. When I arrived, the first thing that struck me was how it was (relatively) difficult to ask for directions in English. Being a German city, I assumed everybody, more or less, would speak a bit of English, but I was slightly frustrated at the train and metro stations. I even tried to find a French speaker, which is improving daily, but to no avail. After finally figuring out which platform and train to take, I reached my destination. I stayed near the main university campus, on the outskirts of town. The area was really peaceful and had an unmatched view (behind the student residences). My AirBnB host was kind enough to wait for me even though I reached late.
I had already marked all the sights to visit on my map. However, upon reaching the city centre, a pleasant surprise awaited me. That weekend was the first of the Cannstatter Volksfest, Stuttgart’s answer to Munich’s beer festival, and the second largest. I had been planning to visit Munich during Oktoberfest, but something or the other always kept coming up, so this was quite the lucky stroke. The area was not as crowded as you’d expect, and had plenty of options to do, eat and drink, alcohol or otherwise. It was originally meant to be for families. However, with the popularity of Oktoberfest, they installed beer tents to attract part of that crowd. The atmosphere was vibrant, with people singing and dancing all around. There are, of course, no empty places or tables to sit at, unless reserved in advance.
Being a car enthusiast, and being in the cradle of the automobile industry, and being in the city to meet an automotive client, my next stop was surely the car museums: Porsche and Mercedes Benz. Both would satisfy any car fan’s ultimate dream. Exclusive models, vintage cars, and new age technologies were merged into perfect symphony. The Mercedes Benz museum was quite well designed. The lobby had an elevator which takes people to the top floor to start the tour. The elevator looked like something straight out of a futuristic spaceship, and made zero noise, even with tons of people inside.
After Stuttgart, I decided to hop off to Brussels for a weekend. I had been to city previously, but had always been with family and on a strict itinerary. So when my friend from Lyon asked me to come over, I took the bus from Paris after work and reached on Friday night. We spent the next two days just casually walking around with no plan. Brussels is as walkable as Paris, but being smaller, it is highly convenient as well. We ran into a shop that sells holiday and party-themed trinkets, where we all bought fake hair for Halloween parties. We discovered a great Irish pub, where we kept coming back. We, evidently, ran into a museum-cum-gift shop dedicated entirely to Tin Tin. To top it all, my AirBnB was one of the coolest places I’ve ever seen. The host was a chef and an artist. The entire house reminded me of those quirky but deceptively intriguing and fascinating apartments artists own in movies based in Europe.
In November, my best friend from school, who now lives in Switzerland, reminded me of my commitment to him as well. And so I was off again. Since the place where he lives, a nice, tiny village called Lauterbrunnen, was not directly accessible (from anywhere), I had to arrive in Zurich first. I again took this opportunity and kept one day extra at hand to explore the city. Keeping aside the fact that it is one of the most expensive cities in the world, the place is wonderful. The people are wonderful. The atmosphere is great. And the best part was, I could check out the entire city within 2-3 hours, on foot!
On my second day, I checked out of my hostel early in the morning and took the guided tour to Jungfrau(joch). This has, arguably, been the highlight of my 2017. I remember studying about Europe and Jungfrau in our geography lessons in school, back in the late 90s. Ever since then, Jungfrau has been on my bucket list. The price of the tour (around 200 Euros) was a bit steep, but I can assure you, as have many others in their reviews on their website, that the tour is definitely worth it. It is a comfortably paced tour with ample time at each destination, and is a must visit if you are visiting Eastern Switzerland. It also helped that our group was very open, friendly, chatty, and our guide, Valerie, was great. I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to so many people in a month in France, as I did on that day in Zurich.
The tour passes via Sachlen Tunnel, one of the longest in Switzerland and Lungern, the geographical centre of Europe. It was November so the weather was not exactly kind, but I’ve always found such settings more alluring. One of the stretches on the road was particularly memorable. Imagine a route packed with fog and laden with snow from the previous night. Then, all of a sudden, the sun comes out and pierces through the fog, while reflecting on the half melted snow. It was truly magical, and yes, I know I did not do a very good job of describing it. It was one of those “you had to be there to see it” moments.
On our way down, I got off at Lauterbrunnen and did not head back to Zurich with the others. My friend and his wife picked me up from the station. My first impression was of a cosy, ski village nestled in a valley. The nearest main station is Interlaken, where most of the jobs are located as well. This brings all the dwellers from above down the valley to work, and back up in the evening. A deal filled with stunning scenery I wouldn’t mind having someday.
On our first day, we went tobogganing down from Wengen. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had on snow (I don’t ski). While it took some time to get a hang of the steering and the braking, I emerged out as quite the professional! The path starts from the top where you have the entire North Face, including Eiger and Jungfrau, in your background.
As with every ski station, there are always a few local bars where everyone from the community meets in the evening. The bar was right next to my friend’s place, AND it had a waterfall in the backyard. I mean, can you imagine a more perfect setting than having a waterfall right in your backyard?
This just makes me want to pack up everything and head over there!
Finally, in December, I headed back to my second-home, Lyon, for a weekend. While in Brussels, my friend and I had decided to organise a small networking session amongst different MBA cohorts. We were expecting a small turnout, but received an overwhelming response. This involved a lot of planning from a distance, as neither of us stays in Lyon anymore. All in all, the event went without hiccups, and gave me another chance to drop by in Lyon before saying goodbye to 2017.
I hope this year brings the same spirit of adventure, opportunities and ambience for me, and I wish you all the same as well.
Thank you for stopping by.