Quarter system in Lucerne

So I am back penning down smaller travels from the year 2015, which were memorable and fun and it also helps me organise my photos, so I can share it with my experience. Although when I say organising photos, it basically means sifting through piles of pointless and space consuming files in my phone for those one or two pictures I did take when I was actually visiting the place.

On a background note, as much as I love travelling I hate taking pictures. I hate the idea of carrying something as heavy as a baby around your neck (DSLR), which not only slows down your pace but also increases stress levels of keeping that damn thing safe. It does probably cost a kidney. So I never carry a camera and use my phone wherever necessary, which basically means that I have the shittiest photograph collection of all my travels which I also end up losing in the tons of absolute crap in my phone.

Anyways so back to my story of ending up in Switzerland. So thanks to me being employed by a Swiss company, I was invited to Basel for a week long official trip. I reach a day earlier with the intention of catching up with a friend and chilling in Switzerland. Most people are in awe of my travel to Switzerland for work, calling me lucky. They don’t realise that the only thing “Swiss” I experienced during the work week was the 10 minute tram ride from my hotel to my office and back. Everything else happened inside the office or the hotel room. Because we were visiting, the office even organised a special lunch for us one of the days – Indian Lunch. I should have just asked my maid to pack me a dabba and should have it taken to Basel. That meal almost felt like I was in Mumbai with foreign delegates visiting us. So because I have had my excitement crushed in the past as well on such similar official travels, I decided to reach a couple of days earlier.

A good friend of mine had moved to Switzerland to study design in the city/town of Lugano. So we decided to meet early in the morning on a Sunday and chill the entire day somewhere halfway. The only recognisable town halfway was Lucerne and the journey was a short 2-3 hour ride.

As much as I think Switzerland is a beautiful country, I think Basel redefined the colour grey and it felt as if the entire city was on suicide watch because of the greyness all over. It could also be because I was there sometime in October. My colleagues assured me summers are much more joyful. It almost felt like grey was a creature stalking you no matter where you went and more so towards the end of the day. So I was more than glad to get out to a tourist area, which meant NO MORE GREY! My friend and I spoke and decided that we should meet right outside the Lucerne train station at about 10 in the morning.

The train ride was awesome, the best you can expect from Europe, better than our local airlines for sure and it was a great sight to get lost in thoughts. I did manage to reach Lucerne on time and walked out to meet my friend. The Lucerne marathon was on the same day and the marathon was already half way through, so the entire place was crowded and had “colourful” people all over the place. By now even the colour white seemed colourful to me. So I was glad and so was my friend because he was a seeing another town in Switzerland outside of Lugano.

After our initial excitement we realised we had not planned anything beyond meeting at 10AM. And since it was a Sunday, everything in the town was closed. Weirdly, all of goddamn Europe believes in closing their entire continent on the one day when people are not working and are free to do their own things. So we finally decided we should have a drink. Sunday did not help in finding a supermarket and after 30minutes of randomly wandering around Lucerne, we came across a small independent newspaper cum essential article store = fancy tapri. Now this guy obviously did not have alcohol that we asked for but he had beer. Apparently, beer is considered an essential item to be sold on a Sunday in Switzerland, but dog food isn’t 😀 . Poor dogs!!!

So anyways, we buy ourselves shitload of beer and decide see some touristy things in Lucerne. We started with the Lion Monument in Lucerne, but got immediately discouraged looking at one million Chinese and Indian tourists taking various yogic positioned selfies with that Lion stuck in the rock. Poor old guy. We decided to admire the nature and have a drink instead of do all the touristy things. So we walk down the lake and find a nice bench for the two of us and settle down there.

Lake Lucerne
One of the watching decks opposite the bench we were sitting on.

I had a surprise for my friend as he had been gone from India for about 6-8 months and his life before leaving for Switzerland was pretty much all us friends chilling with a quarter or two of Blue Riband Duet gin to end the day. So for old time’s sake, I carried with me two quarters of Blue Riband Duet. It is basically cheap Indian gin which gets you high as shit and as a lemony ting to it. My friend got super excited looking at the gin and we started guzzling down our beers as a pre-drinking session while all around us people were striving to get healthy by running a marathon. We also cheered for them while having our beer.

Basel Image
Good Old Blue Riband Duet…..

At about lunch time we decided to grab lunch with a couple of my friend’s classmates and had a hearty swiss meal. Then selfishly after waiting for his classmates to leave, we guzzled down the gin on the bench like two “sans papier”. Sans Papier literally means without documentation or visa. Most of the homeless immigrant looking people are sometimes locally referred to as “sans papier” in Francophone countries. We obviously painted the picture of sans papier because we were two brown guys sitting on bench overlooking the Lucerne lake with families and old people taking their afternoon/ evening walk, while we are greedily mixing quarters in soda bottles and drinking straight out of the bottle on the bench while speaking loudly. Quite unsophisticated I must say. We could notice the dirty stares from the older classier Swiss folks, but we were consumed by Blue Riband Duet and felt like we were back in Vashi (where I live in Navi Mumbai).

At some point while enjoying our drink we noticed this tall guy walking right in front of us with an entourage and the guy stood out even amongst the fitness conscious Swiss people. When the guy passed by us, we realised who we were staring at – Rafael fucking Nadal. I know at this point you are wondering the guys are drunk and probably imagined this shit. We thought the same till my friend followed him till the entrance of the hotel and double checked his face. Also the next day it came in the local news that Rafael Nadal was there for the Basel Open which was on at the moment. That was the highlight of the day.

Anyways we finally decided it was time for us to return to our respective destinations and I took the train back to Greyland a.k.a Basel.

The rest of the week was work related, so you can imagine what it must have been.

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Back to Roots

My first travel blog after almost 12 years of regular travel (casual and official) and regret of not having any record to capture all the awesomeness and shit that I have witnessed through my travels. I do although have some random pictures and records which I intend to pen down eventually over the next few posts.

After some prolonged debate with my own self and  after overcoming the notion that I would never sustain interest to write a blog, here I am writing about my first short trip outside my home city of Mumbai – to Kerala, my roots.

To give you a background, I am as much an outsider to Kerala, as any other non-Keralite city guy or girl doing the 9-5 routine to earn what they call a decent living. My grandparents migrated from Kerala to Mumbai sometime in the 50’s and my parents were born and raised in Mumbai and the same story with me, so I relate much more to the life, the culture and the language of the city of Mumbai. However, you can always take a mallu out of Kerala but you cannot take Kerala out of a mallu and I must admit I still have that bit of Kerala passed down to me.

I had gotten into the habit of travelling to atleast a couple of destinations in a year for the last ten years – both domestic and international. This was the year when I ended up getting overworked enough to not have a vacation for the first 6 months of the year. So thanks to an American Express Taj Voucher and my cousin sister’s wedding in Kerala, I finally managed to schedule my short escape from the city after 6 months of working continuously.

It was my wife’s first time in Kerala and I was as excited as her because it had been about 8 years since my last visit and all the other previous visits were circled around meeting relatives and visiting old temples (which I consider more of a detention rather than a vacation). So yes, we land in Kerala – God’s own country!!!

Considering it was the 24th of June, I was expecting myself to bathe in a waterfall, which are called rains in Kerala, but thankfully it was just a mild drizzle. We had our single bagpack (70ltrs Quechua Symbiam) which is probably equipped to conquer Everest base camp, but we still decided to take it along to give it the entire holiday feel. Before getting onto the roads of Kerala, I expected a wall of green coconut trees on both sides (due to years of Commies driving away development at the cost of preserving the natural beauty), but to my surprise I was seeing all kinds of infrastructure work happening all around. I was trying to observe and figure out if there was something I could recollect from my last visit to Kochi, but failed miserably. Although, I was glad to see that the place is still cleaner than the rest of the country and people follow a certain sense of cleanliness and hygiene which is generally missing in a lot of places in India (my thought straight goes to Agra – dirtiest place I have been to).

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View from the room in Taj

We had the opportunity of spending the day in Kochi while staying in Taj Malabar on Willingdon Island and I was thoroughly kicked about a free night’s stay in the fancy Taj, which I would otherwise not be able to afford. I think most bagpackers (I’m more of a hybrid between a bagpacker and occasional fancy traveler, depending on my budget) boast about how frugal adventurous travelling is much better than luxurious fancy travel, but I can bet no one will turn down a free Taj voucher for a night’s stay on a fancy island resort with a view overlooking the Kochi harbour and the sea. We check in and the room was awesome with even the bathtub having a view of the sea. We decide to step out immediately and head out to check out the touristy sites of Jew Town in Matthancherry and the chinese fishing nets in Fort Kochi. I had seen these places before but I was doing a second round of the places with my wife. We decide to do everything other than the stay at Taj cheap bagpacker style and end up at the ferry stop in Willingdon island which is heading to Fort Kochi. With my rusty Malayalam, I somehow figure out which is the right ferry and proudly pay a sum of Rs8. for two people for a ferry ride from Willingdon to Matthancherry. This is still 2016 we are talking about people. Once we are there, instead of heading to the Jew Town, we decide instead quench our thirst with some chilled beer. I think I make it a point to start every vacation with a beer or a cocktail.

Now with the supposed recent alcohol ban in Kerala, I was a little skeptical about getting my drink in a seaside cafe, but supposedly the ban is only for hard liquor in restaurants which are not in 5 star hotels. So there is beer and wine sold in plentiful. We end up in this seaside place called Seagull Restaurant in Fort Kochi. The view was kickass and I loved what I was seeing. We quickly got onto ordering our strong beers and was soaking in the sea with the container ships sailing around and the mild drizzle pouring out of the grey sky above. I thought it was perfect and suddenly I was a proud Mallu. 😛

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An old ship sailing by Seagull Restaurant in Kochi.

After our recharging beer drinking session, we decided to check out Jew Town and headed there in a rickshaw as it was raining and we did not have an umbrella with us. Since it was a Friday, supposedly Jew Town is closed. We saw a couple of random shops around which were open, however everything to see in the Jew Town was closed. Weirdly most of the shops we got into in Jew town were owned by Syrian Catholics or by Kashmiri Muslims. Such was the irony of our visit to Jew town, that the only thing Jewish I saw in the town that day was the Star of David on the Synagogue, which was obviously shut.

Next stop Chinese fishing nets, which in my opinion are a little overrated and should not take more than a passing glance to appreciate and then move on. Also there is this entire touristy hype created about cooking the fishes they catch on the net in the stalls on the opposite side of the road. I would prefer having better priced, better quality, nicely done seafood in those hundreds of seafood restaurants all over than to do this touristy thing paying a bomb. Atleast that’s how I convinced my wife to move on from Fort Kochi and to our next stop – Mullapanthal Toddy Shop.

This iconic place was known by every single cab or rickshaw guy we traveled with. It is on the mainland in Ernakulum in this town called Thripunathara. Back in our Rs.8 ferry ride till Ernakulum and an Uber ride till the toddy shop. Trust me Uber is awesome and better than explaining and negotiating with local cabbies. Just put the location on the map and off you go. We reach the famed Mullapanthal Toddy Shop and it looked like a decently done Toddy Shop. We enter the place and get a huge table which is clean but looks a little dingy. There was clearly no menu and from my past experience I had an idea of what to order. We order some rabbit, steamed fish wrapped in banana leaf, extreme prawns (I call it extreme because after a long time the spice quatient surprised me to the extent that I had tears in my eyes, nose, ears and brain), kappa (tapioca), appam and ofcourse one big bottle of toddy.

Unfortunately the rabbit was over so we settled with the rest of the ordered food. The food was unbelievable tasty and spicy. The toddy kinda tasted like sour buttermilk, which my wife gagged on 😀 . That’s the closest description I can think off. I on the otherhand did not mind the taste of sour buttermilk and gulped everything down. It wasnt super strong but definitely had a nice kick to it. We wrapped up our food and decided to head back to Fort Kochi to watch a show on Kalaripayattu (martial arts) and some Kathakali but while en route, the extreme prawns did its job and I felt like Drogon from Game of Thrones committing suicide, my insides were on fire. My wife was in a trance like zone because of the spice (Punjabis are not yet evolved to take Kerala spice) and we decided to screw everything else and imbibe some clean Taj aura into our system before doing anything.

Back at the hotel room we lost interest in the Kalaripayuttu and the Kathakali and decided to go for the complimentary Taj boat cruise for all guests. As much as it sounded exciting, after the local ferry ride in a weird old boat, this complimentary ferry ride seemed like a rich person’s view of local life. It was boring as shit when just an hour back we had to jump onto a much more chaotic and wobbly ferry. So this seemed a little too bleh!!

We decided to have light dinner and douse the fire still burning in our bowels from lunch and I think the only thing left for us to do was to eat the fire extinguisher. We slept peacefully though knowing it was our last night in the fancy place.

The next day early morning we had to have breakfast and meet some relatives in a part of Kerala, which was the only Kerala I knew for the longest time. On our way to the Aluva, the cab driver was quite an interesting chap. While discussing a lot of current affairs and politics, he was wondering how the people of Kerala voted for the Commies again and I suggested that must have been because the earlier government supposedly banned alcohol. He laughed and retorted, “What ban”. Spoke a lot of the alcohol ban in Kerala.

Anyways the rest of the trip was more of a regular affair meeting relatives and doing all wedding celebration stuff, which people do and hence I shall restrict myself on those portions (since this is supposed to be a travelogue and not a “how to socialize effectively” blog).

We finally got back to Mumbai on Sunday night and we loved Kerala all over again. So yes, until next time, I wish you adieu.