Almost every tourist I met in Switzerland, during my three year graduation in Hotel and Hospitality Management, never forgot to remind me how fortunate I was to reside here. And I always agreed within a New York minute, since I knew I was living in one of the most beautiful countries, aptly also labeled as ‘heaven on earth’ by several travel magazines.
Blessed by nature
Breathtaking scenes of nature come running to the mind, the moment you think of Switzerland. Wherever you go, stunning mountain peaks, rivers, lakes and waterfalls follow you. Most villages, towns and cities sit along some lake or a river, with a magnificent scene of nature around, as if a work of art or a postcard shot. Some of its resort towns are highly blessed and have attained global fame, such as Gstaad, Engelberg, St. Moritz, Zermatt, Interlaken, to mention some, which are also fixed holiday places for many including Hollywood and Bollywood stars. Of all these experiences, I can never forget my leisurely strolls looking at natural surroundings, the lake boat rides and the silence in certain villages, only interrupted by horse carriages or the singing birds. In such settings, the best epiphanies for life kept crossing my mind.
With nature at its best, along with vintage European architecture everywhere, it has attracted not only Hollywood but also Bollywood who come down to shoot their movies, mostly songs, in its valleys, around lakes, on mountain peaks and also in its old towns, especially Bern, where many actors have danced on its many cobblestoned streets, with at least one shot in front of its historic clock tower. Take Govinda and Karishma Kapoor’s ‘Sona Kitna Sona Hai’ song from the movie Hero. No. 1 (1997) directed by David Dhawan. This director for his several other films, brought many other actors to Switzerland, arising love for this stunning land from screen to the hearts of Bollywood fans.
But it was late writer and director Yash Chopra who of all Indian film makers was most Swiss obsessed. There’s hardly any movie of his, which didn’t include Switzerland, be it Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Chandni, Darr, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, and many more. This kept boosting Indian tourists in various Swiss towns and hence Switzerland honoured him by making a bronze statue, which is put up in Interlaken. Very interestingly, in Interlaken’s well known Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel and Spa, a suite is named after him, where walls hold his famous film posters. After all, he often stayed there during the shoot of his films.
With Bollywood film shootings always on here, it’s ubiquitous to come across them, especially when you live there. Once during winter months, my friends caught Abhishek Bachan and Rani Mukherjee, while they were shooting for a song in Lucerne, along the river and it’s Chapel Bridge. What a wonderful opportunity my friends got to talk to them and take pictures.
I once bumped into Himesh Reshammiya while I was strolling one of the streets in the old pocket of Lucerne, after my class. His scene was to simply walk sadly in the crowd. It was also the shooting of a song and I couldn’t help joining the crew for an engrossing chat about Switzerland.
While German is widely spoken in this country, there are also regions that speak French and Italian, and they truly remind you of France and Italy. Thanks to its borders which make the influence, with German speaking Germany and Austria on its North and most of its East, France on its west and Italy on its south. When it comes to its major cities, Zurich is in German speaking part, while Geneva and Lugano are in French and Italian speaking parts. No wonder, all over Switzerland, for all announcements, whether at airports, train stations, and at other public places, other than English, German, French and Italian are also used.
As students, if we wanted to do an internship at a hotel in Geneva, we had to learn French or German if we had our eyes on Zurich. I had picked German, and I did all my internships German speaking towns. I kept conversing in the wrong German despite many made my fun and eventually learnt it. The key was that wherever I went, I tried speaking only in German, and there were also many locals who would help me to learn, many who frequently corrected my pronunciation.
I made use of German also when I returned to India and began working in Delhi at the front desk of a luxury hotel, where we daily received so many guests from Germany, Switzerland and Austria. It made me realise that language is powerful to connect better and make someone feel at home.
The train rides
Swiss trains passing through the most scenic routes have often been showcased in many movies and travel shows. My friends and I, who would buy the annual rail travel card (costing CH 250), called the Glies 7, allowed us to travel free from 7 pm and 7 am and during the day, we only had to pay half the ticket price. Buying this card was the first thing for every student as without it travelling could prove highly exorbitant. From my three years, I still have two of those cards with me (kept them like loving souvenirs) as almost every night, I was on a train somewhere from Lucerne, where my college was and then returned back by the last train. It was an adventure in itself.
If I was ever invited by friends on internships in other cities or villages, many being far away, I knew when I had to board the train to avoid any ticket charges, like many other students. But as the sun sets quite late in Europe, especially in the summer months, beautiful sceneries took our breath away. My favourites from Lucerne were between Zurich, Interlaken, Geneva, Engelberg, Biel and surely many more. During every ride, I felt like a tourist and met many tourists onboard. I also hold memories from day trips on trains, always reminding me of DDLJ songs.
Going to the gurudwara near Olten was a ritual almost every weekend, which took about an hour and a half. After a night’s stay with many other friends, we returned on Sunday night. We felt transported to India there.
Interestingly, the same card also allowed us to travel on international trains passing through Switzerland, and I enjoyed most of their rides, be it on French TGV Lyria and Germany’s Deutsche Bahn. I once also travelled to Paris by train from Swiss border town of Basel, to Munich and Passau from Zurich and to Milan and Venice from Chiaso, the Swiss –Italian border town. The announcements I heard in those trains still ring in my ears and views from the large windows continue to frequently lounge in my mind.
For Zurich –Lucerne route, I vividly remember all train timings even today. For years, even after I left Switzerland, my friends often phoned me to enquire the best connections for several Swiss destinations after 7 pm. After all, I travelled on them too much, surprising at times even for ticket inspectors.
Iconic historic hotels
The world hotel industry has always clapped for Swiss hotels, known for their rich history and luxury, many boasting amazing locations. Several of them are more than 100 years old and hold high reputations and are regularly inspected and classified for their service and standards. Several famous international hotel companies always have eyes on them to enhance their portfolio. Latest examples include Hotel de la Paix in Geneva (historic and five star) rebranded as the Ritz Carlton and Mandarin Oriental hotel group has recently announced that it would manage Lucerne’s iconic Palace Hotel and Zurich’s Savoy Hotel (also historic and five stars) following some renovations.
Like many other hotel management students from across the world, I also dreamt of doing at least one of my internships in such hotels but due to their very high standards, including perfection in local languages, it remained impossible. When I applied at the Hotel des Bergues (a Four Seasons Hotel) in Geneva, I was turned down the moment I shared that I don’t speak French.
Hence of my three internships I landed first in a three star property, high on a hill in Biel city, then in a four star in Zurich and finally in a five star at an international Swiss chain, Movenpick at Zurich Airport, a time when my German skills were at their best. At all three places, I met guests from across the world. From them I learnt so much about this world.
Since several decades, Swiss hotel schools due to their collaborations with celebrated hotels also became popular and soon became a magnet for those aspiring to get into the luxury hotel industry.
Chocolates, cheese and more
The world knows the richness of Swiss chocolates and cheese, also served with pride in Swiss flights. In fact, before landing in all Swiss flights, whether international or local, chocolates are distributed among all in all cabins with ‘Thank you for flying Swiss’ printed on their wrappings. I have enjoyed not one but many during the Zurich –Delhi-Zurich route and Zurich –Vienna-Zurich route, as I didn’t mind asking, ‘May I take more than one?’
The Alpine country is also flooded with many chocolate and cheese factories and offers tours. I went on many such tours and still remember the various stages of making and the mouth watering tastings.
I also adored fondue –the national Swiss meal of melted cheese and bread, which I had often at my uncle’s place who is married to a Swiss woman near Zurich. I do also miss Muesli and Rosti –the Swiss style potato pancake and how could I forget Movenpick ice creams, especially its Maple Walnut and Chocolate flavours. As I also interned at a Movenpick hotel, our staff canteen fridges remained full with rich Movenpick ice cream tubs and many of us almost daily enjoyed various flavours.
Keepers of time
A country known for making watches, how could it not have punctuality in its soul? I never came across any train, bus or ferry departing or arriving late from its scheduled time. If it ever did, it would be no more than a minute or two and for it announcements were also made. If someone ever gets late to work, its considered more than any crime as I too experienced it during my internships and also during classes.
Yet, on my last day in Switzerland (October 13, 2009), I arrived so late to catch my flight to Delhi that had the airline staff not been sympathetic, I must have missed my flight. The supervisor whom I had introduced myself made it clear as I (red-faced) was about to get in the aircraft: “You lived here for three years, and despite that you didn’t respect time on your last day here?” The words were truly a wake up for me and ever since I have never got late, rather always playing the role of an early bird.
Thank you, Switzerland!
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