A year on wheels – 2016 (Part 2 of 2)

While my travels till July, 2016 were nothing less than exhilarating, the last 5 months of the year turned out to be even better.

It began with an impulse trip in August to Europe with my wife. I booked tickets on Etihad from Mumbai to Paris and the return leg 16 days later from Zurich to Mumbai. Our initial inclination was to travel in France and Switzerland during these 16 days but we did not plan the details. Paris was definitely on the list and post that, we could have headed east and done Amsterdam and then Switzerland. Another option was to head South in France and then do Switzerland. Within Switzerland too, there were a lot of itineraries that came up. We finally decided on staying for five nights in Paris and head south where we would be stationed for five nights in Nice which would bring an end to the France leg of our trip. We would then take a flight to Geneva from Nice and planned to stay for a night in Montreux, a couple of nights in Lauterbrunnen near Interlaken and the last couple of nights in Lucerne before flying out from Zurich. In all these places apart from Lauterbrunnen, we booked Airbnbs. The trip as we planned had a bit of everything, one of the world’s greatest cities in Paris, the warm beaches and blue waters of Southern France and snow capped mountains in Switzerland. And it unfolded in exactly that manner. The weather was friendly all throughout and all but one day in Paris greeted us with bright sunshine and clear skies. And to say that we were blown over by Paris was an understatement. The walks on either side of Seine and Champs-Elysees, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, the food and wine, gardens, palaces and the never ending display of art and culture had us enchanted. Walking and metro was our preferred way of soaking in the city and we ended up walking close to around 10 to 12 kms each day. Our Airbnb host, Samia who was a middle aged single lady and a 40 year old veteran in Paris, helped us immensely in planning out our 5 days in the “City of Lights”.

We then took a train to Nice as I wanted a ride on one of the fastest trains in the world and the Maglev didn’t disappoint. I have to mention here that our trip to Nice happened exactly a month after the disastrous Nice terror attacks in which 84 people lost their lives. As a result, entire France was in a state of emergency and in the aftermath of the attack, there was heavy police patrolling both in Nice and Paris, which had its own share of terror strikes earlier. Still, the spirit in Nice was very upbeat and we were greeted, in arguably one of the most picturesque towns of the world, by our Airbnb host, Eddy. Our Airbnb home was right next to the Promenade or the sea, on a street where vehicles weren’t allowed which made it a treat for long strolls with shops on either sides. We went for tours around Nice covering Eze, Monaco, Cannes, Antibes, St. Paul de Vence and Grasse through train or taxi. Each of these places has a history and uniqueness of its own and so much more could be written about them  e.g. Grasse, the perfume town, is the origin of the world famous fragrance of Chanel No. 5. We discovered more such stories each day as we explored the French Riviera during the day, and ate at some of the best restaurants in Nice during the evening. A bottle of wine was a daily ritual which was preceded by a jog on the famous, Promenade de Anglais. I have to admit that my time at Nice was one of the most relaxing ever and probably, the highlight of my trip.

We then moved over to Switzerland and the place we made our first stop was a town called Montreux which was on the banks of Lake Geneva. We spent little time here as there was not much to do in terms of activities. A nice lunch and dinner during the day and a stroll next to the lake in the evening was worth the time we spent here. The next day we were supposed to go to the beautiful valley town of Lauterbrunnen. We took the Panorama Express from Montruex, and took a pit stop en route to visit the cheese factory and chocolate factory of Maison Cailler near Broc which was really intriguing. It was almost evening till we finally reached Lauterbrunnen and I must add a note here to mention that during this train journey, I was glued to my cell phone checking live scores of an Olympic Badminton match in which India won a silver medal. Upon reaching Lauterbrunnen, we discovered that the valley was more beautiful than we expected with numerous small eateries and cafes. The trip was made even better next day, when we took a train up to Jungfraujoch, the highest train station in Europe and we were greeted with heavy snowfall which made for some really breathtaking views. The time we spent around Lauterbrunnen gave us some of the most spectacular alpine views. By the time we reached Lucerne for the final leg of our trip, we were a bit exhausted and only managed to do one full day tour of Mt. Pilatus and a long ferry ride. But Switzerland gave us more than we expected in terms of natural beauty and it was aided by a very developed railway network. We were almost distraught when we had to board our flight back to Mumbai. The past 16 days had given us a lot to cherish and we just could not come to terms with the fact that the trip was ending. A trip like this deserves a separate note which I am sure I will pen down soon.

Almost immediately after this, in mid-September, I made a small four day trip to the South East Asian country of Thailand. It was a bachelor party trip of one of our friends who was getting married but due to some reason, two of the five guys who were a part of the trip, including the groom, could not make it. After much debate, the other three, including myself landed at the Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok.  The plan was to spend a couple of nights in the beach town of Pattaya, and one night in the capital, Bangkok. We had taken up a huge pool villa in Pattaya through Airbnb and stayed in a decent hotel in Bangkok. While the thunder of the trip was stolen as two of our friends could not make it, we still managed to motivate ourselves enough to explore Pattaya and Bangkok by the night. In Pattaya, we were at the Walking Street which, if you read up, is probably one of the most unique places in the world. Bustling by the night, Pattaya was a sleepy town during the day. Bangkok, however, was way too crowded even by the standards of a Mumbaikar. We were there on a Saturday night and had a good time at one popular party joints of the primate city. The short and inexpensive trip proved to be just enough for me to relax with friends.

Having spent enough on travel, I did not plan on any major travel for the rest of the year. In the last week on November and early December, my work took me to Chandigarh and Dehradun. Both these North Indian cities have close proximity to hills and I managed to sneak some time out during these work trips to visited Kasauli from Chandigarh and Mussoorie from Dehradun. Kasauli was a solo trip in which I rented a self-drive car from Chandigarh and drove to the hills in a couple of hours. The highlight of the trip was the sudden drop in temperature as compared to Mumbai and the sunrise in the valley which was visible from my hotel room. I ate at some local eateries and made my way back to Chandigarh the next day. The next weekend I was in Mussoorie to even colder temperatures of around -2 degree Celsius. Mussoorie was one hill town which I had frequented when I was a kid as I stayed in Dehradun. At that time, as a student, I had little money, enough to buy some tea and snack during the trip. This time though, thanks to one of my friends, I was able to witness Mussoorie through a different lens. We visited a couple of cafes and bars that were built in the colonial British style architecture and were extremely warm and cozy. Away from the busy Mall Road of Mussoorie, we spent time near Chaar Dukaan and Ladour Bazaar which gave “vintage feel” an all new meaning. How I wish I stayed there longer even though I must admit, it was a bit too cold for my comfort.

The year-end time around Christmas and New Year is a tricky one for me. The workplace is mostly deserted and it almost compels you to just pack your stuff and leave. I am always in a dilemma when it comes to this particular holiday season whether I should go out or stay back in Mumbai. We chose to stay in Mumbai during this season last year and it turned out to be extremely disappointing. The entire city on New Year Eve was packed and it was a disaster. Stepping out of the city also isn’t easy as the flights and hotels are all sold out or very expensive. We hit a sweet spot this year when I booked my tickets through miles and stayed in a resort which has a corporate tie-up with my employer. The last day of the year was a Saturday night which meant that I took a Friday and Monday off to fly to the east coast of India to Pondicherry. Being in this beautiful little French town meant that it was a beach holiday that was spent meditating, wining and dining, reading and occasional walks on the beach. It was a perfect getaway to end the year that had given me so much in terms of travel and experience.

As I have mentioned earlier, I have a lot to look forward to in 2017, but I cannot thank 2016 enough for what it has given me. I have surely turned a page in terms of travel and experiencing new things. As I take a step into 2017 knowing that I am entering the dreaded thirties, I am more than determined to make the most what lies ahead of me in this year.

Hope you had fun reading this. Do let me know your views or connect with me on Twitter at @prateektweeting

Stay young !

 

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