Category: Travels Page 1 of 2

Netherlands Chronicles–Gulliver’s City Madurodam

Tell me honestly, when you saw this song back in the 90s – didn’t you wish like visiting the miniature city in the background ( ofcourse without any plans to dance like monkeys amidst those tiny wonderful creations). I finally got to visit the place called Madurodam during my Europe visit in Apr-May12.

Madurodam – the miniature Holland built on scale of 1:25 hosts some of the most famous landmarks of Netherlands such as Rotterdam Port, Euromast, the Schipol Airport, Rijk Musuem, and the famous Amsterdam canals, the Palaces of the royal families, the narrow city buildings, parks, Dam square, railway stations, cargo trains, high speed trains. All these places are not empty and are filled with little men, women and children; in addition the little residents of Madurodam tell us the tales of the Dutch, their peculiarities, their achievements, their history – making the whole tour an enjoyable experience.

It is no doubt a real delight for kids but MDH & and I found ourselves queuing behind them to try and extinguish the fire on the ship, try and get the plane to float in air for a good one minute, place the cargo on the ships, and try and trace that fast speed Thalys train which kept zipping past me time and again.

If you ever visit the Netherlands and want to feel like Gulliver for a day – Madurodam is the place to visit. Here are a few pictures we managed to click and some videos I shot.

The trademark Amsterdam city houses & the football stadium

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The Spido at Rotterdam Port & The cargo trains at work

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The train arriving at the platform & the busy motorway

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The Royal Palace & The Corpus

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Watch the planes park themselves at the airport

Ships docking at Rotterdam Port

Bus-ride anyone?

Fancy a canal cruise in the city?

Think Schumi will want to race here?

So when are you planning your trip to Gulliver’s city?

Netherlands Chronicles – KeukenHof

Remember Amitabh-Rekha singing “Dekha Ek Khwab Mein Hain Silsile Hue”? That song is the primary reason that has led most Indian tourists to see Keukenhof

The gardens are open for only 2 months in the year to tourists – so always ensure that if you ever visit Netherlands, you plan a trip during March-May and not miss a visit to these gardens.

My parents loved gardening – even in our 2BHK in Mumbai – Papa had made mini gardens in all the rooms by converting some windows to box grills, there were plants within the rooms as well – especially bonsai plants. Roses, hibiscus were housed in those gardens and both took great care of the plants – like they were their children. Even though I’ve not inherited their gardening skills or love, I still enjoy being amongst plants and flowers.  My mumma loves flowers – all types, all colours, she loses herself in them and how I would’ve loved to have her with me among those colourful Tulips I saw at Keukenhof.

Long stretches of tulip blossoms – white, yellow, purple, red, pink – the arrangements in different pavilions in the garden are a sight to see. Some told me the gardens are over-rated but if you love flowers and being amongst them – I think you must plan a visit to this pretty place.

It is well connected to the main stations in Netherlands – Leiden and Schipol with buses every 10 minutes. Owing to spring season it is open till late in the evening – you need atleast 3-4 hours to view the gardens so make sure you get there in time. Also very important to check the weather before planning a trip there. We were lucky we got a bright and sunny day when we visited this April.

Leaving you folks with some snaps to soak in the beauty of  the place

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Netherlands Chronicles – Voorschoten

The beauty of Europe as I’ve often stated on this blog is in the green and blue that you see as the plane descends on this part of the world. Given that I’ve now spent 6 years in Desert land the craving to see the greenery, the rains, the clear waters just increases as years pass by.

Thanks to our friends who are based in Voorschoten in Netherlands, we decided to make the trip and I can’t thank them enough for being the wonderful hosts they were to us. This was in the true sense a leisure holiday – I hardly did any research ( that I always tend to do when I travel), relying solely on our hosts’ local knowledge. 9 days in Netherlands – well spent I must say.

We were based in Voorschoten during our entire stay and I fell in love with this place. It is a village close to the cities Leiden and The Hague. The Dutch invest in their villages not the cities, so the locality that our friends stayed in was one of the high-end places you will see in Netherlands. The moment we stepped into Netherlands, the canals parading as streets struck us the most. Every second lane there was a canal – buildings or houses all had a canal enclosing one side. The houses also had their boats tied to each private dock and my friends told me that people tend to travel through the canals in their boats right upto Denmark.

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The one thing that you notice first is that the Dutch houses have huge glass windows and the curtains are rarely drawn esp. in the living room. They love to exhibit their decor and once you see the decor of their homes, you do realise why they don’t draw the curtains. We used to take a walk of 10 minutes to get to the nearest bus-stop and all I did was look at the houses in awe. Every house was done up differently, the arrangement of lights, the beautiful artefacts and showpieces adorning the walls, windows and doors – the colour combinations and the furniture – it was so exquisite, I won’t be surprised if they have built it all by themselves. They are known to do up their own houses – flooring, painting , cementing. etc. And if any of the housemates were present, they’d greet you or wave out to you with a broad smile.

On day 1 we stepped out in the evening for a walk  around the village and when you see these snaps you will realise why I envy my friends so much 🙂

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If day 1 was in this picturesque village which was going to be our base, I got home wondering what other wonders did this land have in store for us.

Europe – I Love You

Not cause I dreamt of romancing in the Alps when I saw all those Yash Raj flicks – that was never going to be my cup of tea. Heroines in chiffon sarees and halter neck blouses in temperatures of 10 degrees and below – who were they kidding? (But I have friends who still have those fantasies in this day and age – sigh!)

But I did see how gorgeous  you looked wrapped in green, white and blue. Rains , sunshine, rainbows, snow, rivers, lakes – you gave credence to my belief that God has his favourites. You certainly seemed to be his.

Mom loves you too. She always wanted to visit you; and she did before me, guilty as much as she felt going without me – my studies never granted me that long a vacation. Didi moving to London was a blessing. Mum first met you in 2003 and has now been there thrice. She raved about her first London-Paris trip so much that I knew I had to see you soon.

I finally did in 2007 and what an eventful start to that trip I had. One of my best holidays – Scotland – my school’s home country, the Highlands and the Lochness , the Edinburgh Castle, the Whisky Tour, the streets I’ll never forget. And London – you remind me of my Mumbai, especially South Mumbai where I grew up. When I stepped in first, I knew it was the beginning of many more trips to see you,I promised myself I’d come more often – you  are so worth the visit everytime.

Then 3 years later in 2010  MDH and I took our first self-planned trip. Hotel hunting, train planning, sight-seeing all on our own – no tour nonsense – just the both of us – 7 cities, 3 countries, 14 days, the bliss and beauty of seeing Europe by train. I know I’ve been lazy and did not pen down my Austria and Prague Chronicles, I must someday.

Salzburg – I fell in love with this city. I can stay there for my entire life. I still can’t pinpoint the exact things I loved about place – but the warmth, the simplicity, the shopping, the Mozart influence, the gothic arts, the small hill in the middle of the city, the memories of Sound of Music, the smiling faces, the ice-creams – oh the best ice-creams I’ve ever had!  I’ll come back someday again! Austria you are the hidden true beauty – more than your popular cousin Switzerland. I hope people discover you more.

The people – they told me you all might be rude; but you were just the opposite. Freindly, warm, welcoming, smiling, guiding, playing the perfect hosts. Our hosts at Interlaken – I’ll never forget you – for making me that fresh bread in the morning at 5.00 cause we had to take the first train at 5:45 out of Interlaken to Berne – Zurich – Salzburg, a long 7-hour journey. The smell of that bread is still fresh in the mind.

The greenery, the rains, the chilly weather, the winds hitting your face, not realizing we had walked miles and the legs that would never ache. The old town, the town centre, the small streets, the winding roads, the lake, the cruise, the artists playing down the bridge, the castles, the history, the gothic architecture, the old century charm – you still have it, even in your main towns.

All my life I’ve lived in busy cities among  cement cells, surrounded by skyscarpers, lacking greenery, lacking nature – people rushing, people running, no time for themselves, no time to stop and gaze and marvel at nature. You in the little time spent with you taught me to stop, wait, gaze, marvel, breathe and enjoy the true beauty around us.

Last year in July I made the trip to fulfill one of the items on  my bucket list. What an experience that was and then made a trip to visit a dear friend in Ireland. Kinvara village in Ireland, about 40 minutes from Galway city. The lovely time spent with family and friends. Lazying around, barbecue, getting wet in the rains,  lying on the greeen lawn , no hurry, no rush, no office, no work, no internet, no gadgets –  sipping  the rain water that fell on my face, soaking in the morning sunshine, listening to the river run past the house – the simple pleasures of life.

6 countries so far, not much covered but hopefully will do more. Europe – you are an addiction now, you have your oddities but I must see you once a year. So we are heading back tomorrow,  this time to some more new places – Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Paris, Brussels – will soak in some more of your beauty. All you need  to do is be wonderful as you have always been to me.

Swiss Chronicles – Interlaken

This post was selected for Blogadda’s Tangy Tuesday Picks

Interlaken is the hidden treasure in Swissland – 2 lakes, the tallest mountain peak and waterfalls! You get to see it all in this little town and when you visit these sites you know God must’ve spent a lot of time designing this nature’s wonder.

We landed late in the afternoon from Zermatt and just about managed to catch the last boat ride on Lake Thunsee. Interlaken separates Lake Brienz and Lake Thun – it is the joint connecting these two.

The best part of taking a Eurail Pass is you get these extra benefits – free boat rides & discounted fares on routes not part of the Eurail Network – all first class. You get treated royally with food and drinks served at your seat. The mood is set and you land up having the amazing ice-creams this place has to offer and the even more yummy sorbet:-) A few pics from our cruise and don’t miss the yummy Mango Sorbet –sluuuuuuuuuuuurrrrrrrrrrrppp

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The next day we set out on our journey to the Top of Europe – Jhungfraujoch. This place is the highest railway station in Europe – 11000+ ft above sea-level. For 50% of the journey upwards from Klein Scheidegg to Jhungfraujoch is within a tunnel in the Alps. When you view the route from outside you cannot figure out the tunnel path – it has been built without disturbing any of the site! This railway line – the JhungfrauBahn will complete 100 years of operation in 2012, as you step out on the intermediate stations to enjoy the view below- you cannot help but take a bow to the inventors and the engineers of this wonder!

Once you step out you step into snow! It’s only white all over and all around. They have built restaurants and shops at 11000+ ft – how don’t ask me! There is a Bollywood restaurant here too – boy have we arrived;-) They have built ice caves which host ice sculptures of igloos , Eskimos,penguins etc. You keep wondering if you ever want to leave but then the minus 0 temperature hits you and you know you are better off in the warm world below. Don’t miss this place for the world if you ever visit Switzerland.

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You can reach Jhungfraujoch from Interlaken Ost via Grindelwald or Lauterbrunnen. We went up via Grindelwald and came down via Lauterbrunnen as we could not have ended our Swiss Nature trip without a visit to the Trummelbach Falls. There are 10 waterfalls located in this World Heritage Site which drain the water from three peaks in the Alps including the Jhungfraujoch.

The falls can be accessed via a tunnel lift and as you traverse through the ten points you begin to feel that you have lost your hearing cause the sound of the water gushing down is deafening. Although safe to walk through, if you are as paranoid about water as I’m, you can’t help but think – what if I slip and fall – how will I be saved! MDH on the other hand was thinking how can I own a house in the midst of these falls! Sigh! The last leg of our nature trip – another nature’s wonder to witness – I think I’m done for now with my share of witnessing God’s creations:-)

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More in the series here:

  1. Zurich
  2. Rhine Falls
  3. Mt. Titlis
  4. Lucerne
  5. Mt. Pilatus
  6. Zermatt -Matterhorn
  7. European Oddities

Swiss Chronicles –Zermatt Matterhorn

Did you ladies have doll houses when you were young? The ones which had all the tiny rooms with miniature furnishings and people inside. My mother would set up my corner during Diwali. The dolls all decked up and arranged, all the toys- cars, train and buses around and then in the centre the little doll-house – flowers adorning its porch and strings of mini bulb-light on the outside walls.

When I entered Zermatt – I was reminded of my little doll house and that corner in my house. The mini-roads, the wooden houses not more than 3-4 storied-high, colourful flowers hanging out of each balcony,a small stream flowing in between, cycles zooming past, mini-buses, small electric cars and cabs.

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Zermatt is a car-free zone. It only has electric buses and electric cars. They look like toys! The bus can seat about 10-12 people but at one time was holding 20 odd people with 3 huge dogs. The biggest of those dogs was right near my seat and kept sniffing at my feet, turning around and then hitting my feet with his huge tail! The freaking experiences on this trip looked like they would never end.

I’m not an animal person and the mere site of that huge dog scared me so bad – that not once did I turn my head towards the huge creature! The breed was this one and trust me it looked double the size shown in the picture. I must confess though that the breeds of dogs I saw in Zermatt made me fall in love with them. They all looked so royal and magnificent.

Zermatt is a small village in the Swiss Alps and is famous for one of the highest peaks in the Alps – The Matterhorn.

Unfortunately it was raining the days we were in Zermatt and we could not get to the Klein Matterhorn. It is the highest peak in the Alps that can be reached by the cable-ways. There is no way to reach the real Matterhorn and cable ways are constructed till the smaller peak known as Klein Matterhorn.

We went mid-way to Schwarzsee Paradise and were witness to one of the most beautiful displays of nature. The snowy peaks, the clouds afloat, the green mountains, rains, bright sun and a rainbow! A rainbow that lasted 20 odd minutes! Blessed!

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The family inn we lived in was at the foot of the Matterhorn. When the sun came out in the evening, we finally witnessed the woman in white:-)

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Previous posts in the series here:

  1. Zurich
  2. Rhine Falls
  3. Mt. Titlis
  4. Lucerne
  5. Mt. Pilatus
  6. European Oddities

European Oddities

Learnt to speak slowly when communicating with the local Deutsch speaking people! I’m too fast and they are too slow:-(

I’m all for conserving water but seriously no water jets in toilets? You think paper is more clean over water and that is conserving natural resource? BAH!

Why do they serve bland Indian food in our 5-star restaurants citing  that westerners can’t handle spicy food. We went to 4 Indian food joints on our trip and all served nice spicy food. It was not made specially for us – the hotel owners told us that the local people loved it that way!

The Europeans enjoy our Indian Thalis not just the butter chicken and naan!

By default the first communication happens in their mother tongue and then they switch to English seeing your blank face. (We in our country first speak English and are not even well-versed with our mother tongues. Guilty party and makes me feel ashamed!)

Beer and alcohol is had at all times of the day at all places – markets, railway stations, underground shops,everywhere! I did not see any drunk, rowdy, misbehaviour on my entire trip – why do we in India and Middle East make a big deal about alcohol!

Europe is to be seen by road or railway travel – only then can you experience the ethereal beauty of this place.

Anyone will go out of their way to guide a tourist – irrespective of the country you are in or the nationality you possess.

Saw a lot of elderly/old people on our travels – they are amazingly independent, still go on treks with their walking sticks, love to talk and have a terrific zest for life! (Why do we make a big deal about expecting our kids to be with us all the time?)

For the first time on our journey, saw beggars as those in India in Vienna.

My sis in UK often jokes that in London we are still living in the 1800s! What she says is true – the cities, the houses look as if they have been preserved for ages. That is where lies the beauty of this place I think – preserving tradition. (Don’t you get a lovely feeling when you walk along the Fort Area in Mumbai – I wish the entire city was as beautiful – there is a different charm to it.)

Breakfast is pretty lousy unless you enjoy cold cuts! Most times I struggled with bread and butter alone! But awesome breads, even better ice-cream and lovely coffees!(A European couple remarked to me that Indian breakfast was the best – swelled with pride)

Did not adapt to the famous “fondue”, simply did not – the smell prevented me from trying it:-( But again I’m not great at experimenting so don’t get biased by my opinion.

Went on an art tour in Austria! I did not know the palace only stocked art paintings. Most kids in school are petrified of Maths, for me it was drawing and art. I could never understand it – even then, even now!

I’ve a fascination for public transports so I’m now a natural fan of entire Europe. Amazing systems – trains, trams, buses. Who needs a taxi! Enjoyed the tram rides the most. (Why did they shut those down back in Mumbai:-()

Walk and cycle is the motto of every place we visited. Never realised walking could be this fun!

Every city you visit has an old town, a famous shopping street (at most times named Bahnhofstrasse), a lake or river, a boat cruise, a walking tour, baroque and gothic architecture, a fortification wall, a hill, a famous bridge and a famous church.

Realised that population is the only reason the places are clean and systematic. (Admire India even more for dealing with the unmanageable population and still surviving, I’m sure these countries would have a terrible time if they had the kind of population that we do!)

The place makes you fall in love and you keep wanting to get back. I’ll be back again – to visit the remaining famous places.

P.S: The chronicle series for the remaining places will continue! Vacation has ended so decided to put up this post first!

Swiss Chronicles : Mt. Pilatus

The way we planned our Swisstrip – it was more of a peak scaling trip for us with 4 peaks on the radar, and therefore Pilatus could not be missed.

Now what was the novelty in Mt. Pilatus when we had already visited Mt.Titlis? An alps peak again, snow probably and aerial cableway; well there was one novelty – the Cog Wheel Train ride up the mountains from  Alpanchstad to Pilatus Klum on a slope of gradient average 28%!

The little red toy train looks cute from afar – only when you sit inside do you realise you are on ride of a lifetime! As it climbs up the mountain on narrow rail track, steep valley on the side, high mountain range on the other, turning across angles, the sights below diminishing, it leaves you in awe of the people who invented and devised this little beauty.

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The train takes you right to the top. Unfortunately, no snow at the top but the view as magnificent as that from Titlis. Strong wind blowing and a hot cup of coffee atop the mountain -the perfect way to begin your day.

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On the way back we took the aerial cableways – fortunately these did not halt mid-way! We took a break at the middle-station Frakmunteg to have our early lunch. It was my no non-veg day, so I stuck to good old french fries as I watched MDH eat a scrumptious chicken dish!

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Pilatus trip was a swift one and less tiring as we reached pretty early before the crowds came along!

These 2 peaks seem popular sites for Indian tourists – caught loads of them, for a second it got me wondering if we were back in Dubai or Mumbai!

2 peaks struck off our list – 2 more higher ones remained. We were off to our next destination – the little village called Zermatt.

 P.S: See that house in the last picture – we caught a shot on our way down from the cable car – add that to my list of “must have a house like that someday”

Previous posts in the series here:

  1. Zurich
  2. Rhine Falls
  3. Mt. Titlis
  4. Lucerne 

Swiss Chronicles – Lucerne

How many places make you feel at home the moment you step into them, give you a feeling that you might belong here and embrace you with their warmth.

Lucerne is among those few places. You travel for about 45 minutes by train from Zurich to reach Lucerne. The place is beautiful – a lovely mix of tradition and modernity and just about the right size. A place where you will not feel lost. Like most Swiss places, this too is surrounded by the lake Lucerne.

The old Chapel Bridge stands across this lake as the guardian of  the city. People storm numerous Swiss restaurants along the quiet Rathausquai on the shores of the lake. Getting together with family & friends after a hard day’s work, drinking beer, eating meat,watching the kids play with the swans on the banks of the lake. As you walk along the Chapel Bridge, the sound of a violin soothes your ears and you find a few street artists display their talent.  If it weren’t for the impatient me, MDH would’ve spent the entire evening on the bridge in the middle of  the lake listening to the violin tunes. Which place in the world offers such a picturesque view of a city life.

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As you cross the bridge and head towards Bahnofstrasse you come to the view the modern side of this city. Buzzing with shops of the biggest brands, several restaurants,fast food joints, plus hotels, youngsters hurrying up along the road and people returning home from the main station. The hustle-bustle of the city is restricted to this street alone.

The next day we walked to the famous Museg Wall. This is along a residential street behind the Old Town. Lots of homes adorn this stretch. 3 towers of this wall are still open to public viewing. A clock on one of the towers has been set to chime a second before all other city clocks at every hour.

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We strolled down the hill to hit the main city road Lowenplatz and headed towards the famous Lion Monument. Mark Twain described this monument as the most sad and moving sculpture he had ever seen. He was right,the Lion sits in a sombre mood marking the sacrifice of Swiss Guards in 1792 during the French Revolution.

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We walked back and sat down in one of the city squares – viewing the people and sights all around. I don’t recollect MDH and I doing this in a long while; just sitting quietly in the midst of a city square and enjoying the buzz around us. Families came with their kids, youngsters sat down to have a quick snack, old people came down to relax. It was great to see people take time out and relax. The city offers many such spots in every nook and corner.

It had been been 4 days in Swissland and I was craving for some good old simple Indian food. Yeah call me typically Indian, hunting for Indian food in foreign land. I was a veggie that day and bread-butter is not my ideal meal! Luckily we found an Indian restaurant close to the Lion Monument and I treated myself to a nice wada-sambar while MDH feasted on spicy fish! He gets fairly irritated with me cause he believes one should taste the country specialities once we are visiting a new place! But sigh, I cannot control my food cravings and somehow figure out a way to pacify them:-)

The best part of our 2-day stay in this city was the location of our hotel and the fact that this place encourages walking. The tourist centre lady told us not to bother with any travel card and just walk along to the old town! The weather was perfect and we enjoyed our evening strolls around the city.

The buildings and the roads reminded me of Mumbai’s Babulnath, Gamdevi area. I spent my school years there and always loved the stone buildings and quiet lanes covered with trees.

Lucerne brought back some lovely memories!

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Previous posts in the series here:

  1. Zurich
  2. Rhine Falls
  3. Mt. Titlis

Swiss Chronicles – Mt. Titlis

Do you have dreams? Pleasant dreams, happy dreams, dreams that bring a smile to your face. I’m not talking about big ones – the one about the dream house by the lake or beach, or driving a Rolls Royce, or travelling in your own private jet, or hoping someday you’ll be sitting by GOD’s side discussing your favourite game!

I’m talking of the small meaningless ones, the little wishes – like wanting to hold the snow in your hands after reading C&H Books and Archie comics.

A dream that remained a dream cause you spent a quarter of your life in the humidity of Mumbai and were never able to visit the Himalayas or up north of your country. Then having shifted base to a desertland, the dream seemed further impossible, until you landed on the first of the 4 peaks you decided to visit in the Alps

A one-hour train to Engelberg from Lucerne and you were on the ride of your life to the one of the highest peaks in  the Alps that can be reached by aerial cableways. Yes, that is the sole mode of transport to this place. Cable cars or Gondolas as they are more commonly known in this part of the world.

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You change 3 different type of lifts to finally reach 3238 mts above sea-level to Mt. Titlis. On the way you encounter scenic sites as below

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You get to have an Indian Buffet at their restaurant and head straight into the snow!

Yes I held snow in my hands for the first time in my life, I walked on it, I played in it and I got to throw a snowball! The feeling hasn’t sunk in and don’t think I’ll get over it anytime soon. Little dreams when they come true bring unbelievable happiness.

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I’m scared of valley ranges and MDH made me get into this one while travelling to Glacier Park from Mt. Titlis!

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As if it was not enough that we paid to be taken in covered Gondolas (which by the way stopped mid-air for 10-15 mins while returning back giving me the fright of my life) – I paid 12CHF i.e. approx Rs 600 for the most terrifying 5 mins of my life! You guessed it right, I was not thinking at all. That’s me in the picture holding on to my dear life! Freaking scary it was when I sat in an open air-lift. Freezing like crazy, fog all over, only open valley below my feet! I must’ve been out of my mind to sit – but I did.

Got back safe and sound – you must’ve guessed it from the fact that I’m putting up this blog post! I’m not doing it again ever in my life – one time was good enough!

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As much as Mt. Titlis did not help me get over my fear of valleys – it did make my little dream come true and for that reason alone the place will remain special for the rest of my life!

Previous posts in the series here:

  1. Zurich
  2. Rhine Falls

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