I came down early for breakfast with the intention of completing the check put formalities. The payment for the rooms had been taken care of, but the city tax of Euro 2 per person per night had to be made at the time of check out. As soon as the receipt for the same was given to me the WiFi connectivity also stopped. I requested the receptionist cum manager for a temporary connection till departure. He obliged. However, in Milan (Italy) everything seemed to be rationed out. WiFi connectivity was given to only one device; so it was either the laptop or the mobile! Air conditioning was centralised, but was available only from 7 am to 11 am and from 4 pm to midnight – even then the temperature could not be controlled during the hours it was available. I moved to the buffet breakfast restaurant and put my luggage there. Even though it was early there were quite a few who wanted a quick bite, including a young couple who thought that the night had been too short to show each other the affection that they wanted to in private. They continued where they had obviously left off in the room in front of the coffee machine; I wondered if the steam generated by the machine had set them off too!
By 7.30 am Lal and I set off for the Moskva Metro station, changed trains at the Centralle FS and via a tram from the Maciachini Metro stop reached the parking lot where the car had been parked the past two days. The assistance that Mukesh Jain gave in getting the free parking lot saved us valuable Euros. The public garage near the Hotel had wanted Euros 45 per day to park the car. We discovered over the past two weeks of travel that ‘Parking’ and ‘Pissing’ are costly operations in Europe! Mukesh, who lived nearby, came to guide us to the highway, which was less than a couple of kms from the parking lot, and sign the log sheet. We thanked for the meeting he had set up in the Indian Consulate, which had been an extremely good networking session.
I followed directions given by Mukesh till I had instruction from the Navigator to take an Exit, which contradicted what Mukesh had said. Since I needed to tank up I turned into a fuel station ahead of the Exit. A helpful fuel station attendant confirmed the Navigator’s suggestion. After paying for the fuel I took the Exit from the highway and immediately knew that the Poland to Czech Republic story would be played out once again. We entered a small town and slowed down because of the signals and the traffic. I started looking desperately to get back to the highway, but the Navigator would have none of it. When I stopped at a signal I saw a person moving rapidly on the pavement. Just as he was about to pass us I rolled the window down and asked for direction to the highway. Though he had spoken in Italian I understood from his gesticulation that I could hit the highway without any diversion. Soon the signal turned in my favour and the guy turned and walked off in the direction where he had come from! Lal and I were convinced that he was a Guardian Angel brought there just then to give us the right guidance to the highway. Experiences such as these enrich the journey.
Within a short distance from there on the highway traffic slowed down to a crawl and I could make out that the border post to Switzerland was near. Many cars took a diversion to a parking lot. I too did the same to get the Toll Card for Switzerland. Without too much hassle I located the store that sold the Toll Card. The peculiarity about the Swiss Toll Card is that it is valid for a whole year – that was the minimum period too. This meant that I had to shell out Euro 36 for the Card with and additional Euro as commission. It was nothing short of a rip off. Armed with the sticker I moved confidently into the Swiss territory and was promptly waved down by the Police and asked to park at a designated place without hindering traffic flow. A lady officer came to the car and I showed her the Toll Card I had purchased. She had a bunch of it in her hand. When told that I had already purchased it from the Italian side of the border she told me: “Italian, no good; they overcharge”. I agreed with her cent per cent as the Toll Card was only CHF 40 or Euro 30.
Soon after we crossed over to the Swiss side I was mesmerised by the landscape; the change was so dramatic that I was caught in the contradiction of having to drive safe, enjoy the scenery as well as to take pictures. If it was not a tunnel it was a lake and if it was not a lake it was green pastures – I just could not concentrate on the driving as much as I should have. The brilliant network of Mother Nature’s gifts was a wondrous joy all through from the border to Zurich. They have been, most certainly, the greatest views so far in the journey that had by now spanned 18 countries from India to Switzerland.
Sunil of Coral Group had organised the hospitality in Zurich through Babu, who had been in constant touch with us during the drive from Milan. Just ahead of the meeting point I lost direction. Fortunately, I had landed up in front of a known landmark close to the city. Babu came with his son, Jeevan, and piloted us to the Indian Restaurant owned and operated by Kuttan. A few Malayalees had come to the restaurant to meet up with us. Kuttan, who hailed from Vypeen in Cochin has been resident in Switzerland for the past 37 years. He studied Dairy Technology and worked for many years till the Company closed down. He later opened an Indian Restaurant offering authentic Kerala food. After a wonderful meal of beef fry, fish curry, thoran, etc we wholeheartedly authenticate the Kerala food. It was as if we were being transported back to Kerala in spirit. Kuttan married a Swiss national and has two children. He wistfully mentioned that he never taught his children Malayalam; but speaks to his grandson, Chandu, in Malayalam.
During the meal Terly, President of the Indo-Swiss Club, invited us for a small chat in their Club, which normally meets every Friday. Babu was tasked to get us to the Club by 6.30 pm along with the car. We had about three hours to do a quick city tour. Watch makers such as Rolex, Omega, Patek Phillipe, Longiness, Food makers such as Movenpik, Lindt, Banks such as UBS, Credit Suisse are all on display wherever you look. The Bahnhoffstrasse in Zurich is considered amongst the costliest real estate properties in the world. The name of a square ‘Paradeplatz’ amused me for its resembled the Odissa port city ‘Paradip’. At one point during the walk Babu stopped us and said that below the road were huge storage locations for gold stretching for miles! Life is all around the Zurich Lake. There were even holiday makers jumping into the lake from one of the bridges by the side of it. There is a tram car that can be hired for private functions – when the tram tours around the city you can have fun and food on board it! I saw it going around with a bunting that said “Just Married”. While in Zurich a boat cruise is a must. We didn’t have time for a proper one but Jeevan found one that would give us a round trip in 30 minutes. The sights of the old parts of the city were fantastic. The churches are not as elaborate as the ones elsewhere but the twin towered church with huge stained glass mirrors was worth a worshipful visit. The Sprungli store is operated by Lindt. The variety of chocolates on display was awesome. Lest I fall prey to the temptations of chocolates I quickly moved to the counter where Babu bought an assorted pack of Luxemburgerli, a speciality of the store. It is a cream filled biscuit, which is light and of different flavours. The flavour of the season was mango.
We reached the Badminton Club for the reception just a few minutes late. The meeting was warm and friendly during when Lal and I mentioned to the gathering a few incidents from the journey. The Q&A session did go on for long over soft drinks. However, before 8 pm we wound up and left with Jimmy for the place where we were to halt the night. Gigi and his family along with Joby and his family welcomed us into their home and showed us to the room. I joined the grill and drinks after I had completed some portion of the documentation that has to be completed every day, including writing the expenses and logging the day’s drive. The pleasant and informative interaction with Gigi, Joby and Jimmy gave an insight into the Swiss life, politics and economy. They have all done exceedingly well in the few years that they have been there. I plucked myself away from their midst as I had a long driving day ahead of me the next day – over 750 kms to Benefeld, Germany.