Neera Saggi is awed with her visit to the classic tourist favourites… Switzerland, Norway & Iceland
Switzerland, Norway and Iceland – the three countries provide a unique opportunity for mountain tourism that is varied and unique. Switzerland, with its numerous cog trains and the cable cars leading to different mountain ranges is a family delight. These mostly originate in picturesque small villages and lead to high plateaus which are surrounded by 360 degree visions of snow-capped mountain ranges. Revered Matterhorn is, of course, special and is not surprisingly the most photographed mountain in Europe. Its ‘horn’ lends it a distinction that makes it stand apart from the different peaks surrounding it. In winter, there is opportunity to frolic in the snow whether at Mt Titlis or Jungfrau. Switzerland covered with snow give a sense of intimacy with mountains that lingers long after the experience. With many facilities at these destinations, sip a cup of coffee on a sunny day and marvel at the brightness and whiteness of it all!
In Norway, the vast mountain ranges are interspersed by valleys and fjords. A journey through the famous Flam Railway gives unimaginable glimpses of mountains and associated plateaus, lakes and peaks. These mountains with their mossy green cover and hundreds of waterfalls are a world apart from the blinding icy white of Switzerland ranges. The large passenger boats transport to fjords is an experience unique and unparalleled. These water bodies are surrounded by steep mountains cliffs that rise straight like rocks and seem to emerge from the depth of the crystal greenish bluish water. The visitor strains to look up at these slopes while cruising on narrow waters and see images reflected in the translucent waters of the dark cliffs surrounding the water.
Icelandic mountains are rugged, dark and towering and almost menacing. The lightness and white hues of Switzerland seem distant and different, and mostly one sees around in Iceland are different shades of brown. Mountains of all shapes and sizes, these have interesting rock formations, a result of intense volcanic activities. Situated on two tectonic plates, these are rough on the edges and harsh in their appearance. With glaciers hiking and gushing hot spots, it is a tourist’s paradise. Amidst these brown harsh tones emerge icebergs capturing the rainbow colours. There is hardly any vegetation except centuries old thick moss at places which no one steps on as it is so precious. Trees are almost revered and there is a yearly context for the most handsome tree in the country! We were shown the gorgeous leafy winner of this year. No wonder the country abounds in stories and legends about gnomes and imps under each stone which people almost believe.
The charm of towns
It is not only the mountains that are so distinctive, the cities of the three countries also have an individuality that makes each one of them stand apart. Switzerland has a number of towns each that has a character of its own – Bern is a quaint essential town, with its old city, famous clock, the Kirche and the Aare river flowing through it; Basel has a majesty that is bestowed on it by Rhein river and the historic Basel cathedral; Lugano with its vineyards, and the lively Italian atmosphere; Lucerne with its ancient wooden bridges and Sunday market. An eight days rail pass is not sufficient to see this country, which though small, has myriad attractions.
Norway’s capital Oslo has emerged into a bustling modern city with large green spaces and museums. The new public buildings like the opera house and Astrup Fearnley Museum are landmarks in contemporary architecture and are excellent examples of artistic and public spaces in fusion. The panaromic Oslo and its fjord, bustling with restaurants and gourmet cuisine ensure it is one of the most popular destinations in Europe today. There is also a must-visit touristic town Bergen and the Flam Railway which undoubtedly is the most bewitching rail journey in the world. Trondheim and Tromso though much smaller towns provide a gateway to Fjords and its surrounding areas with multiplecruises available for different durations. Each town has a large or small collection of art. The highlight, of course, is the paintings of Edward Munch with their very distinctive style on view in Bergen and Oslo. On display is the much recognised ‘The Scream’ and many more including ‘the Dance of Life’, ‘The Girls on the Bridge’. A larger collection of Munch, not surprisingly, is difficult to find anywhere else.
Reykjavik, the cosy capital of Iceland, home to less than 200,000 people, is gradually finding its place on the world tourist map. In the last few years it has hosted five times more tourists than its entire population. Not surprisingly, as in the unending summer nights the sun does not set and the long winter darkness brings with it the elusive northern lights. Tours abound to glaciers, icebergs, geysers, tumbling golden waterfall, ancient volcanoes, bubbling hot spots and steam vents. It is an incredible geo thermal experience, rare and unique. An excursion to The Blue Lagoon is a popular trip to soak in the blue green algae water of the spa, which contains mineral salt and silica. The opera house “Harpa” is a delightful architecture with its façade that glimmers like fish net in sea. The Hallgrimskirkja is the central church and appears to be a part of setting for the Game of Thrones. Iceland is a must visit before the hordes of tourists invade it and the pristine elegance fades.
Each of these countries can be visited with facilitative ease. With the Swiss rail pass and the most helpful Swiss railway information guides one can plan for each day and move within different locations easily. The Norway in a nutshell site goes even beyond and helps to plan an itinerary for one to any number of days. It also supports booking of accommodation and train tickets. Cruises on the fjords can be booked from India. Iceland is a little more challenging and needs more understanding of different location to enable one to plan a trip. However, once in Reykjavik there is no shortage of tours both from the hotel and the tourist centre.