Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Switzerland, the heaven on earth and to me the land of milk (jahan doodh ki nadiyan behti hain) was the first country that I visited for official work. I was posted in Geneva. Initially the assignment was planned for just three months but as we neared the completion of my stay, fortunately (for me) or unfortunately it got extended twice to make it a trip of around one year.
So, I took this as a lifetime opportunity to see the neighbouring countries as well. Which ones ? You’ll come to know. :) Be a regular and watch this place. And no, don’t think I was on a relaxed job there. Working for around 60-65 hours a week does take its own toll. So, whenever I could, I made it a point to run away from that dead(ly) schedule and fulfill my passion of seeing the world, of course on my own expense.

Since it was quite a long period in Switzerland, I will talk about all I learnt about this country. Its people, culture, cities, mountains, festivals, transport, utilities, education system, survival of fellow Indians.. for that matter everything. As I said earlier, I am not writing this blog to send some tourists to these places; instead these are my recounting which I intend to treasure and cherish.

I think I am going to have innumerable posts on Switzerland. After all, my many firsts are associated with this.

In between I’ll take you to tours of other places as well. :) For this one year sojourn, you’ll find both kind of photos - scanned (taken from still camera) and digital pictures.

Before I proceed, something about Switzerland.

When people say Switzerland is heaven on earth, they are not wrong. I have been to many countries but never have I seen such a beautiful place. This country is much more beautiful in real than all that we see in Hindi movies (especially in Yashraj films). Where else such breathtaking panoramic views are spread over the entire country ? Of all the places I have been to, only landscaped countryside of New Zealand could somewhat be compared to Switzerland’s evergreen beauty. (Ohh there goes the mystery for one of the places :P)

Did you know Switzerland has four official languages? More on this later. Confederatio Helvetica, the country's official Latin name, means Helvetic Confederation. The use of Latin avoids having to favour any one of the four languages. The abbreviation (CH) is used for the same reason.
It shares its border with five countries (France, Germany, Liechtenstein, Austria and Italy) and it is one of the world’s most expensive country, expensive than Japan which many people think to be the most expensive one. Also, it is not a part of European Communion (EC). They still use Swiss Francs (1 CHF= Rs. 34 approx.).

Keep this map in your mind and I’ll take you to a tour of Switzerland. Click on it for an enlarged view.

It was absolutely fascinating wonderful experience for me in all aspects. Just one example, where else can you think of doing your weekly grocery shopping by going to a neighbouring country carrying your passport ? No wonder my passport looked ten years old in a single year.
And Shhhhh !! I had a Swiss bank account as well ! ;)

Ha Ha.. I am sure I am going to enjoy writing this blog. There is so much to write about.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Antwerp – The Harbour City

So, that was Antwerp.. the beautiful romantic city of diamonds and silvers. But do you know Antwerp is famous for one more reason ?

'The Scheldt river owes its existence to God, and Antwerp owes its existence to the Scheldt river' is a popular saying that shows how important the river Scheldt is for the city of Antwerp. Yes, Antwerp also has Europe's second largest and world’s fourth largest harbour. And its operating assets such as cranes, buildings, bridges, docks, roads, the electricity distribution network, data and stock management, planning, budgeting, reporting, performance tracking, internal and external outsourcing are being managed by IBM .
The following clip is taken from my colleague’s handycam, showing a passenger ship at the port. Before that day I had never seen a ship in my life, let alone this big. This time I didn’t have my camera so showing only the clips. Audio is bad, bear with me.

Of all the ports on the North Sea, Antwerp is the most central vis-à-vis the largest European production and consumption centers. Although the open North Sea is about 60 km away from Antwerp, the river is so large that sea-going vessels and large oil tankers can sail to deliver their products in the vast port area of the city.

Though the more common language in Belgium is French, this small city speaks Dutch, perhaps because of its proximity to Netherlands. Most buildings are old but a treat to eyes.. total architectural wonders. Many Indian restaurants, one doesn’t feel out of place.

Not as big as the 'Grand'Place' of Brussels, but certainly equally beautiful and crowded is the 'Grote Markt' of Antwerp, also known as Market Square.

In the background the tower of Our Lady's Cathedral completes the magnificent view.

One of the grandest buildings in Antwerp is the 'Central Station'. It welcomes visitors who arrive by train in Antwerp like a modern day cathedral. The part of the station where the platforms are, is covered by an immense metal and glass dome (typical for turn-of-the-century railway stations in Europe).

Following is the clip of a model of Antwerp Railway station stationed inside the railway station and then the real station itself. Got confused ? :))