My journey started in Zurich when I boarded the train south to Andermatt to catch the legendary Glacier Train that runs from Zermatt to St Moritz. "You need to go to Goeschenen," the conductor advised me as we made our way into the foothills of the Alps. I explained that I needed to go to Andermatt not Goeschenen, but he wouldn't listen.
I got off in Goeschenen at nightfall and walked over to the train that went to Andermatt. Actually, it was more like a streetcar except that there was a spoked-wheel that propelled us amidst, much groaning, up the slopes to Andermatt. I guess the conductor knew best.
Traveling in Switzerland is relaxing and easy; it is also legendary when time is concerned. The Swiss don't run their trains by the clock; it's vice versa - they set their Swiss army watches by the arrival and departure of the train!
Each passenger train, every bus and boat routinely runs on the hour. If the train departs Zermatt at 12.02, it will also depart at 1:02 and then again at 2:02. One day, I took the scenic train from Chur to Arosa for lunch and had the nerve to ask the waitress for the time of my train's departure. "Why," she said; "is something wrong?" I assured her nothing was wrong, so she told me, somewhat annoyed, that the train would leave on time, like always, 12 minutes after every hour.
The Glacier Train is different. Not only does it run only once a day, but it has the honour of being the slowest express train in the world. Its narrow gage tracks hardly find enough room on some slopes as this engineering marvel spirals and moans its way to the top. As it meanders through the alpine meadows, it is unobtrusive, looking like it has been there since the beginning of time.
A romantic trip down memory lane on board one of the 1920-era Pullman coaches, complete with a dining car, the Swiss Alpine version of the Orient Express takes about eight hours from beginning to end. Starting near the Italian border, not far from legendary Matterhorn Mountain in Zermatt, the train winds along some glaciers on its way past the Simplon Pass, the villages of Visp and Brig skirting the Valais Region in an easterly direction. By Oberwald, just south of the famous Jungfrau, Eiger and Moench mountain peaks, where the traditional and fast commuter train goes underground, the Glacier Express chooses rather to climb the Alps toward Andermatt. It is here at the historical winter resort of the Gotthard region that I board the Glacier Express on my journey east.
From Andermatt, the train continues to climb over Oberalp, past a few deserted but wonderfully restored historical rail stations that lead nowhere, in an easterly direction toward the village of Reichenau. Here, we turn southerly as it winds and works its way along the upper reaches of the Rhine toward the final destination of St Moritz. This is a town of about 6,000 that grows to 100,000 when the rich and famous invade expensive hotels and restaurants during skiing season.
Traveling on a Swiss Rail Pass is an experience in itself. No other country has perfected travel as have the Swiss. A single train pass allows you travel every kilometer of track you can find and every last kilometer by Postal Bus. The pass is accepted on all cable cars taking you up to the top of mountains, and it covers all boat travel as well as all public transit if needed. Accordingly, each village is accessible, and there are some with only five homes in some of the more remote mountain valleys; if the train does not stop there, the yellow Postal Bus surely will. Transferring between different carriers is easy and encouraged; thus, if traveling from Bern to Interlaken by train, you may get off your rail coach in Thun, the village on the shores of Thuner See (Lake Thun) and take the passenger ferry to any of the nearby villages where may you board the train to Interlaken again or continue your journey on water directly to the small town of Interlaken.
In 2008, a portion of the most picturesque and spectacular segment of the Glacier Train Route, the Albula Line section, located between the Villages of Andermatt and St. Moritz became only the third rail line in the world to be named a UNESCO heritage site. (The other two are the Semmering Train Route in Austria and the Darjeeling Railway in the Himalayas.)
Traveling Switzerland's mountain region presents an exceptional experience with weather. Starting your day with a swim on one of the sunny beaches on the lower lands, it is possible that by the time the train has climbed a few thousand feet by lunch you may find yourself rummaging through luggage, looking for a sweater as you marvel at the freshly fallen snow covering the nearby maintain peaks, tantalizingly close yet inaccessible in their majestic setting. This small country is proud to have changed very little since the "Blue Crocodile" made its first trip along one of the world's most scenic routes, 75 years ago. The Blue Croc, engine number 412, was built in 1925, and although retired after chugging 4.5 million miles, (104 times around the world) it returned to service after receiving a new coat of blue paint!
Alex Eberspaecher is an award-winning author and journalist with a number of Canadian and international lifestyle magazines and trade publications, and a contributor to the Toronto Star. His main focus is travel, wine and food and nature. He is a member of SATW, NATJA, TMAC and WWCC. Contact Alex at
www.winecop.com Judy Eberspaecher enjoys travel, wine and nature photography. She has been published in Centre of the City, West of the City and Good Life amongst other credits. Contact her at Judy@eberimage.ca
If you go
Switzerland has not joined the EU and retains the Swiss Franc as the official currency. (1 Cdn. Dollar = 1.09 Swiss Franc.) As the currency is almost equal, conversion is easy. At major hotels and stores, Euros may also be used. Although prices may be slightly higher, remember that whatever is indicated is what you pay as all taxes are included and all restaurants include tips and taxes in the bill. German, French and Italian are the official languages (as are a few isolated other languages) but most establishments speak English.
An 8-day rail pass costs Can $347 in 2nd class, $517 in 1st class and for 2 weeks $422 ($633 for 1st class.) Check
www.raileurop.com for details and
www.rail.ch for schedules. Air Canada, in conjunction with Swiss Air lines has daily flights from Toronto to Zurich.
What's happening, money, distance, time?
Media Guide: http://www.abyznewslinks.com/
Currency conversion: http://www.xe.com/ucc/
Distance calculator: http://www.indo.com/distance/
Time zone converter: http://www.timezoneconverter.com/
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/