Friday, April 30, 2010

The Bernina Express and the Glacier Express

Thursday, April 29

Breakfast was fairly standard fare for Europe - much, much better than anything we get back in the US, but nothing spectacular. Lots of cheeses, fruits, some meats (which I always find odd in the morning), rolls, chocolate croissants, and juice and coffee. No tea, though. I did have an amazingly sweet kiwi, homegrown in Italy - much sweeter than the kiwis we get from New Zealand. We slept as late as we could, and then walked leisurely back to the train station. It was a short visit to Varenna, but this was really just meant as a way to recover from the flight before starting our real trip through Switzerland, and I thought recovering would be much more pleasant in Lake Como than in Milan. We took the train to Tirano, which is supposedly in Italy although I noticed my phone was picking up "SwissCom" and lunch was charged in Swiss Francs rather than Euros. We had just under two hours in Tirano until we were ready to board the Bernina Express, so we had some very tasty pizzas and, of course, wine, at the pizzeria across from the train station. Tried calling the boys at the AT&T's 'discounted" International rate of one dollar a minute, as opposed to the regular two dollars a minute. It was 6:30 a.m. and Alex wasn't the most talkative, but Ryan made up for it. The Bernina Express is a rail route that is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and when it was first built, it was considered quite an engineering feat. The train itself was immaculate. Lovely and clean, with a bathroom I wasn't afraid to use. We had upgraded to the panoramic windows, and they were crystal clear. Unlike the Italian trains which were dirty, graffiti-covered and don't even get me started on the bathrooms. Women are not meant to pee standing up, This is Italy - not a third world country. I even took a picture I was so horrified. Needless to say, I waited.

Back to the Bernina... its a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and I think it  and the Glacier Express are the only trains to be one. I'd seen photos of it, and of some of the bridges and tunnels it goes through, and watched a video about great Train Rides in the World, so I was fairly pumped for this trip. This can often lead to disappointment for me. I'm happy to say that the Bernina was so beautiful it even surpassed my rather high expectations. There is this very cool circular viaduct we traveled over, the only one in the world, and you can actually see the first part of the red trains in front of you circling around it. There were three other people in our compartment (the beauty of traveling off-peak times when school is in session) and while we started out sitting down, there was very little sitting as we were constantly up and down, running from one side to the other to see what was awaiting us. Lots of vineyards and apple orchards, and according to my brochure, we went through 55 tunnels and over 196 bridges and viaducts. We passed a few ski resorts (Davos, Klosters) and saw some snowboarders, and back down in the valleys I even saw some cows. The tourist in me has a goal of seeing a real Swiss cow wearing cow bells this trip. These guys were too far away to see if they had the cow bells on, and Carl was fiddling with the camera and couldn't get it to me fast enough to get a picture (yes, he is still alive. just.) so the photo is still to come.

Our destination for the day was St. Moritz, picked solely because it is a meeting point for the Bernina Express and the Glacier Express, the other famous Swiss train ride we'll be doing tomorrow. Our hotel for the night is the Waldhaus am See, which is conveniently close to the train station, and not so conveniently UP from the train station. Its situated at the end of the lake of St. Moritz, so its away from the noise and congestion of most of the town. It is also stunning, and we selected the half-board option, so dinner is included. We spent about two hours walking around the town - it has a big, glitzy ski area, so they have lots of shopping options, like Chanel, Dolce and Gabana, Gucci and Armani. Fun to look at, but its not like I would ever buy anything there. We did find an ATM and got some Swiss Francs - they have 200 ch bills, which is fascinating to me since we don't - and the exchange rate now is almost dead even. Its kind of odd walking around with 200 bills that actually are worth $200. We found a Co-op, and went in to buy some diet coke and investigate the chocolate situation. Its my current mission (next to the cow picture) to personally sample all the Swiss chocolate so that I can make a fully informed decision as to the best to bring home to loved ones. In the lead thus far is the Lindt Double Milk Chocolate - a milk chocolate bar with a creamy milk filling that literally melted in my mouth. 
Our hotel:

We then walked around Lake St. Moritz - it took about an hour, but it was lovely and we even had a snowball fight. :) Then it was back to the hotel for dinner, which was nice, although I'm not sure it was as nice as the price seemed to think it was. The beds were... interesting. Apparently the Swiss don't believe in flat sheets - just a fitted sheet and a duvet cover. I suppose it could work, but it was hot in the room, so we opened a window. Then it was too cold, so I would close it. Then it was too hot, and I platyed this game for way too long into the night before I finally managed to fall asleep. Carl wasn't bothered at all. Typical.

Friday, April 30

Woke up nice and early for breakfast (which inlcuded a make your own omelet station, and my own tea pot, so both Carl and I were a bit happier). Today was our journey on the Glacier Express. It started out equally as spectacular as yesterday, with a few more waterfalls, more bridges and viaducts and an obscene number of tunnels. Its kind of freaky how they just blast through these mountains to make a tunnel, and  it was odd going  down from St. Moritz to some valleys, then back up into the Alps towards Andermatt before finally descending again. The train continues all the way to Zermatt, but we hopped off in Brig to catch our next train. 
The glass on the Glacier Express train had a bit more glare to it than the Bernina Express so I don't think my pictures turned out too well. And it was a lot more crowded, so it was harder to run from side to side of the train for pictures. They serve a three course lunch during this train ride, which was way overpriced, but we did it anyway. With a bottle of wine, of course. :) It helped break up the journey which was LONG - too long. I don't think I'll need to do this one ever again. It was about eight hours total - 6.5 on the Glacier Express, and another 1.5 hours to Vevey. I did see lots of cows today, on a plus note. And some even were wearing their cowbells. Not the most ornate cow bells, but cow bells nonetheless.
My cows:
Where Heidi is set:

We arrived in Vevey about 5:30 p.m., and checked into our hotel. Its a much smaller room than our last two, and an even smaller bathroom with a note warning us not to open the bathroom door after showering until all steam is gone or else it will set off the fire alarm. This should be fun. Vevey is beautiful, with a lovely promenade along the lake. You can see France quite clearly across the water, and I think we just might have to go over to Evian-des-Bains for some water. The boat rides are included with our Swiss rail passes, so it would be a shame not to use it to its fullest.

We're done moving around for a bit - it was a whirlwind few days so Carl could get his train journeys. Now its my turn for castles, wine trains, cheese factories and the Chocolate Train. Vevey has a fruit and flowers market tomorrow morning - I can't wait.


  1. What can I say... enojoy it while I am at the office.
    Those pictures are absolutely wonderful.


  2. Gorgeous, annalynn!! Can't wait to hear and see more. Must live vicariously through you!!

  3. Yes, this is wonderful. I poured myself a glass of wine and found some chocolate to nibble on while reading this entry. I can't wait to read about your castle, cheese, wine, and chocolate adventures. Hmmmm, wouldn't Mr. Depp be the perfect addition to that list...



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