Italy, Switzerland & Austria (August 2017) – Venice, Swiss Mountain Railways & Mauthausen Memorial
This trip was an attempt to visit some parts of Switzerland that we’d only ever been to during the Winter months. Most prominently featuring the Aletsch Glacier, accessed from the gondolas that head up towards it from stations along the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn. As it was Summer we also planned to visit Rochers de Naye, as there was a daily loco-hauled service plying the hill railway during the Summer, and Schynige Platte as it had recently been included in the Swiss Pass free travel. As we’d never been to Switzerland during the Summer months we were looking forward to the change of scenery, in a familiar country; but oh, how the weather would take the anticipation away from us!
To get to Switzerland we were flying to Venice, Italy, simply because it was the cheapest way of getting to somewhere neighbouring Switzerland; and we’d never been to Venice either. Finally, we’d fly home from Vienna, Austria. The idea behind venturing into Vienna was to visit the Mauthausen Concentration Camp, now a memorial site, having visited Auschwitz earlier in the year.
Booked through Monarch & British Airways direct
ZB7252 1635 Gatwick – Venice
BA701 1420 Vienna – Heathrow
Venice (Italy) – Hotel Ambassador Tre Rose – just off Piazza San Marco, check in is at the Albergo San Marco Hotel, just around the corner. Thankfully the AC had already been turned on for us as it was very stuffy outside after the storm. While it wasn’t a big room, it was clean and the bathroom had all the toiletries we needed. The only thing missing was a kettle! Breakfast was served at the Albergo San Marco Hotel but wasn’t included in our room rate.
Brig (Switzerland) – Good Night Inn – Our hotel of choice in Brig has always been the Good Night Inn but on this occasion, we’d had to settle for somewhere else, that was until only a week before our trip the Good Night Inn released some rooms to Booking.com; at which point the original hotel was cancelled and the Good Night Inn was snapped up instead. Ever since we’d planned the trip I’d been regularly checking to see if the Good Night Inn had released any rooms as their main clientele is tour groups and they don’t always cater to the stand-alone guest. I was glad we’d managed to get in though and even though we couldn’t check in at 1115 when we arrived, we could leave our bags in the hotel reception until we got back that evening. The rooms at the Good Night Inn are pretty standard but are at least sizeable. They don’t offer much on the mod-con front but there is shower gel provided, Ibis style, and the rooms have always been clean when we’ve stayed. Unfortunately, the one we had was on the front and offered views of the town and not the mountains like those on the other side of the building did.
Chur (Switzerland) – Ibis Chur West – 10 minutes’ walk from Chur West station, we were given a room at the back of the hotel, which is apparently where the rooms stay coolest in Summer, and it wasn’t overlooking McDonalds so would be quiet, the hotel receptionist told us. When I realised that none of the rooms in the Ibis Chur West had A/C, I understood why the receptionist was emphasizing the room at the back of the hotel being among the coolest in the hotel. It was a little warm but a breeze from the door, which opened onto a shared walkway balcony, soon cooled it enough. The room was typically Ibis and had everything you’d expect from an Ibis, other than A/C, and was clean.
Vienna (Austria) – Mercure Grand Hotel Biedermeier – The Mercure Grand Hotel Biedermeier is only a short distance from Wien Mitte station, out of the station, turn left and it’s up the hill on the right, accessed through a narrow passageway; which makes it hard to spot from the main road. First impressions were good but the girl dealing with us at reception didn’t seem to know what she was doing. I’d checked in online, as I’m an Accor member, and was expecting to turn up at the front desk, be handed our room key and that was it. For some reason, I was asked for a credit card, which I queried, which she then queried with one of her colleagues and handed it me back, without having done anything with it. Our room keys weren’t ready for us and we had to wait for her to process them, after which she did confirm breakfast time and where it was served, which would become important the following morning.
Our “classic” double room was nice, clean, had tea/coffee making facilities and decent A/C. It was also in a quiet part of the hotel, not overlooking the main road at the front. Unfortunately, the nice room didn’t redeem the hotel for what happened the following morning, or at check-out the day after!
Interrail Global Pass (7 days in 1 month – 1st Class)
Booked in the UK through the Interrail website
Reservations for overnight trains from Linz to Zurich & Zurich to Vienna were booked through Rail Canterbury in the UK
Sunday 6th August 2017 (Heading to Venice)
I’d been at the Spa Valley Railway diesel gala all weekend and managed a return trip from Tunbridge Wells to Eridge before heading via Tonbridge & Redhill to Gatwick to meet my wife, who’d travelled down from Doncaster using her Interrail. I hadn’t wanted to waste one of my inclusive internal Interrail journeys from Tunbridge Wells to Gatwick, so bought a single instead; the saved journey coming in handy for an impromptu trip to France a month later.
Gatwick Airport was busy but it was a smooth transfer through the airport to the waiting area and the flight departed more or less to time. We had a row of three seats between us on the plane and thankfully we landed in Venice before a rather big storm passed through; which we’d seen forecast before we’d departed the UK.
Our Hotel in Venice, the Ambassador Tre Rose, was just off Piazza San Marco and to get there we used the Alilaguna operated waterbus route A, which runs from the airport, via the Grand Canal, to San Marco. During the Summer months though most route A waterbuses terminate at Giglio, which is only a short walk from San Marco anyway. Our single tickets cost €16 each and were purchased from one of the Alilaguna counters in the airport, mainly as the machines offer tickets by route and if you don’t know which route you’re using then the machines are hard to figure out and get the right ticket! The walk from the airport terminal to the waterbus terminal is a good 10 minutes, at a decent pace. With luggage, I’d allow 20 minutes. We arrived at the departure point for the route A ferries at 2014 and thankfully the 2015 departure hadn’t even boarded. I was quite surprised at both the seating arrangement on board and the lack of it as well. The ferry we travelled on had seats around the outside of the ferry and not in rows like I’d expected, and there couldn’t have been more than 20 people on board on departure; and it was a little cozy. Thankfully most luggage was stored up top and was arranged by the captain as we boarded.
As we stormed across the open water towards the Venice islands the storm that had been threatening loomed over them, making the skies to one side black as can be while the other side of us was clear and the sun was still shining. The heavens opened before we reached the grand canal, just as a Wizz Air plane was taking off. I’d say they were just in time as 10-15 minutes later the whole place was engulfed by the storm and the lightening show was good to watch en-route. Thankfully the storm passed quickly, so we could watch from a distance as we approached Venice. Most people on board got off the ferry at Rialto, which is one of the main points along the canal. We could have got off there and walked to the hotel quicker but we wouldn’t have got our trip up the grand canal had we done so.
The canal itself was quiet, probably due to the massive storm that had passed through and the journey from the airport to Giglio took 1h10m. All the boat stops are called out by the captain and each has a visible sign to confirm where it is. I was using ME Maps to navigate so knew where we were as we trundled through the city.
On face value, Venice looks like a nightmare to navigate but if you have some form of maps on your phone then it’s easy enough, especially if you have a route planner; which knows where the bridges over the waterways are. Unfortunately for us the location of the Ambassador Tre Rose was wrong on ME Maps but thankfully not too wrong. Having search the address instead of the hotel, we were only a couple of minutes’ walk from it and were checking in at the Albergo San Marco Hotel, just around the corner, after one of the hotel staff came to collect us after we’d pressed the buzzer to gain access. Check-in was simple enough and we were soon dropping our bags back at the Ambassador Tre Rose. The room wasn’t very big at all but sufficed for what we needed. Thankfully the AC had already been turned on for us as it was very stuffy outside after the storm. While it wasn’t a big room, it was clean and the bathroom had all the toiletries we needed. The only thing missing was a kettle! Breakfast was served at the Albergo San Marco Hotel but wasn’t included in our room rate and we didn’t bother with it on either morning.
As we’d not had anything to eat for a while, we ended up around the corner in the Venice Hard Rock Café. While Hard Rock Café’s aren’t cheap, they do serve good food and our waiter made the experience a worthwhile trip that night. We even came away with souvenir glasses, which if you’re planning on having a beer and getting one anyway are almost given away in the beer/glass deal; and are less than half the price they would be if you bought one separately. The only downfall of this was that we had to carry them around with us for the next 10 days, but they made it back home unscathed, probably as they were in decent protective boxes.
When we walked back from the Hard Rock Café towards the Ambassador Tre Rose, our walk was halted in Piazza San Marco when the entrance to the alleyway we needed to access was 3 inches deep in water. Parts of the Piazza were also under water, a combination of high tide and storm surge after the earlier storm were the reason. At times during bad weather the whole Piazza is flooded ankle deep but thankfully this wasn’t one of those occasions; but we did have to walk the long way around to get back to the Ambassador Tre Rose though. While some folk in the Piazza were paddling in the water, we couldn’t be arsed with getting our feet wet and then walking barefoot back to the hotel on the direct pathways. It had been a long day for both of us and I had some sleep to catch up on after the weekend at the Spa Valley; we had no intention of getting up early the following morning and didn’t even bother setting an alarm.
Photos from Sunday 6th August 2017
Monday 7th August 2017 (Venice)
A reasonably late start to the morning had us wondering into Piazza San Marco in the late morning. It was already in the high 20’s, if not about 30 degrees, and there were a lot of people about. It was August after all! Thankfully, there weren’t as many people in the square as the news back home had shown the previous week, when you literally couldn’t move and the locals were complaining about the amount of cruise ships turning up and depositing thousands of people a day in Venice.
We had a wonder around Piazza San Marco and then a stroll down the seafront but the sheer heat cut our walk short and we opted for a meander through the narrow streets towards Rialto; to keep in the shade instead. The bridge at Rialto is one of the main attractions in Venice and there was barely room to move on it so that venture ended abruptly and we took solace in a café along the front, by the name of Ristorante Al Carbon, and had a quick pasta lunch. The café had a lot canvas mounted photos on its walls, all of Venice. The café owner was soon engaging us in conversation when he spotted my big SLR on the table; long story short, he’d taken all the photos himself and it was his second income and a good hobby he said. I was quite impressed with his moody, alternative take on Venice, and we left with his card; not that I would ever do anything with it of course.
By the time we got back to the hotel for a sit down that afternoon, I think we’d already covered Venice in a nutshell. We’d done the main square and seen plenty of churches and old buildings during our meander through the streets. For me admiring Venice for what it is, is what made the day. It’s simply a city built on the sea and it amazed me that it was so intricate. Watching gondolas navigate the narrow waterways is something you can only do for so long before the novelty wears off and meandering narrow streets, they all soon begin to look familiar and one blends into the next, as do the bridges of the waterways and canal itself. Don’t get me wrong, Venice was fascinating and I enjoyed my day there. But, I don’t see there being anything to keep people there for days on end, especially at the height of Summer when it’s so busy. Gondola rides are €80 per hire (irrelevant of the amount of people, up to the max of course), which is a ridiculous amount of money and this fee goes up at night! Still, I’d been impressed with what I’d seen and the Piazza would get my full attention later that evening, when it was at its most impressive for me; because it was different.
Randomly, our choice for food that night was a Chinese restaurant a short walk from our hotel, called Dragone D’Oriente. Random because we usually spend our time in other cities trying to locate Italian restaurants but when in Italy we go completely against the grain! We should have stuck with Italian as the service was shocking and by the time Danielle’s food had arrived I’d finished mine. There was also a charge on the receipt, shown as table charge, which when I challenged the waitress about she did nothing but shrug her shoulders. €6 to be allowed to sit down at a table is ridiculous, especially when the service was crap. The food was quite tasty though, but that didn’t redeem them. If you want decent Chinese food in Venice then by all means use this place but don’t expect great service and be prepared for the table charge.
We went for a walk after we’d eaten, only locally around Piazza San Marco but it was just as busy of an evening as it had been in the late morning/early afternoon, if not busier. The two differences being, it was dark and the temperature was almost bearable. Still, it was quite pleasant in the Piazza with restaurant live musicians trying to outdo each other as they entertained the masses. In reality one group would pass the audience to the next while they had a rest and the public would do the rounds of each set of entertainers. It was quite a relaxing atmosphere and on the whole, we returned to our room satisfied that our day in Venice had been worth it. And if it hadn’t been, it was when I wondered back down to the Piazza at midnight, which just so happened to be high tide. While the amount of water coming up through the Piazza’s drainage holes wasn’t as much as there had been the previous night, there was still enough to enable good photos of the surrounding buildings being reflected in the water. I spent a good half an hour with my camera poised and for a good 15 minutes of that I was laid flat on my belly to make sure the camera was level and to get the best reflective angles; much to the amusement of some people, who even resorted to photting me! As the flooding wasn’t to the same extent as the previous night, after the storm, I was able to get back to the Ambassador Tre Rose via the direct route on this occasion, where the narrow streets were completely deserted but for my footsteps.
With the very late night, we were already packed for our departure to pastures new the following day and there was even less of an incentive to set an alarm than there had been the previous night. We had no intentions of going anywhere, or doing anything the following day; other than walking to the station after lunch.
Photos from Monday 7th August 2017 – Venice Daytime
Photos from Monday 7th August 2017 – Venice Nightime
Tuesday 8th August 2017 (Venice to Linz then overnight to Zurich)
It was gone 10 o’clock when we ended up getting out of our pit and we checked out at midday on the dot. Had been going to leave our bags at the hotel while we went for lunch but I’d spotted a load of restaurants on the way to Santa Lucia station the previous day, so we took them with us and found a place called Ristorante Pedrocchi, in an open square not far from the station. The pizzas we had were good and while the peace was broken by a local demonstration in the corner of the square, it wasn’t invasive and it was a relaxing meal.
We were at Santa Lucia well early for our 1555 departure to Villach Hbf so we had some time to kill. When I had time, I attempted to figure out how to do reservations on the self-service ticket machines and failed miserably. Even when I went into the ticket office to get them, the girl handing out queue tickets attempted to do it on the machine first; and failed! I wasn’t overly bothered about having a reservation as we were in 1st class anyway but for the peace of mind I attempted to get some anyway, after all, they were only €6 internally in Italy. When the guy at the ticket counter asked me for €26 for the two reservations, I pretty much told him where to stick them and walked away without them.
When 1216011 backed the stock in for EC30 1555 Venezia Santa Lucia – Wien Hbf, we were poised at the 1st class, right behind the loco. There were very few reservations in the open seated coach and none at all in the compartment coach, so in the end we’d done the right thing with not getting a reservation; that was until we were gripped and the guard asked for €26 instead. He was polite enough about it and at least gave us the gen that all EC trains in Italy & Austria carry the reservation levy now, with it being €9 in 2nd class and €13 in 1st class. Payment by card was a farce though and even the guard was getting annoyed with his various machines. He had to use his tablet to create the fare, I paid on a remote hand-held card reader and another remote machine issued the ticket; at the third time of asking. Had I known I’d be €26 out of pocket by doing EC30 to Villach we’d have been doing a local to Udine for REX1822 1722 Udine – Villach Hbf forward, which arrived Villach a few minutes in front of EC30. The irony being that we made REX1822 at Tarvisio Boscoverde anyway! Our connecting train from Villach, IC591 1845 Klagenfurt Hbf – Salzburg Hbf then had to be held waiting connections off EC30, which had been delayed at Tarvisio waiting for the Italian border guards to release the train.
There was plenty of room in 1st class, which was again compo’s. Upon arrival, we stocked up on a few bits for our overnight journey to Zurich. The supermarket in the underpass at the station was very busy for 10pm. We had a choice of 2 Railjet services to Linz Hbf for our overnight to Zurich Hbf. The 1st class on Railjet sets is loads better than the 2nd class but I was a little taken aback when we were charged for the drinks we had on our way to Linz, with the only free thing being handed out in 1st class on Railjet being mini tic-tac’s. It wasn’t the kind of service I expected from 1st class on the continent but I quickly understood that the UK seemed to be the only country offering complementary everything in its 1st class.
It was a successful evening really, other than having to shelter out of the rain that was blowing sideways onto the platforms at Linz. At Salzburg Hbf the Zurich portion of EN462 was quickly onto EN466, which was sat waiting in the adjacent platform. After buggering about on the platform, it was then bedtime, in what turned out to be a rickety old MAV coach, which I was less than impressed with, especially given we’d paid €74 each for the berth reservations! Having looked at the OBB sleepers in the formation, they were a lot nicer, modern and had better facilities and freebies. I queried our berth reservations with Rail Canterbury when I got back and was told that when they book the berths they can’t specify a coach, let alone an operator. So, it is basically down to the luck of the draw.
Wednesday 9th August 2017 (Switzerland – a trip to Rochers de Naye)
After departing Buchs 20’ late, the coach attendant brought us a hot drink and a carton of orange juice each and that was breakfast; absolutely shocking for 1st class, to say I wasn’t impressed was an understatement. The train crew that had joined at Buchs were soon coming around to let everyone know that the train was going to be approx. 30’ late into Zurich. Unfortunately, this posed a problem for us as we’d hoped to get the 0912 departure from Zurich direct to Brig to dump our bags at the hotel. Having checked on the SBB app, a stroke of luck came our way as IC810 0740 Romanshorn – Brig was being worked into Brig by an Ersatzug and the forward set was departing from the main platforms and not platforms 31-34 downstairs. So, we stood a chance of making it. We arrived at 0909 and were first off the train. Luckily, the fact we were towards the front of the train allowed us to quickly run around to platform 17 and we had barely enough time to sit down in 1st class when the doors were closing and the train was on the move.
The journey to Brig was nothing short of a journey of napping. At Brig, we didn’t have a massive amount of time to get to the hotel and back before we needed to be on the 1158 Brig – Geneve Aeroport, to Montreux. Our hotel of choice in Brig has always been the Good Night Inn but on this occasion, we’d had to settle for somewhere else, that was until only a week before our trip the Good Night Inn released some rooms to Booking.com; at which point the original hotel was cancelled and the Good Night Inn was snapped up instead. Ever since we’d planned the trip I’d been regularly checking to see if the Good Night Inn had released any rooms as their main clientele is tour groups and they don’t always cater to the stand-alone guest. I was glad we’d managed to get in though and even though we couldn’t check in at 1115 when we arrived, we could leave our bags in the hotel reception until we got back that evening.
The journey through to Montreux in 1st class was relaxing, which was the very reason for buying a 1st class Interrail in the first place. However, we’d be using 2nd class Swiss Passes from the following day as the discounts were greater on the mountain railways and the Interrail wasn’t valid on the likes of Schynige Platte Bahn at all. On arrival at Montreux it was all happening with MOB trains shunting about the place.
The very reason for being at Montreux was to do the La Belle Epoque Summer service operated by MOB twice a day from Montreux to Rochers de Naye. This service had been re-introduced in 2017 after a good 4-5 years absent. The guard of the train told me this had been to allow MOB to overhaul the open-air coaches that were used on the service. MOB had also just taken delivery of two new Hem2/2 electric box locos, No’s 11 & 12 and on this occasion No.11 was the train loco and was affixed to the Montreux end of the two coaches. The guard on board was quite friendly but when I asked what time it departed, that was my downfall as far as chinging out goes. After he told me, he asked to see our tickets and when I flashed the Interrail tickets he told me they weren’t valid. When I pulled my Swiss Passes out though, he told me they were only valid half way up the line and that we’d have to pay the add-on if we wanted to go to Rochers de Naye. I gladly handed over a CHF50 note, which I got less than CFH2 change from, as the Swiss Passes he’d told me were valid so far, didn’t actually start until the following day, so his offer of part payment was way better than shelling out the full amount with the Interrails not being valid.
The booked 1417 Montreux – Rochers de Naye service ran up the line in front of us, despite our train having a 1415 departure time, and we followed it all the way to Rochers de Naye, on block. People from the service train transferred to the La Belle Epoque at Montreux, when they realised there was no additional charge and most sat in the open-air coach. We were sensible about things and set in the coach with closing doors as the weather looked set to turn during the afternoon and it looked quite misty up in the hills. It was a sensible move too as half way up the weather changed completely and it turned cold, at Rochers de Naye it was only about 6 degrees and I’d not brought a coat with me; it was at home in Doncaster! The mist also ended up blocking the view from Rochers de Naye, so other than getting photos of the train and feeding the local marmots, there was nothing to do other than keep warm in the café for the hour we had there.
The La Belle Epoque set laid over an hour at Rochers de Naye and then preceded the 1611 Rochers de Naye – Montreux service train back down the hill. Needless to say, there were only a few people on the train because of the poor weather. The guard had told us earlier that as the weather forecast was poor for the next two days the La Belle Epoque service wouldn’t be running at all, so beware.
We were glad to get back to Brig that night. The rooms at the Good Night Inn are pretty standard but are at least sizeable. They don’t offer much on the mod-con front but there is shower gel provided, Ibis style, and the rooms have always been clean when we’ve stayed. Unfortunately, the one we had was on the front and offered views of the town and not the mountains like those on the other side of the building did.
Having dumped our bags, we headed to the Channa restaurant, which was our usual haunt when in Brig, and were ready for a decent meal by the time it arrived. It’s always fun watching the pizza chef at the Channa and on this particular night we were right in front of him and he was quite busy as well. The food was as good as always and we left with our appetite’s appeased.
The weather had taken a drastic turn by the time we got back to Brig and it was raining quite hard. This dampened our plans for the following day as we’d originally planned to head out to Fiesch and up to Eggishorn to have a look at the Aletsch Glacier during the Summer. The weather forecast told us to do otherwise as it was going to be cloudy all day and never get above 0 degrees! Which is always a good thing when you don’t have a coat with you! So, we had no real plan for the following day when we went to bed but did at least plan to get up at a reasonable time to cover all bases.
Photos from Wednesday 9th August 2017
Thursday 10th August 2017 (Switzerland – a wasted day thanks to shocking Summer weather)
Breakfast at the Good Night Inn is always fun, especially if you’re a people watcher. The breakfast itself is about as basic as they come though, with bread, cheese, meat and cereals. There’s nothing hot at all, other than hot drinks. Looking out of the window though, hot drinks were going to be needed as it was hammering it down. Needless to say, a quick check of the Eggishorn weather and webcam confirmed that we shouldn’t go anywhere near it for the next couple of days. So, with a shirt acting as a coat over my t-shirt, we headed to the station, trying to keep dry under the shop awnings on the way. Danielle, you see, is sensible and she had her pack-a-mack with her so she kept dry. It wasn’t a great walk to the station for me though.
With the weather being as crap as it was, there was nowhere to go that wouldn’t be a waste of time, where we wouldn’t get wet and wouldn’t be cold; so, a day of messing about on trains would have to suffice and at least we’d keep warm and dry on board. There was a loose plan to the madness, which ultimately had us heading to Bern for lunch and then back to Brig in the early afternoon, where randomly Danielle had to be back in time to have a telephone interview for a job back home in the UK and I’d planned to be at Brig to photograph MGB’s HGe4/4I #36 as it passed through with RhB’s Swiss Alps Classic Special from St Moritz to Zermatt via the DFB route from Realp to Oberwald. All the photos of it running earlier in the year had #36 working the train from Disentis so I had no cause to doubt that it would on this particular date. What I never banked on though, was the train not showing up at all!
An hour after the Swiss Alp Classic Express was due, I called it a day and headed back to the hotel. Even Danielle’s telephone interview had been cut short, simply because she was out of the country when the assessment days were and the positions would start before she got back off her next holiday, three weeks later!
Another good meal was had at the Channa restaurant that night, during which we discussed our option for the following day. Again, the weather didn’t look good, so we’d definitely not be heading anywhere near the Aletsch Glacier again, so we ended up resigning ourselves to the fact that we’d end up doing Schynige Platte Bahn as booked, despite the crappy weather forecast of fog, rain and snow, with a high of 2 degrees at Schynige Platte! At least we’d be on trains again though and it wouldn’t cost us anything to get to Schynige Platte & return with our Swiss Passes. That was the issue with Eggishorn, the gondolas cost money, albeit 50% less with the Swiss Pass but it’s still paying out for no reason if the weather’s crap when you get there!
Photos from Thursday 10th August 2017
Friday 11th August 2017 (Schynige Platte – snowing in August!)
We set out earlier than originally planned to Schynige Platte. This way we could make something of the afternoon if we had time. At least it wasn’t raining in Brig when we left the hotel but it was quite cold and seemed set to be colder than the previous day, with temperatures not looking likely to get above 12 degrees at normal levels, let alone 2000m up a mountain! The temperature at Schynige Platte when we set off was a brisk -2!
We did an SBB train through to Spiez for the short wait for a connecting train to Interlaken Ost where the BOB train crew were directing people from all the connecting trains, to the correct portion of BOB’s 0908 departure from Interlaken Ost, which has portions for Grindelwald & Lauterbrunnen; with the Grindelwald portion always leading from Interlaken Ost. We sat in the heritage set for the short distance to Wilderswil and were treated to some entertainment along the way, thanks to a Chinese guy who hadn’t filled the date of his EU Rail Pass in. From the conversation we could overhear, he only had one box left and refused to fill it in. When told he had to pay for his journey, he then refused to pay for the trip and revisited the EU Rail Pass option, but still refused to fill it in! He was quite understanding his options now, was he? Unfortunately, we didn’t see the outcome of the fiasco as Wilderswil was upon us all too soon.
It was a bit grim at Wilderswil, the miserable cold morning, coupled with the rain would have any sane person that had to guess at the time of year from a photo, saying it was Autumn or early Winter; it bloody felt like it. The Schynige Platte Bahn (SPB) train shed at least provided some shelter from the rain, if not the cold. The lady who was there to make sure people got on the right trains on the SPB told us that the train wasn’t in yet, so all the sets in the shed were marshalled with locos but weren’t going anywhere soon. The open-air set definitely wouldn’t be out to play with the weather how it was!
We were grateful of small mercies when we got on the train towards Schynige Platte, the fact that the coaches had very good heaters! There were only a handful of people on our train when we departed and tickets were checked at Wilderswil before departure. The lady gripping, who had full Winter gear on and her hood up in the rain, seemed concerned that I’d only got a shirt on and advised us that it was snowing in Schynige Platte. The perils of assuming that August would bring with it glorious sunny weather……
When we didn’t cross anything at Breitlauenen we assumed that due to the bad weather and the poor patronage of the train, that the second trip up the mountain had been terminated at Breitlauenen and had followed the set that it would have crossed there straight back down to Wilderswil; that’s the only way I can explain how things had unfolded. The little He2/2 was doing a grand job of pushing us up the mountain and despite the dismal weather the journey was quite atmospheric. After we left the cowbells behind at the cozy Breitlauenen station, the drizzle soon turned to fine snow and then to proper snow and well before we reached Schynige Platte it was a white-out with a covering of snow blanketing the whole area. Don’t get me wrong, we go to Switzerland during the Winter as we like snow and I wasn’t really complaining about it at this point either; but it was supposed to be Summer for god’s sake!
So, there I was rushing around at Schynige Platte, in a blizzard, to get some photos of the train before it headed back down to Wilderswil. It was utterly surreal to be wandering around in snow in August, let alone to be wandering around in snow with only a t-shirt & shirt on, with trainers on my feet! Needless to say, after #20 departed for Wilderswil, without us on board, we took sanctuary in the museum building and huddled by the heater to keep warm. Inside the museum room, mounted on the wall were the original number plate and works plate from He2/2 #17, along with a whole host of other relics inside glass display cabinets. There was also a video playing in a loop, which showed the overheads and masts being taken down at the end of the Summer, with the SPB’s steam loco doing the honours with the works train. We made use of the 40 minutes we had there to keep warm, and to use the station facilities; which were the polar opposite of warm and were exposed to the elements.
We were grateful when #19 showed up as we’d read a notice at Schynige Platte that said services would be subject to cancellation during periods of poor weather and one train was already shown as being cancelled in the early afternoon. There were four people on board 642 1101 Schynige Platte – Wilderswil when #19 got the train under way and thankfully the heating worked well. At Breitlauenen #18 was sat in awaiting our arrival, so it could continue up the hill. Trains always make coming up the hill at Breitlauenen as the train going downhill waits at the top end of the loop for passengers to detrain from the northbound service, before drawing down to do the same. As we were planning to get off at Breitlauenen to wait for No.18 to come back down the hill, I got the attention of the guard on No.18’s set as we enter the top end of the loop and gestured that we wanted to hop over from the southbound to the northbound service. It seems that my gestures were interpreted merely as though we wanted to get off at Breitlauenen and the guard got back on her train and waved No.18 away; and then waved at me as she went by! So, we then had a 40-minute wait at Breitlauenen for No.18 to come back down the hill.
On a good day, the views down the valley from Breitlauenen would be great, on a day like it was, with the cloud and rain, it wasn’t even worth looking. Even though it was only raining at Breitlauenen, and we’d left the snow behind some way up the mountain, it didn’t feel any warmer and thankfully the station building has a café, which the station master allowed us to sit in while we waited. Her two dogs were intrigued by us, as were we by the building itself, which was heated by the coal burning fire the station master had stoked moments after we’d entered the building. It seemed her duties were endless as she’d been operating the points for the trains to pass, had asked if we’d wanted anything in the café and was the only person around who could sell tickets in the station’s booking office.
Upon arrival into Wilderswil, No.18 was shunted to the back of the line with No.20 now being first up for 659 1245 Wilderswil – Schynige Platte and No.19 next for 663 1325 Wilderswil – Schynige Platte. This is where I got talking to one of the drivers, who took me around the shed quickly, as he had to work the 1245 departure to Schynige Platte. He confirmed that No.62 would stand down when it got back as it was only diagrammed one return trip. Each loco can only do two round trips before having to sit one out and be allowed to cool down. This results in at least 4 locos and sets being used, even if there is only one set being used per trip. Obviously, the turns will change if return trips are knocked out of the timetable, like they had been on this day. They will also change if more than one set has to be used due to heavy loadings. Even on days when the weather is crap, more than one set can be used on a trip if there are group bookings; and my driver mate told me that there had been a trip the previous day that had required 3 sets to be used, even though the weather had been pretty much the same that day. We did hang around to watch No.62 arrive with 648 1221 Schynige Platte – Wilderswil and it then shunted onto shed; which was our cue to do one.
Our conveyance back to Interlaken Ost was BOB’s coupled trains 448 1249 Grindelwald – Interlaken Ost & 348 1201 Kleine Scheidegg – Interlaken Ost respectively. At Interlaken Ost, we headed out to Interlaken West, where things took a turn for the worst Railway wise. While waiting at Interlaken West, I wondered down to the ferry terminal as a rather heritage looking paddle steamer had arrived while we were waiting. Randomly, the 1906 built DS Blümlisalp became our mode of transport back to Spiez! All the ferries on Lake Thun are operated by BLS and Swiss Passes are valid on them, free of additional charge; so, on we walked. Initially we plonked ourselves on the upper deck, ignoring the signs for “1st class only” as we walked up the stairs, only to be sent back down to pleb class when tickets were checked. Which was a better place to sit anyway as it was warmed downstairs. The Blümlisalp operates on the same timetable on certain days during the week and only in the Summer months, all the details of which can be found in the BLS ferry timetable (Schiff fahrplan). Food is served on board, on both the upper and lower decks, and you can sit in the heart of the ship and watch the pistons down below, or watch the paddles go around through the portholes in the sides of the it. There are plenty of viewing platforms around the ship but during our trip it seemed that most people were born in a barn and had absolutely no respect for others around them; after all it was still quite cool outside.
The views of Spiez Castle, as we came in to dock, were good and you have to walk by it to get back to Spiez station; which is up a steady incline all the way and takes about 25 minutes to walk. There is a bus that goes from the ferry terminal to the station, for those that prefer not to walk. As with everything in Switzerland, the DS Blümlisalp docked bang on time at Spiez and wasn’t so much as a minute late at any of the stops during our journey from Interlaken West.
Back at Brig, it was time to pack our stuff up as we’d be moving on, ultimately to Chur, the following day. Over dinner at Channa, we discussed the merits of getting off the MGB at Fiesch on the way and heading up to Eggishorn. The weather forecast was set to improve from the following day but there was chance of cloud at altitude until the late afternoon. We decided to chance it though, but not to jeopardise the afternoon plans, which were to cover the length of the Damfbahn Furka Bergstrecke (DFB) from Oberwald to Realp, which goes over the Furka hills as opposed to the MGB which uses the Furka Base Tunnel to go through them; with the latter replacing the former as the main line through the Furka when it opened on 25th June 1982, which then allowed year-round service between Brig & Andermatt.
Photos from Friday 11th August 2017 – Schynige Platte
Photos from Friday 11th August 2017 – Lake Thun Paddle Steamer Ride
Saturday 12th August 2017 (Brig to Chur via Eggishorn and the DFB’s Oberwald-Realp line)
Not wanting to have an early start, as we’d have a late finish, we were up in plenty of time to allow for breakfast before heading to the station to do the 0938 departure from Brig Bahnhofplatz to Fiesch. Some of the MGB Andermatt services had been hit & miss with EMU’s, especially of an evening, but 522 0908 Visp – Andermatt had been hauled every day we’d seen it; hence us using that for our getaway from Brig. There were plenty to board the train at Brig, with it being a Saturday morning. I was first through a door so managed to get the pick of the seats. It was announced, when the train was approaching, that 2 further coaches would be added to the rear on the train’s arrival and it was done almost immediately. Of course, people will be people, and only half a dozen people stayed on the platform and were rewarded with a relaxing journey in an empty coach, for their common sense.
At Fiesch, quite a few folks got off and a few of those did the same walk through town as us, to the Fiesch – Fischeralp gondola, which takes people to the half-way point on the journey up to Eggishorn. It was shaping up to be a nice morning in Fiesch and the webcam we’d looked at for Eggishorn seemed to give positive pictures at the summit, not glorious sunshine but it wasn’t solid cloud either. With a Swiss Pass, there is a 50% discount on tickets on gondolas in the Aletsch Arena, as the area is known, and the return tickets to Eggishorn were CHF22.50 each. Thankfully we were just in time to make the 1040 gondola as they only run every 30 minutes at xx:10 & xx:40 from Fiesch.
The journey up towards Fischeralp was ok until we approached the terminating point, which was when we reached the cloud cover. When climbing mountains though, often the summit is above the cloud, so we weren’t too concerned at that point. As we climbed away from Fischeralp towards Eggishorn though, we realised that our journey was going to be a complete waste of time and when we got out at the top we couldn’t figure out how the webcam had showed what it had as there was a complete blanket of cloud covering the area and we couldn’t even see the glacier, which is only a short distance away in its valley. Visibility was probably 10m, if that, the ground was covered in snow, none of the pathways had been cleared and it was -2 degrees outside! Eggishorn and the Aletsch Glacier was the sole reason we’d come to Switzerland in the height of Summer, having done it in the middle of Winter, in glorious weather I might add, we’d attempted to do it in May a few years ago and failed miserably as I hadn’t realised that the gondolas were out of service for a month at the end of the ski season. Now we’d failed again but this time were out of pocket for it; so, as they say, third time lucky……? I’ll be making sure there isn’t a hint of cloud the next time we attempt it, but we will attempt it again in Summer.
Onwards and upwards, or in this case, downwards, we were soon on the next gondola straight back to Fiesch, where it was ironically glorious and the sun was quite warm; not something we’d been used to in recent days. With time to kill before we needed to be in Oberwald, we passed the time by going through to Andermatt and then doubled back to Oberwald.
Having passed through Oberwald on our way to Andermatt, we’d spotted DFB’s steam loco HG3/4 #9 waiting to depart with 154 1350 Oberwald – Realp and when we got back the only thing in sight was the little red HGm4/4 #61; on hire to DFB from MGB for the Summer. We bought our tickets for the DFB from the DFB shop across the way from the MGB Oberwald station. There is no ticket office at the DFB station at all, or any facilities either, so use them at the MGB station before you head via the underpass to the DFB station.
Tickets on the DFB are priced differently for trains operated with steam or diesel, with the diesel operated services being far cheaper than the steam operated ones. A single from Oberwald to Realp, on the diesel service, cost us CHF48 each. Of an afternoon, the diesel turn does the 1445 Oberwald – Gletsch and then sits there until forming the 1615 Gletsch – Realp. The 1445 Oberwald – Gletsch connects into the 1545 Gletsch – Realp steam service, which in turn crosses the 1430 Realp – Oberwald en-route, which has to reach Gletsch before the 1615 to Realp can depart.
On the journey from Oberwald to Gletsch, there were 3 people on board the train. The line immediately starts climbing from Oberwald and is onto rack railway almost straight away. It had turned into a glorious afternoon and the journey was very pleasant. At Gletsch though, despite the sunshine, it was quite breezy and cool. Steam loco HG2/3 #6 was being prepared to work 158 1515 Gletsch – Realp and the fecking thing covered both me and my camera in water as it set off; I was not impressed at all and those videoing it leaving could probably hear my cursing when they played them back later.
Steam loco HG3/4 #1 soon arrived with 157 1430 Realp – Oberwald and that was our cue to begin our ascent to Furka. The 1968 built HGm4/4 didn’t seem to be taxed on the hills as it twisted and turned on its way up. The Furka Pass road can be seen zig-zagging its way up the mountains, at various places, and it made sense, after seeing it, why the Furka car shuttles are so frequent and popular. At Furka itself the train waited time, which was predominantly used for the station staff to shut up shop and then travel through to Realp with the train. From Furka its downhill, all the way to Realp and as we arrived the three steam locos (No’s 1, 6 & 9) were all being put to bed on shed; ready for another day’s work the following day.
The walk from Realp DFB station to Realp MGB station isn’t as straightforward as the one between the two corresponding stations at Oberwald. It takes about 10 minutes to do the walk and on the way, we saw MGB Ge4/4 #81 arrive with a Furka car shuttle from Oberwald. By the time we got to the station it was loading up and almost ready for the off. It eventually departed with only 3 cars on board!
We had the long journey ahead to Chur to look forward to at this point. It had been a good day, Eggishorn farce excepted, so we were looking forward to a relaxing journey. MGB did the honours to Andermatt with 550 1608 Visp – Andermatt, then 860 1828 Andermatt – Disentis. At Disentis, we quickly scooted over to the RhB set waiting to depart as RE1768 1944 Disentis – Chur. This train, like the other two we’d used already from Realp, was empty and the journey towards Chur was as relaxing as they come. As we were staying at the Ibis Chur West, we used the Chur West request stop, instead of going into Chur itself, and walked the 10-15 minutes or so to the hotel; which is visible from the railway as trains approach Chur West from the Disentis direction.
I’d never used the Ibis at Chur before, which is well situated as far as food places go with a McDonalds immediately below it. The hotel is a funny shape for a hotel building but it works. I’d attempted to check in online a few times but the Ibis website was having none of it, so I feared the worst room wise. However, we were given a room at the back of the hotel, which is apparently where the rooms stay coolest in Summer, and it wasn’t overlooking McDonalds so would be quiet, the hotel receptionist told us. When I realised that none of the rooms in the Ibis Chur West had A/C, I understood why the receptionist was emphasizing the room at the back of the hotel being among the coolest in the hotel. It was a little warm but a breeze from the door, which opened onto a shared walkway balcony, soon cooled it enough. The room was typically Ibis and had everything you’d expect from an Ibis, other than A/C, and was clean.
We were lucky to have spotted a pizza restaurant on our way to the hotel and when we walked into the Ristorante Pizzeria La Piazza, the staff had to confirm with the manager that they’d still serve as it closed at 2200, 20 minutes after we walked in. There were only 4 other people in the place and they’d have been stupid to turn us away, although they did only allow us to have pizza from the menu; which was what we’d walked into a pizza restaurant for. The pizzas were prepared pretty quickly but weren’t up to much for a pizza restaurant.
I was glad to get to bed that night, it had been a long day and we’d covered a fair bit of ground; not to mention the testing time we’d had of a morning at Eggishorn. I couldn’t help but look at the webcam that evening and although it was clearer at the summit, I still couldn’t see the Aletsch Glacier as it panned around.
Photos from Saturday 12th August 2017
Sunday 13th August 2017 (A day out to Samedan with RhB Crocodile #414)
As breakfast at the Ibis was something like CFH15 per person, we gave it a miss and would get some bits from Chur station instead. We walked to the station and did RE1720 0744 Disentis – Scuol-Tarasp into Chur. The idea for the day was to do RhB’s Summer Sunday operated Landquart – Samedan, which is booked to be worked by one of the two RhB Ge6/6I crocodiles, #414 or #415, with heritage coaches and open-air vehicles too. My money was on #414 before it even arrived as everyone that had seen it during the Summer of 2017 had reported #414 as working it; and #414 it was!
2137 0855 Landquart – Samedan, which I even found listed on the EU Rail App, after I’d asked the guard for the train numbers, was formed with 2 coaches, a buffet coach and 2 open coaches at the rear. As everyone was sat in the open-air coaches, there was plenty of room inside the train. We were soon relieved of the CHF10 supplement, which is compulsory to travel on the train and allows unlimited travel on the train in both directions. This supplement has gone down from CHF12, which it had been when I’d done the train a couple of years previous. The guard on board was brilliant, spoke fluent English, was very outgoing and even gave me her docket at the end of the day, with all the train running details on it. The crocodile behaved itself on the way down, although we were late by the time we got to Samedan but that was due to waiting for late running trains at the booked crossing places which resulted in us being a little out of path. Despite the normal carriages being empty, the whole train ended up being crammed into them when the train passed through the Albula Tunnel; all of whom had been travelling in open-air coaches with coats and scarves on as it wasn’t really Summer temperatures outside, even though the sun was out. At Preda & Spinas the whole of the area surrounding the stations had changed with the ongoing construction works to build a new Albula Tunnel, requiring stone to be transferred out of the bore and then away by train; both places were like construction sites, even though technically they were being used to deconstruct something. In 2021, the new Albula Tunnel is scheduled to be opened and will completely replace the old, 1903 built tunnel, which RhB are going to convert into safety tunnels.
Samedan doesn’t offer a great deal in the shape of things to do and there just wasn’t the time to do any of the things that are in the neighbouring region so we did the first Pontresina bound train to the request stop of Punt Muragl, to go and get some gen for a future trip. There’s a funicular railway that runs from just outside Punt Muragl RhB station, up to Muottas Muragl; atop of the hill there are views of everywhere around, including St Moritz, Samedan & Pontresina. We only had about 10 minutes for our smash and grab gen sortie but we were in and out in no time and had plenty of time to get to the request stop button back on Punt Muragl RhB station, to make sure the set returning from Pontresina stopped. While we were waiting for our own red train, which was RhB Ge4/4II #617, we watched a red funicular train start its descent from Muottas Muragl. It was definitely one on the list for next time and while scanning through the gen we’d just collected, we found out that many hotels in the area offer free travel passes to ride on the local public transport, including funicular railways and the various gondolas in the surrounding area and even on RhB service trains between certain local points.
There wasn’t a great deal open in Samedan of a Sunday afternoon and we missed the boat at the restaurant outside the station, mostly due to our wondering around the place trying to find a supermarket that was A, open, or B, sold something hot for lunch. By the time we got back to the station though, the shop on the platform had just replenished its hot counter, so all was good and we used the confines of the train to munch away.
By the 1425 departure time most people had loaded themselves into the open-air coaches again, which were now at the front of the train, behind the crocodile. At Spinas, the mass exodus from open-air to sensible coaches began and again, they were absolutely heaving by the time the train departed. Something very bizarre happened here too, and I say bizarre as I expected better from the friendly guard. Two guys with bikes decided to get on the train, or should I say were allowed onto the train, but rather than put their bikes in the open-air coach, they were wedged in on the vestibules at the ends of the coaches, and the same coach at that; which ultimately meant that the end coaches of the doors of the coach we were in couldn’t be opened until the bikes had been moved, as they opened outwards! So, if anything at all had gone wrong in the Albula Tunnel, there was no escape route at either end of the coach. Despite me having a go at one of the guys, I might as well have spoken to the wall; what a wanker! Obviously, nothing did happen, but what if it had done?
At Bergün the train sat for over an hour, this is to allow people to visit the railway museum there; which your train ticket gets you discounted entry to. I was only interested in getting a few photos of crocodile Ge6/6I #407, which seems to have moved since my last visit, but looks in remarkably good shape for a static exhibit. The run back from Preda was uneventful little crocodile did the job required of it to get us back to Chur on time. We bode farewell to the friendly guard, as I took her docket with the day’s gen off her, did RE1763 1825 Chur – Disentis back to Chur West, which was a Flirt EMU, then had pizza for tea at the Ibis. As it was Sunday, nothing was open near the hotel, other than McDonalds. The food at the Ibis is all prepared by the hotel receptionist too and while it was only a frozen pizza, it was a half decent frozen pizza.
The following day we were back to our 1st class Interrail’s and spent the evening pondering what to do and where to go and spent a lot of time looking at the weather for various places. It wasn’t until the following morning that I came up with a plan though, and what a good one it was too.
Photos from Sunday 13th August 2017
Monday 14th August 2017 (A day mostly around Zurich, with a trip to Neuhausen Falls)
Having been out and about in the morning, I was joined by Danielle, who’d travelled in from Chur West on her own, and we were Zurich bound on board IC564 0909 Chur – Basel. With no firm plans for the day, I’d been studying the weather while out an about. The conclusion I came to based on the weather and the fact that where I’d chosen was a nice place to visit, that we hadn’t been to for a while, was that we’d head out to Neuhausen and walk down to the fantastic waterfall. We had 11 minutes at Zurich to make the 1035 Zurich – Singen, which we’d do to Schaffhausen, and a bit of internet browsing found that the left luggage lockers at Zurich Hbf were on level -1. It took us 5 minutes from arriving to being back on the main concourse, having deposited our big bags in a locker down below. As you walk off the platforms, head down any set of stairs in front of you and there are literally about a thousand lockers, which fill all the available wall space around the lower level.
It was a short rake that formed IC280 1035 Zurich Hbf – Singen and as we approached Neuhausen the waterfall can be seen clearly on the right-hand side, in direction of travel. It was a glorious day and the periphery of the falls looked to be quite busy as we passed by. While we waited at Schaffhausen for our EMU back to Neuhausen am Rheinfall we watched three border security guards challenging people on the platforms, they’d ridden up in the same 1st class coach as us from Zurich and had kept their badges well-hidden during the journey; something that Danielle picked up on, not me. They were having a field day on the platform, as we departed on our EMU, and it surprised me that there’d be issues at the Swiss/German border.
Neuhausen Falls is a short walk downhill from the station, or you can use the lift to get straight down, visible from the platforms. It was busy in the vicinity of the falls and the viewing platform at the Schloss Laufen, which overlooks the falls, was wedged. There was a constant flow of tourist ferries approaching the falls too, which seemed a bit of a waste of time to me as the spray was soaking the boats as they approached; not good for cameras of course. As the views of the falls are good from the railway, obviously the same is true in reverse and there are some great photo opportunities from the vantage points around the falls, as well as the footpath on the railway bridge, which is used to get across the Rhine river from Neuhausen towards Schloss Laufen; which is the line from Schaffhausen direct to Winterthur. I was quite pleased with the photos I got but it’s difficult to get the loco numbers from such a distance. I was quite pleased with managing to get a train emerging from the tunnel beneath Schloss Laufen, at the same time an Re4/4 was passing by on the main line opposite. The trains are timed so as technically this shot is available every hour but the timing should be perfect of course. Having had a good walk around the bottom end of the falls, we headed back to Neuhausen Rheinfall station and did one of the hourly Uster – Schaffhausen services back to Schaffhausen.
With no plan at all for the afternoon, we ended up heading out to Koblenz and back, among other things. At the end of the evening we knew where food was going to come from, we just had to find it. There are many eateries in subterranean Zurich Hbf but we used a Chinese restaurant/takeaway that we’d used before and had a decent meal before collecting our bags and hanging around for our overnight to Wien Hbf. While waiting for the stock for our overnight to be brought into the station we watch those on EN470 2000 Zurich Hbf – Hamburg Altona overnight be well and truly bowled when presented with an Ersatzug, formed with 460xxx and load 4 conventional coaches; not a sleeper coach in sight! That probably explained the queue of people at the information desk on the concourse? Another load of people were also having issues, depending on your take of the situation of course, with an old push-pull set Ersatzug forming ICE1260 2100 Zurich Hbf – Basel.
When our stock for EN467 2140 Zurich Hbf – Wien Hbf was backed in, unfortunately, we had to endure another MAV sleeper coach for the night. When booking our Zurich – Wien overnight with Rail Canterbury I’d forgot to specify which portion of the train I’d wanted to be in and as a result we were going to end up in Wien at 0635 instead of 0735; as EN467 sits at Salzburg for a while before heading through to Wien Hbf.
Photos from Monday 14th August 2017
Tuesday 15th August 2017 (A trip to Mauthausen Memorial/Concentration Camp near Linz)
We’d originally planned to visit the Mauthausen Memorial during our Christmas break but as some of the site is closed during the Winter months we decided to head out during the Summer, while we had the chance; and as we’d been deposited into Vienna early in the morning, with nothing else to do. Unlike Zurich though, Wien Hbf’s left-luggage lockers are a bit of a hike from the mainline platforms and are downstairs near platforms 1/2 for the suburban cross-city services. They’re signposted well enough though but operating the lockers is far from straightforward and I couldn’t find instructions in English either. We managed to get our stuff locked away though and were back on the platform with 5 minutes to spare for RJ542 0655 Wien Hbf – Salzburg Hbf.
1st class on the Railjet services is nice and relaxing and we were grateful of the at-seat service, even if we did have to pay for the drinks we had; which were served in proper china mugs. These proved to be a pain as we approached St Valentin though with the clumsy wench collecting them trying to be clever; and in picking up everything off the table she dropped one of the cups, which used my phone screen as its cushion, before dropping onto Danielle’s foot! Thankfully my screen protector took the brunt of the impact and prevented the screen from smashing but the screen protector needed replacing afterwards. Luckily for Danielle’s foot, she escaped with a bit of swelling and was lucky not to have a broken toe as the mugs were quite heavy. All I could get out of the girl who’d dropped the mug was sorry, repeatedly. Which at least was something but she wasn’t grasping the fact that she damaged my phone screen or the fact I wanted her to get the train manager so an accident form could be filled out. Ultimately, what ended up happening was the rest of the staff from the restaurant car came through to try and get a glimpse of the damage to my phone and we ended up having to get off without seeing the train manager as we were arriving into St Valentin and needed to change there to get to Mauthausen. Having complained to OBB a week later, I still await their response 3 weeks after the incident!
Getting to/from Mauthausen by train is simple but the direct trains down the Grein-Bad Kreuzen branch can depart from either Linz or St Valentin and we had to do an EMU forward from St Valentin to Ennsdorf and change there into a train originating from Linz. On the return though we ended up on a train direct to St Valentin. On arrival into Mauthausen we happened upon a bus, right outside the station front. While the driver spoke no English, he confirmed that we could ride the bus to the nearest point of access to the Mauthausen Memorial and he told us where to get off en-route. There is no direct public transport to the memorial site and from the nearest bus stop, where we got off, it’s a 25-minute uphill walk to the site. The buses run between Linz & Mauthausen stations so they can be used in either direction.
The walk up the hill to the Memorial site is through local housing areas, which are quiet areas and we were the only people using the walking route, there weren’t even any locals moving about. The whole area surrounding the memorial site had an air of calm about it, a respectful calm if that makes sense? The site itself is set on a hilltop and is far from secluded but is out of the way; as the Nazi’s would have wanted. Entry to the site is free and maps are provided. Audio guides are available for a fee but we opted to wander around without one. Free lockers are available to leave back-packs in the reception area, which require a 1 Euro coin to operate the lock, which is returned when you open it.
The whole site is well maintained and luckily there weren’t too many people about during our visit. Obviously Mauthausen isn’t a patch of the size that Auschwitz is but a lot of people from Auschwitz were transferred to Mauthausen and many of the features at Mauthausen are identical to the larger scale Auschwitz; including the clothes disinfecting areas and the grim crematorium. The map is easily followed and the whole site has signs that explain what everything is and how things unfolded during the war. After walking over the cobbles towards the so-called Stairs of Death, we soon understood why they were so named. It was tiring enough walking up and down them in decent footwear, so imagine what it would have been like in subzero conditions, without footwear and carrying tons of rock with you; and wondering whether the Nazi’s were going to push you off the edge of the cliff when you got to the top that day, which was just a regular game to them and those pushed to their deaths were referred to by the Nazi’s as parachutists! Mauthausen concentration camp was liberated on 5th May 1945, after at least 81,000 people had lost their lives at Mauthausen and the surrounding satellite camps.
Having seen the devastation caused at Auschwitz and the grand scale it occurred on, the scenes at Mauthausen didn’t come as a shock but it doesn’t mean that the people there suffered any less and the scripture around the site paints a very real picture of how things unfolded at Mauthausen and just seeing the room of names, which lists the 81,000 known names of people who died at Mauthausen and the surrounding satellite camps is sobering enough.
It was a sweltering afternoon when we left the site but at least it was a downhill walk back to the main road. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, we’d missed the bus back to the station, or so we thought at that point. When I realised that the timetable I got off the bus was out of date and there was a more up to date one on the wall of the bus stop; it gave a glimmer of hope when it showed another bus 20 minutes later. What neither of us took into consideration, until the next bus was due, was the fact that it was a bank holiday in Austria and neither the bus we thought we’d missed, nor the one we were expecting momentarily ran on the Sunday timetable! 3km and 50 minutes later we staggered onto Mauthausen station, with about 10 minutes to spare for our train. To add insult to injury, moments later two women turned up in a taxi, which they’d had collect them from the memorial site!
The DMU we did back from Mauthausen went to St Valentin and not Linz, as the one out had originated from. We did the next Railjet back from St Valentin towards Wien, which by diagram should have been the same set we’d had out, returning from Salzburg. It wasn’t and unfortunately, the outward crew also weren’t on the set as I’d been hoping to finish what hadn’t been on the approach to St Valentin earlier; so that would have to be a complaint to OBB when we got back home. At least nothing else was dropped on us on the journey back to Wien, where we headed straight to the Hotel to check in.
The Mercure Grand Hotel Biedermeier is only a short distance from Wien Mitte station, out of the station, turn left and it’s up the hill on the right, accessed through a narrow passageway; which makes it hard to spot from the main road. First impressions were good but the girl dealing with us at reception didn’t seem to know what she was doing. I’d checked in online, as I’m an Accor member, and was expecting to turn up at the front desk, be handed our room key and that was it. For some reason, I was asked for a credit card, which I queried, which she then queried with one of her colleagues and handed it me back, without having done anything with it. Our room keys weren’t ready for us and we had to wait for her to process them, after which she did confirm breakfast time and where it was served, which would become important the following morning, and then we were on our way to the room.
Our “classic” double room was nice, clean, had tea/coffee making facilities and decent A/C. It was also in a quiet part of the hotel, not overlooking the main road at the front. Unfortunately, the nice room didn’t redeem the hotel for what happened the following morning, or at check-out the day after!
Having dropped the bags at the hotel I headed straight back out to ned about in the Wien tunnels of an afternoon. I realised that I’d left my interrail in my bag at the hotel, after the first move to Rennweg and back and had to leg it back to the hotel in-between moves; which was nice in the afternoon heat. The temperature was ready 33 degrees on the display outside Mitte station when I got back, which would explain why I was sweating a bit!
As always, Danielle had found us somewhere close by to eat while I’d been out. The No.27 Chinese restaurant was only a couple of minutes’ walk from the hotel and while the food was ok, the service wasn’t great, with the wrong drinks turning up and we had to wait for a long time for our food; while all the time loads of food was being taken through to the next room, which seemed to be a family affair.
Having had a long day, we weren’t late out of bed and were prepared for our long day the following day, having left enough time for breakfast before we headed out.
Photos from Tuesday 15th August 2017
Wednesday 16th August 2017 (A day out on the Waldviertalbahn from Gmünd)
When we got down to the breakfast room it wasn’t very busy and there weren’t any staff about either, so we just sat down and set about grabbing a few bits before we headed out; which was when the fun started. The girl who was looking after the breakfast room eventually came over for our room number, which she couldn’t find on her list so she had to make a trip to reception. When she returned she told us that breakfast wasn’t included in our package at the hotel and that we’d have to pay €16 each for the privilege; and she was pretty rude about it as well. Having only had a bite from a slice of toast at this point, and bearing in mind we were only grabbing a quick breakfast before we headed out, there was no way I was paying €32 for a cuppa each and a few slices of toast. So, we left everything on the table, untouched but for the toast, and went to reception to explain that upon checking in we’d been told what time breakfast was and where it was served. At no point were we told it wasn’t included in our room rate, unlike when we’d used the Ibis in Chur, where the receptionist there was very clear about the fact it wasn’t included. To which I was told we’d still have to pay for breakfast as we’d started it. I pointed out to the receptionist that even the booking confirmation didn’t state breakfast wasn’t included, to which I was told that I should know what I’ve booked. I told her that expected the confirmation to tell me what I’d booked and was very firm when I told her I wasn’t paying for breakfast and got her to acknowledge the fact before we left the hotel for the day. Breakfast was ultimately purchased from the supermarket near Mitte station for just €3 each!
The plan for the day was to head to Gmünd to cover the Wednesday’s only 2095 turn on the Gmünd – Gross Gerungs section of the Novog operated Waldviertalbahn. To get to Gmünd we had to set out early as it’s a 2h13m run to get there from Wien Franz Josefs. The metro is the quickest way from Wien Mitte to Heiligenstadt of Franz Josefs but our Interrail was free on the train, so we used it to go via Wien Handelskai, where we headed to the downstairs platform to do a cross-city Wien Handelskai – Wien Hütteldorf EMU to Wien Heiligenstadt and then a direct REX to Gmünd. Where everyone for the short run to Ceske Velenice was turfed off and onto a CD 810 DMU and from what we saw during our time in Gmünd this was how every train operated that day; despite the trains being booked Wien Franz Josefs – Ceske Velenice direct.
The Waldviertalbahn Gmünd station is over the road from the OBB station. Tickets for the journey are purchased on board the train, which was formed of 8 coaches, which included a buffet coach and a luggage van; the formation of the trains on the Waldviertalbahn is posted in the window of the rear coach so those with reserved seats can see where they’re sat. As 16901 1115 Gmünd – Gross Gerungs and when the train departed 2095005 was visible on shed with a headboard; reading “Candlelight Train”. Confusingly, the candlelight train was advertised in the Waldviertalbahn timetable as being the following night but the posters on the station and in the train confirmed that it was indeed, on this particular evening.
The guy selling tickets on board soon quashed any hope of being able to use Interrail tickets on Novog trains. This had previously been a thing but it seems that Novog now don’t accept Interrail’s anywhere; which I was expecting. So, having to pay €19.60 each for the return trip didn’t come as a shock. The train was quite well loaded but our coach remained relatively empty throughout the 1h45m journey, which is uphill in quite a few places, before dropping down into Gross Gerungs. The scenery is quite nice and is mainly wooded surroundings. There’s time to nip out for photos at the larger stations, while the train waits time too. Unfortunately, the little 2095 was nowhere near as loud and expressive as the only other one I’d had, on the Mariazellerbahn, but it still made a bit of noise.
In the 2 hours we had at Gross Gerungs we’d already found a restaurant that we’d planned to eat at. As it was closed for the Summer, with a planned reopening date of the following day, we ended up walking about the small town, where English is barely spoken at all, and stumbled upon the Hirsch restaurant, where one of the staff spoken good English and was able to translate the menu for us; as Google Translate couldn’t due to the font it was printed in. Two chicken schnitzel & chips later, we were suitably fed and stumbled back through town to the station, where the sun even made an appearance.
For the return journey, we sat in the same coach, now towards the rear, as the seats at the front were wooden bench ones and there were too many kids running about the place. We had a relaxing journey back to Gmünd in a relatively empty coach as a result. Later that evening we headed back to Wien via the same route we’d used to get out that morning. Food was sought from a pizza restaurant, Ristorante Trimelli, over the road from the hotel. The food was just what the doctor ordered but we could have done without our order being missed, and subsequently forgotten, by the kitchen staff!
As we headed back to the hotel, our trip had all but come to an end and all that was left was the journey home the following day.
Photos from Wednesday 16th August 2017
Thursday 17th August 2017 (Home from Vienna to Doncaster)
As it was the last day, I decided to get up and have a go at the morning rush hour trains through the Wien Tunnels. A productive morning it turned out to be as well, with only 2 of the 22 moves I did producing locos I’d had two days previous. As I’m such a ned on things in Austria, it was a complete red pen fest! At least I remembered to take my Interrail with me on this occasion and I returned to the hotel with breakfast from the supermarket outside Mitte station.
When checking out of the hotel, as is normal at Accor hotels, where you’ve checked in online and signed up for fast checkout, I handed the room card over at the front desk and off we went. Half way down the alleyway towards the main road, one of the hotel staff came rushing after us, shouting my name. The voices in my head were shouting all sorts of expletives back but, embarrassingly, we had to go back to the hotel front desk, where I was asked for my card, just as I had been when we’d checked in, only for it to be handed back again without it going anywhere near a machine. I never did receive a receipt via e-mail, as it Accor’s process when doing fast checkout. My complaint, made the following day, is still awaiting a response some 3 weeks later! The problem with this hotel was that we had a booking there over Christmas, which was non-cancellable, which I now obviously wanted to cancel as I had nothing but resentment for the staff after the way they’d treated us; even if the hotel itself was nice.
To get to Vienna Airport we used a local train through the tunnels from Wien Mitte to Hbf and then one of the hourly Railjet services to Flughafen Wien. We were flying back to Heathrow with British Airways and the plane was off the tarmac a little early. As we were early approaching Heathrow, we were originally going to hold for a while but this was cancelled at the last minute and we went straight in to land. The result of this was our stand being changed last minute as well and chaos ensued when nobody had sent buses over to the new stand to ferry us to the terminal building. When they did turn up, 35 minutes after we landed, only one was sent and it then took 10 more minutes to get authority for the crew bus to ferry the remaining passengers to the terminal. Even the crew were pissed off and had made their thoughts known to their control office.
Our little escapade at Heathrow cost us time and we missed the 1733 from Kings Cross as a result, and ended up on the 1749 Kings Cross – Leeds. It was a relaxing journey back to Doncaster in a strangely empty 1st class, in which a very tasty chicken curry was served. It had been a pleasant change using 1st class tickets during the trip and left me wondering whether to use 1st class Interrail’s from now on.
That was the end of another good trip, which had started with scorching weather in Venice took a positively Siberian feel in the middle, while we were in Switzerland, and heated back up for the finale in Austria. As always, there’s plenty to talk about in the future, even if we didn’t get to do what we wanted in Switzerland; I look forward to re-planning that part in the future, already.