Switzerland February 2014
This was our third trip to Switzerland and while visiting some places we’d been before there were still plenty of things on offer in the vicinity of said places that we hadn’t been. The one thing we hoped to do was visit Jungfraujoch as neither of us had been close to a glacier. One thing I was looking forward to was spending some time in the snowy surroundings of the Nätschen area. With options for most days we had every area covered; just in case the weather wasn’t good to us.
Booked through British Airways – £96.90 return
BA752 0750 Heathrow – Basel
BA755 1710 Basel – Heathrow
All booked through Booking.com
Brig – Good Night Inn – (£293 for 4 nights) – only a 5 minute walk from Brig Railway Station the hotel seems to cater for large tour groups but their large, clean rooms are more than adequate for the budding independent tourist. Buffet breakfast is included in the room rate and the hotel made us up a pack-up the morning we left before breakfast. The staff were friendly and helpful.
Chur – Hotel Chur – (£226 for 2 nights) – a 5 minute walk from Chur Railway Station; this independently run place has a cosy feel. Our room was one overlooking the front of the building, with great views of the snow-capped mountains in the mornings. We were actually given a family room as opposed to a double room; which had way more space than we needed with the double part of the room being adequate without the attached kids room. The staff were friendly and the buffet breakfast was included in the room rate.
Locarno – Ramada Hotel La Palma ua Lac – (£196 for 2 nights) – a 5 minute walk from Locarno Railway Station; this 4 star Ramada Hotel offers absolutely cracking views of the Lake and surrounding mountains. The room was spotless, as you’d expect from a 4 star hotel, and the place gave the overall impression that you were being treated to a bit of luxury; just from the lobby alone. Breakfast was included and the variety was the best we’d had in Switzerland and included some hot food as well.
Swiss Pass 15 Days (2nd Class) – CHF428
Booked in the UK through Switzerland Travel Centre (STC)
Saturday 22nd February 2014
Having travelled down to London the night before we departed the Heathrow Ibis at 0600 for our 0750 BA flight to Basel; from Terminal 5. London Transport buses are free within the Heathrow area; this making the Ibis, and other hotels within the free zone, very good choices to stay at. All the bus details are on the Ibis website.
The usual Heathrow endurance task wasn’t too bad but my girlfriend did have to empty her bag as her tablet was still inside; yet the guy at security had told me I didn’t need to take mine out and I didn’t have to empty mine!
Arrival into Basel was prompt and we were soon heading out of the Swiss exit and towards the front doors; outside which the No. 50 bus, every 10 minutes, to Basel SBB station. If you already have a Swiss pass this bus route is included and therefore free. Otherwise tickets are purchased from the machines by the stop before boarding.
We ended up with plenty of time to spare at Basel SBB station and spent the majority of it admiring the chocolate shops on the station’s footbridge. While our route to get from Basel to Brig was far from conventional, and more of a big circle, it was a great way to see some decent scenery; we travelled direct from Basel to Luzern, then on to Bern before heading up to Olten and back; our train back from Olten to Bern being in the platform adjacent to where we’d stopped on on our journey from Basel to Luzern some 3h30m previous.
From Olten we were Brig bound and we arrived into Brig an hour earlier than I’d planned though and were soon at the Goodnight Inn; where we’d stayed on a previous trip. Unfortunately this time our room didn’t offer a fantastic view of the surrounding mountains but it was clean and spacious and perfect for what we needed.
The Channa restaurant in Brig had been recommended to us by the Goodnight Inn staff last time we were there; the food being excellent and the staff friendly and English speaking. We used the Channa every night we were in Brig and the food didn’t disappoint at all.
Sunday 23rd February 2014
A check out of the curtains, at 0600, revealed a layer of snow on the ground; which was always a good sign if the sole purpose of your holiday was to see snow covered landscapes!
We’d made arrangements with the hotel staff for a “goodie bag” to be made up that morning; as we were out of the hotel well before breakfast. Just when I was beginning to think we might have to leave without it the first member of staff arrived and having been told what we were waiting for, checked her handover notes and sure enough retrieved two bags from the back room; both of which contained a sandwich, juice, water and a large bar of chocolate.
Our plan for the day was to visit Jungfraujoch and the weather could not have been better for such a visit. By the time we got to Visp the sun had started to come up but there was some low cloud hovering over the lake. The journey round the lake to Interlaken was excellent though; the rising sun lighting up the mountain peaks as it clambered over those on the opposite side, glinting off the snow as it did so.
When we arrived into Interlaken our Berner Oberland Bahnen (BOB – part of Jungfraubahn – JB) train was sat in waiting to go with the conductor ushering people to the right portion of the train; Lauterbrünnen at the front and Grindelwald at the rear, the train splitting at Zweilutschinen en-route. As it was holiday season in Switzerland as well as in the UK, the train was wedged to the gunnels with ski folk; thankfully we managed to get a seat though before everyone had managed to transfer themselves, and their skis, from the Basel – Interlaken train we’d just got off. As regular tourists, without any ski equipment, we were definitely the odd ones out on the train!
The conductor on board couldn’t sell us tickets from Lauterbrünnen to Jungfraujoch and we had to rush to the ticket office at Lauterbrünnen to get it sorted before the train to Kleine Scheidegg departed some 7 minutes after our arrival. Swiss Passes are valid on the Interlaken – Lauterbrünnen/Grindelwald sections but not beyond. There is a discount with Swiss Passes of 25% which resulted in us paying CHF131 each for a return ticket to Jungfraujoch; this also allowed travel back via Grindelwald vice Lauterbrünnen and would do so whichever route you took.
Our Wengeralpbahn (WAB – part of Jungfraubahn – JB) train was waiting over the far side of the station to take us up to Kleine Scheidegg; there were actually three train sets, all of which ran one behind the other, two went to Kleine Scheidegg and one terminated at Wengen. Again all were loaded with ski folk but again we managed to get a seat on the emptier of the two sets heading to Kleine Scheidegg.
As we departed Lauterbrünnen the sun was getting higher in the sky and the snow began to get deeper and deeper as we climbed higher and higher up the mountains. By Kleine Scheidegg it was just like being in a Winter wonderland; and it was freezing cold! The skies were crystal clear, blue and with no cloud to be seen anywhere. The whole area was surrounded by mountains, all covered with fresh snow; evident by the wind lifting it off the peaks and it glinting in the sun. It was skiers paradise, with the ski run from Kleine Scheidegg starting literally at the platform end. Not only were there timetabled trains running, there were also loads of trains knocking about, all formed of WAB’s 1947 built BDhe4/4 EMU’s with flat wagons for the ski/sledging equipment to be loaded into.
Interchanging at Kleine Scheidegg is easy with the red Jungfraubahn (JB) train to Jungfraujoch always departing from the same platforms. Despite Kleine Schedegg being a skiers heaven many also went to Jungfraujoch as well; thankfully though the train wasn’t wedged like the previous two had been.
The journey from Kleine Scheidegg to Jungfraujoch is almost all in a tunnel; the short journey to Eigergletscher being the only outside stretch. From Eigergletscher the view back down to Kleine Scheidegg is excellent and you get your first real taste of feeling like you’re at the top of the world as you begin to look down on mountain tops!
Once in the tunnel sections the JB train stops at two places en-route, purposefully for everyone on board to get photos from the massive viewing windows built into the mountain sides.
The first stop is Eigerwand at 2865m/9400ft; the views from which are across mountain peaks as far as the eye can see or weather permits.
The second stop is Eismeer at 3160m/10368ft; the views from which reveal a desolate landscape, surrounded by mountain on every side, a stark difference to the view from Eigerwand.
Jungfraujoch station is still inside the mountain itself at 3454m/11333ft; it isn’t until you walk out of the station and enter the world that is situated between the peaks of Monch (4107m) & Jungfrau (4158m) that you really begin to appreciate just where you are; above the clouds, staring out above 3500m peaks at some of the highest mountains in Europe and having reached it by the highest railway in Europe. We couldn’t have picked a better day to appreciate the views with bright sunshine, fresh snowfall, clear skies and a spattering of clouds down below, resting on the tops of 2500m peaks!
The views from the Sphinx at 3571m were different to those from the Plateau down below and with views of high peaks, snow covered landscapes and glaciers what more could you want from the trip?
There was more on offer within the mountain/ice though, the highlight for us being the ice palace. This being various sculptures that have been carved out of the ice, deep within it, that have to be constantly tended to while the ice moves; the layers within it being clearly visible where it’s been cut through.
By the time we’d done what we needed to we’d only spent an hour at Jungraujoch; where the temperature outside was only -18C!! We rode back down to Kleine Scheidegg on a very empty train; which doesn’t stop for photos at Eismeer & Eigerwand on the way down. We were ready for lunch at Kleine Scheidegg but decided to give it a miss as the restaurants were full to brimming point with skiers taking an afternoon break; so we decided to head straight down to Grindelwald and see what was on offer there.
The journey to Grindelwald was very different to that of the one up from Lauterbrünnen, mainly because it was daylight but in my opinion the Grindelwald – Kleine Scheidegg section is better than the section from Lauterbrünnen. Grindelwald itself being visible from a long way up and once at Grindelwald station you can watch trains climbing/descending the adjacent mountain which gives a real feel for just what the trains are put through on a daily basis with the climbs they make.
There are plenty of places to eat in Grindelwald but we were glad we walked up the main road, away from all the places by the station, to the Hotel Eiger’s Memory Restaurant; which served up an excellent rosti, still in the pan it was cooked in.
Our journey back down to Interlaken was with one of BOB’s ABeh4/4 1965 built EMUs which was joined by a sister at Zweilutschinen with the Lauterbrünnen portion. From Interlaken we headed back to Brig. At Spiez the view from outside the station, across the lake, had improved immensely from the morning and we had a few moments to admire it before heading back through the hills towards Visp.
Having found one of SBB’s oldest locos on a train to Domodossola that night my very understanding girlfriend was ok with delaying dinner until we’d had a quick trip over the border to Italy; unfortunately it was dark so we didn’t get to see much. Most of the journey is in a tunnel anyway, there being a 19km 800y tunnel that runs through the mountains that split the two countries!
We were ready for our meal at the Channa Restaurant that night.
Monday 24th February 2014
Not such an early start on this morning allowed us plenty of time to do breakfast at the hotel; which has an excellent selection to choose from and has plenty of decent sized bread and cheese/ham to allow us to make up some sandwiches for the day’s lunch; which certainly makes life a bit easier, both on the pocket and doesn’t limit the afternoon when trying to find somewhere to eat.
Our original plan was to visit Eggishorn, Bettmeralp & Riederalp but it seemed that only Eggishorn was really accessible to tourists during the ski season with viewing points at the others being off-limits or closed; so Eggishorn it was.
We headed off to Fiesch on the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn (MGB). Boarding at Brig ultimately resulted in us having to stand for a couple of stops as the train was wedged with ski folk again. We made the mistake of getting into a reserved coach at first and by the time we’d realised and got into a different one it was standing room only by that point! We got seats eventually though.
The gondola from Fiesch to Fiescheralp is a 5 minute walk from Fiesch station; we just followed everyone else but it’s visible from the station anyway. The journey to Eggishorn is done in two parts; changing at Fiescheralp. The return journey costs CHF42.80 but a Swiss Pass offers a 50% discount making it CHF21.40. The gondolas depart at certain times as opposed to just running when they’re full; this was the same from Fiescheralp to Eggishorn as well.
Both gondola journeys were shared with rafts of skiers, making the best of the excellent weather, and not caring for anyone else around them at all. If we had a Franc for every time someone hit us with either their skis or ski sticks it’d have paid for our return journey!
The journey up from Fiesch climbs immediately above the town to the snowy climate of Fiescheralp where pistes run off in all directions; the place being nothing short of a skiers paradise which even had deck chairs laid out at one restaurant. The gondola up to Eggishorn can be seen at it departs the latter and runs back down to Fiescheralp; the station for it seemingly being stuck on the side of the mountain it originates from. It’s bigger than the gondola up from Fiesch but wasn’t any less full for the short journey to Eggishorn at 2869m.
The stunning views of the Aletsch Glacier when at Eggishorn made up for the crap gondola rides. The skies were again crystal clear and blue in every direction. This was the closest I’d ever been to a glacier and although it was covered in snow it was evident it was a glacier by the crevasses forming as the ice moved. We were literally at the other side of the range we’d been at the previous day when visiting Jungfraujoch; right at the origin of the Aletsch glacier. It was that clear that we could see the Matterhorn; some 70km away, where we’d be the following day!
Eggishorn was full of skiers when we got there and to be honest there isn’t much room to move around the place as a tourist in Winter as it’s quite dangerous with some areas actually cordoned off. These cordons didn’t stop people ducking underneath to get to better vantage points for photographs of the glacier and I ultimately joined them; the shots of the glacier being well worth the extra 10ft of vantage.
The journey back down to Fiesch was far more relaxing than the one on the way up; with hardly anyone using the gondolas to get back down to the valley bottom; for obvious reasons. With about an hour to kill in Fiesch we had a wander round the village which had places near the station to buy bits for lunch; which complemented the sandwiches we’d made at breakfast which were devoured while we waited in the crisp winter sunshine for our train back to Brig.
The afternoon was spent doing railway related things. The evening was topped off nicely with a trip to Italy again, this time only to Iselle di Trasquera, at the opposite end of the 19km rail tunnel that links Switzerland with Italy. We rode out on the 1744 Brig – Domodossola commuter train; on board which were a raft of Italian border security and police doing random checks on board as they walked through the train. I hadn’t thought much of it at the time but the same crew had been on board the train to Domodossola the previous night and had some guy’s bag emptied completely that night. That train had been empty though but the one we were on, on this occasion, was full of people commuting back to Italy after their day at work so they were spared the whole bag emptying scenario.
We returned to Brig on board the Auto-train. The train has one coach for passenger accommodation and the rest is to transport cars. The train only had us and three guys, who turned up just before departure, on it.
A relatively early finish, compared to the previous night, allowed us to relax a little and savour our time at the Channa Restaurant that night.
Tuesday 25th February 2014
Another more relaxing morning, again with sandwiches for the day being made at breakfast! We’d been to Gornergrat on a previous trip but no managed to see the Matterhorn due to it being cloudy so we opted for a second visit on this day and a cracking option it turned out to be.
We headed to Visp on SBB’s 0828 Brig – Geneva train where we then used MGB’s 0843 Visp – Zermatt to get to Zermatt.
There was a lot more snow about in the valley than on our previous visit to Zermatt and the train wasn’t full at all; allowing me access to both sides as we skirted down the valley. By the time we reached Zermatt the sun was out and for the 3rd day running we were treated to crystal clear, blue skies.
Trains from the Gornergratbahn (GGB) station at Zermatt were a lot busier than on our previous visit, mainly due to the amount of skiers about. Queues at the ticket office were virtually nonexistent though as most had ski-passes; it didn’t stop one ignorant skier jumping the queue as we waited though, which my girlfriend was having none of and told her exactly what she thought of her act! It was the tipping point as far as putting up with ignorant skiers had gone over the last three days…..
Tickets on the GGB aren’t anywhere near as costly as the trip to Jungfraujoch and again a Swiss Pass will get you a 50% discount; the full fare ticket being CHF74 and with the Swiss Pass CHF37 for a return journey. During the ski season there are multiple departures at the same time (following each other) with one train being express to Gornergrat and the next stopping all stations. The expresses are worked by the new 1993 built Bhe4/8 & Bhe4/6 units while the stoppers were worked by Bhe4/4’s and the various ski trains by the old 1965 built Bhe4/8’s.
Having flagged the 1000 departure to Gornergrat, as there were no seats left, we were first through the doors onto the 1024 express departure; which departed full and standing. The view from the right hand side on the way up is the best and the Matterhorn is clearly visible immediately after the train starts climbing above Zermatt and crops up at various points during the journey. There are some excellent views down the valley towards Visp from the left hand side at Rifelalp though.
The sun made it very bright indeed at Gornergrat and sunglasses were much needed. The views of the Matterhorn, and in every direction, were nothing short of stunning but it was a lot harder to get about than on our previous trip as the pathways weren’t as clear and the rope to aid getting up the slippery pathways was buried in the snow at places; meaning you were in the lap of the gods when tiptoeing down like Bambi on ice!
A cracking trip out with the journey back down to Zermatt being the better of the two as we had most of the train to ourselves and a birds-eye view out of the driver’s window at the front of the train. The picture-postcard views of Zermatt, with houses that had 2ft of snow coating their roofs, with the Matterhorn in the background were well worth holding your breath to take!
A nice warm cup of hot chocolate in the restaurant by the station was just what the hands needed after a short walk up the main street in Zermatt. We returned to Brig on MGB’s 1339 Zermatt – Brig.
For the third evening in a row we ended up over the border in Italy; riding to Iselle on the 1736 Auto-train departure. The guard on board which was a friendly chap and was quite surprised when we returned from Iselle with him; giving us all sorts of gen on the tunnels on the journey back. He told us that there were two tunnels, both separate bores, and that they were 19km800y long and not 20km as everyone said they were. He also told us that there was a natural spring on the Italian side which drained into the tunnel and sometimes caused problems with the electrics on the train and made the trains rusty within three years.
Back at Brig we opted to make a quick out and back journey to Visp to get some pop from the Co-op just outside the station as it was way cheaper at CHF1.50 than any place in Brig; the cheapest being CHF3.50!!!! It only took us 20 minutes, including getting the pop.
Back at Brig our last trip to the Channa Restaurant was as good as any other had been and it was a shame we were going to have to eat elsewhere the following night.
Wednesday 26th February 2014
Bidding farewell to Brig we set off for a new base at Chur on MGB’s 0808 Visp – Göschenen; thankfully the train was quite empty as it was too early for the skiers to be heading out. It was a nice journey over to Andermatt, where the fun began.
During our first trip to Switzerland, on board a Glacier Express train, I’d noticed that there were photo opportunities of trains climbing from Andermatt to Nätschen; either from Andermatt at the bottom of the hill or Nätschen at the top. This day had been planned with getting those very photos in mind; and to enjoy a bit of the open countryside, surrounded by nothing but snow and mountains!
From Andermatt we were straight up to Nätschen where unfortunately the weather wasn’t as good to us as it had been on the previous three days and it was completely overcast but it didn’t stop me taking the photos I wanted anyway.
We waited in the peaceful mountain surroundings of Nätschen for 1055 Andermatt – Oberalppass ski train and did it forward to Oberalppass; which was even more peaceful than Nätschen, and more of a whiteout. After photographing the train we’d just got off returning to Andermatt I went to explore the surrounding area, behind the station. There was a restaurant, which I could hear music coming from, and a few homes which had been almost buried in recent snowfalls. Other than that we were completely isolated from the real world; until a couple of skiers arrived off a ski-run that finished at Oberalppass station.
Rather than wait at Oberalppass for our train forward to Disentis we headed back to Nätschen where plenty of photographs presented themselves before our train to Disentis arrived.
It had begun to snow before we departed Nätschen and yet the sun tried to poke through the cloud as we headed through the white countryside towards Oberalppass. By Dieni the snow had stopped and the cloud became more broken with the sun gleaming through at various points; it being hidden behind cloud again by Sedrun. By Disentis though snow was only visible on the peaks of the surrounding mountains and the cloud was starting to dissipate; making for a nice, yet cool, afternoon on the Rhatische Bahn (RhB) while making our way to Chur.
The Hotel Chur is about a 10 minute steady walk away from Chur station; following the RhB Arosa line through the street takes you right to the front door as the line veers off to the left at the roundabout in front of it. For some reason we were given a family room, which had a large enough main room for us and a completely separate child’s room with its own bathroom.
Having nipped out for a quick scan at the station that evening, I decided to walk back through Chur town centre in an attempt to find somewhere to eat; while there were plenty of places none really stood out as I walked by and we ended up eating at an Italian place called Pizzeria Mamma Mia; it was a little claustrophobic inside, space being quite limited, and the service wasn’t that great in that it took 10 minutes for us to be asked for our order. The food was ok though but nothing spectacular; we ate better the following night.
Thursday 27th February 2014
Our plan for the day was to head to Scuol-Tarasp, via Davos, to see what wintery scenes the area had to off; and we weren’t disappointed.
From the moment we left Reichenau-Tamins, just outside Chur, the build up of snow got greater the nearer we got to Filisur and the day got brighter as the sun began to actually make some headway into the sky. It was a lovely atmospheric morning as we ambled through the valley with clouds dancing around on top of the mountains with some lower cloud lingering in the valley and a nice clear blue sky back-drop to top off the morning.
Our connecting train was waiting at Filisur for us and whisked us to Davos Platz in no time; where the snow cover was far greater than at Filisur, with people ski-walking on the flat, right beside the station on the opposite side of the stream. The run from Davos to Klosters offered up the best snow scenery of the morning and we almost ended up in the clouds before dropping into Klosters Platz where we stepped off our train, crossed the platform and boarded our connecting train towards Scuol-Tarasp. The run to Sagliains is completely scenery free as it’s within a tunnel the whole way.
The line from Sagliains to Scuol-Tarasp runs along the valley bottom, surrounded by mountains on either side. It ha clouded over a little but the sun was still breaking through every now and again. The scenery on the way to Scuol-Tarasp is excellent and without warning the beige brickwork of Scuol Castle comes into view, its colour standing out well on the dark background that the trees offer. It stands high above the valley floor yet is dwarfed by the surrounding mountains; almost as if built in the sky, but perched atop of a hillock. I had been considering going up to the castle but for two reasons we didn’t need to bother; one because it was a good hike from the station and up a bloody steep hill and two because the best views of it were from the train!
There was quite a lot of activity at Scuol-Tarasp with a constant flow of skiers either going towards or coming from the nearby cable car and there were buses arriving all the time with other skiers, all of which also headed off towards the cable cars. There isn’t a great deal around the station area but the surrounding scenery made the journey worth the effort.
Our return to Chur had us getting off trains at Küblis and at request stop Saas, in the middle of nowhere with its own restaurant on the station platform. At request stops there’s a button to press that gives the driver of approaching trains an indication that there’s someone waiting; thankfully I found this while milling about on the platform!
Our day’s travel round the RhB network come to an end upon arrival at Chur; it having been a thoroughly enjoyable day, riding on non-wedged trains, with no skiers in sight and having achieved everything we’d set out to do that morning.
Food that evening was at the Pizzeria Verdi, which is on the corner just opposite the Hotel Chur. The food was cracking, the restaurant comfortable, the staff were friendly and the service excellent; a good end to a great day.
Friday 28th February 2014
It was a lot crisper morning than the previous day and probably still sub-zero; our long journey towards Locarno beginning with RhB’s 0740 Scuol-Tarasp – Disentis to its destination.
Of course we didn’t go direct to Locarno and spent some time at stations on the MGB route between Disentis & Andermatt again; this time Dieni and Sedrun.
There were quite a few skiers about at Dieni for our train back towards Sedrun by the time it arrived but we managed to steer clear of most; there being a cable car at the end of the platform to take them up into the mountains. The journey to Sedrun is only a short one and the village can be seen across the way from Dieni; we could have probably walked it down the track and got there well before the train had we set off when we arrived. It would have made for a nice walk in the snow….
At Andermatt we made the mistake of crossing over the tracks, via the foot crossing, at the Disentis end of the station; this came with a telling off from the guard who’d been on our train. Then a mini argument unfolded when my explanation for doing so didn’t satisfy! There were no signs saying don’t cross, as there are at every other station, and I got the impression that the woman wanted us to cross back over and then go under the subway; which was never going to happen. She then had a chunter when I asked to get out of the barriers as our Swiss Passes wouldn’t open them, she spoke back to us as if we should have known exactly what to do and which barrier to use; which then opened up the floodgates for a bit of abuse to go her way for her complete lack of customer service and understanding.
The snow was heavier at Andermatt so unfortunately no great pictures of trains climbing the hillside towards Nätschen; although I only ended up getting one anyway as a bit of a farce unfolded while we were there; which I though might result in us missing our train to Bellinzona at Göschenen. I did manage to get photos of HGe4/4 II #102 departing Andermatt with 840 1327 Andermatt – Disentis before a very long stand in the car park waiting for Deh4/4 I #54 to depart with 842 1355 Andermatt – Oberalppass skit train; which was ultimately cancelled! I figured out something was amiss when a light engine ran up the hill, before the Zermatt bound Glacier Express had arrived and 842 had departed. It turned out that the loco on the Glacier Express had given up the ghost somewhere in section and the light engine had gone to rescue it, hence the ski train being cancelled. Had we stuck to our original plan our move would have been completely down the pan as the train we’d have been on was stuck behind the failed Glacier Express and missed the connection to Göschenen, which would have in turn meant we’d missed the connection at Göschenen to Bellinzona!
Our train from Andermatt, 1208 Visp – Göschenen, departed Andermatt right time, having not waited for any connections off the Disentis line; thankfully. Upon arrival into Göschenen I noticed an unusual looking loco at the head of some green coaches. This turned out to be SBB historic locomotive Ce6/8 II #14253, built in 1919, making its way back to Erstfeld where its homed.
The run over the Gotthard Pass is always atmospheric and this journey was no exception with there being hardly any snow at Göschenen or Bellinzona but it was snow heaven over the pass. It wasn’t the brightest of days but in these parts even the dullest of days can be one to appreciate.
When we stepped off the train at Bellinzona it was like entering a Kindergarten; there were children everywhere, all dressed up in costumes with masks as well. The platforms were actually quite dangerously wedged with little ones! We’d seen adults dressed up in costumes, with a witch type theme, in Brig while we were there and were told there was a carnival in Visp. It turned out that it was carnival season in Switzerland and Bellinzona just so happened to be celebrating its Rabadan carnival while we were there! Even Castelgrande was decorated with a large mask on one of its turrets! Research reveals that the Friday of the carnival is dedicated to the youngest; hence there being children all over the place. The dress code actually being to dress as “fools”! Having figured out what was going on we were so glad we had decided to stay in Locarno and not Bellinzona, for the two nights we’d be in the area!
It was miserable in Locarno, the bright start we’d had, followed by snowy afternoon then atmospheric evening had turned into a cold rain. Luckily our Ramada Hotel La Palma ua Lac wasn’t too far from Locarno station and took about 5 minutes to walk there. Its right on the lake front and the views from our balcony were excellent; even if it was a miserable end to the day. The hotel was spotless, the room was spacious with all the mod-cons and the staff spoke at least three languages, including English. The price was quite reasonable for a 4 star hotel as well; which was why we’d stayed there in the first place.
We’d had a look at restaurants near the hotel and railway station, most of which didn’t seem to open until 1900, and had settled for the Restaurant-Pizzeria Carbonara; which was virtually opposite the station. It wasn’t full, the service was good and the food ok too; with massive pizzas! The view from the window seats was right onto the station so we could watch trains arrive and depart…..
It had been a long day and we’d covered some distance but it was an enjoyable one as well; I was ready for bed that night though!
Saturday 1st March 2014
The view from the room balcony revealed snow; and it was still snowing. A good start to the morning but unfortunately one that wouldn’t last throughout the day.
Breakfast at the hotel was excellent with a vast choice from fruit, pastries, meats, bread and even scrambled eggs and sausages. Either way there was plenty enough to make a decent pack-up!
We headed to Bellinzona where it was a cold morning and the snow was turning wet. With time to kill we had a wonder down to Castelgrande; the streets were covered in confetti and the trees lining the roads were decorated with balloons; it was a definite morning after the night before type scenario, which obviously hadn’t been cleaned up yet. We’d seen carnival stragglers at Locarno that morning looking a bit worse for wear so it had obviously been a good night out, despite the weather.
Our Euro City EC153 0747 Luzern – Milan Central arrived on time with only 4 coaches. Despite us having reserved seats to Como it didn’t really seem to make much of a difference where we sat and ours were occupied anyway.
As we headed towards Italy the snow turned to rain yet the views over Lake Lugano, as we passed by, weren’t destroyed by the rain; in fact if anything it made the whole area look more atmospheric with the snow capped mountains surrounding it. By the time we got to Lake Como I was soon wishing we’d done Lugano instead!
At Chiasso SBB loco was immediately removed and an Italian loco replaced it for the run to Milan Central. In the station area were a couple of Trenord loco-hauled sets. It was at this point that I realised that the locals from Chiasso to Como were worked by Trenord E464’s and that we’d paid over the odds to get to Como S. Giovani, just for the sake of doing it loco-hauled. When I’d bought the Chiasso – Como S. Giovani tickets at Locarno that morning the guy at the ticket window had suggested we use a local train from Chiasso but I’d insisted we go through on the EC, just so we did it loco-hauled. It cost CHF13 each for the 4km journey from Chiasso to Como S. Giovani when it would have only cost a couple of Francs each on a local!
The short journey from Chiasso to Como is through a tunnel for the majority of the journey and upon arrival I was straight to the booking office to get the return tickets on the Euro City train cancelled and changed for a local ticket instead; however FS had other ideas and I wasn’t allowed to cancel the tickets, so just had to lump it and accept the mistake I’d clearly made.
Outside the station the rain was pouring down; it was one of those days that if you’d been at home you’d turn up the heating and just watch how miserable it got from the comfort of your front room, feeling nice and snug as you did so. As we’d made the effort to get to Como we walked down to the lake, in the rain; it was a cold day as well.
The walk from the station takes about 10 minutes to get to the lake’s edge, once there we didn’t really go that far and spent some of the time sheltering under a tree. The rain putting a massive dampener, literally, on the day; which was a shame as the views were excellent and the surrounding mountains were topped with snow. Atmospheric or not we were cold, wet and fed up within 30 minutes of being out in the rain and back at the station within 90 minutes. When your girlfriend actually tells you to get her on a train to anywhere, just to keep warm, you know it’s not a good day out! As we headed back we found a steam loco plinthed on the lake’s edge; 851.186, which strangely was in pristine condition without any graffiti on it at all.
We spent the afternoon travelling between Como S Giovani & Albate by Trenord trains; just to keep warm really! We did opt to stay at Como and eat our lunch in the relative warmth of the station confines; which did offer a bit of something to watch in the meantime. We sat in a waiting area by the left luggage area, during which time a woman came in with her husband to collect their bags. The guy behind the counter wasn’t actually the guy who was responsible for the left luggage, he was found in the slot machine area; eventually. The bizarre thing was he didn’t have the keys for their locker and couldn’t find them either! Many phone calls later some other guy turned up, meandering about as though there was no tomorrow, and was immediately verbally abused by said woman, which obviously kicked him into life as he ran to the locker and opened it for them. It turned out they only had 5 minutes for their train when they turned up and by the time they got onto the opposite platform, luggage in tow, their train was already sat in with its doors open; they only just made it. The moral of that story being either don’t leave your luggage at Como or, make sure you have plenty of time when you return to collect it!
Our second trip to Albate nearly didn’t materialise due to the fact that the screen at Como S. Giovani couldn’t make up its mind if the return train from Albate was either on time, 5 minutes late or 10 minutes late; it flicking between all three every time it refreshed itself. The conclusion I drew from it was that it was about 10 late, which in theory should mean that or EC158 back to Bellinzona would be in front of it but I wasn’t convinced this would happen and assumed that our EC158 would remain behind the local to Chiasso and just be a few minutes late; so we went for the move anyway. The worst case being that we’d just have to do the local through to Chiasso and get on EC158 there, where it had time sitting during the engine change.
There was no sign of us passing anything as we headed out to Albate. It was a slightly anxious wait at Albate but as suspected the local turned up first. The screen on platform 3 at Como S. Giovani confirmed that EC158 was running 5 late and the same loco that had worked out to Milan rolled in shortly after the train we’d just done in from Albate departed.
EC158 was the first place we’d managed to get properly warm and even remotely dry, since our outing in the rain at Lake Como. As was always the case the rain had stopped when we left Italy and it had brightened up a little but our spirits had been dampened enough by then to prevent us returning to the lake’s edge that afternoon and we were thankful of a nice warm train to take us back to Bellinzona.
Back in Locarno, almost dry and almost thawed out, food that evening was at the Ristorante Oldrati, which is near the station, by the lake front. The food was good and the homemade Tiramisu was excellent.
Unfortunately this evening brought our trip to a close and all that remained was out journey back to Basel the following morning for our flight home……
Sunday 2nd March 2014
A stark contrast in weather to the previous morning; it was bright, partially clear and wasn’t snowing, or raining! The views over the lake were nice as the sun attempted to rise above the mountains; it would have been a cracking day to visit Lake Como……
When we got to Locarno station the trees above the city looked like someone had sprinkled icing sugar on them, the clouds were beginning to clear and the blue skies behind them were starting to dominate the skies; the sun actually being quite warm when directly in it.
We made ourselves comfortable on board SBB’s 0847 Locarno – Zürich, for the 3 hours journey to Zürich HB, via the Gotthard Pass. Unfortunately the set was a full set of air-cons and didn’t have a coach with opening windows; this limited the photography somewhat but didn’t stop us enjoying the scenery that the Gotthard Pass has to offer, especially in the middle section where you can see both where you’ve been and where you’re going at the same time as the line is both above and below you!
Our train forward to Basel was EC6 1300 Zürich HB – Hamburg Altona, which was being diverted via Brugg vice Lenzburg due to engineering works resulting in Lenzburg tunnel being closed for the weekend. This was a bonus for me as I’d not done the Brugg route to Basel and had inadvertently thought that the express trains to Basel ran via that route anyway; right side error on my part there……
The conductor on board our train couldn’t apologise enough when she announced that our arrival time into Basel would be approximately 4 minutes later than the advertised time due to being diverted via Brugg on our journey. Of course 4 minutes wasn’t going to bother us at all and all we had to do on arrival into Basel was walk out of the station doors and onto the first No.50 bus to the Euro Airport; this actually turned out to be the second bus as the one waiting was full and standing, which wasn’t an issue with them being every 10 minutes.
That was it; holiday officially over! Getting through Basel airport wasn’t too bad but the queues for security once we’d gone though were beginning to get rather large. Our BA flight was on time and the Piccadilly Line from Heathrow was operating ok, giving us plenty of time to wonder over to St Pancras for some food before our 2015 train back to Doncaster.
We couldn’t have asked for better weather during the trip, other than the day we visited Lake Como of course. The trips to the peaks were all well worth the effort and all had different things to offer on the way up. While Jungrfaujoch is a costly event if you manage to go on a day like we did, where the weather is crystal clear, then it is well worth it. Eggishorn offers excellent views of the Aletsch Glacier and even the Matterhorn on clear days and is a steal at CHF21.40 (with Swiss Pass); and quite an adventure with the two cable car rides. Gornergrat is a cracking trip, the Matterhorn being so prominent during the whole experience; both during train ride up and when looking out from Gornergrat. If you’re on a budget and have to choose between either Jungfraujoch or Gornergrat then there is no comparison when the price is taken into consideration and both offer equally as spectacular views as each other.
If you like snowy scenery the journey between Andermatt & Disentis by Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn is well worth a trip as is a run over the Gotthard Pass.
All in all, other than the day out at Lake Como, the trip was excellent; with cracking scenery, some great hotels and good food and I can’t recommend the Channa Restaurant at Brig enough.