Switzerland May 2015 (Mt Titlis, Mt Rigi & Bern)
This trip was supposed to be a trip to see the Aletsch Glacier, based in Brig, at a warmer time of year. What a disaster that idea turned out to be when I checked the cable car timings the night before we set off and found them to be closed throughout May for maintenance! To add insult to injury the weather hadn’t been too good either and the footpaths from the midway cable cars were all still closed as well; so that was literally the whole trip out of the window.
As I had a couple of days at the start of the trip on my own I had time to figure out a plan B but due to the fact it was last minute I couldn’t cancel our hotel so we had to stay in Brig even though my alternative plans involved travelling through Luzern; a 2 hour train journey away. I’d discovered the mountains around Luzern by default but managed to gather as much information as possible while I was travelling about on Rigi, Titlis, Stanserhorn & Pilatus; we didn’t make it to all though and one was nothing short of a hellish day out and a total waste of time in the end……
EZY5113 0710 Gatwick – Zurich – £33.65
BA732 1405 Heathrow – Geneva – £84.11 (with Avios discount)
BA727 1200 Geneva – Heathrow – CHF44.75 each (with Avios discount)
Chur – Hotel Chur (Welschdörfli 2, 7000 Chur, Switzerland) – CHF274 for a single room for 3 nights – My regular hotel when in Chur, only a 7 minute walk up the road from the station if you follow the Arosa line train tracks through the street you won’t miss it on the right. This stay was no different to any other, the single rooms are small and cozy but as I’d asked to move rooms my second room was a little bigger and actually a double room. The rooms have decent sized bathrooms with piping hot water. The free WiFi throughout the hotel worked a treat in my room as well. Breakfast is included in the room rate.
Luzern – Erlebnis Jailhotel, Lowengraben 18, Luzern, 6004 – CHF76 for single room for 1 night – My hotel for the night had been booked in walking distance from the station as I was arriving late and departing early. I’d chosen the Erlebnis Jailhotel, through Booking.com, for both its proximity to Luzern station and the cost for a single night. It is literally like staying in jail with basic rooms with a minimal of fuss. The small bathrooms are very functional though and it’s in a quiet location; so long as you’re not in a first floor room and can hear the nightclub below!
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 staff were friendly and helpful. Depending on your room the views of the mountains are great in a morning.
Swiss Pass 8 Days – CHF363
Swiss Pass 4 Days – CHF251 + single Geneva Airport – Brig CHF64
Booked in the UK through Switzerland Travel Centre (STC)
Sunday 24th May 2015 (Don’t push me…! A day to forget)
An 0630 alarm call had us down to breakfast at 0700 on the dot. The Good Night Inn breakfast is usually a free for all with the amount of seniors that usually stay and are on organized tours starting early in a morning; on this occasion though we beat them all down and had the pick of the freshly laid out spread, which lacked croissants! Fed and with a bit packed up for later we were at Brig station by just after 0730 and on board IC811 0749 Brig – Romanshorn, for part one of the journey to Engelberg.
With only a few minutes at Bern to change trains we lagged it over the footbridge and forthe run to Luzern on IR2517 0702 Geneve Aeroport – Luzern for ZB’s IR2966 1010 Luzern – Engelberg; which is where the disaster started to unfold, although not quite on the scale we were going to walk into at Engelberg! Even at load 7 the train was wedged, with both Indian and Chinese tourists, and we had to stand all the way to Engelberg.
Engelberg station looked like it was mid-refurbishment and looked like a building site; which would probably explain why the line had been closed north of Wolfenschiessen for a month. Outside the front of the station is a bus stop for a free bus to take you to where the Titlis cable car’s start from. We thought we’d avoid the tourist trap and walk; to hopefully beat the bus load there and get ourselves sorted before they arrived.
The walk from Engelberg station to the Titlis cable car only takes 10 minutes and is quite pleasant along the small river with snow-capped mountains lining the horizon. The bus from the station turned up a few moments before we got there and moments after it crossed our path we learned just what we’d be getting into; as we rounded the corner to the cable car entrance not just one queue, but two, were right out of the doors and into the car park. Both were generally mixed with Indian & Chinese tourists and of course we joined one of the queues, thinking nothing more of it; after all queuing wasn’t too bad as long as it didn’t take too long for them to subside.
After 5 minutes of queuing some guy came wondering down the line speaking in German, it turned out, as I went chasing him towards the door, that he was asking if anyone needed tickets and to come through and get them. The queue for tickets only had about 5 people in it and the two big queues were actually tour groups. Having got our tickets, which took a good 10 minutes despite the small amount of people in front of us, we decided to jump the queue as going back to the end of it was just ridiculous; another English couple had the same idea and we all pushed in near the gates to the entrance, only to be brought towards the front by the same guy that had brought us in to get tickets.
It was a bit of a push to get through the gate but once through it we were on our way, or so we thought; that was when the real queuing and pushing/shoving started, and where the nightmare that became our trip to Titlis began. It had turned into a nice day and the web-cam at the ticket office showed cracking views from Titlis at 3022m and we were looking forward to it but by the time we got there 2h30m later it had clouded over and the view was virtually zero!
It took us nearly an hour to get from Engelberg station onto the first cable car, having endured a good 45 minutes of pushing and shoving in the nondescript queue to get into it. During which my wife had a go at the woman behind her who literally seemed to want to get in her bag; to the woman’s credit though she did allow a bit of space between them after that. That small incident was only the tip of the iceberg!
Once out of the cable car it was straight into the next queue and while not as chaotic it was as tight as the previous queue with no real queue going on at all and just more of a scrum for the front really. At least we had a bit of pleasant company while we waited though, in the form of a young Australian couple, but the real fun and games started once we were bundled into the gondola that would take us on stage two of our journey up to the ironically named Stand. Luckily for us we were towards the front of the queue by the time it was our time to board a gondola and we got ourselves to a place by a window. The pushing and shoving soon followed though and some stupid woman pushed my wife too far, literally, and she flew across the cable car quite well as she was pushed, two handedly, back to where she came from; she looked horrified when she’d had time to gather her thoughts and needless to say didn’t venture to our side of the gondola again! Some other woman then made the mistake of asking to stand where we were stood; all she got from us both, simultaneously, was a simple “no!”, as did the guy that attempted to move us out of the way to point his video camera out of the window; which ultimately ended up with two fingers in front of its lens when he muscled his way in any way!
Part three of the journey from Stand to Titlis is supposed to be the highlight of the trip in a rotating gondola that does a 360 degree turn as it travels up to Titlis; as this was actually part six of our journey from Brig to Titlis via Engelberg we were actually just glad it was nearly over and wanted to get there, get our photos and do one; ultimately we were denied even that luxury and our trip to Titlis turned into nothing more than a 3000m climb for lunch as the cloud came in about 5 minutes before we exited the rotating gondola, bringing visibility to virtually nothing. The cloud did clear a little bit in the 15 minutes we had at Titlis, basically to eat our sarnies as we were starving by that time, but we could only see into an adjacent valley; we never saw a single mountain top at all. Feeling quite deprived and robbed of what should have been a cracking view we headed off back down to Engelberg, the journey back taking a fraction of the time, in fact less than half the time; but it still wasn’t without incident.
As we waited to get into the gondola at Stand, to head back towards the cable car, it was evident that the actual number of people being allowed in wasn’t being monitored and it became a complete free for all and we just managed to squeeze in before the doors were about to be closed behind us; at which point the gondola attendant was asking everyone to move slowly. No sooner had we stepped in were we immediately pushed forward as other attempted to squeeze in; all I could hear was my wife giving a little old Chinese guy what for, who made the unfortunate mistake of attempting to argue back, and lie in the process! Basically he’d shouted “push” as the doors were about to be closed and forced his way on with his wife, shoving mine forward into people in front of her in the process, he then decided to lie and tell us he’d been pushed on and then proceeded to lie about the fact he’d shouted “push” before ramming his way in. The gondola attendant wasn’t interested in the argument at all, and why should he be we were only suspended from apiece of wire, 2000m up a mountain, in what was probably an overloaded gondola and the majority of the folks about didn’t seem to care about safety whatsoever; it was bordering on the ridiculous and we were so glad to speak to so normal people in the cable car back do on the last leg to Engelberg.
We had the pleasure of an Indian woman and her daughter and I took the liberty of asking a cheeky question to query why there were so many Indian tourists about; to be told that the schools were closed in May & June in India and that was when Indian families did their travelling. All became clear…..
We’d arrived at Engelberg at 1053 and I’d originally allowed for 3 hours to get up Titlis and back, to be on the 1401 train back towards Luzern; we got out of the cable car at 1503, having missed the 1501 train my minutes and then had to wait until the 1601 train back to Luzern. Our day had been nothing short of a disaster really and we’d paid CHF44.50, each, for our lunch outing! And that was half the full price thanks to our Swiss Passes. While we were queuing up people were shelling out as much as CHF700 for a family to go up the mountain, which is a ridiculous amount of money to then have to endure what people did; and for what at the end of it? Cloud….
While I will go back to Titlis at some point in the future we both left with a sense of relief that we’d actually got out. Having had plenty of time to assess how things should have gone during our queuing time it seems that there should have been queues for tour groups and queues for individuals but it looked like there just weren’t enough staff on to deal with the crowds and managing them just became impossible in some senses. I’m very surprised there weren’t any incidents during the course of our trip, involving person injuries, and also a little surprised that there weren’t more shouting matches or confrontations due to the crowded conditions; I guess though that the groups of people we were surrounded by are more than used to those kind of crowds and didn’t think much of the conditions at all. That’s probably a downfall of being British but a big advantage too. Manners cost nothing and can make someone’s day; unfortunately bad manners spoilt ours and we couldn’t help but discuss the days antics as we headed back down to Luzern on the train; on which we managed to get a seat at least!
We headed straight back from Luzern to Bern on IR2530 1700 Luzern – Geneve Aeroport and at Bern there were a lot of people flitting between platforms to make their connections and as some of the connections are only 3 minutes its sometimes quite hard getting from one platform to the other at Bern in time due to the location of the underpass and over bridge. We managed to make our train though, IC826 1541 Romanshorn – Brig, which was sat waiting to go; in the adjacent platform was IC979 1659 Basel – Interlaken Ost which we did to Thun as it departed 3 minutes in front of IC826 and by the time we’d walked under the subway at Thun IC826 was bowling into the platform.
We got off at Visp to get some supplies from the Migros at the station, knowing it would be our only likely chance with it being a Sunday. MGB Deh4/4 I #52 whisked us back to Brig Bahnhofplatz afterwards on a very empty 562 1908 Visp – Andermatt and we walked straight to the Channa Restaurant, where a good meal was enjoyed again.
While it hadn’t been the most successful of days out I’d at least managed to find some new Re4/4’s buried in the Brig circuits and could work out what to do the following day; meanwhile a leisurely day was planned in light of the fiasco we’d endured on this day!
Monday 25th May 2015 (I’m sure Bern is under permanent renovation)
After breakfast, instead of heading straight to Bern we got off at Spiez as the view of the lake, directly outside the station entrance, is quite atmospheric when the weather isn’t so good, as it was on this particular morning; Spiez castle is also clearly visible on the lake’s edge as well. According to the signs outside the station it takes about 15 minutes to reach the castle, from outside the station, but the weather put us off even attempting to take the walk down so we headed to Bern on the next train IC1068 1120 Brig – Basel.
As you come into Bern station the railway is above the river, which it then crosses on the approach to the station itself. On all our previous visits to Bern we’d noticed that everything prominent seemed to have scaffolding round it which of course would spoil any landscape photos of the city we’d take so we never bothered. On this particular occasion the river was looking particularly blue with winter run-off water and the spires we could see from the train as we arrived all looked to be scaffold free so we took a brisk walk down to the road bridge, which is adjacent to but at a lower level than the railway bridge, to get some photos of the city. Unfortunately as the road bridge is lower than the railway bridge the vantage point isn’t as great as the railway bridge but of course there are some great railway photos to be had of trains going over the railway bridge; from the viewpoint down below.
Not wanting to completely dismiss Bern we walked back past the station and down towards the parliament buildings, which looked quite picturesque with their neatly decorated rooftops but unfortunately when we got there we found the front of the building, that overlooks the river, scaffold-clad and it just wasn’t even worth taking the camera out, let alone making the trip down to the river on the funicular, that starts at the parliament buildings, to get the overall view from down below it.
Lunch seemed like a sensible idea at that point and we found a nice Italian type take-away next door to McDonalds downstairs at Bern station. There was a little room to eat in and so we did, the pasta was cooked fresh and the whole meal was piping hot throughout. With no real inclination to do tourist related activities, what with the weather not being too good and the previous day having worn us out, it was easier to do a few train related bits that afternoon and we ended up at Domodossola in Italy for a while that evening; returning on a very wedged ICN train, where we had to stand in the vestibule and keep the partition door open to allow some air conditioning into the corridor to prevent us from melting!
Having eaten early it made a pleasant change to be able to amble back to the hotel rather than do food first and this allowed me to figure out exactly what we should do the following morning; having decided we’d visit Mt Rigi, which overlooks Lake Luzern.
Tuesday 26th May 2015 (No cable cars and no queuing but a similar outcome…..)
Whichever way I looked at getting from Brig to Rigi it was evident it was going to take a while and with options via Andermatt & Göschenen to Arth Goldau, Zurich to Arth Goldau and Bern & Luzern to Arth Goldau I opted for the non-conventional way of doing it via Bern, Olten and Luzern to Arth Goldau. Having done IC811 0749 Brig – Romanshorn, IC1062 0830 Interlaken Ost – Basel and IR2167 0936 Bern – Zurich Hbf respectively, this allowed for a move towards Arth Goldau involving Re4/4’s on the Gotthard Pass trains. Our IR2319 1004 Basel – Locarno arrived about 5 minutes late with Re4/4 11200 and no sooner had it arrived on the blocks at Luzern did Re4/4 11141 drop onto the opposite end of the train to work forward to Locarno; which was a bit of an unexpected bonus as it was a new one for me and one I hadn’t seen thus far on this trip.
En-route from Luzern to Arth Goldau, via Rotkreutz, the heavens opened and it bounced it down but by the time we got to Arth Goldau the rain had stopped and clouds bumbled around in the valley’s, not quite gaining enough lift to clear the ridges, and the sun began to shine through making for quite a warm, yet fresh, afternoon.
Rigibahnen is usually situated at the Arth Goldau station, which is housed in a wooden building that spans the Arth Goldau to Luzern direct route, clearly visible at the Luzern end of the station with wording on the structure to confirm it if there was any doubt. At the moment this station is closed and trains are starting at Goldau station, which is a comfortable 10 minute walk (could be done in 5 if need be) from SBB’s Arth Goldau station and is clearly signposted out of both entrances; the shortest route being out of the underpass entrance. There’s a makeshift station building with ticket office at Goldau and everything you need to know can be found in the office, including of course timetables for the trains, as well as timetables for the boats on Lake Luzern; which come in handy if you plan to end up at Rigibahnen’s Vitznau station on the lake.
RB’s 1210 Goldau – Rigi Klum service was formed of load two with the powering vehicle being 1949 built BDhe4/4 #13. The train wasn’t full and the climb up to Rigi was quite fascinating really and very atmospheric as we headed into the low clouds. Unfortunately though we never came out of the clouds and our view at the top was pretty much as crap as it had been at Titlis two days previous; the only difference being was that we hadn’t paid for this trip as it was free with Swiss Passes on board Rigibahnen.
As we climbed the rack railway a works train followed us up to Staffel where the Arth Goldau line meets the Vitznau line. Both services from Vitznau & Arth Goldau are timed to depart Staffel at the same time to run through to Rigi and it soon became evident why as there are two lines that run almost parallel but one takes a higher line than the other! On this occasion though our blue BDhe4/4 #13 was allowed to run to Rigi Klum first while the red Bhe2/4 #1 from Vitznau followed closely behind with 1127 1215 Vitznau – Rigi Klum, on the same track.
The cloud cover made it quite cool at the top of Rigi and just when we were about to set off on the short walk back down to the station the cloud broke and we got a fantastic view of Lake Luzern; it disappeared as quickly as it had appeared when the cloud moved across our line of view. For about 15 minutes the cloud broke every now and again and offered really atmospheric views of the lake down below, taking them away in a flash if you weren’t prepared with your camera. Despite the cloud we enjoyed every minute of our hour at Rigi and were very pleased we’d made the journey.
To get back to Brig we headed down to Vitznau to catch the boat across Lake Luzern to Luzern itself and then head back by train. The inbound trains from Arth Goldau & Vitznau arrived into opposite platforms on this occasion and made use of both of the roads up the hill from Staffel. Blue BDhe4/4 #11 and red Bhe2/4 #4 formed 152 1404 Rigi Klum – Arth Goldau and 1134 1403 Rigi Klum – Vitznau respectively and both travelled down to Staffel simultaneously; where the works train that had followed us up from Arth Goldau earlier was sat waiting to follow #11 back down to Arth Goldau by the looks of where it was sat.
As we headed down towards Vitznau views over Lake Luzern soon filled the horizon, once we’d got below the cloud. Then at Kaltbad First something totally unexpected happened when we came across RB He2/2 #18, of 1939 vintage, with a works train. As it shunted from the adjacent road to the same one in rear of us I commented under my breath that they might as well attach it to our train to save messing about and bugger me if they didn’t and the whole formation went merrily on its way down the hill with our driving car, a trailer vehicle and #18 plus its flat wagon. Upon arrival at Vitznau #18 was immediately detached and run into the adjacent platform; before we’d even boarded the boat, which had just arrived and we’d been watching make its way across the lake as we descended the mountain on the train.
The boat that ferried us back to Luzern was called the Europa and was working the 1300 Fluelen – Luzern service. Tickets are purchased at the on board ticket office when you board and checked by one of the on-board staff when they do their rounds. Thankfully for us our Swiss Passes were valid on board so we didn’t have to pay anything extra to head back to Luzern via Vitznau. The journey took a little under an hour and was quite a relaxing one but was very efficient at its stops; which are clearly signed as the boats pull up and announced on board. It was pretty much like being on a train and in true Swiss fashion very punctual. There are outside decks to sit on as well as an upper first class deck if you’re that way inclined and also on board restaurants should you feel peckish or thirsty. All in all I was quite pleased with the journey, even if it had started to rain by the time we got to Luzern.
No time was wasted at Luzern and we did IR2528 1600 Luzern – Geneve Aeroport to Bern for IC977 1559 Basel – Interlaken Ost to Thun and then IC824 1441 Romanshorn – Brig to Visp before enjoying an MGB trip aboard 558 1808 Visp – Andermatt forward to Brig.
As it had turned into a warm and nice evening we took a walk up to the Stockalperschloss in Brig, before heading to Channa restaurant for the last time. We only had a brief walk round the grounds and got some nice photos with the mountains setting a great backdrop; then we had a few problems when we walked back down the main road towards the hotel. Some youth appeared behind us with a pump action water gun and pointed it at us as though he was going to shoot. Stupidly I assumed he wouldn’t as we had big cameras in our hands but no the idiot let rip. Unfortunately his stupidity didn’t end there and despite be giving chase twice he persisted to spray us with water until on the third occasion he ran straight out into the middle of the road and almost got hit by a car. Luckily for him he was a lot quicker than me otherwise he’d have found himself covered in coke; I guess the fact that he almost got covered in car made his reassess his options and leave it alone. Unfortunately this kind of behavior is completely off-putting for tourists and as my wife said afterwards, coupled with the shocking day we’d had at Titlis, this incident was enough to put someone off returning to Switzerland if it had been their first visit; thankfully though this wasn’t ours and we didn’t let it put us off any future trips.
The staff at the Channa restaurant that evening had all changed but the food and service was as good as it had been on any other evening and having spent the time and money we had done there it should have been. That was basically the end of the trip and all that was left to do was pack, sleep, get a train to Geneve and depart on the plane!
The Photos En-route to Rigi:
The Photos at Rigi:
The Photos on Lake Luzern:
The Photos at Brig:
Wednesday 27th May 2015 (First class awaits)
We had to be on the 0728 train from Brig to Geneva Airport so we snook into breakfast at 0645, even though it didn’t start until 0700, and were the only ones in there early! Checking out of the Good Night Inn was a simple case of handing the room cards back and saying goodbye, having paid on arrival, and we had a nice bay of four all to ourselves for the whole journey from Brig to Geneva Airport, on the lake side (left in direction of travel towards Geneva), despite quite a bit of foot traffic using the train in the Lausanne/Montreux area.
IR1816 0728 Brig – Geneve Aeroport delivered us to the airport station bang on time and with the short walk to the airport we were through security and sitting down relaxing 15 minutes later; checking in online via BA’s mobile app helped. Our plan was on time, not full and we had cracking views of the mountains leaving Geneva and also of London as we neared Heathrow; for the first time ever I managed to get some photographs as we flew over London!
The London Underground was running well and we had plenty of time to make our booked 1633 Kings Cross – Leeds back to Doncaster and even managed to pass some time in Starbucks at St Pancras. Having had a load of East Coast reward points to use up before Virgin abolished the scheme I’d booked us a couple of free first class seats back to Doncaster and just as my wife was asking where we were sitting I told her I was jumping into coach H, which she didn’t quite believe until I continued to walk into the inside of the coach; and a very nice afternoon journey back it was too with friendly staff and not too many on board in first class. It was just what we needed at the end of a lengthy journey that had basically been Brig to Doncaster with only a bit of time festering at the airport for our plane. It was always good to be back home though but not to the grind the following day!