Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Glacier Express

After two great days in Geneva, we took the train to Zermatt, most famous for the Matterhorn.

We stayed a night in Zermatt. Zermatt is a charming, if touristy town. It is all pedestrian, so you get to walk a lot, and of course the scenery is amazing. Here are a couple of shots. The first one is the main square of Zermatt, where the train comes into town.

Like I said, it's touristy, but still kind of cool. The whole town is basically hotels, restaurants, and shops. Here is a view down the main street in Zermatt.


Everything is pretty expensive, but as I have noted before, that is Switzerland. Cleanliness and efficiency are not free!

At the hotel we got lucky and had an amazing view of the Matterhorn from our balcony. Here is the view from our balcony.

All of the buildings in this photo are hotels. The open lot across the way, the corner of which is visible in the photo, was for sale. I was very curious how much it was. Many millions, I imagine. One of my fondest memories of the trip is sitting on this balcony, smoking my first Cuban cigar (a Cohiba for you cigar smokers out there) and drinking a Cardinal beer. Cardinal is a Swiss brand of beer that comes in bright yellow half liter cans. It is a typical European lager, hoppier than American varieties, and quite tasty. And, of course, the cigar was fantastic. When I was doing that life was good!

One of the things to do is take a train through the mountain to an area above the town, where you can get a better view of the Matterhorn. The train is very cool-basically running at a 45 degree angle through the mountain. Here is a shot of the train.

We got into Zermatt later in the day, so we didn't have the time to explore up there like I would have liked. Nonetheless, the views of the Matterhorn were fantastic.
The Matterhorn seems to be always at least slightly obscured by clouds, but the next morning I got lucky and got a great shot of it almost clear.
We ate at a good restaurant, and had rosti, a potato dish that is often considered a Swiss national dish. It is yummy.

The next day we took the Glacier Express. The Glacier Express is a scenic railway that runs from Zermatt to St. Moritz, all the way across southern Switzerland. I cannot say enough great things about this trip. I saw some of the most amazing scenery of my life. The train itself is modern and comfortable, of course, with the tall windows that allow maximum viewing of the scenery. And, boy, what scenery. On some of the following photos you can see some reflection from the windows. I could not figure out how to prevent this, but is doesn't detract from the scenery too much, I hope.
This is typical Swiss countryside.
Here is a shot of the train car.
And some general shots.
One thing you learn quickly on the trip is that the Swiss are not afraid of tunnels. The train goes through many, many tunnels, one of which is 16 km long. It also goes over many viaducts, one of which, the Landwasser viaduct, is justly famous for it's size. It is impressive.
My favorite part of the trip came towards the end, when the path went through the Rhine River Gorge, known as Switzerland's Grand Canyon. I think whoever named it that must have not seen the real Grand Canyon, but it is amazingly beautiful and impressive nonetheless.
All in all, I cannot recommend this trip highly enough. I fully plan to go back and do it again some day. Next time I think I will go the other direction (St. Moritz to Zermatt) which is the most common way to do it.

The trip stopped in St. Moritz, a famous ski town. To be honest, we did not spend bot one night there, and it was summer, not the best time for a famous ski resort, so we didn't see the town at it's best. Here is a picture of the church there, which was near our hotel.
And a general shot of St. Moritz.
After a night in the hotel, we parted ways from S, who went to Paris. L and I went to Rome. The train ride from St. Moritz into Italy was beautiful as well. Of course, we crossed the Alps.
We were crossing in early June, and it was snowing lightly at one point. Also note the ice in the lake. I was happy to be inside the train. I think I remember reading that this is the highest above ground pass from Switzerland to Italy.

Then we went back down and, bam, we were in Italy. It was amazing how drastically the architecture changed. The Swiss definitely have their standard architecture (see above pictures of Zermatt) and suddenly everything was typical northern Italy.

We crossed the border at a small town called Tirano. It was a charming looking little town, and I would love to go back one day and spend more time. We had to board our train to Rome via Milan, however. Crossing the border was interesting. It consisted of holding up your passport and walking past two bored looking Italian officials (police, border guards? not sure). Something interesting did happen. We were one of only two groups of Americans on the train as far as I could tell. When the guard say our passports (they are color coded, you know) he pulled us aside. He took our passports and looked at them, then took them over to his colleague who also carefully examined them. He never asked us a question or anything, and, after waiting for a couple of minutes, just handed them back to us and waved us on. Interesting.

One of the cool things we passed on the way to Milan was Lake Como.
Lake Como is another place where I would love to spend more time. It looks beautiful.

We arrived at the main train station in Milan. Wow, this place is one of the largest buildings I have ever been in. There were close to twenty platforms. We had to find out train, although our tickets were in German, having been bought in the German speaking part of Switzerland, and, of course, everything in Milan is in Italian. We managed to get on the right train, although we did get in the wrong section at first. Thank goodness everyone uses Arabic numerals! We boarded the high speed train to Rome. This train was very nice, and whisked us rapidly to Rome. I recommend not spending the money for first class tickets, since second class is perfectly nice. Overall, the Italian train system is great.

Next, the eternal city.

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