2023 – On the Bernina Express, Switzerland to Colico, Italy

Our ride on the Bernina Express took us high up into the Swiss Alps and then down to Torino, Italy.  The views from the train are exceptional and the route includes features like the 213 feet high Landwasser Viaduct and the Brusio spiral viaduct.  Gaining and losing as much altitude as the train does means there are lots of switchbacks, loops, and tunnels.  I took many photos and then, once the trip was over, I tried to pick only the best to save.  Admittedly, it was a challenge.

The ticketing situation for both Bernina and Glacier Express is a bit confusing.  There are two separate transactions.  First, you need to reserve a seat on the train.  The price for that is about $20.  You can reserve fairly early and you really need to because the train sells out well in advance.  Then, when you get closer to your reserved time, you have to buy the actual train ticket.  You can get a point to point ticket, a “super saver” if you book early, or a Saver Day pass which is good anywhere in Switzerland on trains and buses.  There are a limited number of these, so, again, committing early saves money.

I used the Trainline app for most of my train tickets.  It works in most of Europe, including the UK.  However, I used the Swiss rail app, SSB to get my Saver Day passes – that is the only place to get them.  I like using the apps because they let me work in English and not have to guess the meaning of German, Italian, etc. phrases.  Also, Trainline lets you pick your currency.  By picking US dollars I have a better idea of what, exactly, I am spending.  Having said all that, let me add that train travel on this trip has been among the least of our expenditures.  I’ve been constantly surprised at how low train prices are across Europe.

The train crosses into Italy at Torino.  We switched to an Italian train to take us to a beautiful lakeside town, Colico.  The town is on the shore of Lake Como, a 40 mile long, very deep glacial lake which is surrounded by snowcapped mountains.  This has been a popular vacation destination for hundreds of years.  Right now, of course, is off season but there was still a lot of activity in the town.

Tomorrow, we will continue our train journey along the shore of Lake Como back to Milan and to the airport for our flight back to Manchester.

2023 – Chur, Switzerland

Our Switzerland train journey continued with a ride through the high country between Brig and Chur.  Once again we climbed up above the snow line.  Rather than traveling on an express train we journeyed on local trains, needing to transfer to other trains a couple of times as we continued our trip.  Our train was full of skiers out for a day on the slopes.  A few stops were high in the mountains right at ski resorts with no town close by.  We lost count of all the cable lifts we saw.  We passed miles of cross-country skiers following a route through a valley and along the train tracks.  As we looked out at the mountains we could see people off in the distance skiing down.  Some train riders had snow sleds for their kids.  Honestly, if I headed out to the slopes, that would be about my speed!

We took lots of photos and I confess that, after a while, they start to look alike.  After all, when you’ve seen one amazing, beautiful, snowy mountain you’ve seen them all, right?

We arrived in Chur (pronounced “Coor”) and found our hotel a short distance from the big train station.  Chur has a very long history, dating back 3500 years before Christ.  This makes it one of the oldest settlements in all of Switzerland.

Our hotel is in a vehicle-free portion of the city, adjacent to the old town section of the city which is filled with narrow cobblestone walkways lined with shops and housing.  We explored the area and took photos but took full advantage of our planned off day in which we had no major sightseeing planned.

One nice thing we have found about the hotels in this part of the world is that most have electric plug adapters available if you ask for them.  Apparently, Switzerland uses a plug that is a bit different than other European countries.  The voltage is the same, just the plug is different.  Because of that, hotels keep adapters available.

In case you don’t know it, our US electric is different than that in most of the world.  Because of that, you can’t use any device with a motor in it, like a hair dryer.  However, almost any electronic device like a cell phone or laptop will charge up just fine if you have the right plug adapter.  To be sure, just look at the charger that plugs into the wall.  On the small print it will have something like: “input 100-240v.”  That means the charger will work fine on US voltage of 110 and European voltage of 220.  All you need is a plug adapter.  Also, our phones and IPad can be charged from the USB ports built into many electric plugins here.

By early afternoon we settled into our hotel room to relax and prepare for tomorrow’s train trip on a major excursion train higher up into the Alps than we have gone yet.

2023 – Brig and Zermatt, Switzerland

The primary theme of our Italy-Switzerland Adventure is train trips.  We rode the train *under* the Alps from Milan to Lucerne, and now, we are traveling the amazing train routes up into the Alps.  Our trip from Lucerne to Brig, Switzerland included time in a famous tunnel that has a double spiral (like a figure-eight.)  The funny thing is, aside from being in the dark for more than 20 miles, there was no sensation of going round and round.  The spirals allow the train to gain altitude in a short distance and as far as I could tell the train never slowed down through the entire trip.

We arrived in Brig and, after finding our hotel, we looked around the pretty city, surrounded by snow caped mountains.  The weather has been unseasonably warm here (mostly in the 40s).  Because of that the snow level is confined to the mountains around us.  We think that is just right!  The hotel is adjacent to Stockalper Castle.  It is impressive to look at, but doesn’t offer tours in the winter time.  The other thing Brig is famous for is that the train station here serves as a major interchange for some important rail lines.

There are two famous rail excursions in this part of Switzerland.  The Glacier Express travels between two major ski areas.  However, it travels on the regular tracks and the regular trains that offer service to the same places have nice big windows.  I say that to explain that over the next two days we are traveling trains on the Glacier Express route, but not on that particular excursion.  The nice thing for us is that we can hop on and off the trains wherever we like rather than needing to stay with a tour.

This morning we left Brig and headed up deeper into the mountains to a world class winter playground: Zermatt, Switzerland.  The train climbed up above the snow line.  The scenery is amazing.  For many people Zermatt is all about skiing.  There are thousands of hotel rooms and chalet rentals.  Only electric powered, small taxis and a couple of small, free, electric busses are allowed on the streets.  There are several ski lifts and a cog railway offering access on up to the ski areas high above the town.

And, from most anywhere the Matterhorn, which towers over 14,000 feet can be seen.  It is beautiful beyond words.  We looked around, took photos, checked out an area where buildings dating back over 400 years have been preserved.  After having lunch we returned to Brig.  Due to the time difference, we got back to our room just in time to catch Sunday School and church in Texas!

Here are a couple of travel tips that might be helpful to some.  First, there’s a free app called “Google Lens.”  It has other uses, but it’s translate function is great for people traveling.  Using Lens you turn on translate.  Your phone camera comes on and you can aim it at any text.  The app translates the text to English and on the screen the words actually morph from whatever language you are looking at into English!  Tonight we were buying sandwiches to bring back to our room.  The labels were in German, but when I looked at them through Lens I could see that they were turkey.  We don’t speak hardly any German, but we were able to navigate our way through the store and get what we wanted.  Really cool!

Another thing: on the train and many other places, announcements in Switzerland are repeated in German, then French, and then English.  That makes it easy to get around.  Aside from that, since we are in a major tourist area, we hear English spoken most everywhere.

Tomorrow, we continue the Glacier Express route.  What a way to start a New Year!

2022 – Lucerne, Switzerland

On Thursday, we left Milan, Italy on a high-speed train bound for Lucerne, Switzerland.  The train was very fast, very quiet, and quite comfortable.  Our route took us *under* the Swiss Alps.  The Gotthard Base tunnel is the longest and deepest tunnel of its type in the world – over 35 miles long!  When not in the tunnel the scenery was very nice.  We enjoyed the journey and it set the table for the world class rail journeys yet to come on this trip.

We’ve heard a lot about Lucerne, and it measures up to the reviews.  We walked through the old town area which is filled with shops and restaurants and beautiful old buildings.  The city is divided by the Reuss River which has two historic covered wooden bridges.  The oldest is the Chapel Bridge which was built in the 1300’s.  There are photo opportunities galore in the old city.

The most famous sculpture in Lucerne is the Lion Monument.  It’s a sad but beautiful work of art dedicated to 1792 Tuileries war heroes.  After seeing it we took a short bus ride back to the train station, bus station, and ferry dock for our cruise on Lake Lucerne.

Here are some things for people considering a trip to Switzerland.  First, everything here is expensive.  Even a hamburger will cost $15-20.  Food is always good, but never cheap.  We did a load of laundry at a self-serve place, and it costs over $15 for that single load washed and dried.  Second, for $20 you can get a sim card from Sunrise Mobile that will give you unlimited data most anywhere in Switzerland for a week.  Unless your phone accepts multiple sims or e-sims your regular number won’t work while the Swiss sim is inserted, so keep that in mind.  Still, it’s a really good deal that lets you get email, use your maps program, etc. while in the country.  Third, we stayed at a neat old hotel named “Drei Könige.”  The name means “Three Kings” and the logo of the wise men is everywhere.  I thought that was pretty neat, especially on the week after Christmas.  It isn’t unusual for hotels here to include breakfast.  And they really mean it – we had a hearty breakfast each morning.  That’s a real plus when you consider how expensive the eating places are.  Fourth, when you book a hotel in Lucerne you are given free bus access.  That’s a big savings and sets you free to explore the city.  Finally, most everyone speaks a little English (German is the most common language).  It never hurts to know a few common phrases.  Even saying “Thank you” in German will bring a smile as a response.

The highlight of our stay in Lucerne was the Lake Lucerne cruise.  The passenger ferry boats run regular routes around the lake.  We paid the winter day rate to give us unlimited time on the ferries.  Honestly, that discount rate is about the same price as most round-trip tickets.  By having a day ticket, we were able to decide just how much time we wanted to give to the cruise even while we were already underway.  To our delight the scenery was amazing, and we opted to go for the longer route, not returning to Lucerne until after dark.  Words can’t describe the beauty!  We were reminded of our Alaskan cruise but also of time we spent in Colorado at Rocky Mountain National Park.  We took tons of photos and hope you will enjoy them.