Day 12 - 26 Sep
In our research of the 'great' train journeys of Switzerland, we came across quite a mixed bag of reviews concerning the Glacier Express. Many were incredibly enthusiastic - about the train itself, the service and the scenery - while a significant minority was quite negative - about the very same things! Reviews can be quite confusing! One theme that did come through quite regularly, for all the panoramic trains, was some disappointment with the panoramic windows. Strange; we had thought the panoramic windows would have been the big attraction, so had booked on a panoramic coach for today's journey on the GEX.
As we reported a couple of days ago, we acted on advice from our companions on the Bernina Bus and travelled in a local train carriage for the Bernina Express to Pontresina. We were delighted with the freedom it gave us to open windows and take pictures without the distraction of reflections - not to mention the thrill of having icy alpine air blowing through the compartment! - so decided to do the same today, at least for the section from St Moritz to Chur. After checking out and taking a local train from Pontresina to St Moritz, we confirmed with the ticket office that our Panorama Carriage seats would be secure from Chur, if we did not use them up to that point. With that concern allayed, we settled into a local carriage again.
Once more, the move proved well worthwhile. The scenery is extremely varied, interesting and beautiful; while the feats of engineering are amazing to see and experience. The section between Preda and Bergen contains some of the most impressive sections of all the railways in Switzerland. The tunnels are obviously not visible but the results are, as the train regularly pops out of spiral tunnels hundreds of feet higher (or lower) than when it entered. Most spectacular of all, are the immense viaducts that carry the trains across dramatic valleys. The Landwasser viaduct is the most emblematic of these wonderful structures, soaring 65m above the river of the same name. Once again, we were like kids at Christmas, not being able to decide which awesome sight to fixate on! Knowing that many of these lines, bridges and tunnels were so accurately constructed more than 110 years ago simply added to the awe we felt.This entire section of the railway is UNESCO World Heritage listed, for good reason.
All too soon, we reached Chur and relocated to our seats in the Panoramic carriage. Although by now we were convinced the 'regular' carriages were the way to go for snap-happy tourists, this required a) windows that could be opened (not always the case); and b) that such carriages were even available on the booked train - which they were not on our train today, for the section from Chur to Brig. We were looking forward to the Panorama experience anyway, so we made the move to our assigned seats without any hesitation.
We found we had the window seats at a table for four and were soon joined by another couple. Our serendipitous journey continued as they turned out to be from the Geneva area, spoke excellent English, and were more than happy to play tourist guides. As we rolled along, they gave us some great background on the places we passed, as well as where we were going to spend the night (Brig) and our destination for tomorrow (Wengen). Talking to fellow travellers and locals has really enriched our trip, as we have been able to plan our days with added knowledge and tips - all of which have proved their worth.
As with the Bernina Express, we passed through fabulous landscape, such as the Rhine gorge and the Oberalppass; ancient and historic cities such as Disentis with it's Benedictine Abbey and Andermatt; and - of course - more tunnels that have breached the Alps and helped to facilitate the excellent rail networks of Switzerland. While we enjoyed the scenery, we were entertained by our companions and feted by the attentive staff. For lunch, we abandoned our usual ham salad rolls, and elected to try the on board offerings. We both chose the pork steak with local veg, which was beautifully prepared and presented, and accompanied by a surprisingly good white from the local Valais region. We have been enjoying our picnic lunches, but it was a nice change to relax and be waited on!
The journey took most of the day but, unlike some critics who have complained about the trip being slow and boring (true!!), we loved it all. On balance and for ourselves, we think the experience was better in the local carriages, but that takes nothing away from the pleasure and relaxation to be found in the Panorama wagons. Pretty soon, we found ourselves in Brig and, once again, our hotel was nearby.
As soon as we had checked in and dropped our bags in our room, we went for a quick stroll around this historic and strategic city. The centrepiece of Brig, as advised by our recent travelling companions, is the Stockalper Palace, so we made directly for it. We were much too late to take a tour, but it was still possible to stroll through the arcaded courtyard and admire the old horse-drawn coaches on display. We kept our stroll short as the weather was deteriorating and besides, we had washing to do. Fortunately, our hotel had machines (free, even!) and we spent an exciting evening wandering the empty and spooky basement car park, like extras in a Stephen King movie, going through the process. But you probably don't need to know more about that, so we shall leave it there!
TTFN - RandA.