“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.”
We’ve seen some amazing things these past 2 weeks. We’ve climbed up Arctic fjords, sailed across seas with our train, crossed incredible bridges. We’ve travelled along a seemingly perpetual sequence of the Continent’s most spectacular train rides. But nothing can prepare you for today. There are bad railways and there are good railways. And then there is Swiss Railways. The entire route is really just an excuse to do this day. So this bloody train had better not be late into Milan!.
It’s early as usual. No one is awake, and even Darren couldn’t tell me if we are late as this train doesn’t stop anywhere to reference. I gesture to the train manager by pointing to my watch. Thumbs up is the reply. As we approach Milan it seems we are actually early. Yes, Early! Forza Trenitalia!. The transfer from Garibaldi to Centrale is trivial. My troops marshalled and by now well drilled in the procedures of getting on and off trains. Centrale boasts an imposing entrance. Arguably the most substantial of the trip. We locate the platform and I am deposited, barely more than a helpless cripple at this stage, along with the bags and the huge picnic. The others disperse on coffee and pastry procurement duties. We have a whole hour to spare. We’re not quite in the land of railway heaven, but I’m feeling quietly confident now.
We pull out on time and I jam my head out of the window and let out a goal worthy triumphal cry. The day of days has begun. We soon reach Lake Como and spend the next hour skirting it’s eastern shores. The Italian Alps towering around us. “Oh! this is nice” they all coo. We then swing east and head up the valley to Tirano. The line is single track for the most part. We have to pause for incoming services, but my man keeps me updated. We are on target.
We arrive in Tirano. Cross the small square and enter the small station, technically a border crossing, but we are Shengen all the way to Gare du Nord now. The open carriage-cum-truck, exclusive to the 11:20 departure, appears and we quickly deploy the picnic boxes and dump the rest of the luggage inside. Before long we are off.
We begin to tackle the endless picnic supplies. The train pulls through Tirano, it runs straight up the main street, and on and up. Round the famous viaduct on the banner above, and up and up and up. The weather isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough for me to do the whole run to the top and beyond in a T-shirt. Offerings are made to our generally shy travel companions. Eventually they understand that we have more food than we can possibly eat and we really would be grateful if they’d accept some of it.
At the summit of the Bernina Pass at we have the glaciers spawned from Piz Bernina flanking our left. My compatriots are genuinely stunned, almost speechless. The grappa is opened and toasts are made. I have several. Then more glacier, the spectacular Morteratsch. If there’s only one train ride you do before you die, do this one.
At we have enough time for the usual coffee and a beer routine. We then catch the next gob smacking train of the day, the Arbula Line. Alas most of them are so shattered from their high altitude open top railway ride over the Bernina that they conk out just as we hit the good bit. The track corkscrews it’s way into the Rhine valley where we pick up the line up to the Oberalp. Another change is required to get to the top, at which point we discover that the Gotthard-Matterhorn Railway doesn’t except InterRail. It’s an extra 20 quid or so but it’s worth every Swiss Franc.
Up and up and up we go again, right up to the source of the Rhine. And then down and down a near vertical drop to Andermatt. Change again, wait for beers to be delivered from the local supermarket, and on again down the line to . Down and down we go through a spectacular ravine. Change again. Last train, another spectacular ride, on standard gauge now. More corkscrews, how much down can there be ?, and then stupendous Alpine lakes. More toasting of Switzerland, it’s railways and our fantastic day.
I could have spent pages and pages describing all that, and still failed. Get a cheap flight to Milan. Stay the night. Catch the 08:20 to Tirano and then the rest of this lot. You don’t need to go all the way into Zurich, kip somewhere in the hills, it wont be any more expensive. Then fly home. You can do that in a weekend. You’ll never forget it.
We arrive at bang on time, of course. Which means we have 15 minutes to drag ourselves about a mile to the hostel. We make it. I am totally knackered. It’s another hostel. It’s tiny. It’s cheap. If you don’t like it go get a hotel.
Start: On the approach to Milan
Train 30 – continued sleeper from Rome
Train 31 – 08:20 Milan to Tirano
Train 32 – 11:27 Tirano to St Moritz
Train 33 – 15:02 St Moritz to Reichenau-Tamins
Train 34 – 17:05 Reichenau-Tamins to Disentis/Muster
Train 35 – 18:14 Disentis/Muster to Andermatt
Train 36 – 19:48 Andermatt to Göschenen
Train 37 – 20:08 Göschenen to Zürich HB
Finish: In a hostel in Zurich, feeling like we’ve just been into outer-space and back
Also on this day
Paul’s Photos http://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_clarke/sets/72157634712082362/
Lloyd’s Blog http://www.lloydshepherd.com/2013/07/19/day-14-i-have-seen-things/ and http://www.lloydshepherd.com/2013/07/20/day-15-when-only-wordsworth-will-do/
Darren’s Blog http://blog.darrenf.org/2013/07/hannibal-lester.html
Dave’s Blog http://disorientateddave.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/the-promised-land.html