Day 16 (28 June): The Bernina Express

Copy of IMG_1817.jpg

Train 1
The 6:07 from Schlossidorf to Zurich Hauptbahnhof.  This is a local commuter train, much like the Sydney double deck commuter trains - except it is clean, runs on time and has comfortable seats and no one spoke loudly on their mobile phones.

Train 2
The 7:07 from Zurich HB to Chur (pronounced "Kerr").  This is an intercity train which takes an hour to run from the flatlands of Zurich up into the foothills of the Alps.  For much of the journey it runs alongside the Zurich Zee. This would be a spectacular view if it were not for the rain.  As we get closer to Chur, the built up environment fades away and the quintessential, chocolate-box picture chalets and cows wearing bells return.

Train 3
The 8:10 from Chur to Tirano via the Berninapass.  This holiday is rapidly turning into a tour of World Heritage sites.  The Bernina Express is one of only three train journeys on the UNESCO list and runs for 122 kilometres, passing through 55 tunnels and over 196 bridges and viaducts.  It was the first train line over the Alps from Switzerland to Italy (check this).  Commentary was provided in English and German although the low cloud and rain made it difficult to pick out some of the views.  

We start in Chur at 584 meters.  After a short dispute with someone sitting in our reserved seats, we got settled in and then the train departed.  The first section of the line heads along the Albula river. Castles, fortresses and even a Roman citadel guard the narrow valley, roads and the ancient paths which cross over the mountains.

Once we cross over the 328 foot high Landwasser Viaduct we are through into the Engadin region. From here the water flows toward the Danube and the Black Sea.  

More narrow valleys and tunnels. Cable cars whisk hikers up into the mountains and although it is hardly a day to be out, we see hardy trekkers braving the weather.  Here the train really starts to climb, turning through tight corners and through spiral tunnels as it makes its way up the mountains.  No need to worry if you miss a view on the left - in a few minutes it will be visible on the right!  By the time we reach Prada at 1788 metres we have been through five spiral tunnels.

After we exit the 5.9 kilometre Albulatunnel, the train joins up with the line from St Moritz and we continue climbing.  The Piz Bernina at 4048 metres is up there somewhere but the cloud obscures the view.  Even with the bad weather this trip is spectacular.  Not that most of our fellow travellers notice. Most people are on their phones, or checking Facebook, or even asleep.

The view is out of the window!!!

The view is out of the window!!!

We are above the treeline now, so vast grassy moors dominate the landscape.  The occasional chalet-barn is visible, as well as more Swiss cows and their bells.  Higher still and here dams have been built to manage the water flow.  Our friends Jo and Roland had commented on new water conservation rules to be implemented in Zurich and here we could see why - the dams were nearly empty. 

The language starts to change, with one of the lakes called Lago Bianco and at the highest point on the journey we are at Ospizio Bernina (2253 meters).  Here the water flows toward Italy, the River Po and the Adriatic. Without Switzerland the rest of Germany, Italy, Austria, France would have no water.

At Alp Grum there is time to hop off the train and take photos.  Unfortunately the rain has returned and it is really coming down.  From here we crawl down through six switchbacks to Cavaglia, where we wave at mad hikers who must be getting drenched.  After that there are another four switchbacks down to Poschiavo at 1014 meters, with its three distinctive bell towers in different designs - baroque, renaissance and gothic (???).  Here the train temporarily becomes a tram and travels down the main street.

At Brusio the train corkscrews down through the 360 degree viaduct, allowing it to drop a significant height in a short distance.  After that, we arrived down the main street again into the Italian town of Tirano at 429 metres and this part of our journey was over.  

On the way down to the Sprial...

On the way down to the Sprial...

... round through 360 degrees and then off down the valley. 

... round through 360 degrees and then off down the valley. 

The train is on the street!

The train is on the street!

This was a truly spectacular journey and well worth doing again, either on a day with better visibility or in winter to get a different perspective on the landscape.

Copy of IMG_1964.jpg

Train 3
We debated having lunch in Tirano or continuing straight onto Milan. The two hour wait for the next train made up our mind, so we hopped onto the 13:08 from Tirano to Milano Centrale.  In usual Italian style, the train didn't depart until nearly 1:30.  We shared our carriage with a German Shepherd which was so large it took up the whole aisle. The poor dog had to get up every time someone came into the carriage.

A group of Australian travellers were also in our carriage. Our combined luggage took up two full rows of seats.  The Australian accent is so strident - do we really sound like this?  One of the Australian's commented on how many vines were growing beside the railway lines ("they have quite a little industry here, don't they?") and when he struggled to pronouce of the station names, the owner of the dog shook her head and muttered "Ill informa" (ignorant). Oh dear.

What we thought was a one hour train journey turned out to be a three hour trip.  The train became more crowded as the afternoon progressed with kids coming home from school and people making the trip into Milan.  We travelled along the eastern side of Lake Como and marvelled at the villas lining the shore.  The closer we got to Milan, the more the weather worsened and by the time we got to Centrale a thunderstorm was in full swing.  We paused for food in the cafe and made the mistake of sitting down instead of taking away - a 4 euro cover charge applied.

Train 4
The Milan metro from Centrale to Republica, which was only one stop.  However it was still pouring and we weren't quite sure how to get to our hotel.  We got directions but even wearing rain jackets we were soaked by the time we completed our five minute walk.  The jacket we went to so much effort to recover in Osaka is now ruined with water marks.

After the thunderstorm passed it turned into a lovely bright evening. A walk led us to discover a hip Milanese bar/cafe where we had a great meal.

All in all, a long and busy day of train travel but one with spectacular views and certainly worth repeating.