Friday, April 30, 2010

Trip to Switzerland 2010 - Interlaken to London

Friday 30 April

07:44 bus Bonigen to Interlaken Ost 07:50.
08:31 Interlaken Ost to Bern 09:23
09:32 Bern to Zurich xxx
Zurich trams routes 2 and 4
13:02 Zurich to Paris Est 17:34
19:13 Paris Nord to London St. Pancras 20:34

While waiting for the bus into Interlaken it was good to hear the cow bells across the lake even though we couldn't see where they were.
Spiez 11679, Thun 841 037 5.
We made the trip to Zurich as planned and in comfort - the SBB double decker trains are wonderful to ride in. There was plenty of time to walk down to the lake and take a tram back.

There was a nut job on the station at Zurich, He was waltzing around with a cup of Starbucks coffee and spilling most of it - which is probably quite a good idea. Then he went over to a bank of payphones, punched one digit and then was pretending to have a phone conversation.

Mary went into a high end chocolate shop and negotiated for enough chocolate to use up our remaining Swiss francs. She even managed to spend the loose coins we had - a small bite-sized cookie cost one franc.

TGV stock arriving at the platform in Zurich.

We met up with Dave Eakins as planned and the TGV left on time. There are some bright red apartment buildings on the outskirts of Zurich. Everything went to the timetable We picked up a second TGV set in Mulhouse. I noticed we were right hand running on the conventional lines in Alsace but the high speed lines use left hand running. The line runs through quite flat land in France with a lot of evidence of chalk. There were many fields of rape seed in full bloom which added great swaths of bright yellow to the landscape.

We quickly walked from Gare de l'Est to Gare du Nord and found a great place to have a beer overlooking the main concourse and train shed at Gare du Nord. Eurostar check-in was quick and boarding was in good time. Eurostar was very comfortable compared to the TGV and the trip was accomplished with just one station stop at Ebbfleet International. Such an easy journey. Perhaps the most dicey part was the Hammersmith and City line between St. Pancras and Paddington.

It is always sad saying goodbye to friends we have made on trips like this. We part with good intentions but the reality is that we will likely not see them again. Brian and Kath from Norwich (Kath is a Maid of Kent and I am a Man of Kent), Gerald and Josephine from Bristol and Margaret (Elora) and Ronald from Glasgow - there were quick goodbyes at St. Pancras just before we were engulfed in a hoard of loud school kids returning from France. Earlier we had said goodbye to Carl and Marion at Zurich and to Sandra and Paul through the train window at Bern.

This was the end of an amazing trip which showed us a great deal about the wonderful country of Switzerland. We used public transport a great deal and it was all clean, comfortable and on time:

Train – 62
Bus/trolley bus – 18
Boat –8
Tram –7
Funicular – 6
Cable car – 2

Trip to Switzerland 2010 - Montreux

Thursday 29 April
08:08 Bonigen bus to Interlaken Ost 08:50
09:08 Interlaken Ost to Zweisimmen 10:19
10:25 Zweisimmen to Montreux 12:13 (Golden Pass Panoramic Express)
12:40 Montreux Lake ship to Veytaux-Chillon 12:55
14:26 Veytaux-Chatillon to Lausanne 15:04
15:20 Lusanne to Bern 16:26
16:35 Bern to Interlaken Ost 17:28
17:38 Interlaken Ost bus to Bonigen 17:46

This was a long day of travelling with very little other content. The weather was hot and several trains were very hot as well. The Golden Panorama was very crowded and there were not enough seats for everybody on the train. We were forced to travel in second class because others refused to give up seats which had been reserved for us.

The scenery was good but not really spectacular. With the windows open, the coach would be filled with the sound of cow bells every so often as we went past a herd close to the tracks.

Chillon Castle was good, but not spectacular. It was good to see the shores of Lake Leman, the Swiss Riviera, even if to know that I really would not want to return. At least the first language is French.

The return via Lausanne and Fribourg was through very different country than we have seen in the last few days. Rolling upland hills with many settlements but with a very French influence on the houses and other structures.

Bob Saves the Day
We were given very specific instructions on how to get to the station at Veytaux Chatillon. This is a double track line with trains passing frequently at 60 mph and only one stopping passenger train an hour in each direction. In fact a train of oil tanks went through just ahead of our train at high speed. Two of the group were missing and Will went back to the castle but couldn't find them. They turned up at the next station, having missed the turning in the path, but were on the platform on the wrong side. She was panicking and almost went to cross the live tracks as they obviously couldn't make it through the subway in time. Will ordered them to stay where they were and asked Bob to get off and get them back to Interlaken.

Bob is probably the most savvy European rail traveller in the group. He loves traveling for its own sake and will often get in a tram going in the wrong direction " To find out where it goes. It's an adventure and you don't get lost for very long."

Bob took this couple out into the street and saw a trolley bus. His French was barely good enough to recognize the word "gare" but the trolleybus took them to Montreux station where they caught a non-stop train to Lausanne. Our train stopped at all stations. They arrived just as the train to Bern was running into the platform - to great cheers. Bob really had saved the day.

Trip to Switzerland 2010 - Jungfrau area

Wednesday 28 April

08:08 Bus Bonigen to Interlaken Ost
09:05 Interlaken Ost to Grindelwald 09:39
09:47 Grindelwald to Kleine Scheideg 10:20
10:31 Kleine Scheidegg to Wengen 11:04
12:02 Wengen to Lauterbrunnen 12:19
12:31 Lauterbrunnen (cable car and train) to Murren 12:51
13:06 Murren (train and cable car) to Lauterbrunnen 13:27
14:33 Lauterbrunnen to Interlaken Ost 14:54
15:10 Interlaken Ost (funicular) to Harder
16:10 Harder (funicular) to Interlaken Ost
16:38 Interlaken Ost bus to Bonigen.

Click above to see a slideshow of pictures taken this day.
Early morning views of the lake from our room have been great in the last few days. The weather has been superb. It is good to be woken up by the ducks.

Today was our “free” day and we decided to go on the Jungfrau Railways but omit the climb to the Jungfrau summit because of the two hour ride in tunnel and also the cost. The weather was clear, sunny and without clouds all day. It was pretty hot and I didn't need my jacket or my fleece. One problem at this time of year is that very few places are open and it is consequently difficult to find a restaurant.

The first part of the ride is through a lovely valley with tremendous views of the mountains on each side. Once again we saw many crocus in those areas where the snow has just gone.

We were not enticed to linger at either Grindelwald or Kleine Scheidegg but stopped at Wengen for a coffee. Up to Kleine Scheidegg we spoke with a couple from Neuchatel who spoke French. It was good to finally hear some French spoken. Until now it has been pretty solidly German except for a little Italian. Paul and Sandra came with us and we met up with Carl and Marion just as we were about to leave Wengen for Lauterbrunnen.
 View from Kleine Scheidegg
The Wengenalpbahn seems to run its trains in batches of three, both directions. There were very few people on our train between Kleine Scheidegg and Wengen but they were expecting a lot to come down later by the crowds on the trains going up. A couple of trains were completely full of Indians speaking English.

The conductor on the train to Wengen came from Skipton in Yorkshire. He has been here for many years and loves the mountains. The engine drivers on these lines have a blue and black uniform jacket with “Engine Driver” writ large across their shoulders.

We took the cable car and tram up to the car-free village of Murren but were not enticed to stay.  There was very little open and there was an overpowering stench of manure.  It reminded me of the Monty Python Holy Grail "There's a nice bit o' shit dahn 'ere." 

Lunch at Lauterbrunnen was very slow and there was a pitiful choice. I would have walked out if I had been on my own.

The trip up to Harder was very good and well worth the effort. We received a 50% discount. At the top there is a very pleasant viewing platform/restaurant where we had a drink and shared a lemon ice cream with vodka (supposedly).

View from the terrace of the cafe at Harder Summit showing several parasailors.

Trip to Switzerland 2010 - Bern and Thun

Tuesday 27 April

07:44 bus Bonigen to Lutschinenstrasse 07:50
09:01 Interlaken Ost to Bern 10:53
Bus and trolley bus in Bern
14:35 Bern to Thun 14:52
15:10 Lake ship to Interlaken West 17:22
18:05 bus Interlaken Ost to Bonigen 18:10
Click above to see a slideshow of Bern and Thunnersee
I was out early to give me time to walk alongside the railway yard to get some pictures of the narrow gauge wagons used to transport standard gauge cars. I even found a couple at the loading point. There was then still time to walk along to see the bottom station of the Harder funicular railway.

The ride to Bern was very pleasant with many good lake views. Saw a couple of the dogs that looked like dark, heavy-set irish Setters. Our ride to Bern was in a quiet car in which no cell phones are allowed and people talk in whispers.

The firtst thing that struck us was the number of red streetcars and trolley buses. The streetcars are of three, five and seven sections. There are some gas buses as well . There is a marked absence of motor vehicles in the city centre and people were not confined to the sidewalks. We had a city guide at Bern – she was very good. She moved us at a good pace and knew a great deal about the city. Once again we had very good weather which helped to leave a good impression of the capital of Switzerland. We took the bus to the rose gardens and then walked down the hill to see the bears for which Bern is famous. They have now a much more country-type setting which is very bear friendly. The male has been separated from the female since she gave birth to two cubs. The cubs were running around their enclosure having fun. There is plenty of room for them to amble and gambol around. They were climbing trees and chasing each other around.

The main historic area has very few motor vehicles and frequent trams and trolley buses. The buildings are all constructed with a green sandstone which makes for a somewhat boring appearance. They all have ground floor arcades which are good for when it is raily but they do not let the light in very well. There are a lot of cellars, originally for storing wine but which are now used for boutiques, restaurants, etc. We saw the clock chime twelve. It was built in the 15th century and the clockwork is used to operate a number of figures. The clock has to be wound each day. The cathedral was good but somewhat gloomy. The stained glass windows are excellent if somewhat limited. The organist was practicing the Samuel Barber Adagio and needed to brush it up a bit.
We had a short time to ourselves in which to have lunch. We each had a large sausage with a large dollop of mustard and a roll. A lot of people were sitting in the street eating their lunch and we felt very much at home.

The Bern station is very big. There is a parking space for bicycles, down stairs in a secure area. It was very heavily used.

Following a short train ride to Thun we took a lake ship back to Interlaken. We called at several points on the Thunsee including Spiez. It started off very hot but gradually cooled down.
 There were some interesting haze effects in the mountains as the sun sank towards the horizon. We walked with Carl and Marion from Interleaken West to Ost and caught the bus back from there.
Click here to see pictures of Bern and Lake Thun
Click here to see pictures of Bern Trams

Trip to Switzerland 2010 - Andermat Gornergratbahn

Monday 26 April

07:44 Bus Bonigen to Interlaken Ost
08:31 Interlaken Ost to Spiez 08:52
09:12 Spiez to Brig 10:24
10:53 Brig to Zermatt 12:14
12:24 Zermatt to Gornergrat 12:57
13:31 Gornergratt to Zermatt 14:14
15:39 Zermatt to Visp 16:47
16:57 Visp to Spiez 17:24
17:33 Spiez to Interlaken Ost 17:57
18:05 Bus Interlaken Ost to Bonigen 18:10

Click above to see a slide show of Zermatt and Gornergrat
Saw a merganser in the lake outside the hotel. All trains ran to time today and the travelling was quite easy.  We had quite a long conversation with one of the BLS train crew on the train between Spiez and Brig. She spoke excellent English and French as well as German. She was using a hand held machine to identify the passeners' travel which was downloaded directly into the BLS computer by radio.  It seems that passengers start to complain when the trains are running over three minutes late.

The ride on the Matterhorn Gornergratbahn (MGB) from Brig was really great, especially after Visp. The weather was excellent and we could see all of the moun tains right up to their summits. There was a little cloud on the lee side of the Matterhorn. There are a lot of vinyards on the steep valley sides and many of the houses have rooves of heavy stone slabs similar to a very thick slate. There was grass and moss growing on the stone. At St. Niklaus, four post buses were drawn up at the station – their drivers were huddled together in a small circle chatting to each other. There were several long haired goats with black fronts and white rears. The chestnut trees were in bloom here.

Ticket for Gornergratbahn
The Gornergratbahn ticket system was pretty good. You merely had to pass the it over a reader to open the turnstile both to get in and to get out.The ride up to Gornergrat was spectacular and we enjoyed every minute of it. There is a look-out at the top and it was breath-taking in the high altitude to climb right up to the panoramic viewing platform. It was sobering to think that I lived for a total of six months at this altitude in La Paz a few years ago.  There was a St. Bernard dog having his picture taken at the top.
 Matterhorn from Gornergrat summit.
We decided to take the next train down to give us a little time at the bottom to get a light lunch. We went to a small cafe we had seen from the train. We each had a beer and Mary had goulash in a loaf of bread while Colin had cholera (!) – a puff pastry pie of cheese, potato, apple and onion with a very good salad.

The ride back was great although uneventful. We travelled through the new 18 mile Lotschberg tunnel which speeds things up considerably. Many of the SBB trains have the locomotive in the middle with driving trailers at each end.

BLS locomotives seen
Interlaken Ost 176, 194
Kandersteg 936 134 6 172, 168

MGB Locomotives seen
Randa 54
Andermatt 23, 72
Visp 74, 91

Trip to Switzerland 2010 - Lucerne

Sunday 25 April

07:44 Bonigen bus to Interlaken Ost 07:50
08:04 Interlaken Ost to Luzern 10:04
10:30 Lake Ship to Verkehrshaus Lido 10:54
Trolley bus from Swiss Transport Museum to Luzern
14:55 Luzern to Brienz 1634
16:50 Brienz pier lake ship to Bonigen pier 17:58

 The hotel gave us all a ticket which was valid on the local buses, although the Swiss Rail Pass was also valid.

Marion at Bodigen
Marion Hohenstein at the bus stop by Lake Brienze

The first part of the journey was over the Zentralbahn from Interlaken to Luzern. At Meringen the old electric locomotive was exchanged for a rack equipped one for the hill over the Brunig Pass. The weather was good and there were excellent views of the lake (Brienzsee) and the cliffs on the other side where there were several high waterfalls.

On the Brunig Pass there is a lot of trackside art where someone has carved and varnished wooden animals. I suppose this should not be surprising bearing in mind that Brienz is a woodworking center where carving and other woodworking skills are taught. We saw bear, eagle, deer, ibex, rabbit, lynx, moose, squirrel, owl and frog. At one part there was a forest of inukshuks.

The Sarnersee was very peaceful with very still waters. There were a few ducks, coots, grebes and swans with some fishermen in boats.

The Transport Museum is fully as good as it has been described and there was not enough time to get an in depth appreciation. All the modes are represented including space flight. There is a good model of the Gotthardt Pass but the scenery, particularly the water could be better.

 Ticket for entry to the Transport Museum

We took a local trolley bus back into town and got off at the old part. It is quite interesting but nothing really sopecial although the buildings are well maintained. We walked past the weir and over the shorter of the two wooden bridges and then had lunch at the restaurant of the Hotel des Arts, close to the longer of the two bridges. Mary had a risotto of white asparagus and mushrooms with parmesan and I had Lucern pork sausage with an onion sauce and french fries. Both were good.
Sunday Lunch
Being a Sunday the town was full of local people as well as tourists. Many of them came into the center to have lunch. It seemed to be very much a family time.

We walked back along the second of the wooden bridges and made our way to the boat landing stage before returning to the station. Luzern station is enormous and has two gauges with trains operated by the SBB, the BLS, and the Zentral Bahn. We rode the Zentral Bahn back to Brienz where we transferred to the ship for the leisurely cruise up the lake to Bodigen where the boat docked very close to the hotel. It made a series of zig zags across the lake to stop at small locations that are pretty much isolated. One place Geissbachfalle claimed to have the oldest funicular in Europe, opened in 1879. It runs between the jetty and a hotel.  We zig zagged across the lake calling in at several small points, some of which would have been difficult to reach by land.
The boat docked at Bodensee, close to the hotel.  The boats are run with as much precision as the trains and you can set your watch by them.

Trip to Switzerland 2010 - Locarno to Interlaken

Saturday 24 April

Funicular to the Sanctuary and return
14:12 Locarno to Domodossola (FART) 15:55
16:07 Domodossola to Brig 16:37
16:49 Brig to Spiez 17:24
17:33 Spiez to Interlaken Ost 17:57
18:05 Interlaken Ost, bus to Bonigen See 18:10

Click above for a slide show of pictures from Locarno
The day started off easily with a leisurely breakfast followed by a saunter around town arriving at the funicular. The weather was great and the views wonderful. There are many flowering plants and trees, wisteria, tulips, pansies etc. We watched a pair of grebes flirting. The funicular was good but the cable car to the next level was expensive and the top was in cloud so we decided to stay at the top of the funicular where we saw the monastery and then rode down from an intermediate platform. After a capucino we found a good restaurant for lunch. Their menu del dia was veal marsala with risotto ticino and the waitress was able to entice us in. We started with a salad and also had a bottle of Ticino Merlot which was passable although not great. We were the only people in the restaurant at first, a loony guy loped in and tried to engage someone in the kitchen in conversation but nobody looked at home and he eventually went away. He was evidently well known to the restaurant staff.
The outdoor space was shielded from the road by a couple of large vines, both having very thick trunks.

We had some time to spare before the departure so we went to the front and watched the people walking past. Saw a family of coots (four youngsters) but no ducklings in evidence.

The tramway to Domodossola was spectacular with many tall viaducts. We climbed up into the valley through small villages and the valley sides became steeper and the valley narrower. There were many vinyards and we saw several private cable cars or platforms used to transport materials to habitations high in the hills on the other side of the valley.

There were four meets and I saw 52, 53, 57, 58, 64 and 17 at Domodossola

The train managed to be over five minutes late for no apparent reason – typical Italian operating – and there was a mad scramble for the train to Brig. On this journey we went through both the Simplon and the Lotschberg tunnels. Our reserved car in the train to Spiez had no air conditioning and the train to Interlaken Ost was a couple of minutes late so the train crew hurried us to get in (it was on time into Interlaken Ost, the terminus).
 View from our room at Interlaken

While everybody was milling around I went up to the bus stop and found out the details of the bus to Bodensee and it was a short ride to the hotel which seems very good indeed. Our room has a balcony which looks right on to the lake.

Trip to Switzerland 2010 - Locarno Lake Maggiore

Friday 23 April

10:30 Locarno express lake ship to Isola Madre 11:47
14:20 Isola Madre lake ship to Isola Bella 14:40
16:20 Isola Bella express lake ship to Locarno 17:40

Click above to see a slide show of pictures from Lake Maggiore
The Italian seamen had scheduled a strike for today but called it off at the last minute, possibly because of the weather which was overcast, poor visibility and raining. The trip out was carried out on time stopping at several locations on the way. Some of the ports had interesting stands of houses painted in many different colors – gray, yellow, blue, buff. light green and orange. The swifts were diving and swooping over the water to catch their food. In some places the cloud was down to building level but it didn't stop the mallards, coots or grebes from doing their normal thing.

Mary at Isola Madre
The gardens on Isola Madre are beautiful. Some of the blossoms had been brought down by the rain but even so the rhododendrons, magnolia and wisteria were beautiful. There were many exotic birds with beautiful plumage including a lot of white peacocks and peahens and golden pheasants. The house itself was reasonably interesting although several of the rooms were dull and dingy. The marionettes were interesting and the dining room was excellent. The marble statue of a naked man holding up the corps of a man he had just killed with his entrails spewing out as in particularly bad taste. We had sandwich and coffee at a small cafe and then went around to the embarcadero where we found a bar. I negotiated language with the girl and we settled on Spanish although after wards I found out she spoke excellent English! We had a spritz with Prosecco with Aperol, soda water, ice and a slice of orange. We had small bowls of olives and chips on the side.
Isola Bella
A regular boat took us to Isola Bella (the express boat was a hydrofoil). Isola Bella is devoted almost entirely to the castle and there is a row of tourist shops and restaurants close to the landing. The castle was very well preserved. The main hall has a very high ceiling with three or four rounds of balconies. The plaster moldings have been very well restored. The grotto is weird – it has an ocean theme. The gardens have a lot of white peacocks and peahens who seem to delight in taking up positions on statues where they make excellent photographic subjects.. The least said about the tourist shops the better.

I devoted the ride back to Locarno to the Marriage of Figaro

Trip to Switzerland 2010 - Chur to Locarno

ursday 22 April

09:00 Post bus Chur to Davos Platz 10:35
11:02 Davos Platz to Landquart 12:13
12:18 Landquart to Chur 12:38
14:08 Post bus Chur to Bellinzona 16;20
16:30 Bellinzona to Locarno 16:57
Click above to see a slideshow of pictures from Chur, Arosa and Leinzenheide

We took the Postbus to Davos this morning. The first part to Leinzenheide was as a special run for us only, but we continued to Davos as a stage bus. The journey was in sunny weather with just a little haze over the mountains. We passed small villages with small churches located prominently, sheer drops over narrow roads, one point was particularly difficult for a van to pass – it had to go around us on the wrong side of the street. Leinzenheide was an interesting place with a lot of great street art.



Davos was reached just a few minutes late and there was only just time to find the train and get in. It was an interesting trip to Landquart descending a very long , severe gradient all the way to Klosters. Ski lifts, pink heather, much forest. At Klosters there were a couple of sidings which were protected by oil drums cut in half with handles welded on. We changed to the stopping train to Chur at Landquart.

Klosters 3505, 611, 85, 243
Klosters Dorf 614 on stone train.
Schiers 613, 624
Landquart 3502

Lunch in Chur – no idea what Mary had ordered
Vegetable soup
Capuns (cabbage roll)/meat loaf

Post bus trip Chur to Bellinzola
Many tunnels and avalanche shelters. Went through many small villages. Long horned cattle - high waterfalls. The summit of the San Bernardino pass was quite high and had a lot of snow still. At Bellinzola we caught the train to Locarno and found intense agriculture. Very mild climate, pleasant room with a great view of the lake.
 Lake Maggiore
View from our room at Locarno

Monday, April 26, 2010

Trip to Switzerland 2010 - Chur Bernina Express

Wednesday 21 April

08:58 Chur to Tirano 13:12
14:33 Tirano to Chur 19:03

Click above for a slide show of the Glacier Express and the Bernina Express
Today we rode the Bernina Express of the Rhaetian Railway from Chur to Tirano and back. We received pretty shabby treatment from the railway which insisted we ride in a second class car where we were very cramped instead of providing a first class car – we all had first class tickets. This “don't care” attitude is atypical of the Swiss railways and possibly because the Rhaetian Railway has a monopoly of this admittedly great trip.

We left four minutes late and there were traffic regulation problems at the beginning of the run. The bar/trolley has an ibex head, with horns and front feet attached to the front.  Many people offered to buy the Ibex but it wasn't for sale, the girl was offered $50 at one time.
 Gerald with the bar trolley
 Between Filisur and Preda there was an emergency brake application in a tunnel. We resumed after a wait of a minute or so while the air was recovered – then a sticking brake took a minute or so to come off.  Maybe it was caused by a circuit breaker tripping.  Our car was not coupled tightly enough and there was jerking when we started and stopped.

The Landwasser Viaduct is impressive although there are several other beautiful stone viaducts in addition to this. The piers were built from cut stone without any scaffolding.  After the Albula tunnel there are swiftly flowing mountain streams with rocky bottoms. The water is a milky color. There is still lots of snow. Great scenery for Mozart piano concertos which I was playing on my iPod. There are fields of small crocus as yesterday in the areas where the snow has only just melted as the grass is still brown.

At Samedan we were switched to another platform and at Pontresina our locomotive was exchanged for two 1000v DC motor cars which took the train right through to Tirano.

The descent into Tirano is breathtaking. There are many spirals which gave us a great number of different perspectives of Lake Poschiano and it took a long time before we eventually reached it. Many of the retaining structures are dry stone walls. There was some street running in both Brusio and Tirano. The Customs at Tirano were not interested in looking at our passports and we quickly walked into the old town. We found we had to be careful of the cars whose drivers took no notice of pedestrian crossings. Tirano is a typical Italian town and is dirty and unkempt compared to what we have experienced in Switzerland. We found a pleasant lady in one of the few shops that had not closed for lunch and bought two small bottles of Proseco. She even provided some paper cups. A revolting sweet red wine was quickly consigned to the waste bin in the train.

The trip back was also enjoyable as we knew what to expect. We saw some deer and a fox (not close to each other). Again, our train was switched at Pontresina and Samedan. The railway uses small four wheel loco tractors for this and although they would appear to be equipped with air brakes, the air did not seem to be cut in. This is not a good practice when the cars are occupied by passengers. At Pontresina we received a pretty heavy knock as they squeezed up the coupler to attach the links. I was horrified to see a switchman standing on a coupler at Pontresina to cross from one side to the other.

Lago di Poschiavo
Lago di Poschiavo

The weather was excellent, particularly on the Italian side and this made things very bright at the higher altitude where there was still a lot of snow. In places in the afternoon the snow was melting rapidly and running off into rivulets.

RhB Locomotives seen
Bernina Express 703
Thursis locotractor 117
Filisur 614
Preda 647
Samedan 702 on freight, Stadler railcar 3504, locotractor 89
Pontresina 617, 44 and 47 put on Bernina Express
Bernina Legalb 55
Poschiavo locotractor 151, 161, meet with 41 and 42, 48 in yard.
Campologno 118
Tirano 22, 53
Samerdan 703 on log train, 604, 89
Filisur 646, 88
Chur 611.

Trip to Switzerland 2010 - Chur Glacier Express

Tuesday 20 April

10:15 Chur to Andermatt 12:49
13:28 Andermatt to Goshenen 13:43
14:08 Goschenen to Arth-Goldau 15:06
15:13 Arth-Goldau to Pfaffikon 15:52
16:41 Pfaffikon to Chur 17:43

Click above for a slide show of the Glacier Express and the Bernina Express
Today we took the Glacier Express from Chur to Andermatt. The train was very comfortable with tall windows that curved to follow the roof contour. There were two first class cars at the front and two second class cars at the back with a restaurant/kitchen car in the middle. We were served lunch at our seats. (salad, pork medallions in a mushroom gravy, cooked wheat and carrots, chocolate cake or cheese (three types)). A couple who had made this trip three years ago said that the meal was exactly the same then. It was sustenance but not particularly special. One good thing was that the meal was actually prepared on board in the Kitchen and the portions were served on to the plates at the tables out of a pot There was a recorded commentary which served to cut out the noise from the talkers but it wasn't particularly interesting because it concentrated on economic and political items and there was less about what we could see from the train. Other trains were given priority and we took the siding for most of the meets.

At Disentis the RhB locomotive was changed for a MGB locomotive #108. They had to wait for a train coming the other way to clear but this was done very quickly. Two men couple up by standing one either side. The engine squeezes up the single center buffer and each man screws up the link coupling on his side.

Thee MGB engineer was evidently trying to make up the time that was lost by the meets on the RhB and he took the curves at a speed higher than was comfortable although not unsafe.

In spite of having to wait for a number of opposing trains we were only a couple of minutes late at Andermatt. At Oberalppass we met the Glacier Express going in the opposite direction hauled by MGB #103. The grass that was clear of snow was covered with tiny crocus flowers, mostly white but some purple.
MGB locomotives seen 18, 21, 91, 96, 101, 104, 105, 107.

At the summit the white snow was glaring and took everyone by surprise as we came upon it out of a tunnel. There are many chair lifts but very few seem to be in operation this time of year. The route down into Andermatt uses many loops and doubles back on itself several times. We could see Andermatt from on high and from several different angles as the train descended.

Anermatt is nothing special. We raced up to the church to see the decorated font and admire the paintings and the decorated organ and then went back to the station to take the earlier train to Goshenen to get some pictures for Martin. The route between Andermatt and Goshenen is very steeply graded down hill and the rack is used extensively. Most of this section is protected from slides so the line is in a gallery, at one point there is a rack-equipped siding inside the gallery.

Goshenen is a miserable place which could do with a coat of paint. The MGB comes down steeply on one side and there is a succession of freight and passenger trains running on the SBB into the Gottard Tunnel. The freight trains were runnng at high speed, closely spaced and all under green signals.

The main party had a very short time to make the transfer from the MGB to the SBB platform and Glen was not going to make it. The station staff kept him by the plank crossing and instructed our train to pull up clear of the crossing. This must have been done by radio while the train was still in the tunnel. Glen could then cross in safety and we all made the train.

The journey back to Chur was made with transfers at Arth Goldau and Pfaffikon. The first part was heavily graded with several loops to lose height but the last part from Pfaffikon was through very flat country with steel valley sides. There were vineyards, fruit trees, spring flowers, meadows. All along the SBB line there were preserved electric locomotives, mostly on siding trackage. This included a crocodile at Ersfeldt. The weather became milder although it was beginning to cool off by the time we had reached Chur. Some of the SBB first class cars have tall observation windows that extend into the roof.

Trip to switzerland 2010 - Appenzell to Chur

Monday 19 April

10:08 Appenzell to Gais 10:19
10:51 Gais to Alstatten Stadt 11;13
11:27 Bus Alstatten Stadt to Banhhof 11:33
11:42 Alstatten Bahnhof to Chur 12:38
14:08 Chur to Arosa 15:09
15:48 Arosa to Chur 16:52

After breakfast we had a walk around the town and admired the flowers in the churchyard – the light was good and the sun was in the right direction. We took an earlier train to Gais and had half an hour to wait for the others. The Appenzellerbahn train to Alstatten was two cars fitted with the Strub rack system. We entered the rack after climbing the first hill and used it most of the way down into the valley at Alstatten. It was a little noisier than the Rigenbach rack on the decent in to St. Gallen but, if anything, the grades are steeper. We descended into the valley in sunshine and it was evident that the trees are a couple of weeks ahead compared to higher in the mountains.

At the AB station in Alstatten we had to take the city bus to the SBB station. Will had made arrangements for a group movement on this bus which turned up on time behind a cheerful lady driver who was expecting us. We all piled on and were taken to the SBB station. A TV screen showed our progress just like at Zurich. Just try and arrange a group movement on OC Transpo!

The SBB train to Chur was fast and efficient. The Rhine valley narrows here and we were treated to a vew of another country, Lichtenstein. Passing Landquart works of the Rhaetianbahn I saw one of the new three car trains that are going into service on the RhB. This was No. 3501, the first to be delivered.

 Click above to see pictures of Chur, Arosa and Leinzenheide

The station at Chur is very modern with the trains to Arosa going outside next to the bus bays. The walk to the hotel is very short and the place is very peasant and, of course very clean.

 This is a train from Arosa arriving at the bus station in Chur

We took the 14:08 to Arosa and the 15:48 back. This was a bright red a RhB train hauled by a locomotive.  The train leaves from the bus station just outside the railway station.  We started off up the street, first on the side and then in the middle before joining a separate right of way. The railway climbs from 600 m to 1700 m up a steep sided valley. There are some giddy drops and at one point the line comes out of a tunnel and straight on to a high viaduct – shades of Peru. As we climbed higher there were clearings with a few houses and fields for the animals. There was a lot of snow lying around.

As we approached Arosa we could look down on to a lake of milky green water. At Arosa the lake was covered with ice/snow.

Arosa is a skiing town that is pretty dead at this time of year. There was no incentive to stay and so we caught the first train back. It had been snowing or raining at Arosa but as we started back down the sun came out and is was a pleasant ride back into a very warm Chur. We hit a car where the line comes on to the street running section. There was a thump, then the brakes went on and the whistle blown. A black car took off and we soon started up again.

I walked back up the line from the station a little way to watch the next train start out up the road. Not often you see roadside running with a locomotive hauled passenger train.

This is the best picture I took on the trip.  A train to Arosa running in the streets of Chur, under the wires at 11,000 volts AC.

We haven't yet ridden a train, boat or bus that has not run to time.

RhB locomotives seen:
Landquart 614 Schier
Chur 612, 608
Arosa line 626, 627

Trip to Switzerland 2010 - Appenzell Mainau Gardens

Sunday 18 April

07:33 Appenzell to Gossau 08:13
08:16 Gossau to Weinfelden 08:50
09:02 Weinfelden to Konstanz 09:33
10:00 Konstanz Pier to Mainau 10:55
14:30 Mainau to Konstanz Pier 15:25
16:03 Konstanz to Kreuzlingen 16:06
16;30 Kreuzlingen to St. Gallen 17:29
17:37 St. Gallen to Appenzell 18:21

Click above to see a slide show of the pictures
We took the Appenzellerbahn to Gosau and there was a tight 3 minute connection to the Thurbo to Konstanz. These trains are very pleasant with big wide, tall windows, colorful upholstery and a very smooth ride.. On the way we saw a white heron and a fox and there were several hot air balloons in the still air. At Konstanz we transferred to a steamer to Mainau Gardens. The weather was quite still with a light breeze but very hazy. However, the air was cold and we quickly went down into the warm.

The gardens are beautiful and very large. The displays of tulips and daffodils were well set out in the grass along with other spring flowers such as pansies and polyanthus. They are probably more impressive than the NCC displays in Ottawa because they are much larger and more varied. There was a good display of orchids and another house had a great number of butterflies. The latter was very popular and very crowded. There was a small vineyard and some espaliered fruit trees as well as a place for kids with donkeys, ponies, sheep and goats.

There were many restaurants and take out counters. We chose a restaurant close to the main entrance. We had the table d'hote with:
Cream of vegetable soup with shoots
Medallions of pork with rosti (potato fritters), vegetables and a cheese sauce
Apple strudel
Draught beer

It was quite good and there was eficient service.

We took the steamer back to Konstanz (Germany) and came back via Kreuzlingen, Romanshorn and St. Gallen where we changed to the Appenzellerbahn to Appenzell. At Konstanz there is an interesting procedure every hour. There is one central platform with two faces and two sectors each. Two trains come into each platform and leave at -30 and -31 minutes past each hour. Good connecting facilities for people with the four-way cross platform transfers.

AB seen 13, 42, 46

Pictures of Mainau Gardens

Trip to Switzerland 2010 - Appenzell St. Gallen

Saturday 17 April

11:08 Appenzell to Gais 11:50
Gais to St. Gallen 13:50
14:02 Tram to Spisertor 14:05
Tram Spisertor to Trogen and return to St. Gallen Station
17:37 St. Gallen to Appenzell

 Click above to see a slideshow of pictures of Appenzell and St. Gallen
Breakfast at the hotel is wonderful, mainly because of the great selection of Appenzell cheeses.  There were seven or eight blocks, all  subtly different and all demanded to be tasted.  They were harder cheeses made from cows' milk.

We had a walk around Appenzell after breakfast and took in the local parish church as well as the Appenzell museum. The church is very large but light and airy and there is some good stained glass. The organist was putting the organ through its paces. The graveyard was full of blossoms and blooming plants. Several people had put colored eggs on the graves.

We decided to take the train to Gais which is a small center. The line does a tight half circle to reach the station as only a narrow gauge line can. We quickly plumbed the depths of Gais and had a beer on a sunny outdoor cafe with a view across to the station.

AB seen at Gais AB 12; AB 15; AB 16.

We met up with the rest of the group on the train and got out at St. Gallen where the ascent into the town is taken on the Riggenbach Rack system. We took the Trogen tram to the cathedral. Our guide took us through the monastery, the library, the catholic cathedral and the market area.

We had a disappointing cup of hot chocolate (it was cold and not very chocolatey and then took the Trogenbahn tram to Trogen and back. It climbed steeply for much of the way but the views over the Bodensee were very misty. This line is pretty much a roadside tramway but it is well used and evidently performs a useful function. We went with two of the couples from the UK.

Trogenbahn seen at St, Gallen, AB 34.

Back at Appenzell we went out looking for dinner. One place we went into was very smoky so we beat a hasty retreat. We finally found the Gasthaus Linde, a small place with only local people in it. We had to wait a little while to get seated. A couple of the regulars eventually called the waitress out of the kitchen. She was very good and explained to us how to eat fondue. She was very organized:

To us “I will take your order in two minutes'” To some others “I will take your order in three minutes.”

The fondue was very good. The bread comes as a ¾” flat bread which is already scored into squares, She told us to swirl the bread deeply so that the bottom would not burn black. It seems we did well as the cheese was only brown and she scraped up the last part for us to enjoy. A good choice for dinner.

Trip to Switzerland 2010 - Zurich to Appenzell

Friday 16 April

12:39 Zurich to Gossau 13:43
13:47 Gossau to Appenzell 14:27
15:30 Appenzell to Wasserauen 15:41
15:49 Waserauen to Appenzell16:00

Zurich is tramway heaven. As I walked out of the hotel I could hear the slight rumble which is a sure sign of a tram.

We went first to the Hauptbahnhof station to validate our tickets only to find that this was unnecessary as the dates of validity are already printed on them. We then took the tram down to see the Zee and walked back to the Bahnhof past St. Peter's church which has the largest clock face in Europe. These trams have a full tv screen inside showing the next stops and times to them.  There are many tram nodes, most of them three way – we saw one with nine platforms.

There was a store with a good cheese section – at least fifty different cheeses on display. I asked for an Appenzeller cheese and was told “We only stock local cheeses. To the east of the river there is a short funicular which gave us a better perspective on the city. It seemed a little incongruous to hear cocks crowing in the middle of the city.  

We found lunch to eat on the train at the station which is like a large shopping mall. The ride to Appenzell was uneventful. The first part to Gossau went well and we arrived on time. Lunch was bread, cheese, apple, Engadiner nusstorte and Rivella, a local fizzy drink that tastes a little like Tizer. At Gossau there was a four minute connection on to the Appenzellerbahn and the train left a couple of minutes late while everybody made the connection. There was a steep climb out of the valley but the narrow gauge train handled it well.

The hotel is but a short walk from the station.

In the afternoon we took the short ride to Wasserauen, which is higher up on a route similar to a roadside tramway. At one point the station was little more than a widening of the sidewalk. There was not much to see at Wasserrauen except the driver having a pee on the other side of the train, so we decided to come right back.

At Appenzell three trains meet. The train from St. Gallen (rack equipped) arrives at platform 3A, the train from Gossau arrives in track 3B and that from Wasserauen comes into track 4. The Gossau train runs round the St. Gallen train via the scissors crossover and goes on to Wasserauen and the train on platform 4 continues on to Gossau. Finally the St. Gallen train returns to St. Gallen. This happens every hour within the space of about ten minutes. At peak periods this happens every half hour.

AB locomotives seen at Appenzell 11, 14, 42, 46.
Pictures of Appenzellerbahn
Pictures of Zurich
Pictures of Appenzell
Pictures of Zurich Trams

Trip to Switzerland - London to Zurich

Thursday 15 April

09:32 London St. Pancras to Paris Nord 12:47
14:24 Paris Est to Zurich 19:14

We left the hotel early and made the trek over to the Hammersmith and City line for the Underground ride to St. Pancras. We gave ourselves plenty of time because this line seems to be particularly unreliable. Of course the trip was made in good time with only the usual delays.

After a crepe with scrambled egg, bacon and cheese we met the rest of the group travelling to Paris. Marion Matthews is the same Marion who accompanied us on the El Transcantabrico trip last summer. Check in was uneventful and the train left on time. We were in the Channel tunnel in 35 minutes from St. Pancras. Non-stop to Paris Nord in 2 hours 15 minutes. The Eurostar was much smoother than the Javelin trains which are engineered for both the high speed line and the low speed southern lines.

 Security within the vegetation

Paris has a different feel to it and we both feel much more at home here than in London. People seem to be much more relaxed and at ease here whereas London seems to be frantic. It is truly spring here with many trees in full blossom. It was a short walk over to Paris Est where we had about an hour to get a cafe crème, a salad, a clafouti sale and a glass of wine. The train to Zurich was announced only ten minutes before departure and there was a mad rush for our seats.

The train was delayed for about 30 minutes by a “technical problem on the train in front”. After Strasbourg the line is quite a bit slower but we made good progress and crossed into Switzerland just before Basle. We arrived at Zurich about 15 minutes late thanks to a generous recovery time.

Check in was quick and we soon went out to get something to eat. As we walked into the restaurant the air was stale and stunk of tobacco – they allow smoking here. We had raclette – a plate of melted cheese into which you put boiled potatoes, gherkins and pickled onions with nutmeg and paprika. After the first round the girl brought us a second plate of melted cheese and we did it all over again. Dessert was apricot/pear sorbet with apricot/pear brandy. We drank beer. It was a good introduction to Swiss cuisine.

Walking around near the station afterwards the trams were running thick and fast – even at 22:00.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Trip to England 2010 - Canterbury and Margate

Wednesday 14 August

It is amazing what some people will do to get a cup of coffee. It was cold as we left the hotel and we passed a lady in her night clothes, presumably going to the coffee shop. She was skimpily dressed and she must have frozen her, considerable, assets.

We decided to take advantage of the last day of our Flexipass to visit Canterbury. The South Eastern Javelin trains are now in full operation between London St. Pancras and Margate (via Canterbury), Faversham and Dover.

Javelins waiting to depart at St. Pancras.

The journey to Canterbury takes 59 minutes and is good for tourists.

The medieval signal box at Canterbury fitted in well with the rest of the town.

We arrived at Canterbury West station and crossed into the exit through a whitewashed tunnel which looked as if it could have been the remains of an archaeological dig. The first thing we saw was an Asian food market. Passing a number of thrift shops we came to the main road into Canterbury. The buildings were all quaint, half timbered and were mostly empty store fronts, tattoo and body piercing parlors, Asian restaurants, run down pubs (The Bishop's Finger seemed particularly appropriate) and comic shops - all in a medieval setting.

It was with a feeling of relief that we found the cathedral and paid to go in, only to be beset with a large number of church-sponsored shops all selling the same range of mostly cheap souvenirs. A gift shop is the first thing you see when you enter the cathedral and it gave the whole place a very tacky feel. Having recovered from the attempted money grab we found the cathedral light and airy and pretty well maintained. We were able to see much of the items up very close and it was a good visit. The stained glass is very good and does not suffer from under or no maintenance as in Leon.

There were several houses within the grounds of the cathedral itself which looked to have people living in them. They must have a pass to get in.

There were several groups of students from schools speaking German and French. They come for a week or so and are billeted with English families in the area. They were having a good time. At the end of the visit the exit is through another gift shop which had a much better selection of tasteful items - this should have been enough.

We found a pub which had Shepherd Neames (of Faversham) Spitfire Ale. It was a very good bitter.

The other attraction in Canterbury is the Chaucer Canterbury Tales exhibit. This was pretty well done. Several of the rooms had appropriate scents. The inn smelled of smoke and the stable of horse shit while the orchard smelled of apple blossom. There is an audio guide which moves things along very well although we found the end somewhat abrupt and were suddenly thrust out into the gift shop.

It was cold and Canterbury did not appear to hold much more for us so we decided to go on to Margate (pron: Margit) to see the seaside and search for some Margate Rock. We passed a few oast houses and the country became progressively flatter. Around Broadstairs there are some good cuttings in pure white chalk. Much of Margate seems to be suffering from a blight and many buildings are empty or under repair/demolition.

There was a model shop which advertised model trains - so I went in. The shop keeper was on a step ladder at the back of the store trying to get down a few small blue buckets that the kiddies use to make sand castles. He dislodged the pile and they came tumbling down all over the floor. He shouted "Bollocks," climbed down and proceeded to vent his feelings by savagely kicking the buckets around the store. He looked up, saw me for the first time and said, "Can I help you?" I replied "No, I am just looking, thank-you." I didn't see any model trains in the store, quickly left and burst into laughter on the sidewalk. Pure Monty Python!

The Frying Scot

We found a Fish and Chip place which was run by the manager of the Ramsgate Football Club. He had recently taken over the place and was proud that the paper had given him some coverage. We had cod and chips, mushy peas, a pickled onion and a cup of tea. The fish was freshly battered and fried and the whole was pretty good. A girl was writing up the chalkboard menu which was placed outside by the door. It took her a lot of time and she used several different colors.
She was at the bottom of the board and had just put in “Cheesy Chips” then called out:
“Joe, Seein' as 'ow we ain't got no cheese should I put on Cheesy Chips?”
“Naw, rub it 'aht,” was the reply.
I wonder if cheesy chips is the equivalent of our poutine?

From there we had an ice cream with a chocolate bar stuck in it and bought a stick of rock. It is now called "Holiday Rock", is made in Dundee, instead of locally, and had gone soft.

We decided to cut our losses, walked along the sand and caught the next train back to London where the Hamersmith and City Line was staggering along trying to recover from a series of signal failures. The Underground is also very good at apologizing.