Tag Archives: Train

Exploring Scotland

Taking the train to Scotland is always a bit of a highlight for me. It reminds me of a poem by W.H. Auden about the night train crossing the border to deliver mail. The poem has the meter of a steam train as it trundles along the tracks. I memorized it as a young kid and every time I go to Scotland and cross the border, I think of that poem.

Now the journey from London to Scotland by train takes around four hours on Britain’s relative high-speed network. But still the names of the stations bring back memories of the beautiful stretch of coastline literally at the border with long sandy beaches and, I recall, lashing rain. The accents changing by the half hour as the train moves through the midlands, Durham, Newcastle, and Berwick-upon-Tweed, before it heads inland for its final destination on the River Forth. Edinburgh.

Edinburgh and the Coast

I was heading to Edinburgh for a wonderful teacher reception with our fabulous group of clients who had spent a weekend in Scotland. Funny enough, I got to do two things that I had never done before – have a whiskey tasting and watch a bag piper play for Scottish dancers. Shame on me for not doing those sooner, it was fabulous and amazing. One of the members of our group, who had his own bagpipes, had always wanted to play on the shores of Loch Lomond. He got his wish and even got to play the pipes while somebody else was blowing the bag at dinner time.

Edinburgh is a great city and it’s a young city with its famous university. But we had decided to head off to St. Andrews instead and trace the tourist trail along the coast of Fife.

What a magical journey that was. In a matter of an hour, we were winding through fishing villages and charming tea shops, colorful houses and ancient harbors.

I walked along the sandy shores at the beautiful beach of Elie, around the harbor at St. Monans, caught the sunset at Pittenweem, and stopped at Crail before ending up at St. Andrews. It reminded me a little of one of those spectacular journeys along the Amalfi Coast. It was rougher, the sky was not blue, but the sunset and the colorful houses more than made up for the lack of warmth. And there was always haggis at the end if you fancied it!

Driving to Zermatt!

The drive from Venice along the highway to Milan is fairly dull. After Milan is where the sights get interesting.

We took the highway above Lake Maggiore which was super fast and delightful. Mountains beyond the lake and the Borromean islands in the background provided for a great backdrop to our car ride. Pushing through, we started our ascent to Simplon. What a lovely day it was with blue sky and more snow than I have seen for years.

The Simplon Pass is very unique. An ancient hospice still maintained by a religious order offers basic accommodation to the devoted and dedicated skiers and kite boarders who ply their tricks on this unique snow playground. There is a great place for lunch at the top as well. Views of the boarders and surroundings provide entertainment. The descent is hair raising though!

Journeys end along the valley following the Glacier Express. We end up in a giant car park where we dump the car and hop on the train. Täsch in Switzerland is our last stop with our car. The cog train takes us the rest of the way into a dead end in the mighty valley. It’s snowing hard.

Jungfrau Peter Jones Pietro Place

The Journey up Jungfrau

The journey from Zermatt to Lauterbrunnen, up Jungfrau, was a feast of Swiss mountains, green pastures, and alpine chalets.

The descent on the cog railway from Zermatt to Täsch was on the Glacier Express.  It was the first part of a journey that would take us around three and a half hours.  Our final destination was Zurich and in between we would climb the Jungfrau, stop in Wengen, and pass the magical town of Lucerne.  All of this within one day!

We were driving and so we had to figure out a way to successfully get from Tasch to Lauterbrunnen efficiently. The new Lötschberg Basistunnel is the answer. It is 36 km long. The train goes through the mountain with your car!   It is a fairly easy process.  You queue up, buy the ticket, and drive your car onto a long metal ramp of open carriages.  Put the brake on, turn your engine off, sit in the car, and watch the world go by as the train takes off.  Alps in the background, mountains looming, and then total darkness as you enter the tunnel!  25 minutes later you pop out the other side and you’ve just saved yourself four hours of driving.  It’s that simple!

Eventually we got close to the town of Interlaken (between the lakes) and parked the car in Lauterbrunnen to catch the train that would take us up to Wengen.  The train is a cog train and was full of skiers and tourists alike.  In Wengen, which is the staging post and midpoint, the town bustled with activity. It was full of hotels, cafes, restaurants, and is the beginning point for all of the lifts that will take you onto the ski slopes of the Jungfrau with the Eiger mountain in the background.  It looks like it has a decent nightlife and it is flanked by a number of open bowls so the light is good all day.  Many of the colors of the houses are yellow ochre and as the sun drops down the colors against the cog railway and the snow is stunning.  It is definitely a place you can hang out for a couple of days.

We changed trains, hopped on the Jungfrau cog railway, and before you know it we were headed up to the very top of Europe.  The train stopped inside of the glacier two or three times so that we could take pictures.  By that time we were already well over 10,000 feet!

At the Top of Europe, as they call it, we were at 11,782 feet.

Time for pictures and taking it easy as the altitude definitely affected your step.  I had a dodgy meal in the canteen at the top, experienced the highly civilized toilets and got to walk through the glacier ice village.  After we hung out for a while we caught the express train back to Lauterbrunnen.  At the top of the Jungfrau you can see the possibilities of skiing over to the open, broad expanse of Grindelwald.  The beauty of this area is that you can buy a pass that takes in the whole mountain….. and the skiing looked pretty good.  It may not be as extensive as Zermatt, but it looked awesome to me, especially if you had grown up skiing the ice in Vermont.

A coffee at the bottom, a jump in the car, and within two hours we would be in Zurich for dinner.

 

Glacier Express Peter Jones Pietro Place

The Glacier Express

Switzerland offers a remarkable way to sightsee your day through the beautiful terrain: the Glacier Express.

No car needed. Just a slow moving, winding train that is Switzerland’s greatest ad for Narnia.

The Glacier Express is a regular scheduled year-round train service between Zermatt at the foot of the Matterhorn and St. Moritz in the Engadin skiing area.

No idea why it’s called an express since it is slow.

Built on a narrow gauge train, it takes over seven hours to cover just over 290 km (180 miles), at an average of around 24 mph.  However, it’s very civilized inside and you can get a decent lunch on board in the restaurant cars. The views are breathtaking, blizzards and all, and it also offers the unique experience of climbing to 2033 meters up the incredible Oberalp Pass, the highest point on the line. It truly looks like Narnia along the way. At the end the train magically winds its way to the chic resort of St Moritz. All in a day’s work!

Prices are not that bad for Switzerland. Below are the rack rates.

Zermatt – St Moritz, basic fare:  149 CHF (€149) 2nd class, one-way

 262 CHF (€262) 1st class, one-way

Glacier Express supplement:

(this must be paid in addition to

the basic fare or railpass)

 33 CHF (€33) in summer.

13 CHF (€13) in winter.

Cost of lunch (optional):  30 CHF (€30) for Plate of the Day.

43 CHF (€43) for 3-course lunch.

Children under 6 go free; children aged 6 to 16 pay half fare but must pay the adult supplement.

The Glacier Express is run jointly by two private Swiss railways, the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn (MGB) and the Rhätische Bahn (RhB), which also operate the regular hourly local trains over the same route.  There is one daily Glacier Expresses in each direction in winter, but up to three daily Glacier Expresses in the summer. It is a great experience and I highly recommend it.

You can easily buy tickets online at www.glacierexpress.ch