Many years ago, when I was aged about 7, I read the delightful story of Heidi, written by Johanna Spyri. It is the story of a young girl, orphaned at birth, whose aunt has cared for gets a job and takes Heidi to live with her grandfather in the Swiss Alps, where she is very happy. On completion of the book, I had made up my mind that I would visit Switzerland one day. How, I did not know at the age of 7 but I would do it somehow. As of April this year, I have been 4 times and just love it.
Today, we would be travelling through a part of the country which we had not visited previously, the Alps themselves, on the Glacier Express (GE). We were really pleased that friends, Joerg and Heidi Briner, parents of Nadia whom I have mentioned previously, would be joining us on this trip.
To be able to get on to the GE we started by catching a train to Zurich at 07:30 from Basel’s main station. To do this we had to a) be up really early and were given a packed breakfast and b) catch a bus from Messeplatz, a 3-minute walk from the hotel. Messeplatz is a very busy station for busses and trams as they go in various directions from there, with just minutes in between, so one has to be careful to ensure that you catch the right one. Fortunately, we did do so and arrived at the Central Station in plenty of time.
The 2-hour ride to Zurich went quickly and the scenery was beautiful. It was only on our arrival in Zurich that we realised that the train we were on was the same one we had booked to travel to Chur (pronounced cur), from where our ride on the GE would start. The train was stopped in Zurich for just 12 minutes. We had arranged to meet our friends, Joerg & Heidi, at the station in Zurich but when we pulled into the station, we could not see them anywhere on the platform. We did a quick walk along the platform but not finding them, we reboarded feeling very disappointed. To our delight, though, Joerg phoned to say that they were on the train in another carriage. At the first station at which the train stopped we got off to see if we could see them and a conductor, who was standing at our carriage door, told us that she had spoken to them and she knew that we had their tickets. What wonderful service. On arrival in Chur, we had a wonderful reunion with them.
As we had an hour before the GE departed, we decided to walk around Chur, a very pretty town with a mix of old and new. We started with a coffee at a little Bistro which had the most fascinating lampshades made of cooldrink bottles. We walked around the town and in one street came across a ‘shop’ window with Think Pig written across it and wondered what it meant. I have now looked it up and have learnt that it is a film production company.
With great excitement and anticipation, we boarded the GE just before 11:00. This train travels to and from the well-known village of Davos/St Moritz, Switzerland’s highest resort. Its other terminus is the town of Zermatt, at the foot of the Matterhorn. We travelled the middle section, Chur to Brig, as to do the full length of the of the journey would have meant staying overnight in both Zermatt and Davos due to the times involved. It would also have been very costly. It did mean missing out on the viaducts and spiral tunnels, but it was a beautiful experience anyway. A true highlight of our trip to Europe.
Not long after we left Chur, the Commentator told us that we were in Heidi country. I felt as if I was 7 again. I had always understood that it was a fictional story and that is what Wikipaedia says but the Commentator on the train said that she did exist. She said that when Heidi was too old to care for herself she was taken back to Zurich where she died soon after due to being very unhappy.
Not long thereafter, we passed through what is known as the Grand Canyon of Switzerland. 10 000 years ago there was a major landslide which created this very large piece of broken land with a river running through the gorge which was created. Impossible to describe so I shall use photos.
The train stopped just once, at the foot of the Oberalppass for cog wheels to be fitted to the engine to allow it to climb the Pass to a height of 2033m. It was quite a climb, slow and a little more noisy but so worthwhile. The scenery was incredible, even though mostly covered in snow, and at the top was an hotel and ski resort. We stopped there for about 15mins so people could get off the train to take photos. The windows on the train were large and clear, so we were able to take many photos while travelling. As a friend said, “It is called an Express but it is the slowest one of all.” That gave us plenty of time to enjoy the excellent 2-course meal we had ordered and was professionally served.
Going down the hill from the Pass we could see the town of Andermatt. A whole new resort area is in the process of being added to the town which will almost double its size.
We arrived at Brig at 15.40 which, once again gave as an hour to wander around the lovely town set beneath high mountains. As usual, there was a lovely fountain and a statue in the main square but, more beautiful was a yellow barrow filled with Spring flowers. We were able to take photos and take a slow look around while Joerg disappeared into a local bookshop. We then walked up a hill to the town castle called Stockalper Palace. It was built in the 16th century by Kaspar Stockalper, born in the area and was a true trailblazer. We admired the beautiful gardens and went into the huge courtyard into which the horse-drawn carriages were brought. No time to visit the museum but it had still been a lovely afternoon.
We passed a whole street full of Platanen Trees which, as previously explained, are pruned hard so that they will grow a lot of foliage in summer on the way to the station. We caught the train, via Bern, to Olten where Joerg and Heidi alighted. Before they left us, we discovered why Joerg had gone to the bookshop. They gave us a beautiful book on the Glacier Express. A truly super present at the end of a really special day.