Trip Start May 07, 2012
Trip End Jun 06, 2012

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Flag of Switzerland  , Swiss Alps,
Friday, June 1, 2012

Wake up in Milan on Thursday morning and its good news – John’s eye has recovered completely so the Pharmacist and Doctor Bob were both correct. The plan today is to take the train from Milan to the Italy/Swiss border town of Tirano and then take the Bernina Express across the Swiss Alps to Chur for a couple of days.

First leg is uneventful on a rather tired Italian regional train with limited leg room – even in first-class! Part of the journey past Lake Como. One hour refreshment break in Tirano – which is actually in both countries – then get ready for a 4 hour journey which is ranked in the best 10 scenic rail journeys of the world and what should be a highlight of the holiday.

It doesn’t disappoint at all and is one of those trips that you could really do with taking longer. We are in the first-class observation car which is mainly glass and gives perfect views. Fortunately, despite a dodgy forecast, the weather is fine. The train climbs gradually up through the villages of the lower Alps then steeply upwards for an hour before reaching the Bernina Pass at 2253 metres which is well above the snowline and set on a mountain lake fed by several glaciers.
Our carriage is half-full and fairly quiet except for a chubby 40’ish year-old fully uniformed boy scout from Luxembourg who feels the compulsion to talk continuously to an elderly New Zealand couple who are sitting opposite him, referring from time to time to one of a selection of books and timetables he has in his rucksack. The Kiwi lady decides to spend much of the journey crocheting or pretending to be asleep. He also cannot let any member of railway staff walk through our carriage without diving into his rucksack again for a book and reeling off a further series of questions and observations. When he dismounts the train at a lonely outpost at the top of the Alps the passengers are relieved and the mountain goats are decidedly nervous.

Another interesting aside on the journey is the buffet trolley which is adorned with a large mountain goat just to add to the alpine theme. Fortunately Gilbert the Goat has a decent supply of chilled white in his locker which added further to the enjoyment of the journey.

From the Bernina Pass the train then descends over a series of viaducts and bridges and through tunnels until we eventually arrive at the end of the line and our destination Chur around 6pm.
Chur is a lovely town filled with beautiful old buildings and with all the main streets bedecked with local and regional flags. Although it is the capital city of the Canton (or County) it only has a population of 32,000 and is very walkable. It is also very Swiss, which we now know means two things in particular: 1. It is very clean and tidy and 2. It is extortionately expensive.
Hotel good with views of the snow capped mountains. It’s a lovely evening so we head out for drink and food in the open air for a change and on the recommendation of our hotel receptionist settle for a Mexican restaurant with a Swiss twist (strangely enough it worked!) that also serves the local Chur brewery dark beer.

Wake up in the morning to grey skies and the sight of people with umbrellas up – not good as we had plans that needed fine weather.  However, it eventually brightened up a bit so we took a chance and went on our planned scenic railway ride up to the ski resort of Arosa; traveling over deep ravines and past sheer drops. After an enjoyable 60 min journey climbing from 600 to 1700 metres we arrive in the town of Arosa to find it is basically shut between the end of the ski season (March) and 6th June so we had the place to ourselves! No problem though as we were there to walk and spent a couple of hours walking to up to a height of 2000 metres which is just above the snow line and then back again. The weather wasn’t too bad and although still pretty grey it was dry and we had decent views of the mountain tops. Great to walk through the snow at this time of year and even managed to throw a few snowballs! On our walk we only saw one other person which was fortunately near our highest point so we did get a photo together.

Back on the train to Chur and as we were wandering back to our hotel we were ‘persuaded’ to pop into a bar for a complimentary glass of red wine by Yolande the rather eccentric bar owner who was preparing for the opening night of her new venture. It was a very nice place so we sat and chatted to her and her staff for a while and wished her luck. Apparently it has been closed for a month as the previous owners had a noise issue with the police. On the way back bumped into a huge animal (see pic).

Out in the evening for some hearty Swiss fare (having arranged an appropriate mortgage in advance) and on leaving the restaurant encountered around 100 good-humoured slightly intoxicated students doing a conga in the Square.  Apparently they were on some sort of ‘protest against cuts’ march/walk/pub-crawl around town. Around 10pm we thought we should pop into Yolande’s bar to see how things were going and there were probably a dozen people inside and she seemed encouraged. Five minutes later we heard a lot of commotion outside and suddenly all of the protesting students entered the bar and were four deep queuing to buy beers and cocktails. When we left half an hour later it was still packed. A good first night for our new friend.

It was interesting that the students were protesting about spending cuts but quite a number of them were drinking cocktails that we calculated to cost at least 28 a glass! It really is an expensive country but we guess the earnings here must be relative to the costs as the bars and restaurants are all busy enough. Just to put a perspective on costs we noticed that a Big Mac in Poland was around 1 but in Switzerland it’s the equivalent of 7.50!

The end of another evening and a return to Germany tomorrow. Our brief visit to Switzerland has been enjoyable. The scenery is stunning and the air and environment immaculately clean but a stay of more than a few days would challenge most people’s budgets to breaking point.
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John and Sue on

Server has been down for a couple weeks.
Also been in Cornwall, so we are just catching up on your journey.
Who says retirement is boring.
Shame about Luton, I know you are just coming to terms with it.
Wondered if John's eye problem was due to not buying Janet some shoes in Milan.
See you soon,
John and Sue

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