I've hit all the other places now - furthest north (Isle of Man), furthest south (Morocco), furthest west (also Morocco), and furthest east (Brasov, Romania); I've been at sea level several times, but never below it; and now I've gone as far up as I'll get while still on land. I was at 2253 meters, or 7391 feet, above sea level while taking the Bernina Express from Zurich to Italy. It has been a long day, with many satisfying parts to offset the frustrating ones. Read on, if ye dare...
I would hardly call this an "express" train, since it took about 4 hours to go a distance of maybe 150 miles. But it started operation in 1910, at which point I imagine it really was the express train. Thanks to Switzerland's stability and lucky habit of staying out of world wars, they've had time to keep something like this up and running. We were in a "panorama" car, which means that the windows are a little wider and they go up about 50% more towards the ceiling. There's a metal roof, so the windows don't connect at the top, which I guess is good, in case there's a rock
or something... The experience within the car was okay - the car was packed, and among them was an infant who was trying to hit the highest pitch possible at many random times during the trip. I've often said that planes need to have a separate cabin for infants and their caretakers; I'll add trains to that list, too.
The first hour or so of the train ride was frankly disappointing and frustrating. You had to have a reserved seat for this particular car, and mine was facing in the opposite direction of travel, which I normally hate anyway. Plus, most of the good views in that first hour were on the other side of the train, and there were people sitting there, so you couldn't just move in and push them out of the way. But then things changed, and my side got the good views. But we were moving too fast to get good photos, so the photographer in me was again frustrated. Sometimes we would slow down enough to keep the foreground objects from being a big blur, but that was usually not the case. And then there was glare from the windows... To take pictures
through a window, you need to press your camera lens flush up against the window. And for God's sake, turn off the flash, especially if you ignore that part about lens against the window.
But then we got to the snow-covered parts of the mountain. The train slowed down, maybe for safety, maybe for effect. Then the rain/snow had started really coming down, but I had found a place on my window that was being protected from the downpour; plus, nothing was so close to the train that it would be blurry in the foreground. I got some good shots of the frozen lake. When we got to Alp Grüm, the train actually stopped for people to get out and admire the view. There was also a café there, conveniently. We were only meant to be there for 20 minutes, but it turned into almost 30. Stragglers, I guess. The views were breathtaking, and I've included the panorama shots I took at the top of this blog entry - they hardly do it justice.
After that, it was downhill. Literally, but figuratively as well. I mean, once you've been to the top, it's hard to compete with that.
The landscape got progressively greener and less jagged, but I had been thrilled by the experience at the top. It was money well-spent, in my book. I won't say much about the individual photos that I've added. I'll let them speak for themselves. But if you're a lover of "mountain porn," then today's your lucky day.
After getting to Tirano, Italy (the terminus of the Bernina Express), I hopped on a train for Lecco, Italy, where I'm staying tonight. First off, there is no ticket window at the Tirano train station. You have to go to the deli/news stand and buy a ticket from one of the ladies behind the cash machine. I got there just in time, too, since the train left in less than 10 minutes. It was a slow train, but I got more of my new book - the 3rd (and final?) installment of the Mazerunner
series - finished, and I'm hoping to finish it during the train rides tomorrow.
Lecco is at the base of Lake Como, but today was not a good day to visit. First, it's been raining intermittently since I got here. I went out for food a few minutes
ago, and I was nearly blown into the lake. But the pizza and cannole were worth it! I bought my train ticket for tomorrow - and 8-hour marathon that starts just before 8 AM - and then booked a hotel as soon as I got to the station. Funny, I already had a hotel at a supposedly quaint little B&B, but that B&B is 4 km from downtown, and I wasn't going to walk an hour or spend the enormous money on a taxi to get there. Since I spent about 1/3 of what I was expecting on my train ticket for tomorrow, I got on my phone and found the closest hotel to the station and checked to see if it was available. They had one room, so I booked it right there online in the train station and then walked 2 minutes to the hotel and said, "I have a reservation." It had already gone through, so I was in luck. The guy didn't speak much English, but once I told him I knew a little Italian, he got happier, and we had a little conversation in Italianglish. The hotel is nothing fancy, but it's got free wifi
and free breakfast (in what looks to be an awesome restaurant), plus I can walk to the train station again in the morning.
Tomorrow, I get to see Eno, and we'll be spending the next 10 days together in Pisa, Cinque Terre, and Rome! Plus, she's bringing me a little present that I requested, so that makes me even happier. It's 2 weeks until my birthday, which means less than 2 weeks until I'm back in America. Things are picking up, y'all!
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