Day 20 Glacier Express Day

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August 31st 2019
Published: August 31st 2019
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I get up early as I want to have a short walk to watch the sun rise. It is a beautiful morning. I have been watching the forecast for these last few days since I started the trip. It had shown rain consistently for weeks so I was delighted when this changed a couple of days before arriving in St Moritz. Both staying this high up on the Muottas Muragl and doing the Glacier Express trip are bound to be much nicer if the weather is kind, and I have been truly lucky with the weather throughout this trip. This early walk is the only time so far that I have put on my fleece, and that is only because it is so early. I only had rain one evening in Nürnberg and the thunderstorm in Axams, but we were able to stay outside drinking red wine, thanks to Sue’s great overhang.

My only companions up here are some cows, and they are still all lying down. Several are lying across my path and I respectfully walk around them. We are at least 9,000 feet here (more than 2 x Ben Nevis on top of each other!). The cows are wearing the traditional alpine cowbell. It is the only sound I notice this morning. The cows come up to the alm for the summer months and return to the villages in the the autumn. Most villages celebrate the return of the cows with a village festival. I saw this once and it was wonderful. Up here I have fabulous views in every direction. I so wish I could spend the day up here. I would love to return here for couple of days to do some great hiking and more fabulous dining! Trish and Bill - one for you/us??

I return to the hotel soon after 7.15 for a quick shower and go downstairs for breakfast. I have read the reviews about the hotel and I experienced the fantastic cuisine last night, so I am not at all surprised that the breakfast is fabulous.

After checking out I take the lift to the lower floor to connect with the funicular train. I am the only person in the train so I feel very relieved when the driver joins me in the lowest compartment. He is Italian and lives approximately 50km away. We are very close to the Italian border here. He doesn’t speak any English or German so we converse in a weird mix of Spanish and Italian.

At the bottom of the funicular I take the #1 bus back to St Moritz station, having bought a return ticket yesterday. At the station I sit, by the lake and enjoy the sun whilst I wait for the 10.20 Glacier Express. The transport system in Switzerland functions superbly whether you are on an Intercity train, local bus or a tiny cog mountain railway and they all link up! The station at St Moritz is right by the lake and the views are wonderful (but I still prefer them higher up!).

After an enjoyable half hour in the sun and an obligatory photo of myself with the train, I get on. For the final three days of my trip I have bought a first-class Interrail ticket, as I shall be doing a few longer journeys and I won’t get the super prices in Switzerland that I have elsewhere. And this trip is one of my treats to myself for hitting 60 later this year and passing the MBA.
Sun hitting Piz Bernina Sun hitting Piz Bernina Sun hitting Piz Bernina

Highest point round here, with snow all year round on its peak.
So this means I am in the Glacier Express first class. I have a lovely table to myself. There is fabulous and friendly service throughout the trip. At the time of booking I also booked the three-course set menu (after reading more reviews) and it is also excellent.

The Glacier Express is a spectacular journey through the Alps from St Moritz to Zermatt. It is affectionately known as the slowest express train in the world. Because of the panoramic windows and roof windows you get non-stop, unrestricted views of high mountain peaks, deep gorges, fast-flowing rivers and idyllic Alpine villages with traditional wooden chalet buildings. Every view is breath-taking. There is a helpful audio guide as you go along with approximately 35 points of interest. They sound a gong to give you the chance to choose to put on the headphones. I find it really interesting as they mix in a lot of culture and folklore with the facts. Some highlights of the journey include:

St Moritz - this is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations - both in winter and summer. It was originally known for its mineral springs, which have been around for over 3,000 years, and it is also the birthplace of Alpine winter tourism. St Moritz has its own “leaning tower” which is 33 metres high.

Albula Line -this is the most spectacular sector of the Glacier Express Line and lies between Preda and Bergün. The six viaducts and several tunnels mean that it is possible to scale the 400 metre height difference. The section of the railway between St Moritz and Thusis belongs to the Unesco World Heritage Site -“Rhaetian Railway in the Albula/Bernina Landscapes”. This is only the third railway in the world to receive this accolade.

Landwasser viaduct - 65m high and 142m long, this has become one of the icons of the Glacier Express.

Chur - the oldest town in Switzerland, and also the main town of the canton of Graubünden. There are 26 cantons in Switzerland and the Glacier Express travels through three of these - Graubünden, Valais and Uri.

Rhine gorge - after the last Ice Age, there were huge landslides at Flims. This gave rise to the gorge landscape which you can see here today, known as the “Swiss Grand Canyon”. This section of the river was largely inaccessible until the Chur-Llanz stretch of the Rhaetian Railway was opened in the early 1900s.

Disentis - this village is the largest Romansh-speaking community in Switzerland. The village is dominated by the monastery. This dates back to 1683-1695, making it the oldest Benedictine abbey in Switzerland

Oberalp Pass - this is the highest point of the Glacier Express (2033 metres above sea level). The train pulls up with the help of a cog wheel. In winter the snow is several metres high. The Glacier Express still manages to get through and there are all sorts of mechanisms in place to ensure that the snow is cleared and trains can run uninterrupted. Slightly different from the UK - when a tiny bit of slush seems to affect the entire infrastructure!

Andermatt - this small town lies about halfway along the Glacier Express journey and is another important tourism town, dating from the 12th century. One of its main

attractions is the Schöllenen Gorge. By the Devil’s Bridge here you can see a memorial to those who fell in the Russian general Suwurow’s Alpine campaign in 1799.

Furka Tunnel - this is over 15km long and it is because of this tunnel that the Glacier Express is now able to run all year round. In the past it was only possible to cross the Furka four months in the year due to the Rhone glacier. However it is this glacier that gave the train its name.

Brig - is the centre of the German-speaking canton of Valais. It dates back to 1250 and enjoyed a glittering economic rise, thanks to Kaspar von Stockalper who set up the trade and transport of goods between France and Lombardy. You can still see the magnificent Stockalper Palace in Brig. The town also serves as the starting point for fantastic hiking trails into the great Aletsch glacier. This was declared a World Heritage Site in 2001

Zermatt - the last section of the Glacier Express takes you through wild larch woods, countless tunnels and avalanche protection structures to the car-free town of Zermatt. Just before arriving in Zermatt station, you get the first view of the majestic Matterhorn. The final section of the railway line - Visp to
Sine Sole SileoSine Sole SileoSine Sole Sileo

The world's most accurate sundial
Zermatt - was opened in 1891 after two and a half years construction. I find it amazing and brilliant when I think of the foresight of those railway engineers to realise that the valley communities would have to live off tourism to sustain them in the long-term.

Matterhorn - is one of the highest summits in the Alps (4,478 metres or 14,692ft) and overlooks the town of Zermatt in the canton of Valais. The Matterhorn was one of the final mountains to be conquered in the Alps. It was a British man, Edward Whymper, who finally succeeded on July 1865 on his sixth attempt. The wild jubilations were abruptly stopped as one of the climbers, Hadow, slipped and fell, pulling three others with him down the north face to their deaths. Whymper and the two Zermatt guides were later accused of having cut the rope below to ensure that they were not dragged down with the others, but the subsequent inquiry found no evidence of this and they were acquitted. There is a plaque in Zermatt commemorating this first ascent by Whymper which reads On July 14th 1865, he set forth from this hotel with his companions and guides, and completed the first successful ascent of the Matterhorn.

Everyone recognises this mountain because of Toblerone, the Swiss chocolate bar brand, produced in the capital city of Bern.

I have visited Zermatt twice before. Once was with the Chicago-based travel company in 2010 when we spent one night here and did a trip up the Gornergrat mountain railway. Before that I came here once in my late 30s as part of a hiking tour called Alpine Trails. It was both very strenuous and fabulous, starting in Chamonix and covering trails in the French, Italian and finally Swiss Alps. We had a free day in Zermatt, and together with a couple of the others, I went summer-skiing on one of the glaciers. It was a fantastic and memorable day. Years before that, whilst still in my early 20s and living in Seefeld, I had an awesome day-trip to St Moritz. A local hotelier had invited me and two others to fly from Innsbruck to St Moritz in his private plane. It was a perfect day - blue skies and non-stop sun. We skied all day and enjoyed a mountain-top lunch, before flying back. Another brilliant and memorable day!!

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