Friday, December 15, 2017

Paris to Rome, via Zurich? By Train? And Here's Why. . . .

We're settling in at our daughter's after a week of planes and trains and four different beds, glad to be able to unpack and stay for a while. She and our son-in-law are dropping the Wee Italian Girl at daycare now, and then he's dropping her at the train for yoga camp, and Nana and Granddad are on Support Duty. We have our days free, and we'll spend this morning plotting transit and bike routes, trying to avoid using the car as much as possible for the sake of our nerves!

But I thought that before we do that, I'd share a few photos of our train ride through the Swiss Alps on the Bernina Express.  Our trip to Italy this time is centred around a three-week commitment to help with the Wee Italian while my daughter's away, but I wanted to add a special portion just for us, and something that wouldn't demand too many additional days. And, as you will already know if you visit this blog often, we prefer trains over planes for travel between European cities, when that works.  So after a full day (and two nights) in Paris to catch our breath after the nine-hour flight, we travelled from Gare de Lyon to Zurich HB -- that's us in Zurich, above.

And the next morning (early, the next morning!), we caught a train from Zurich to Chur, and at Chur we boarded the cheery red Bernina Express and began our five-hour (roughly) journey through the Alps, climbing gradually to 2200 metres before wending our way downward to Tirano, on the border of Switzerland and Italy.

The weather wasn't ideal for maximizing the views possible -- it has been raining copiously, and the route was wreathed, sometimes thickly blanketed, with fog. Still, pretty enough, no?


And then in spots, the sun had insisted on its way, the fog or clouds parted, and we got a sense of just how dazzling this route must be on a clear, cold day in January.

As it was, even in early December, there was much magnificence!


These photos, of course, are all taken through the generous windows of the Express -- for the darker portions of the trip, the reflections from the lighting inside the coach made photography's worth questionable, so I just settled back and absorbed. But it was tough not to try and record, as we'd round another corner and gasp. . . .


Especially cool were the sections where the track curved enough that we could look ahead and see the train cars in front of us drawing swoops of red on the snowy background, the snow melting its white into the more variegated light of the clouds above. . .
This valley, below. . . this elicited those gasps I mentioned above, and I'm happy that one of my desperate snaps (turn the camera back on again, then realize there's a bank of trees between me and the scene that's just gobsmacked me, then get a clear shot, then realize the camera wasn't focused, then try again, feeling the carriage curving into an angle that will deny the shot -- hurry! hurry!) captured this to share with you.

Maybe I wouldn't have preferred that clear, sunny day after all . . . I mean, this drama. . .
Probably the coolest part of the day was when we hit the famous Brusio spiral viaduct. We travelled above those stone arches (built in 1908), and then followed the track around in a spiral that then looped through an archway, as you can tell in the photo below. The viaduct was built to allow a descent to happen safely, at a maximum of 7% gradient.
Wonderful photos of trains spiralling across this structure abound on the Internet, many taken by professional photographers from well-chosen vantage points outside the train. If you've seen those, mine obviously pale in comparison. But there's something about being inside and part of that spiral, looking ahead and behind to see the front and back of the train playing geometric tricks, that's worth trying to capture, at least. . .



We're already considering taking a ride through again, perhaps in late spring, perhaps even budgeting time to stop overnight along the way. The Bernina Express was a wonderful experience (in second class, great seats, lovely international companions, one very helpful attendant -- who excitedly pointed out the "steinbock" on the mountainside, a group of mountain goats, what a thrill! -- and made sure everyone was able to locate them), but the route is served throughout the day by the regular regional trains -- a slower passage, perhaps, but a more flexible schedule. 

I must mention here that I learned of the Bernina Express through The Man in Seat 61, a resource gem if you're at all interested in train travel (throughout the world).  We've been following The Man's train-travel advice for years -- he tells you how and when and what connections are most efficient or what detours are worthwhile; when is 1st-class worth the price difference and when is it not; how to get the best value for your money, sometimes by buying your ticket through a slightly different approach. He also guided us through last year's travel from Venice to Zagreb.

But now it's time to go plan a more modest adventure, one that will take us by foot or by bike to a table in some welcoming restaurant not far from the Mediterranean where we'll enjoy some seasonal specialty or other for lunch. Drink a glass or two of wine. And surely a long afternoon nap as we enjoy a quiet place to ourselves for the first time in over a week (We're hardy enough travellers, we think, for a mid-60s couple, but it's been tiring, and a few of those nights in the different beds were sleepless ones). Then the Wee Italian will be home from daycare, trailing her Papa behind her (he's doing pick-up today; our turn next week).  So I'm not sure how much time I'll have for responding to comments, but I welcome and love reading them . . . 

A dopo . . . 



27 comments:

  1. How very exciting. Train travel is a wonder and definitely one of my favourite travel methods when in another country. The time to muse and dream is part of the deal to me. I have bookmarked the link to the man in seat 61 because I am sure he will be able to guide me to plan my trip to Samarkand. What a time you are having!

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    1. I thought of Samarkand as soon as Frances mentioned Seat 61, which I often dream over!

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    2. You two MUST do this Samarkand romp together, really! ;-)

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  2. What a lovely treat to read this over breakfast this morning! The train journey looks a delight. I have always loved the idea of these Alpine passes - fostered I think by the French children's series "Belle et Sébastien" shown on British TV when I was a child. Do look out for the French version i.e. not dubbed of the original, not the recent remake - tho not sure if you can get it in a Canada compatible version. Perhaps you can get it from French amazon and watch it while you're in Italy. Sorry - that was a ramble, but it struck me that you might love it! Hope all the settling in goes well - what a lovely prospect after all your travel.

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    1. Hmmm, I'll have to see if I can track it down when I get back home -- it would surely have been shown in Québec when it was current. Not on Netflix now, at any rate. It does sound delightful.

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  3. Am already scouring https://www.seat61.com/. Thanks for that tip -- hadn't heard of that site before.

    Your Alps photos are breathtaking!

    Ann in Missouri

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  4. Wonderful photos & I know how frustrating snapping from a train can be - at least with digital it isn’t such a waste of money . A real pleasure to read , so beautifully written . The man in seat 61 helped us with our train travel in the Czech Republic last year . A real blessing compared to the old days with no internet to call on . Thanks for taking some of your precious time to keep us updated .
    Wendy in York

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    1. It's so true about the difference of shooting digitally these days -- we were so much more frugal when we had to pay for each developed print. And you're very welcome!

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  5. What a breathtaking journey! I will have to do that one day. This time I am taking the much more prosaic route to Milano, through the Gotthard tunnel. Which is not too bad either - I have always loved that moment of emerging from the tunnel to another climate, a different light, a sweeter air - Italy!

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  6. I shared your beautiful photos with my better half this morning. I think I’ve persuaded him on a train journey in Switzerland! It looks stunning and as you say very atmospheric. Enjoy your Italian family and Christmas. B x

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    1. I think you'd very much enjoy it (and so much more convenient from where you are!

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  7. Thanks for the info about The Man in Seat 61. I was talking to Daughter about taking the train from Paris to Budapest in September. I'll give him a visit. Your photos are remarkable. I hope that you enjoy your time with the little Italian and have a good sleep.

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    1. Wow! That would be a really great trip to take with your daughter. I suspect you'll find The Man has good advice -- he's never steered me wrong.

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  8. The Man in Seat 61 is a longstanding website; I found it via the Lonely Planet Thorn tree, at the beginning of this century. It can also be a help when navigating railway sites in different countries, not always clear. I've had some trouble in the past with Italian sites, and I speak Italian fluently!

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    1. Yes, this is what I really find helpful about The Man -- he provides a basic context for understanding whichever country's rail system, how/where to purchase tickets, whether or not to validate them before boarding, etc., etc. How lucky you are to speak a number of languages!

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  9. What a wonderful journey! A lot of beautiful photos-I really like them,especially the red train in fog and snow
    As time goes by, I value (and choose) to spend more time somewhere and just slowly take pleasure being there,feeling the vibe.....train journey is in this category
    And that is waiting for you now,with the Wee Italian....well,maybe not so slowly :-)
    Dottoressa

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    1. Thanks, Dottoressa, and glad you enjoyed these. Yes, we tend to prefer a slowed-down trip now, time to savour the pleasures we might have zipped past when younger. As this Little Girl zips by us now! ;-)

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  10. A stunning train trip! Probably just as well it was overcast - the photos are so much more dramatic, though I imagine it would be a spectacular trip in sunshine too. I had never heard of the Man in Seat 61 - a useful tip as we love train travel. Have a wonderful time with you wee Italian.
    Frances in Sidney

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  11. Looks amazing, Frances. Love that spiral. Have a wonderful time. I'm off to check out that travel website...never heard of it before. Thanks.

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  12. Oh, it looks just amazing!! I've been wanting to visit the Alps for decades...maybe this is something to plan a visit around.

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  13. Those views are truly out-of-this-world. I have been enjoying your Instagram photos and have loved this narrative. Enjoy your well-earned hours of respite over the next weeks!

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  14. Hi Frances, great post! I went to bookmark The Man in Seat 61 but I already had it, doubtless from something you wrote in the past. That trip into Italy was indeed stunning - I've done a similar trip from Germany but it was overnight. Enjoy your time in Italy!

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  15. Wonderful descriptions and photographs. Train travel through winter and early spring landscapes (snow and waterfalls!) is my favorite. Enjoy.

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  16. Great photos have whet my appetite! Husband and I are great fans of train travel and always refer to the man in seat 61. We're off 4to Italy in May 2018 for the first time in 11 years, in the meantime I'll enjoy vicariously, thank you.

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  17. Just beautiful Frances! I too love those red train in the white snow images. Glorious. And I think I have to look up your link, as I love train travel too and haven't done much in a while.

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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