Posts Tagged With: Chur

Alpine Views from the Bernina Express

On a scale of 1 to 10 my excitement level for the Bernina Express was a definite 10. We love train travel and the thought of a spectacular four-hour scenic ride from Chur, Switzerland to Tirano, Italy on the highest railway through the Alps negotiating 55 tunnels and 196 bridges thrilled me beyond description. The 122 km route’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site added another dimension to its already abundant appeal.

We decided to purchase round-trip tickets allowing us to enjoy the scenery twice and return to Chur for the night. Not one to leave the pinnacle event of our Swiss adventure to chance, we reserved our seats prior to leaving home, then bought our tickets at the train station the morning of our tour. With our Swiss Half Fare card, 2nd class roundtrip tickets for the two of us totaled $184.

From the moment we departed Chur at 8:32 am, I think it’s safe to say I was the most excited passenger in our railcar if not on the entire train. Fortunately, our railcar wasn’t overly crowded so I was able to flit from side to side in the car without disturbing other passengers.  I’d read the views were best from the right side where we reserved our seats, but I saw so many astounding views on the left, I couldn’t sit still for even a minute. With Jim’s back fracture, he was relieved to just sit in his seat and enjoy the views without exertion for the day. To me, every view was photo-worthy resulting in over 1100 photos, although the vast majority contain major flaws, usually window glare. Warning: I whittled down the photos in this post to 42 so my apologies if you grow weary and give up before the end.

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The Bernina Express at Chur Train Station

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Jim searching for our reserved seats on the Bernina Express

As we left the station, we noticed low hanging clouds in the valleys but plenty of sunshine and blue skies promised excellent views when the sun burned the vapor away. In the meantime, the fog added a mystical quality to our views.

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Alpine view from the Bernina Express

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View from the Bernina Express

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Crossing one of 196 bridges

I’m quite sure I took photos of every hamlet we passed. Each was as charming as this with a church steeple often serving as my focal point.

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One of many Alpine hamlets

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Misty clouds in the valley

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Try as I might, my photos of the spectacular Landwasser Viaduct below and the entrance to the Landwasser Tunnel didn’t do it justice but take my word for it, it was spectacular.

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Landwasser Viaduct and Tunnel

I especially loved the sun illuminating the autumn foliage on the mountainsides.

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UNESCO World Heritage recognition

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I don’t know the people in the photo below, but I wanted to show how the windows provided both panoramic views and challenges to work around when taking photographs from the train.

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View of Morteratsch Glacier from the Bernina Express

As we approached The Bernina Pass, the highest elevation of our ride at 2253 m (7392 ft) Lake Bianco came into view. Many hikers enjoy the easy scenic trails in this area, especially the trail from Ospizio Bernina to Alp Grum along the lake. I would love to go back and take this hike sometime.

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Hikers on the trail to Alp Grum

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Lago Bianco

We stopped at Alp Grum and took the requisite selfie to prove we were here.

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The Bernina Express route ends at Tirano, Italy. The brochure claims there are “swaying palms” at the terminus which we did not see but we nevertheless enjoyed the temperate climate and the views from this village of fewer than 10,000 inhabitants. After a short stroll, we settled in at a cafe with outdoor seating and a view for some real Italian pizza and a glass of vino.

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We departed from Tirano for the return trip to Chur at 2:25 pm and arrived at 6:20 pm. Although we’d been this way before, it was nearly as spectacular on the return trip and I attempted to capture the shots which escaped me earlier in the day.

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Morteratsch Glacier

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I truly thought this train journey would be the highlight of our Swiss adventure but it turned out to be just one of many highlights. Please check back for more as we travel next to Lucerne.

 

Based on events from October 2017.

Categories: Europe, Italy, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

Chur: Gateway to the Bernina Express

Chur (KOOR), with a population just under 33,000, is the oldest town in Switzerland and the gateway to the Bernina Express. Those features alone made it an easy choice as our base for 2 nights while its well-preserved pedestrian-only Old Town added abundant charm and history.

We arrived late in the afternoon after a 2-hour train ride from Zurich with our first impressive albeit rainy views of the Swiss countryside.

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Swiss countryside from the train

 

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View of the Swiss countryside

 

We wandered around the winding streets of Old Town a bit before we found the Ambiente Hotel Freieck. It looks easier on the map below than it actually was. (We didn’t have the map when we arrived either.)

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Map of Chur, Switzerland

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Ambiente Hotel Freieck

We were pleased with our accommodations at this three-star hotel as well as the location,  and the breakfast buffet was amazing. If you follow my blog, you’ve probably read previously that we like to eat a big breakfast followed by a protein bar or something similar for lunch, then go out in the evening for a nice dinner. We always try to find a hotel that provides breakfast so we have to buy just one meal a day.  Including breakfast, taxes, and fees, we paid $178 per night at the Ambiente Hotel Freieck which I thought was a fair price in an expensive area.

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Lobby at Ambiente Hotel Freieck

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The view from our hotel room

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Beds at Ambiente Hotel Freieck

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Shower in our hotel room

After Jim rested his back for a bit, we searched out a local restaurant for dinner. It was still raining so we didn’t dawdle in spite of our umbrellas. We found Cafe Arcas on a lovely square by the same name in the heart of Old Town where I looked longingly at the outdoor seating.

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Arcas

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Cafe Arcas, Chur

We were early and only one other table in the small cafe was occupied. After asking about local dishes, we selected homemade spinatpizokel and spatzli, both specialties from the canton of Grisons where Chur is located. (Grisons is French; the German name of the canton is Graubunden.) The spinatpizokel was a spinach pasta with air-dried ham, local beef, and sausage. The spatzli was a pasta with cheese (Swiss mac and cheese, if you will). Some of you know I normally shun gluten but I wanted to try local dishes so I made an exception in this case. We shared the two dishes and left pleasantly full in spite of resisting the homemade desserts which, I admit, looked delicious.

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Spinatpizokel

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Spatzli

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Homemade desserts

Following dinner, we ambled along the winding streets of Old Town enjoying the sights.

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St. Martin’s Church

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In spite of pain medication, Jim had a terrible night. Like a beetle on his back, it was almost impossible for him to get up once he was prone. He wore his back brace to bed to try to sleep on his side but that was largely unsuccessful. He was most comfortable on his back but he snores on his back which meant I was awake whenever he slept. It was almost a relief when morning broke. At least the scrumptious breakfast made getting up worthwhile.

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Breakfast buffet

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Breakfast buffet

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Breakfast buffet

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A hearty breakfast built to last

The Bernina Express departed at 8:32 a.m. so, following our breakfast, we hurried to the train station. As we passed the Rhaetian Railway (RhB) Administration Building, I couldn’t resist a quick photo of this impressive edifice.

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Rhaetian Railway Administration Building

Incidentally, if you, like me as a child, loved the book, Heidi, you’ll be interested to know the setting for this classic was just 19.6 km (12 miles) away from Chur near the town of Maienfeld.  Although the village of Dorfli in the book is fictional, another village has been renamed Heididorf and contains a Heidi museum and other attractions based on the novel. We didn’t have enough time to check it out but the information brought back a favorite childhood memory.

Join me next time on the famous Bernina Express for a scenic journey through the Swiss Alps.

 

Based on events from October 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Europe, Food, History, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Best Laid Plans for the Swiss Alps

We enjoyed our first Viking River Cruise in October 2016 so much we were eager to go again. In April 2017 when I saw an affordable Rhine cruise sailing that October from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, we booked it. We’d never been to Switzerland and this was a great opportunity to visit a new country. As I began my research, I quickly learned two things. First, Switzerland is expensive and second, a week wasn’t enough time to see everything in this small country. Thing one, however, limited us to one week. After all, we still had the 8-day river cruise and a couple extra days in Amsterdam afterward.

Part of what made this trip with Viking a good deal was their offer of free airfare. Upon checking, I discovered we could request an “air deviation” for $100 per person. With the air deviation, we extended our trip to depart a week early and return two days later and flew into Zurich instead of Basel. We would fly to Zurich on October 22, board the ship October 29, arrive in Amsterdam November 5, and fly home on November 7.

With the dates for our journey established, I began planning in earnest starting with an online search of the top sights in Switzerland. There were so many I really didn’t know where to begin. I’d heard of the Bernina Express, a scenic rail trip through the Swiss Alps which I thought maybe a good place to start. My research, however, introduced me to another route further south, the Glacier Express, which appealed to me, too. As it turned out, the Glacier Express was closed from mid-October until mid-December and the Bernina Express was closed from the end of October until mid-December. I was so relieved to find one of them open during our visit that I actually built our trip around the Bernina Express.

We decided early on we would travel by train. My brother and his wife had recently driven through Switzerland in a rental car. Their tales of adventure convinced me my anxious personality wasn’t suited to riding by car in the mountains or the cities. The train was a better choice for us. That said, deciphering the rail system in Switzerland was a challenge, to say the least. I spent days poring over the various options and comparing the cost of rail tickets with no pass, with a Swiss Travel Pass, Swiss Travel Pass Flex, and Swiss Half Fare Card. A special offer for a second person to travel for free only added to the confusion. Three websites were especially helpful: the official Swiss Federal Railways, Seat61, and My Swiss Alps. In the end, I only purchased a reservation for the Bernina Express in advance. A rail ticket will get you on the train for the Bernina Express route but you must reserve a seat in advance for the observation car. All other tickets could be purchased on-site with no difference in price so I held off but I was quite certain the Swiss Half Fare card was our best option.

We considered purchasing day trips out of Zurich or Lucerne with various tour companies to the popular tourist sights. Both the price and the time it took to travel out and back discouraged that plan. Besides, we generally prefer to do our own thing rather than be herded with a group on someone else’s schedule.

I reserved hotels in advance for every night. Traveling by train, I didn’t want to arrive in a city and not find a room for the night. I selected hotels based on location, price, and reviews. Since we would be dragging our luggage, I preferred a hotel close to the train station but I also wanted a reasonable price with good customer reviews.

This was our itinerary:

Day 1. Arrive in Zurich at 6:20 a.m. and take the train from the airport into the city. Store our luggage in lockers in the train station and take a self-guided walking tour of the old city which would get us to all the highlights. After seeing Zurich, take the train to Chur (pronounced Koor) (2 hours). Overnight in Chur at the Ambiente Hotel Freieck.

Day 2. We had reserved seats on the Bernina Express departing from Chur at 8:32 a.m. for a scenic 4-hour journey through the Alps. Rather than carry our luggage, we decided to take the train back to Chur to spend a second night.

Day 3. After an early breakfast, we would take the train to Lucerne, which takes about 3 hours. We planned to see Lucerne on foot and spend the night at Waldstaetterhof Swiss Quality Hotel right across from the rail station.

Day 4. We would leave our luggage at the hotel while we took a boat to Pilatus or the train to Titlis, depending on the weather. When we returned we would take the train to Grindelwald (2.5 hours) where I reserved a room at Hotel Alpina.

Day 5. We planned to take the train up to Jungfraujoch, then spend another night at Hotel Alpina.

Day 6. Take the train to Basel (3-3.5 hours) to meet our friends Lori and Heather at the Gaia Hotel before our cruise the following day.

Day 7. Board the Viking Kara for our cruise on the Rhine River.

You can see our planned route highlighted in yellow below.

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It was an ambitious plan but still didn’t allow visits to the Matterhorn, Geneva, and many other highly recommended sights in Switzerland. As events unfolded, we were lucky not to have committed to more. Be sure to check back to read how these best-laid plans went awry.

 

Based on events from April to October 2017.

 

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Categories: cruise, Europe, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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