The Reluctant Travellers’ Swiss Adventure - part 3

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rockoyster
rockoyster
4027 posts
expert
Jun 23, 2017 - 3:22 AM

The Glacier Express

The day of our big adventure on the Glacier Express got off to an invigorating start; our shower at the Hotel Victoria doggedly refused to deliver anything but cold water. The lady at reception later told us that “the man” was working on it.

Still, nothing like a cold shower to get you going after consuming far too much pizza for dinner the night before.

After breakfast and a quick stroll around town we settled on our hotel room verandah to enjoy the perfect weather and watch the arrival and departure of the Glacier Express (photo #1, #2). We were booked on the later 10:18 departure (photo #3) but thought we’d take the opportunity to get a look at how it all worked.

With most of the passengers having boarded at Zermatt, this was the only train on our entire holiday where we had any issues finding space for our luggage. Even in our first class carriage the available storage was chockablock but we managed to perch our suitcases on top of the pile. There are no overhead racks on the panoramic trains but there was plenty of room under the seats for our backpacks.

We were on the right-hand side of the train with a window seat each. The sun was streaming in from the south making caps and sunglasses mandatory. It was a bit like being in a greenhouse - bordering on uncomfortably hot. The angle of the sun also exacerbated the reflection on the windows which may account for why I hardly used my camera the whole trip. See: wife in reflective mood (photo #4);somewhere near Oberalp Pass (photo #5); the Rhine Gorge through a panoramic window (photo #6). Sorry - I should have done better

Despite the foregoing we enjoyed the sedate pace of the train and were soon rubbernecking with the best of them.

The journey from Brig to Chur (which we discovered is pronounced “koor” rhyming with “poor” as opposed to how you might imagine - like a Lancashireman referring to a piece of furniture designed for sitting on) takes 4 hours 24 minutes including a 15 - 20 minute leg-stretch stop at Disentis/Mustér. There is a lot to see.

Plenty of others have described the journey better than I could and there is a good description of the various legs of the trip at www.myswissalps.com/gl acierexpress/gettingth ere. For us the section from Andermatt over the Oberalp Pass was the stand-out. (for a fascinating take on this section see Alpenrose's excellent report at https://goo.gl/X1g8Y3)

Unfortunately our enjoyment of the much-anticipated Glacier Express experience took a turn for the worse once the meal service started. When making reservations I had ordered the “Plate of the Day” (the booking website only offers a very small subset of the full menu described at https://goo.gl/ock46n). The full menu does not contain anything titled “Plate of the Day” so I had mistakenly assumed it to be the Prättigauer Bauernteller (or Farmer’s Plate) offering a selection Grisons air-dried beef, Engadine raw ham, coppa and Grisons mountain cheese. Yum - the perfect light lunch to share between two. “Plate of the Day” actually turned out to be the “Daily Special” i.e. the main course component of the full-blown four-course lunch. Despite our protestations the "maitre d’train", who we felt was a little challenged in the customer relations department, decided that as we had ordered this “on the computer” that was what we were going to get. Furthermore as we had ordered only one plate to share, he ruled a separate set of cutlery for each of us to be out of the question. The whole incident left a bad taste and created an unnecessary diversion from what we thought was the most visually striking part of the overall journey - the Oberalp Pass. With hindsight we would have taken our own food, or simply ordered on-board. Should have realised that trying to predict what we would feel like for lunch two months in advance was never going to work out well.

At Chur we set off to locate the Hotel Post which, according to Mr Google, was a mere 350 metres from the Bahnhof. Upon arriving at the unassuming frontage of the Hotel Post Garni my wife was convinced we had reached the wrong place. Turns out the “Garni” suffix is pretty prevalent and just means the establishment only serves breakfast. We found the entry down a side street and were pleasantly surprised by the modern interior. The room was spacious and included a small kitchenette.

The people at reception gave us a city map (you can get one here https://goo.gl/BMkfgi) and off we set to explore the lovely old city. We got a bit lost trying to find the high vantage point in Arosastrasse, ended up in the grounds of a college and had to climb, much to the amusement of the passing students, a million steps to get back on track. My exhaustion level probably accounts for the lack of photos I took in Chur. In fact I can only find one (photo #7) which I took for novelty value. In Switzerland “Botty” obviously doesn’t mean the same as it does in Australia.

Relaxing later over a tall glass of cooling Calanda (Chur’s own beer) we reflected on how our lunch service experience might have made a perfect script for John Cleese if he ever decided to reprise his role of Basil in a railway-based version of Fawlty Towers. Oh how we laughed.

Dinner that night comprised some takeaway goodies from the excellent food hall in the basement of the Manor department store.

I had read on this forum of someone staying at the Hotel Post and being kept awake until the early hours of the morning by late-night revellers. No such problem for us and instead we were treated to a haunting rendition of Song for Luzern by a nearby alpenhorn group (not quite as large as this group https://youtu.be/ynP5b sDOLlg).

Coming up next . . . . The Bernina Express.

For previous episodes of The Reluctant Traveller’s Swiss Adventure see

Part 1 - Initial Report (https://goo.gl/8bw51n), Part 2 - Basel to Brig (https://goo.gl/626K1i)

Please login to see the attached documents
Arno
Arno
11364 posts
expert &
moderator
Jun 23, 2017 - 8:33 AM

Great report, very amusing :-) The Glacier Express lunch was unfortunate! Wow, no second set of cutlery. That's pretty sad. Even though it's not common in Switzerland to share a meal in a restaurant, I would have expected a bit more service in this case.

I'm surprised it was that hot in the train. The cars are air conditioned. If they turn the airco on, that is...

Glad that you had a good time overall!

Removed user
Removed user
0 posts
new member
Jun 23, 2017 - 9:43 AM in reply to rockoyster

Hi rockoyster,

Another entertaining instalment, with a lot of useful observations and tips for other travellers too! Clever caption for the photo of your wife :-D

I'll have to check out the food offerings of the Manor department stores next time I'm in Switzerland.

The Bernina Express is a wonderful ride. I've done it quite a few times now, and look forward to reading about what you thought of it.

Alpenrose

Last modified on Jun 23, 2017 - 10:26 AM by Arno
rockoyster
rockoyster
4027 posts
expert
Jun 23, 2017 - 11:02 AM

Thanks guys. The aircon did kick in a little later in the trip Arno so we weren't completely baked. ;-)

maggiehorswell
maggiehorswell
642 posts
top member
Jun 23, 2017 - 11:51 AM

Hi Rockoyster

An entertaining read as ever! Really enjoying your adventures.

When we travelled from St. Moritz to Brig last year I realised I was going to have trouble getting good photos and bought from the souvenir lady on the train a USB memory stick which was pre-loaded with Glacier Express photos and had space to add your own. I could then sit back and enjoy the view without worrying about the camera!

Shame about the meal experience - as I said on another thread we just ordered from menu on the day! We have shared meals in mountain top restaurants etc. before and had no trouble acquiring an extra plate and cutlery so it is a pity you were not treated as courteously as is the norm in Switzerland.

Looking forward to the next instalment!

Maggie

Slowpoke
Slowpoke
5170 posts
expert
Jun 23, 2017 - 2:51 PM in reply to rockoyster

Hi Rockoyster -

Thanks for the memories. ;-)

Every time I have been on a panoramic train in Switzerland I found that taking decent photographs was very difficult....glare, curved window reflections, etc. The GEX seems to provide that experience to many, as I have noted comments about it at various times. And, the panoramic trains have always been quite warm in the summer and poorly ventilated. You were lucky that you got air conditioning eventually.

I've noted another aspect of warm weather travel on "regular" trains in Switzerland. Staring with my first trip in 1980 or thereabouts, no one would open windows on hot days. (In those days,there were plenty of trains with easily opened windows). We would pull into a station and the windows would all fly open. The moment we got rolling, the windows would be closed.

Once I dared to open my window to get a breeze as we were traveling and an older Swiss gentleman yelled at me. I used my minimal German to say that fresh air was good for ones health, and closed my window most of the way, but still kept some breeze.

I've discussed this with a couple of my older and well-traveled Swiss friends.

One said, emphatically - "The Swiss hate drafts!"

The other quoted an apparently well know saying - "You'll never catch cold from being to warm."

I have noted that the current generation of travelers is much less afraid of drafts, and, on the secondary lines with older equipment, the windows are not infrequently open. The younger generation just is terribly careless of their health, or has not been taught the old aphorisms, I guess. ;-)

If I can slide a window up, I sometimes pull down the porous sunshade, which allows a breeze to pass without so much effect on my neighbors.

The pictures also bring back memories. It's been a while since I've been on that part of the route, and your snapshots capture the environment and experience nicely. It seems very Swiss to me to see a station platform where the tracks immediately begin a steep ascent the moment that they leave the station (#3).

Slowpoke

Last modified on Jun 23, 2017 - 3:01 PM by Slowpoke
rockoyster
rockoyster
4027 posts
expert
Jun 24, 2017 - 3:02 AM in reply to maggiehorswell

Hi Maggie,

Thanks for the positive feedback. Your idea with the USB stick sounds great. I have spent a bit of time since returning searching for GEX photos on Google images etc.

You may be interested to not that I wrote to GEX to provide some feedback on the meal service. I just got a response today. Apart from thanking me for the feedback and expressing regret about our experience the response also said . . .

We serve about 130’000 guest a year only in Glacier Express trains and because of this huge volume we are forced to have clear procedures. Among others, our service staff is advised to serve exactly the pre-ordered dishes. This has something to do with the processes between the railway companies (owner of Glacier Express) and our private company. That means, we have to serve exactly what is written on the Voucher. An exchange with other dishes would be quite complicated and by the way, we prepare all ordered menus and daily plates. The only possibility would have been, that you ordered and payed à la carte and returned voucher to the issuing office.

We would have gladly done as suggested in the last sentence if we had been offered that option. Still - all water under the bridge now and the incident was a minor blip in a very enjoyable holiday.

I note your comment about meal sharing in Switzerland. We had been forewarned that it was not the done thing so initially were reluctant to ask (hence pizza overload in Brig). Later in our trip we had lunch at a small place in Stein am Rhein. We ordered a flammkuchen and a salad. We didn't even need to ask about sharing - the waitress just assumed that was our plan and supplied us with separate plates etc.

rockoyster
rockoyster
4027 posts
expert
Jun 24, 2017 - 3:19 AM in reply to Slowpoke

Hello Slowpoke,

Grüezi and thanks for your comments. I think it might have been reading one of your posts prior to travelling that alerted us to the need for hats and sun-glasses in the panoramic trains.

I saw your detailed comments on a thread about restaurants in Zurich and also the thread which included the link to A Quick Guide to the Swiss German Language (https://goo.gl/7Jp77T). The way in which you and other seasoned Swiss traveller's share so freely your experiences here, makes this forum such a wonderful place for travel tyros like us to hang out.

Merci vilmal!

Slowpoke
Slowpoke
5170 posts
expert
Jun 24, 2017 - 8:50 AM in reply to rockoyster

Hi Rockoyster -

Glad to help.

I learn a lot here myself, either from others' comments or from looking up answers.

The Swiss have been good to me in many ways over the years, and I try to return the favor(s) by helping make a visit to Switzerland a good one for other travelers. There is a lot to admire, explore and experience about the the country beyond what the traveler sees on the normal tourist routes.

Have you looked into the practice of Direct Democracy?

direct-democracy.geschichte-schweiz.ch/

Slowpoke

Julie49
Julie49
22 posts
new member
Jun 25, 2017 - 3:07 PM

I am anxiously awaiting, part 4 Reluctant Traveler. The travelogue is an excellent read and fine entertainment ... informative too!

maggiehorswell
maggiehorswell
642 posts
top member
Jun 25, 2017 - 4:40 PM in reply to rockoyster

Hi rockoyster

If you go to the Gex webpage on Rhaetian railways website and navigate to the shop, you can find the photo -loaded USB stick there among the souvenirs at 24 chf. There is also a DVD available.

Maggie

rockoyster
rockoyster
4027 posts
expert
Jun 26, 2017 - 4:01 AM in reply to Julie49

Hello Julie,

When you put it so very nicely how could I prolong your anxiety? ;-) Part 4 now availabe at https://goo.gl/LTkZjT Hope you enjoy.

rockoyster
rockoyster
4027 posts
expert
Jun 26, 2017 - 4:01 AM in reply to maggiehorswell

Thanks Maggie - got that.

traveljet
traveljet
119 posts
active member
Jul 8, 2017 - 3:53 AM in reply to rockoyster

Hi Rockoyster,

Thanks for sharing ypur highly entertaining, amusing, helpful and informative trip reports. Thoroughly enjoyed reading them as they are reminders of why we are looking forward to our return this September 2017.

Indeed mySwissalps is a fantastic website with so many helpful people and amazing moderators.

This upcoming trip, we have opted for First Class travel because of luggage space and quieter carriages.. we did our sums and have decided to use the Swiss Half Fare card and pt to pt tickets as that is still the best budget wise.. I will purchase and print all these before leaving home so I don need to buy the tickets at the station.

On Our first trip in 2012, we used the Travel Flexi Pass which was a one for one offer and very convenient. But based on the journeys we are taking this year, the savings using the Half Fare card is more substaantial and not that inconvenient if I prepurchase the pt to pt tickets online before leaving home.

We will be staying at Bettmeralp, Wengen, Murren, Engelberg in that order. It's our 2nd time to Wengen and Murren..

If you have any important tips about catching the trains for 1st Class or advice like reading signs for the right train at the platforms (especially at Brig, do share).

Glad you had a great trip!

rockoyster
rockoyster
4027 posts
expert
Jul 8, 2017 - 4:18 AM in reply to traveljet

Hi TravelJet,

Thanks for the feedback. Next time we go we will spend much more time in the Bernese Oberland. We only had a whistle stop this last time.

Regards tips for catching 1st class trains - I can't think of anything special. In fact by the end of our trip we had concluded that we wouldn't bother going 1st class again unless we knew beforehand that a train would be particularly full in 2nd.

Word of warning if you are looking to use super saver fares. Those ticket is only valid for the specific date, time and route for which it is bought. We thought of that in our planning but decided we'd didn;t want to forego flexibility.

Sign posting at all stations we visited was excellent. Brig is a major hub so no worries there. Our favourite signs were the big yellow ones on most platforms which list all departures by time of day. We found those very reassuring when seeking to confirm we were waiting on the right platform. Also the SBB mobile app was worth its weight in gold (oh hang on it's FREE!). If you use the app you can store your pre-purchased tickets (even if you have purchased them using an SBB account on a computer) on your phone and the inspector can scan the barcode off the screen rather than you having to carry a round a pile of paper. You don't need internet access to display any tickets you store.

Have a great trip in September and let us know how you go.

Cheers 😎

ps Just noticed you have some reports on your previous trip - I'm going to go read 'em.

traveljet
traveljet
119 posts
active member
Jul 8, 2017 - 4:40 AM in reply to rockoyster

Hi Rockoyster,

Wow that's a fast response to my posting. It's because we had problems with storing our luggage on 2nd class during our 1st trip in 2012 that made us decide to use 1st class this time round. Also there were times when some passengers were yakkity yak pretty loudly - so this time round we want to enjoy certain scenic journeys with a little more peace and quiet. It is true that 2nd class is comfortable enough for those who dont really bother with luggage space or noise and it's not worth paying 1st class if travellers are not so particular. I am not sure if this will be our final trip to Switzerland since it's such a long flight for us - so we will splurge a little on this trip.

Yes, I did read about those supersaver deals and decided not to use those. The sbb app will indeed come in useful esp in checking the train schedules and storing the tickets. However, I will still do the paper print outs, in case for some reason or other, the phone decides to konk out or go into a comatose state on us. I only need to carry 4 printouts of our whole train journey so that's manageable. Will probably use the Jungfrau Travel Pass when we are in Wengen/Murren.

Glad you noticed some of my trip reports. Hope you enjoy the photos too.

Have a great weekend!

rockoyster
rockoyster
4027 posts
expert
Jul 8, 2017 - 5:59 AM in reply to traveljet

Hi TravelJet,

Just read all your reports. Those threads are closed so I have to comment here. Great stuff and the photos were fascinating. Lovely. Thanks for sharing.

If I had seen your report while we were planning our trip I may well have not got further than the Bernese Oberland.

I see you plan to use Jungfrau Travel Pass. Your decision not to use Swiss Travel Pass now makes sense. I was wondering how you would go with all those cable cars and things. First Class? If you can afford it go for it!

Bon voyage!

ps I have to admit I did have paper tickets in my back-pack in case of tech failure. 🤓

traveljet
traveljet
119 posts
active member
Jul 8, 2017 - 8:13 AM

Hi rockoyster,

The Jungfrau Travel Pass is really convenient if you want to ride all those cable cars and trains in the area and slightly beyond. Alternatively, the Half Fare Card entitles us to 50% discount on all tickets in the mountain trains and cable cars. But I am buying the Jungfrau Travel Pass more for convenience.

Glad you enjoyed seeing the photos and hope you get to return to the Bernese Oberland. Just do your homework to ensure the cable cars eg Mannlichen are open as they shut down during certain months of the year in that area.

Guess you can read up more on Bernese Oberland on myswissalps. I do hope to post my trip reports after our trip (hopefully wont take me another 2 years like the last trip. Haha).

Slowpoke
Slowpoke
5170 posts
expert
Jul 8, 2017 - 9:36 AM in reply to traveljet

Hi Traveljet-

<<"If you have any important tips about catching the trains for 1st Class or advice like reading signs for the right train at the platforms (especially at Brig, do share).">>

The first class cars or sections of cars on smaller trains all have yellow stripes on their sides....for example, above the doors or sometimes along the whole cars.

And, at many stations there is an indication on the overhead signs or otherwise about the make-up of the trains...the order of the cars, 1st and 2nd class, restaurant car. The sign shows the sector of the platform where those cars stop - A, B, C, D.

I think Arno mentioned that the SBB App displays the information on the train composition now.

<<" I will purchase and print all these before leaving home so I don need to buy the tickets at the station.">>

Personally, I do not find buying tickets at the station to be much of a bother, because the ticket machines work quite well. And, I change my plans a lot, depending on the weather in various parts of the country. We've found some nice walks by looking at the weather forecast and the Wanderwg maps the night before or first thing in the morning.

Slowpoke

rockoyster
rockoyster
4027 posts
expert
Jul 9, 2017 - 2:42 AM in reply to traveljet

Hi TravelJet

Just wondered if you had ever come across this post www.myswissalps.com/fo rum/topic/tips-about-wengen-and-the-jungfrau-region-by-kim ?

Super interesting for my next trip.

Last modified on Jul 9, 2017 - 2:43 AM by rockoyster

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