Interrail day six – the Bernina Express!

3 May

Or, more informatively, Zurich to Ferrara through the Alps. This is one of the bits of my trip that I have been most looking forward to. There’s a special, scenic, narrow-gauge train through the mountains called the Bernina Express that is reputed to be one of the most spectacular train routes in the world. And it’s included in my Interrail pass!

But first I had to get to Chur (the “ch” pronounced as in loch) by 8.32 a.m. in order to catch it, which necessitated a horrendously early start from Zurich. The snooker did finish nice and early (well done, Ronnie!), which helped, and then the hostel thoughtfully turned on the very loud central heating at about five in the morning, just so I wouldn’t oversleep.

Despite unpleasant dreams about not being able to find the correct train, it wasn’t that hard at all, even if the Swiss also subscribe to the idea that putting the final destination of a train on the departure board is too much information. I spent over £3 on a small coffee at the station and I can’t say I will be sorry to leave Swiss prices behind after today.

The scenery was pretty decent on the way to Chur, too.

I didn’t have a booking on the Bernina Express because The Man in Seat 61 (the authority on all things train) said it is actually better in the non-reservable coaches where you can choose your side and some of the windows open, so I was a bit concerned that I would struggle to find a seat. As it turned out, I had the entire carriage to myself!

Is this seat free?

The route is just as spectacular as I had been told. At first I thought it was a bit of a shame that there wouldn’t be snow, as we set off through lush green meadows, but this train climbs to over 2,000 metres, so within a couple of hours we were well above the snowline.

The Bernina Express isn’t one of those mountain trains with a chain, it’s just a normal train, which means it has to zig-zag across valleys and back again, tunneling through the mountain again and again just to get up to the pass. It’s certainly not the fastest way to get to Italy, but it is the most scenic, so buckle up for a tonne of pictures.

Things got a little bit more complicated at Poschiavo. The train did a lot of shuffling forwards and backwards, which was strange, but not that strange for the Bernina Express. Then a member of staff walked through the train and was very surprised to see me, as the train had terminated at Poschiavo and I was supposed to get a bus the rest of the way to Tirano. I had thought an announcement had said something about it being the last stop, but then the recorded voice said “If you are leaving us at Poschiavo, we wish you a pleasant onward journey” or something like that and went on talk about upcoming points of interest. I expect the recording is out of date.

Anyway, they pulled the train back up to the platform just for me, and the bus was still there, although there was no one on it apart from a Swiss kid, so goodness knows where everyone else went. But this bus is definitely going to Tirano, even if it setting off late because a train meeting it is also late. All this lateness has to mean we’re almost in Italy 😉

My passport was checked on the train within Switzerland, but we didn’t even stop at the Italian border and nobody wanted to see my covid pass or the passenger locator form I had diligently filled out earlier. I had allowed time for lunch in Tirano, rather than trying to catch the earlier train, so the lateness didn’t matter. I had the local speciality, black pasta with potatoes, which was lot nicer then it sounds, and an affogato for afterwards. It was not what I was expecting! (Affogato as it is served in Britain is a small dish of vanilla ice cream and a tiny jug of espresso.)

An hour after being snowed on, I’m eating ice cream in the sun. Altitude, eh?

The trip from Tirano ran right along the side of Lake Como, which looked lovely and very resorty, but I struggled to get a decent photo because the train moved so fast and there was always a tree or lamppost or telegraph pole in the way, or we suddenly went into a tunnel. You see so many fleeting things from a train. It reminds me of that poem by Robert Louis Stevenson. You’ll just have to imagine red-tiled, wooden-shuttered houses clinging to the shore above a lake that shades from deepest petrol to palest silver, while rugged hills tower on the opposite side and swift boats throw up wakes of white foam – or you could go and see it for yourself.

Changed trains in Milan, and the less said about Milan the better. I don’t like that city. In point of fact, I don’t like Italy in general and I have been reminded of that this evening as I have been ignored by staff and shoved past by other passengers.

There are parts of Italy I like though (such as Rome 😍) and I think Ferrara will be one of them. Everyone I have talked to so far has been helpful and kind, and an old man noticed how much I liked the amazing castle and insisted on taking my picture in front of it.

The hotel is also amazing – old and full of character. This all bodes well for tomorrow, but after today’s odyssey the only thing I am going to do in Ferrara tonight is sleep.


One Response to “Interrail day six – the Bernina Express!”

  1. Sustain | May 3, 2022 at 8:31 pm #

    The Bernina Express is excellent. Thank you 😊

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