Splendors of Switzerland by Rail
Elderhostel Program 15879
August 17 - September 1, 2009
This travel adventure began with a flight to Philadelphia
from Binghamton. Then a direct overnight flight to Zurich.
Upon arriving at the Zurich Airport, I was met by an
Elderhostel representative who lead our group of 10
other tour members to the railway station located at
the airport. Above are pictured are our Elderhostel tour
guides for our two week train tour as they wait for our
train to Lucerne to arrive.
We will be riding on trains like the one at various
times during our stay in Switzerland.
The train ride from Zurich to Lucerne, our first three day
stop of the trip, was about one hour long with a stop first at the Zurich
downtown train station. Upon exiting the Lucerne train station, I was
surprised to see hundreds of bicycles parked in front of the station.
The downtown Lucerne Central Post Office was near the train station.
Our first real challenge of the trip was the walk of some distance
to our hotel. Lucky for our group we were able to send our
suitcases on ahead in a van.
This is the Hotel Royal our first stop of the trip, it was fairly close
to downtown and comfortable. We also had our meals in the
dining room of the hotel. Our first full day, was spent resting
and doing some limited sightseeing. We had a trip briefing
before dinner where we learned about the schedule of the tour.
We also got to know our fellow companions for the tour.
Wednesday, August 19, greeting us with early morning sunshine on nearby
Pilatus Mountain across the Lake Lucerne. It was a bit hazy this morning.
First thing in the morning we had two lectures by a local newspaper
reporter about Switzerland and it's Geography and Culture, the second
lecture was about the Swiss Transportation System. Both lectures were
interesting and well presented. Our next activity of the day, was a
local tram ride to the nearby Swiss Transportation Museum. We had
lunch there and a formal tour of the museum railway collection. It was a
terrific museum with excellent exhibits. It was a dream location for
kids, with lots of hands on activities.
The entrance to the museum was covered with automobile hub caps.
Very interesting visual treatment!
This is one of the Swiss Railway's largest electric locomotives.
Some of these locomotive are still in use today. We had a knowledgeable
tour guide who provide us with the history of each of the piece of
railway equipment on display in this part of the museum.
I am standing in front of a rotary snow plow. It's size impressed me!
The museum had a neat model railway of the Gotthard Tunnel.
Above is just a small part of the large model.
There were many vintage electric railway locomotives on display.
In addition to the excellent train exhibit there were exhibits
that included airplanes, boats and automobiles. After lunch we
had a chance to see most of the other exhibits at the museum.
This is world class museum and is enjoyable for all ages.
The balance of the afternoon after our museum visit included
taking the tram back downtown and free time. Many of our
group used the free time to explore the shopping
opportunities in downtown Lucerne.
On Thursday, August 20, we had a brief lecture on the
"Swiss History and It's Political System" by our Tour
Coordinator Andrea John. Andrea has the difficult job
of keeping our group on schedule which included a wide
variety of train and boat boarding's sometimes with not
very much time available. After the lecture we rode the
city buses to the old part of Lucerne. I am standing
in front of the famous Lion Monument. The dying
lion of Lucerne is carved into natural rock, it was created
in 1820/1821 in memory of the Swiss heroes who gave their
lives at the Tuileries in Paris in 1792.
I am standing in front of the Chapel Bridge. It was built
in 1333, and is one of Lucerne's main landmarks.
It features a number of gable painting.
A view of downtown Lucerne from the Chapel Bridge.
One of several very attractive fountains found in
and around downtown Lucerne.
After lunch at a downtown hotel, we took a train to
Arth-Goldau where we boarded the above a cog-railway
for a ride up to Mount Rigi. We then hiked across the
Mountain to a second cog-railway.
As we walked along on this beautiful Swiss afternoon
we encountered many cows with their cow bells clanging
as the ate their daily meal of grass. The sound of the bells
was quite nice in this rural setting.
Distant mountains added to the pleasant afternoon
for hiking and cog-railway riding.
Here comes our cog-railway train for our downward trip.
This is the small turntable that was used to
turn the cog-railway cars around so they
could be parked in the garage each evening.
After our cog-railway rides and hike, we boarded a paddle
wheel lake cruise boat like this one to traverse across
Lake Lucerne. There are five lake cruise ships that sail
around the lake on a daily basis. At 4:15 p.m. we departed
for Vitznau and the took another paddle wheeler to
Beckenried. From Beckenried we sailed on a historic
paddle-steamer back to Lucerne. We enjoyed a dinner on board
the paddle steamer in the salon restaurant.
As we returned to Lucerne, we passed a beach club where
many swimmers were cooling off from the
high temperature of the day.
Our paddle-steamer tied up at their dock in Lucerne.
It was a busy day in which we enjoyed
riding a tram and cog-steamer along with hiking.
Friday, August 21st, found our tour leaving Lucerne for
Interlaken. We departed from Lucerne for Brunig-Pass
and Brienz. We packed a lunch after breakfast to be enjoyed
as we rode along today. Above is a photo to the scenery
as we traveled on our train.
The train passing along the Swiss countryside.
A beautiful waterfall appeared as we rode along. At 12:45 p.m.
we arrived in Brienz where we boarded a lake steamer for the
balance of the trip to Interlaken. Upon arriving in Interlaken we
had our bags picked up by our new hotel and the tour group had a
leisurely walk into Interlake and our hotel.
This the entrance to our hotel at Interlaken. The Zentrum Artos
Hotel was very interesting in that it was a multi-purpose operation.
In addition to the hotel part there was an apartment complex and
a nursing home section. It was a very modern facility that was
operated by a branch of the Methodist Church of Switzerland.
After settling in from our train and boat ride, we had free time
and then a lecture by Esther Gloor on the topic of the
"Alps-History, Culture and Challenges." Esther is leaving our
tour today for some personal holiday time. She did a great
job when delivering her lecture to the group. Interlaken
is a neat city with ample chances to walk
around and shop or just sightsee.
Saturday, August 22, found our group up and ready to go.
We boarded a local bus at 8:46 a.m. to go to the West Train
Station. We then boarded the intercity train to Bern at 9:06 a.m.
Above is a photo of our train arriving at Interlaken.
We arrived in downtown Bern at 9:52 a.m. We discovered
that the Swiss trains and boats are always on arrive and
depart on time. The run like a fine Swiss watch. We saw
thousands of watches in the shops of all the cities we visited.
Above is a photo of the farmers style market
held in front of the city hall.
Our city group tour started with a visit to Bern's famous
Clock Tower. We returned at 11:50 a.m. to see the animated
features of the clock. Awesome!
Bern is also know as the city of fountains. There are many
elaborate fountains throughout the downtown part of Bern.
An interesting side note about Switzerland is that all the
fountains in the country provide drinkable water. We filled
out water bottles often at the various fountains
we encountered on our tour.
I visited the Alpine Museum, it was a small but very interesting
collection of art and models. Above is a representation
of hikers scaling an Alp Mountain.
The Alpine Museum had several models like this one which
illustrated the Alps configuration. The also showed a video of
how these models were made. We had lunch on our own at Bern
and lots of free time. The tour group assembled at Bahnhofplatz at 3:40 p.m.
to board our 4:04 p.m. train to Interlaken. We arrived back in Interlaken
at 5:06 p.m. and took a city bus back to our hotel. I should mention that
we were given a Swiss Rail Pass at the start of our tour.
This allowed us to travel on travel on all trains, Buses and
visit museums. There were a few exceptions but they were very rare.
Day seven of our tour was one that held great promise for high
levels of Alpine mountain scenery. We are heading up into the region
called "The Top of Europe." We left at 8:30 a.m. from the hotel
heading for Interlaken's East Railway Terminal
called Ost. We boarded our a narrow gauge train to
Lauterbrunnen at 9:05 a.m.
This is the map of the route that our group followed to
Kleine Scheidegg terminal. I took advantage of the
opportunity to go to the Top of Europe.
Pictures of that part of the tour are shown later.
Beautiful Alpine mountains were virtually in every direction.
Another cog railway heading up to the top!
The cog railway station where we stopped part
way to the top of the Alps.
Glacier capped Alps were breathtaking.
Our stop included a visit to an Alpine farm where cheese
was made. Note the large cow bells that adorn the end of the
building where the cheese was made. We watched the
process of cheese making. Tasting of the final
product was in order.
This mountain water fall stopped flowing just after we arrived
at the mountain restaurant where we were to have lunch.
Suddenly, there was a huge noise and a vast amount of
snow, ice & water cascaded down this waterfall. It sounded
like a steam locomotive rushing by. This photo was taken
after the snow, ice and water stopped falling.
There were hundreds of people hiking in the Alps this Sunday.
Trails like this on were all well marked for the benefit of the hikers.
Many hikers rode the cog railway trains into the mountains for a day of hiking.
After lunch we rode the cog railway up to Klein Scheidegg , where the
group had time to enjoy a walk about and a cup of coffee.
I elected to take the cog railway up to the Jungfraujoch or
Top of Europe. It was a bright sunny day with little breeze, so
it was off to the top. The cog railway leaves Klein Scheidegg
and begins a steep climb up the mountain. Most of the route
is inside a tunnel carved out of the mountain.
It took about 45 minutes to climb to the observation station.
The top of Jungfraujoch is 11,233 feet above sea level.
This photo shows the Jungfrau Railway (Jungfraubahn) Tram heading
up to Jungfraujoch, the center of the mountain top at 3454 meters.
This is the first stopping point on the trip
up to the top, 9,400 feet high.
One of the views from the observation windows at this
stop. There were three observation points at this level.
The next level at which the train stopped for 10 minutes to
look out over the mountain scenery.
Looking out at the Aletschgletscher.
At the top! Note the glacier in the background.
It was a beautiful day to climb to the top of mountains. The
snow was a bit soft and slippery. This Alpine mountain area is a
designated by UNESCO World Heritage of the Alps site
designed to preserve the alpine area.
The building just behind me is the cog railway station
with gift shops and a cafeteria.
The Top of Europe was very crowded this day. it was a
perfect time to take photos of a majestic scenery locale.
I took far more photos than I can post on my web page.
Going down took almost an hour including about forty
five minutes in the tunnel. This was an adventure of a
life time for me! Once back at Klein Scheidegg, I
caught a cog railway train back to Interlaken. There
was one transfer point at Lauterbrunnen.
I was back in Interlaken by 6 p.m.
The next morning again arrived with bright sunshine and
breathtaking vista of the near by Alps. At 8:46 a.m. we take the
local bus to the Interlaken -West train station. We depart at
9:11 a.m. by the Golden Pass Express for Zweisimmen and
the village of St. Stephan where we will visit
the local elementary school.
This is also change day for our tour. We will be staying at Brig
for the next two evenings. Above is pictured our efforts to
assemble our luggage for transport to Brig. It is always a
bit of a fire drill when we leave one motel
to move to a new city.
Alpine scenery on the way to St. Stephan's.
St. Stephan's village.
St. Stephan's Elementary School.
Teaching on the floor. There were two grades in each
classroom. The total number of students were eighteen to twenty.
We observed a math lesson taught in the native language of
German for this area of Switzerland.
The students in this and other schools in the village went
home for lunch from noon to 1:00p.m. This bike rack was
empty when we left the building after the students had
been dismissed for lunch. The teacher of the class we observed
was able to join us for lunch at a local restaurant.
After lunch we took the train back to Zweisimmen. At 2:26 p.m.
we boarded the Golden Pass Express Zweisimmen-Montreux, at
4:40 p.m. we changed to an intercity train to Brig. We arrived in
Brig at 6:02 p.m. and walked to our hotel. I would like to note
that most of our train rides were under an hour with frequent
transfers to other trains each time we traveled out to the
various parts of Switzerland. Above is the Train Station in Brig.
We are staying at the Schlosshotel Art Furrer.
The hotel overlooked the large Stockalper-Castle. It was a
truly beautiful setting. Each evening the Castle was illuminated
by flood lights. There were very nice park beside the
castle. We had a tour of the Castle on Tuesday, August 25th.
It is a community center for the local government.
After the morning Castle tour we departed by train to
Zermatt at 10:53 a.m. Above is a sleigh full of very pretty flowers.
Zermatt had a lot of flowers decorating the building of the city.
We had arrived in Zermatt at lunch time so it was off to find a
fondue lunch. It was yummy! At 1:50 p.m. we took the
underground train to Sunnegga high above Zermatt. Unfortunately
it was very cloudy so we did not see the Matterhorn in its
entirety. At 3:00 p.m. we took the train down from Sunnegga.
We boarded our train back to Brig at 3:30 p.m. It was too bad
that the cloud kept us from seeing the tops of the many
mountains that you can see from the upper reaches of Zermatt.
We passed several pretty water falls on the way back to Brig.
The train followed a mountain stream as it
made its way to Brig. When we returned to our hotel we
had dinner and then a local lecturer spoke
about "Valais Legends" of the Brig area.
Above is a photo of our group with luggage in tow
loading on to the Cisalpine Train for Domodossola, Italy
on our way to Locarno, Switzerland. As the trip progressed
we were more often having to handle our own luggage
when we boarded our trains.
Our hearty travel group making its way to our hotel in Locarno.
The hotel picked up our luggage when we arrived
at the Locarno Railway Station which made climbing
the hill to the hotel easier.
The Carmella Hotel was very nice and reasonably close to the
train station. It was our home for the next
three nights. It was a nice hotel that was located fairly
close to downtown and its many gelato stands. Getting
a gelato ice cream cone became a nightly ritual for
some trip members. On Thursday morning, we had
an early guided walk around the old town of Locarno.
During the walk we visited a couple of neighborhood plazas
and a local church. At the end of our tour, we walked through
the city market place which had a market day selling all types of merchandize.
Unfortunately our schedule did not allow us to stop and shop.
We walked to the local train station where we were boarded a yellow
Postal Bus to Valle Verzasca for a visit to
Sonogno. a quaint old village.
As we rode along we passed this unique two section bridge
with spans over the stream. It was a very warm day and many
people were enjoying swimming and playing in the stream.
As you can see it was a very rocky locale. This old double-arched
bridge Ponte dei Salti which is often mistakenly
known as "Roman Bridge".
Adjoining houses made of stone. There were many stone
buildings in this area. Stone appeared to be the building
material of choice due to it being very plentiful. take note of the stairs
entering the left building. I watched a local workman
repairing a stone roof.
Chiesa Saint Maria Lauerana.
An interesting stone house in Sonogno. Note the stone steps
leading to the second level door.
As we were leaving the area of Sonogno we
passed this very pretty water fall.
We were back at Locarno by 4:10 p.m. and
had free time the rest of the day before dinner.
On Friday, August 28, we ventured to the train station for a
trip to Bellinzona. We arrived at Bellinzona at 9:57 a.m. and
were met by a local guide who will lead the tour the city.
Our first stop was in a city square below the
Castlegrande pictured above.
The Castlegrande had been rebuilt in recent years and
was the center of activity for many community events.
Note the vineyard just outside the castle gates.
We stopped touring long enough to have a group photo taken.
After our tour of Bellinzona, we had lunch on our own and
then boarded a train for Biasca where we boarded a Postal
Bus for the Alptransit Visitor Center, where we learned about
the new Gotthard Railroad Tunnel that is being dug through
several Alpine mountains. In the background of this photo is a
water falls behind the Biasca Train station.
One of the massive cutting heads used in the the machine
that is drilling the tunnel through the mountains. After stop
at the tunnel digging visitor center, we returned to Locarno by
riding the Postal Bus and the train.
The next morning checked out of our hotel and boarded
the regional and intercity trains to Goschenen. While on that
route we passed by the beginning point of the new Gotthard Tunnel.
At 9:12 a.m. we took the cog-railway at Andermatt. Where
we next we boarded the Glacier Express for a trip through the
upper Rhine River valley. At 9:27 a.m. we boarded the
first class train that will take us along the river to Reichenau.
At the top of the Glacier Express route the trained stopped
to unload passengers. This group were going
biking in the mountains.
The clouds were really low in his part of the trip.
The Village of Sedrun where the new Gotthard Tunnel
project is drilling an air shaft to vent the fumes from the
tunnel. The yellow machine in the background handles
the material dug from the tunnel.
Our hearty group of travelers changing trains on
a tight schedule. At 12:08 p.m. we began our
scenic ride along the Rhaetische Bahn
on the Albula Line.
We are now following the upper section of the Rhine River.
This is a picture of a group of kayaker's sailing on the river.
At lunch time, we transferred to the blue dining car at
the rear end of this train for lunch in a vintage railroad car.
The food was very good and the car was restored beautifully.
As we were enjoying lunch we passed a farm house with a
sizeable wood pile in the yard for the winter ahead.
We arrived at St. Moritz at 1:58 p.m. Our luggage
was transferred to our hotel for us. Above
is the Hotel Soldanella where we
will be staying for the next two nights.
St. Moritz Lake
On Sunday, we had free time in the morning before we took the train
to Pontresina at 10:45 a.m. It was a short distance walk
before transferring to the Postal Bus which took us over the
Bernina Pass to Poschiavo. Above is a shot
taken from the bus as we went over the Pass.
Another alpine mountain scene on the Bernina Pass.
Poschiavo railroad station.
City Hall Square with the flags flying from the City Hall.
The village Catholic Church, Parrocchia Cattolica St. Vittore Mauro.
After lunch, at Ristorante Flora we had the traditional city
walking tour. The meal served at the ristorante was awful and
was served in large portions. One of the group observed that
he hoped there were pigs nearby who dine on the half full plates
of risotto that had not been eaten.
A mountain with marble deposits guarded Poschiavo.
A alpine mountain village on the Bernina Pass. We
retraced the route we took on the bus this morning.
We were riding on the Bernina Express
train back to St. Moritz.
Bernina Pass mountains. The ride back on the train trip was as
breathtaking as the trip over on the Postal Bus. We ended
our travel day back at St. Moritz at 5:11 p.m.
It is Monday, August 31st and our trip is almost over. We left
St. Moritz at 9:04 a.m. by train for Chur where we
transferred to another train for Zurich. We packed our own lunch
for our train ride. At we received word that there was a problem
with a train on the tracks ahead so we would had to
quickly change trains to Zurich. It was fire drill time again.
Above is a mountain scene from the morning travel to Zurich.
There were several old castles along the way as we were
following the upper part of the Rhine River.
Mountains along a large lake we passed on our way to Zurich.
We arrived at the Zurich Airport Railroad Station at 1:45 p.m.
and walked to our last motel, the Hotel Welcome Inn. It was
very comfortable and made for a pleasant stay on our last
night in Switzerland. The next day, Tuesday, September 1st
we all went our separate ways headed home.
It was a great two weeks. Wonderful Swiss mountains and trains.
Interesting boat and bus rides. Very nice people and good
leadership on the part of our tour staff. For me, I am lucky enough to
have taken about 1300 photos to look at when I want to remember
this trip of a "life time" for me.