If That's The Worst Thing that Can Happen.... (very belated trip report)

coriander

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Day #14
The Art Cavalieri have yet to hear of functional air-conditioning so we ate breakfast in a sweltering dining room. The breakfast buffet was ample and well-stocked, of mediocre quality and the chef prepared eggs to order.

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Paul our taxi driver arrived promptly in the morning and whisked us off to the airport. Once there, he discovered a cousin working there (of course!), and, after the obligatory 10-15 minute chat, the aforementioned cousin picked up our bags and carried them into the terminal for us all the way to check-in. Through the usual security and into the holding pen for the Swissair flight….. which was running late.

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(As an aside: I had notified my staff of my illness early on and they knew only as far as me having to stay in Malta to recuperate for 14 days and having nowhere to stay. One thing I didn’t find out till I was back in Australia was that one of my Maltese clients had happened to come into work, asked where I was as there was a locum working, heard of our troubles and had promptly activated the Maltese version of the bush telegraph. Apparently within hours people I’ve never met were contacting the Hilton to find out where we were to assist with offering us accommodation. Damn, there’s something in my eyes still when I think about their wonderful generosity.)

I didn’t know anything Swiss ran late! As always there was the “hurry up and wait” queuing before boarding our A320 for the flight to Zurich.

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The SwissAir staff hurried us on to the plane. Whilst we had paid top-euro for our flight, we were overjoyed to discover we had acquired a shadow and the middle seat was empty on an otherwise packed plane (only one other shadow opposite us).

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Swissair were great… more leg room in economy than QF, new plane (A320), spotless, good brekkie on board. The crew hustled everyone into their seats with great efficiency, doors closed and immediately the plane turned and left the terminal, taxiing down to the end of the runway, spooling up the engines and accelerating for take off before we’d completed the turn onto the runway proper.

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Breakfast consisted of a quiche – delicious, moist, fresh, warm, tasty.

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coriander

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And a smooth flight tracked over Corsica, Sardinia, crossing the Italian coast at Genoa, passing by Monte Cristo,

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Pianosa

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Corsica

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Before crossing the coast over Genoa.

As the Swiss Alps and then the Vierwaldstättersee ("Lake of the Four Forest Cantons") slid into view, I broke down, tears of relief rolling down my face I suppose at my “escape“ and being somewhat back on track for the rest of the trip.

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Vierwaldstättersee and Fluelen below the engine.

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Vierwaldstättersee with Brunnen below, Burgenstock clearly visible and Lucerne far way in the background haze.

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We landed spot on time. Zurich airport is amazing: no immigration formalities at all (Switzerland is not in the EU, so I thought there would be someone wanting to swipe/scan my passport). Bags were through promptly and a short walk and downstairs to the trains to Zurich station – one every 6 minutes. At Zurich station we had time for lunch from one of the restaurants in the station Food Hall before boarding our DB ICE (ex-Hamburg) to Landquart.

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At Landquart, a cross-platform transfer to meter gauge Rhaetian Bahn train which took us to St Moritz.

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coriander

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After departing Landquart, the train heads east climbing into the mountains past some spectacular road bridges. At this point, I suddenly realised that I had left my Panama hat on the aircraft back at Zurich. B*gg*r!

Oh well, that’s definitely NOT the worst thing that could happen…..

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The train travelled further eastwards towards Klosters....

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... then into the 20km long Vereina tunnel (longest tunnel on the RhB) passing several car trains before we popped out in another valley near Saglians. The passenger service seemed quite frequent and we passed several trains.

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When we were about 15 minutes from St Moritz we rang the Hauser Hotel to advise of our impending arrival and they were waiting to collect us at the station.

The Hauser hotel is on the main square in St Moritz; our room had a view out over the square and across to the mountains behind (our room is the open window at top right).

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The room was very comfortable – a lovely smell of cedar from the wood work.

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Our room overlooked the central square and roundabout.

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An interesting feature of this hotel was the key arrangement. Your room key is the one with the wooden dongle. When going out of the hotel, you insert your room key in your room number slot and turn it, it then unlocks the other key (with the belt clip); this opens only the front door of the hotel.

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coriander

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St Moritz on a summer Sunday afternoon is dead quiet, all the shops are closed (even the Coop) so no ability to stock up on ‘vittles’ before the Glacier Express on the next day.

We walked around St Moritz and down to the lake, but the long day, accumulated stresses an slow recovery (I certainly wasn’t “match fit” yet) soon had me quite exhausted.
The Kulm Hotel is one of St Moritz' finest, but at €620 (compared to the Hauser's €150) a little out of our league.

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The imposing Bibliothek (library dominates the Plazza da Scoula

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It's easy walking through cobblestone laneways and down to the Via Serlas, many exclusive boutiques. One gets the impression that this city isn't inexpensive!

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The Badrutt's Palace Hotel (the Roller out the front probably added another €250 to the overnight stay):

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All almost too perfect.
Crowded in by other buildings, the 1870-built Reformed Church's exposed brick spire stands in the afternoon sun.

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Finally walking downhill we arrived at the shores of Lake St Moritz with a view across to the Waldhaus Am See hotel.

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Probably overdid as we now had to walk uphill back to the hotel, absolutely exhausted by the time we got back.
We ate in the hotel restaurant – a very filling roesti with a local wine.

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Being so quiet, we left our windows wide open for fresh cool air (such a change from hot, humid Malta) and headed for sleep – it’d had been a long day and I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. At 1145pm we were rudely awoken by a cacophony of car horns with cars and vans doing burnouts around the roundabout outside our window. Shouting and screaming from the cars made me initially think that we had found ourselves in the midst of a gang war. As my weary eyes focussed on the cars, we noted that they were all adorned with Portuguese flags – of course Portugal had just won the FA Cup final. I didn’t realise there were so many Portuguese in Switzerland, let alone St Moritz. The ruckus subsided by about 2.00am and it was back to sleep.
 
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coriander

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Technical Note:
I suppose this is a good place as any discuss Switzerland’s power plugs. Switzerland uses a three pin system, the outer two pins of which match the European standard, and a central offset earth pin. The plug itself is shaped like an extended hexagon.

The power points in hotels in Switzerland are of two varieties: one is flush mounted, the other socket is recessed into the wall: these recessed sockets apparently are supposed to be used in wet areas such as bathrooms but we found them in several hotel rooms in the main part of the room, sometimes both types on the same wall in the same room:

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Some come as multi-socket panels:

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Your Europlug adapter will fit flush-mounted power points (but without a ground connection).
I purchased a Europlug->Swiss adapter in one of the ubiquitous Coop stores adjacent to most stations (cost a mere CHF 4.00). I then attached an EU-AU adapter to that and then a Powercube to charge all our phones, laptops and cameras. This preserved the earth connection.
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I’ll cheerfully admit that Powercubes aren’t beautiful but they are very compact and at least you have the assurance that all your various chargers can be plugged in irrespective of their size and cable orientation (something that’s not always possible with an ordinary linear powerboard).

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coriander

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Day # 15

A filling breakfast, again in the hotel restaurant.

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After breakfast, the Hauser Hotel shuttle drove us to St Moritz station where our Glacier Express awaited us. Our train was actually a regular 9.00am train (ok, actually 8.57) with the Glacier Express carriages tacked onto the back.
At last after all the delays and stresses of the last few days, here we were at what I had always planned to be the highlight of our trip.

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Our seats were at a table for two in one of the panoramic view carriages. The train manager arrived at our table, said Good morning Dr and Mrs coriander, could I have your ticket please. Aah, we have no ticket because the MGB system fell over, but here is confirmation email from MGB saying that this would be satisfactory proof of our payment (plus he already knew who we were and were sitting in our correct seats). He tut-tutted for a while muttering “this is highly irregular” (I don’t think the Swiss like anything irregular) and then wandered off taking our copy of the email with him.

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The bar car where you could stretch your legs and I found it a wonderful spot to view out of the train on both sides as the train twisted and turned through the Alps.

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The line from St Mortiz to Zermatt has three high points: St Moritz, OberAlp Pass and Zermatt and the low points are Chur and Brig.

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The section out of St Moritz between Preda and Bergun is a spectacular feat of engineering with three loops used to lose altitude; these loops are mostly tunnel. It’s like a slide show as you pop out of each tunnel going in a different direction with a different view.

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coriander

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We departed on time (of course).

Photography is a challenge as the reflections can interfere with getting a clear shot. Using a polarising filter didn’t help much and even gave a mottled pattern on some of the windows. The bar car was a useful photo spot as you could move from side to side and keep the camera close to the window on the non sunny side.

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Soon we were soon rolling through the mountains that make up the spectacular Albula line section of the trip. Here a lower level of the loop line is visible - we will soon be travelling towards the camera on that section of line.

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As has often been said, the views are what you find on a Swiss chocolate box.

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After the loops you exit a tunnel and out onto the famous Landwasser viaduct

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The train continues downhill snaking around the town of Tiefencastel nestled in the valley below.

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Road and rail follow similar contours hugging the sides of the steep valley near Mutten.

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With each twist and turn a different vista emerges: the alpen vistas are awesome.

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Most of line is single track but there is always an opposing train on double track sections, this near Thusis.

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coriander

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We crossed the Rhine and rolled into Chur.
Here the regular carriages were cut off, leaving just the Glacier Express carriages. A new loco was attached to the former back of the train, thus reversing the direction of travel.

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The loco that had hauled us from St Moritz passed by heading for the depot.

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A steady stream of freight trains passed by.

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With plenty of time before departure from Chur, many passengers took the opportunity to stretch their legs on the platform.

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coriander

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As we departed Chur, the shopping cart moved through the train

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Menus and information were provided.

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Even though the original booking diagram had shown the whole car to be booked out, it turned out that less than one quarter of the seats were occupied. Nevertheless all tables were set: here’s typical four person and two person table settings:

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Our table was set for the lunch we had ordered online at the time of booking 96 days ago.
The dining car manager asked for our tickets.
” We have no tickets, we gave the one copy of the confirmation email to the conductor on boarding”.
“No, no no .... you must have one ticket for train and one ticket for meal”.
“You mean for the meals that are already listed on the printed email receipt from head office?”.
“Yes, but I need a copy for my records” (I gathered then the caterer is a contractor and not an RhB employee).
The train manager arrived looking a little concerned as things were perhaps not going Swiss-watch smoothly.
I asked him for my email printout. He gave it to me. I smoothed it out on the table and asked the dining car manager for his phone.
Click!
“Now you have your copy of the ticket!”.
Hrummmmph...... “This is HIGHLY irregular” (again).

To smooth things over, the train manager very quickly brought us a bottle of a lovely Johannisberg white wine: delicious, and very relaxing whilst waiting for lunch to be served.

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The table was set with plates labelled for the Glacier Express.

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Entree a fresh salad.

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Main course consisted of beef stroganoff - delicious.... I had two helpings.

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Uh oh, I forgot about the Tiramisu to follow! Mmmm I can still taste it!

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coriander

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Not long after leaving Chur the train crossed over the Hinterrhein (“Back Rhine”) where it joins with the Vorderrhein (“Front Rhine”) to form the actual Rhine River which runs towards Chur.

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The line then runs along the Voderrhein for many kilometres before climbing away to the town of Disentis. Markers on the opposite side of the river show how high the river has flooded in previous years.

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At Disentis, the Rhaetian-Bahn loco was exchanged for a more powerful Matterhorn-Gotthard-Bahn (MGB) loco, this one equipped for haulage on the rack railway section of our journey. Being off the train "getting the shot" (of course) I almost got left behind here as there is no guard’s whistle or train whistle…. It just starts rolling off – fortunately not too quickly and I was able to board that front door, fortunately still open!

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The climb to OberAlp Pass was spectacular in brilliant sunshine (memo to intending passengers – the panoramic coaches with their windows extending up and onto the roof of the carriage provide no protection from the sun – wear a broad brimmed hat to avoid being cooked). I had brought my Panama hat from Australia, but of course left it on the Swissair plane when we arrived at Zurich.

Sigh.

Once over the pass the train commenced its descent, the line again visible far below us as was the town of Andermatt. The sun had vanished and lighy grey clouds gave way to more ominous dark grey cousins.

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Descending the steep grade hugging the side of the mountains, you can see the rack in the middle of the tracks. Without the extra grip afforded by the rack, the train would never make it up (or down) the steep grades.

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Andermatt is right below us but there's many more twists and loops before we reach it in the valley floor.

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Rolling into Andermatt, the branch line to Goschenen curving away is visible in the background.

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Departing Andermatt one could look back and see the different levels of track that had descended from the pass.

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As we continued on the other side of Andermatt, we ran alongside the Rhone River.

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coriander

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Once past Visp the train commences its climb towards Zermatt along the Vispa River clinging to the sides of a steep gorge with spectacular road bridges. Afternoon sunshine broke through the clouds, but this was to be only a short respite.

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I wonder if the chalet on Mount Buller is named after this original Enzian.

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As we climbed higher towards Zermatt the train slowed due both to the grade and tight curvature. Here a local train is heading down the valley to Visp.

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Whether you believe in global warming or not, it is a sad fact that the glaciers in Switzerland are receding at an alarming rate. This is the Ried glacier north of Zermatt, shrinking at 8m per year.

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By now, the clouds appeared and as the train climbed the final section to Zermatt, a fine mist of rain progressively developed into steady drenching rain for our arrival into Zermatt.

No cars are permitted in Zermatt. There's a large carpark at Tasch, the next station down the line and visitors board a shuttle train to complete their journey to Zermatt. Electric mini-cabs shuttle you around the village.

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Our hotel was the Hotel Phoenix and an electric taxi shuttled us to the front door in a few minutes.

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A comfortable room (as is everywhere in Switzerland). The wide single beds pushed together are a great idea: each has their own doona and you can turn over without disturbing your partner.

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coriander

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Our room had a shared balcony with spectacular views of the Matterhorn, see?

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Checking my suitcase, I realised that not only had I left my shorts at home, I’d also omitted to pack a raincoat!

We took advantage of a break in the rain to head out for an evening walk through Zermatt. The shops all appeared to be up market boutiques. (Do you really come to Zermatt to buy a Rolex watch? Obviously many do.)

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Even the "golden arches" pestilence has spread to here, albeit very restrained in its signage.

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With a name that tries to cover all bases, this 5-star hotel collects guest from the station in a horse-drawn carriage.

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We continued our walk as the evening set in. The Vispa River roars through the town in full flow.

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Massive amounts of construction here – I was wondering how they bring in the materials and concrete required if vehicles are banned.

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Rain has now solidly set in so we returned to the hotel; MrsC then headed out solo to the local Coop and soon returned with a selection of a beautiful fresh bread stick, succulent soft Swiss cheeses, salad and a couple of bottles of Swiss wine. She also had sourced a raincoat for me. After the large lunch we'd enjoyed on the Glacier Express, this was ample for us.

We sat on the balcony with our bespoke dinner, watching and waiting for a glimpse of the Matterhorn. No such luck.

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coriander

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Day # 16

The next day dawned with ongoing drenching rain and still no sign of that mountain.
The breakfast room is a pleasant spacious area with views out the window to that mythical mountain.

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Despite a momentary break in the rain – nothing – no mountain!

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In spite of the rain, we walked around Zermatt. I wandered down to the station to grab a couple of snaps of trains at the station. A regional train from arrived from Andermatt.

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The station platforms are well-covered ensuring easy arrival and departure in the depths of winter. This train is a Zermatt Shuttle which runs only between Zermatt and Tasch.

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Motive power for transport in the village consisted of either one HP hayburners or electric vehicles; all other vehicles are banned::

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At about 11.00am, we followed a group of musicians to the square outside the station where they performed an impromptu concert.

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My question as to how construction is undertaken was also answered today. Helicopter after helicopter started flying in from 9am carrying the same concrete hoppers one sees on CBD skyscraper construction, hovering and then flying away down to valley towards Tasch, the end of the road.
 
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coriander

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After a bite to eat and no letup in the rain, we decided to ride the Gornergrat-Bahn to Gornergrat-Kulm - just for something to do. While the regular fare is an eyewatering CHF 110 reduced to CHF 55 for Swiss Travel Pass holders, they offer a much reduced fare after 3.00pm (CHF 28) and it was another train ride. Besides which, we’d be out of the rain.

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As we were buying our tickets, a train departed. No matter our train would be the first cheap-fare departure.

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The line climbs steeply out of Zermatt and passes downhill trains at almost every station:

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Soon we were out of the rain……and into low-hanging clouds.

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Rolling steadily upwards through the snowsheds, our visibility was about 100m; every now and then trains coming down the hill loomed out of the moist clouds.

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Oh dear, not looking good…. Not looking anything, actually.

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Finally broke out through cloud as we approached the end of the line:

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coriander

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We arrived at Gornergrat with some breaks in the low clouds, enabling us to see higher clouds. No Matterhorn visible.

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The glaciers were clearly visible as were occasional glimpses of distant mountains such as the Weisshorn. A young Ibex was availing itself of the complimentary salt-lick, the Gorner Glacier far below.

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The vast field of glaciers spread out before us: Monta Rosa glacier at left and the massive Gorner Glacier at right.

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and a marmot was happy to help us with disposing of an apple we thoughtfully brought along for him.

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The Hotel Gonergrat Kulm is both a small 3-star hotel with a 5-star price tag and an observatory.

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I was having a bit of difficulty with the stairs to the lookout over the Kulm hotel (unsure whether the altitude (~3800m) or the fact that I was only a few days out of hospital played a part). Still no Matterhorn visible. Mrs C recounted that a work colleague of hers has visited Zermatt five times and has never seen the Matterhorn and is convinced it doesn’t exist! I was beginning to lean towards that opinion. It's somewhere in that bank of cloud!

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The hotel is simply furnished, but you'd be here for the amazing jaw-dropping views, not the day spa and gold leaf. Shown below is restaurant and main lounge.

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But I could imagine a gluwein and sit here in the round castle-like abutment and watch a sunset over the glaciers with the Matterhorn in the background.

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coriander

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The second last train was scheduled at 1820h and it was starting to get quite cold as we waited at the station.
It was looking as if the Matterhorn might not show itself. I've read somewhere that the mountain likes to tantalise the viewer with its own cloudy version of the dance of the seven veils, mischievously not revealing all.

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That second-last train of the day arrived and the mountain was still teasing us with her clouds.

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Suddenly with 10 minutes to go, the clouds suddenly parted and there stood the Matterhorn fully revealed. Hurrah!

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We now had a clear view of the mountain all the way down on the train and marvelled at what we could see from the train if there weren’t clouds about.

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On the way up the monutain we'd barely been able to see outside the snowsheds, but not now.

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Halfway down we met the last train of the day heading up the hill towards Gornergrat.

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What a day.
 
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coriander

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Day # 17
Breakfast in the restaurant, followed by a last look out the window – no mountain visible again <sigh!>: "fully veiled".

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Then it was off to the station. The St Moritz-bound Glacier Express was awaiting departure as we arrived at the station.

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We took our seats on the local train to Visp.

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Of course as we travelled down the valley towards Visp the sun broke through the clouds.

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The mountainous country makes for many spectacular bridges.

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At Visp we changed trains for the twelve minute run to Brig. A freight train rumbled through the station loaded with vans as we awaited our train – the Lotschberger Express operated by another railway company – the BLS (Bern–Lötschberg–Simplon).

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coriander

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We’d chosen this train as it would travel over the picturesque Lotschberg Pass via Kandersteg rather than the newer Lotschberg Base Tunnel (which would have had us in darkness under the Pass from Brig to Frutigen).

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Our train was empty in first class and would remain so for the entire journey (apart from BLS employees). Again spotlessly clean and very comfortable.

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And more spacious than 2nd class.

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We departed Brig on time and immediately started to climb up the side of the Rhone valley. Below us an ICE heading for Montreux sped past us.

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We passed Visp and the valley leading to Zermatt at some altitude…..

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….. before a last look down the Rhone Valley as we turned and plunged into the first of several tunnels, the clouds breaking up signalling the weather starting to look as if it would continue to improve.

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Alas, the weather on the other side of the mountains was low cloud and more rain, rain, rain. Second class filled with every station but first class remained empty save for two BLS engineers who took great delight in pointing out “and here you should be able to see the Jungfrau coming into view on the right…. Oh wait!....”

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The train turned and passed through a series of tunnels and loops before passing through Kandersteg, Spiez and on to Thun.

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coriander

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Still pouring rain, a two minute walk from Thun station brought us to the adjacent wharf at Thun and the "Blumenslip" a 118 year old steam paddlesteamer ferry.
Swiss “efficiency” and precision meant that we stood in the rain at the ferry’s gangplank till embarkation started: it commences PRECISELY 20 minutes before departure (you can see the rain-soaked passengers waiting), no earlier -"suck it up and wait, princesses!"

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As part of the Swiss Travel System, the trip was covered by our Swiss Travel Pass (this is different from a Eurail Pass and so much better for travel within Switzerland)).
On boarding, I asked the captain(? – the one with the most braid!) where to leave our suitcases – he pointed to an area beside the gangplank. “Is it safe?” I asked. “This is SWITZERLAND” came the brusque, offended reply.
Everything is polished and spick and span - even the crankshafts driving the paddles and the ship's bell.

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The main deck is for second class passengers.

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The stairs led to the upper deck for first class passengers.

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A comfortable dining area with wicker chairs, a bar and even an outside covered deck (as you can see by the weather outside, only a few hardy souls).

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coriander

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The ship departed the quay travelling along the Aare River; beautiful gardens and boat docks, even the tracks fo a garden railway.

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We passed the Schloss Schadau built in the 1840s and now home of the Swiss Gastronomy Museum (and restaurant).

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And thence into the Thunersee (Lake Thun).

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We selected a table and took our seats. Our table was set.

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The house (ship?) wine was delicious….

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… as was our simple two-course meal the ship churned its way across Lake Thun from Thun to Interlaken stopping at various points on both sides of the lake

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Some rather nice looking homes along the lake.

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And as you look out to the right you can see the majestic Jungfraujoch …….. oh wait.

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