The Bernina Express Out Of The Alps And Into Sunny Italy

The Bernina Express Train from Chur to Tirano is so beautiful.  I oohed and aahed through the alps taking a ridiculous number of pictures.  As a result, I split the trip into three posts.  The first post tells about the Bernina Express and covers our depart from Chur to the Landwasser Viaduct.  The second post describes the journey from the Landwasser Viaduct to the glacier at Alp Grüm.

Leaving Alp Grüm, the train turns sharply in one direction then the other, winding its way through the Palu Glacier and out of the Alps.  It turns and loops to the Cavaglia station.  The train zigs and zags through dark forests of pine and chestnut.   Whenever the train passes through a clearing, you can see more the Poschiavo valley and its brilliant turquoise lake.

We hear that in the summer, wildflowers line this route.  Hiking trails wind up the mountain.  On a nice day, it would be an incredible hike.

The train descends quickly as it winds its way down the mountain to Poschiavo.  The view changes constantly and dramatically.  The dark, old forests open up to a lush, green valley.

The Poschiavo Valley is agrarian with tobacco plantations, vineyards, fields and farm animals.  We loved looking at it all on the way down.

Finally, we reached Poschiavo Lake.  Who doesn’t love a Swiss lake?  I still get excited to see them and can’t wait to start dipping my toes in them again.  This one is at  965 m (3,166 ft) above sea level.  It was so sunny and vibrant, we felt Italy approach.

This view reminded me of Maine

Just before Brusio, the train descends the famous Brusio spiral viaduct.  These circular viaducts are used to allow trains to gain and lose altitude extremely quickly without the help of a cogwheel mechanism.   In other words, their only purpose is to adjust the line’s altitude.  It was pretty cool to be able to see both the front and back of the car curving toward each other like a bracelet.  From there, the train continues its descent into Tirano.

Just after Brusio is an enormous 36,000 h.p. hydro-electric power-station. It produces current for the Bernina Railway and industry in northern Italy.  The Bernina Express skirts Poschiavo, but not the towns near Tirano.  There, the train inches between buildings.  They were so close that we felt as though we could reach out and touch them.  For Americans who were raised on wide open roads, it was definitely different.

Upon arriving in Tirano, some people will turn around and catch the train back to Chur.  Others continue to Lake Como or Lugano.  We hopped on a bus to Lugano.  I was happy with our itinerary as some say the views heading south are even more spectacular than traveling north.

Our route – Map courtesy of Bernina Sud

Note: If you are thinking about taking a panoramic train in Switzerland, be advised that you need to make seat reservations.  You can do this at any train station in Switzerland and at most Swiss Travel System sales points abroad. You’ll just need your Swiss identity card or passport.  Since you leave Switzerland and enter Italy, be sure to pack it too.  Bon voyage!

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Another Fine Mess, Fines In Switzerland

In a country where personal responsibility, obeying the rules and money are all taken very seriously, fines are inevitable.  We have heard that you need to budget 1000-2000 CHF a year for fines.  Thankfully, we’ve only had one ticket thus far.

Here, a diverse array of behaviors are punishable by fine. Here are some interesting Swiss fines:

  • Highest speeding ticket in Switzerland (tickets are on a percentage of income)
  • Naked hiking (instead of banning it, they just decided to fine naked hikers…uber Swiss)
  • Entering a private drive
  • Putting your recyclables in the bins on a Sunday or holiday

A friend of ours was unlucky enough to get her car towed. Five hours = 250 CHF or $275. Ouch.

 

Planes, Trains and Automobiles to South Africa

We took several modes of transportation during our journey to South Africa.  We flew Egypt Air to Cairo then on to Johannesburg.

 
On the descent, we saw pyramids silhouetted against Cairo’s lights!  It made us want to go to Egypt. He sat next to someone on the plane who was going to Cairo to retrieve their valuables because they were moving back to Germany.  The gentleman said that the situation was too problematic and unstable to stay.  Hopefully, things will improve over the coming months and years.
When we arrived in Johannesburg and picked up our rental, we were surprised by its size.  He did a wonderful job driving the big rig, but unfortunately, it was not always the easiest to park.
Cabs function as a form of inexpensive mass transit in South Africa.  People use hand signals to indicate their desired destination and vans headed in that direction stop.   Below you can see tons of them at a cab stop on Soweto.

Notice the cabs look exactly like our van.    They constantly break every conceivable traffic law.  We joked that since our big rig looked just like a cab, he could run red lights, cut people off, speed as much as he wanted and no one would think anything of it.   In case you were wondering, he did not take advantage of his apparent ability to break every traffic law known to man with no foreseeable consequences.

We saw people crammed into the giant taxis.  As there isn’t a large mass transit system, they were crammed into every vehicle, including the beds of pickups on the highway.

Our big rig turned out to be a great vehicle on the animal preserve.  I spent a fair amount of time hanging out the open door with my camera gawking at wildlife.
Oh yeah, when you arrive at Geneva’s airport, there are free regular trains to the city.  All trains go from the airport to the main train station!  From there, it’s just an easy tram or bus ride home.