Fun in Switzerland - September 1999

During a visit to friends in Switzerland, and with the justification that, being car-free, they both have annual public transport passes (“ga”) in the first class, I treated myself to an eight-day SwissPass, a tourist ticket sold only to people resident outside Switzerland, with the same scope as the ga (most trains, boats and buses, free use of a few mountain railways/lifts and 25% off the rest).

Note: October 2009 — I found this on a backup disk, while looking for something else. Since I’ve just done another Swisspass trip (see Oberengadin 2009), I thought I’d repost it.



Zürich Flughafen - Winterthur - Schaffhausen

This hardly counts as a rail trip, especially as it was dark. But it was necessary to get from the airport to Ken and Ingrid’s flat in Schaffhausen. Also an opportunity to renew my acquaintance with the Schaffhausen bus system. It’s a small town, with five urban bus routes and one trolleybus route. All six pass through the station halfway, and the timetable is arranged so that the twelve buses arrive and depart simultaneously. Quite spectacular!



Schaffhausen - Zürich hb - Neuchatel - Murten (boat) - Bern - Zürich hb - Winterthur - Schaffhausen


In retrospect, this trip had a bit too much mainline about it - but Neuchatel is a very attractive town which I hadn’t had much chance to look at before, and the shady benches by the harbour made an ideal picnic spot. We were a bit puzzled when there was no indication of boats to Murten on the quay at Neuchatel, but a bit of lateral thinking established that Murten = “Morat” in French…

The boat trip across the lake of Neuchatel, through a canal, and round the lake of Murten, was spoilt a little by a primary school class getting on halfway - for once the boat was one class only! Still, we didn’t have the heart to chase them away when they stood on our toes, though the teachers kept attempting to round them up, apologising profusely.

Murten is a very pretty walled town, lovely views of red tiled rooves and the lake from the ramparts. The journey home was a little less pleasant than it might have been, as we got mixed up in the Bern Friday night rush hour. The Bern-Zürich train had four first class coaches, but we had to fight to get the last two free seats. Pleasanter was the train to Schaffhausen, one of the new German ice’s with a tilting mechanism. Unfortunately we couldn’t get a seat in the nose (view over driver’s shoulder), but we still had fun playing with the tv screens etc.



Schaffhausen - Neuhausen

Saturday was mostly spent being sociable - even railpasses must make way for human relations from time to time. In the morning I had time to take a trolleybus to the Rhinefall, which as always was far more impressive than I remembered. From there I crossed the railway bridge to Schloss Laufen, and followed the ubiquitous yellow footpath signs back to Schaffhausen along the southern bank of the river. A very pleasant walk, a different view of Schaffhausen, and I even chanced upon the local recumbent cycle dealer en route!



Schaffhausen - Zürich hb - Luzern - Kehrsiten (boat) - Bürgenstock (funicular) and v.v.


A very traditional Swiss Sunday trip - across the Vierwaldstädtersee (first class this time, though it was still pretty packed; sadly we couldn’t arrange to take the steamship) and up on splendid funicular, operated by an ancient dressed in a red hotel commissionaire’s uniform who carefully packed the trippers in as comfortably as possible before setting off up the hill standing at attention by his handbrake lever.

Excellent weather, and splendid views from the boat and from the top of the hill, where we had a bit of a walk and (with some difficulty) escaped from the Sunday crowds.



Schaffhausen - Kreuzlingen - Romanshorn - Rohrschach - Chur - Brig (Glacier Express) - Bern - Olten - Zürich hb - Schaffhausen


This was the biggie! I’ve always wanted to go on the Glacier Express, but it wasn’t allowed with Interail, and I decided that this was my big chance. Ken and Ingrid were both working, so there was no-one to infect me with moderation.

Still, the start was fairly unspectacular - I took the humblest of the possible routes out of Schaffhausen, the local trains that follow the Rhine upstream to Kreuzlingen (Swiss counterpart to Konstanz), then head south along Lake Constance. After all - what more logical way to start a journey from the Rhinefall to the source of the river? This line has recently been taken over from the sbb by the Mittel-Thurgau Bahn. It now features new, lightweight tram-style vehicles (with a view of the line ahead from the first class section!), request stops (I counted eighteen out of twenty where we stopped), and improbable sponsoring (“McDonalds and the mthB welcome you to Kreuzlingen” over the loudspeaker system!). When I last visited this area, ca. 1980, passenger trains along the lakeside line were pulled by 1920s electric locos that looked and sounded as though they had to be wound up to make them go. I hope they haven’t scrapped them.

From Rohrschach I continued by fast train up the Rhine valley to Chur. This is another very scenic stretch, the Appenzell plateau and the Säntis to the right and the mountains of Lichtenstein to the left. In Chur I had time to augment my packed lunch at the Co-op, and watch the train to Arosa departing through the streets - the introduction of traffic lights has taken some of the fun out of this, but I was glad that they haven’t put it underground.

The train including the Glacier Express coaches came in on time from St Moritz, and I found my seat - an aisle seat, as I’d reserved at the last minute (compulsory reservations are included in the chf 9 “Glacier supplement”), but this doesn’t greatly matter in an observation car. The coaches are quite nicely fitted out, but I had the feeling that they’d profited from it being “first class only” by not having to give first class passengers more space than second. 2+2 seating in 1st is a bit mean in a narrow gauge train. The lack of space also meant serious traffic jams with groups of passengers going to and from the restaurant car getting stuck behind the buffet trolley. It was interesting to see a train so completely dedicated to being a tourist attraction in its own right. On the RhB section (Chur-Disentis) things were kept in proportion - the “Glacier Express” is officially just a set of through coaches attached to a normal train on this stretch. Once we got onto the tracks of the fo, however, there was a running commentary in three languages, and the buffet trolley sold guidebooks and souvenirs (I kept my “Glacier Express” serviette, sugar and coffee creamer as a souvenir). Most of the passengers were either 50+ers in large groups or Japanese.

The scenery is truly spectacular, and you are constantly kept wondering how anyone could have had the ingenuity and determination to build a railway in such a place. The Oberalp pass (near the source of the Rhine) and the descent into Andermatt are the most spectacular parts - sadly the Furka pass was undertunnelled about 15 years ago (there is a preservation group that runs steam trains up part of the old line), but the upper Rhone valley down to Brig is pretty good too.

After all this, the Lötschberg pass and the run down into Bern alongside Lake Thun were a bit of an anticlimax. I was tempted to go back via Interlaken and the Brünig, but it would have made me far too late in Schaffhausen - as it was, Ken and Ingrid waited with dinner until I got back at nine o’clock (even though I’d rung to say they shouldn’t). For a change, I didn’t stop in Bern, but changed in Olten instead, giving me a chance for a brief look around (like most Swiss towns it proved to have an attractive old centre and a covered bridge, in this case across the Aare).



Schaffhausen - Zürich hb - Bern - Spiez - Interlaken Ost - Brienz (boat) - Brünig - Luzern - Zug - Zürich hb - Schaffhausen


A much gentler excursion, this - back over to bls territory and along the shore of Lake Thun, straight onto a boat at Interlaken Ost, and up to Brienz at the head of the Brienzersee. I didn’t bother to stop in Interlaken, as I’ve been there rather often (I spent a holiday on the Brienzersee with Brian and Rachel some years ago). Perhaps due to the time of day, it was very quiet on the boat, and the weather was absolutely perfect - just a few wisps of cloud on the Rothorn, the lake very smooth. I was almost tempted to go up the Rothorn, on the steam mountain railway, but it would have been expensive, I’d done it before, and there wouldn’t have been time to do a walk. So after an interval looking around Brienz (and the inevitable Co-op) I took the narrow-gauge train to Meiringen (of Sherlockian fame) and over the Brünig to Luzern. They’ve refurbished the coaches on this line, and the 1st class was very comfortable, and quite empty. I think most tourists don’t know it exists, I’ve never found it busy, and it’s very pretty, with four lakes to see and a rack and pinion bit over the pass.

With a judiciously-timed stop at Zug, I was able to meet Ken on his way home from work on the Zürich-Schaffhausen train. We were early enough, having collected Ingrid to go out for a meal at Schaffhausen’s modest but pleasant veggie restaurant (which clearly isn’t used to serving very many meals on Tuesdays, as the three of us seem to have exhausted their supplies of several items).



Schaffhausen - Winterthur - Wil - Wattwil - Rapperswil - Arth-Goldau - Zürich hb - Uetliberg - Zürich hb - Zürich Flughafen


As I was leaving, I couldn’t take the Kursbuch with me, so this trip was a little improvised. Fortunately I didn’t get stuck anywhere! I took the Winterthur train as I was a bit early for the one to Zürich, then went on to Wil to try out the interesting-looking branch down the pretty Toggenburg valley. At Wattwil, this crosses the bt line from St Gallen to Rapperswil on Lake Zürich, so I changed to this, getting onto the “Voralpexpress” to Luzern. This is a joint effort between the bt and the sob (Rapperswil - Arth-Goldau), and it was nice to see that they continue the bt/sob tradition of printing maps of the area on the little tables betweeen the seats. I stayed on this as far as Arth-Goldau, the junction with the Gotthard line. The pass between Lake Zürich and the Gotthard is a ratther steep climb for a standard gauge railway - 5% for most of the way - and the scenery is well worthwhile. From Arth-Goldau to Zürich there are two more lakes (Zug and Zürich) and a pass (in tunnel) between the two. The sbb is building a tunnel from Zürich hb to Thalwil, which will unfortunately cut out much of the attractive lkeshore section.

I had a little time left when I got to Zürich, so what better to complete the trip than a quick jaunt to the top of the Uetliberg, the hill that overlooks the city, and has an adhesion-worked narrow gauge line running up it. The contrast in the 25 minute trip between the lower section through urban Zürich and the upper part through woods and fields could hardly be bigger. Th view from the top is pretty good, too. Sadly there wasn’t enough time to walk down to the tram terminus, so I took the train back down to the Hauptbahnhof, and then went straight on to the airport.

[All Maps taken from the sbb online timetable]

In case you’re wondering “Did he get his money’s worth from the 8-day pass?” - I paid chf 388 for it; Monday’s trip alone would have cost nearly chf 300 with ordinary tickets.