Third times the charm. Today was a big day.
(I’ve got more photos to add to this post, my photo editing software is misbehaving though, I’ll try and get to it in Zermatt)
I haven’t even had a chance to sort through any of the photos and videos I took today. There are too many. By my count I took almost a thousand photos on my SLR alone. The phone and DJI Pocket have more photos and videos to go through at some point.
But what a day it was.
Started with a bit more of a walk around Chur, found an area I hadn’t walked in and eventually found out why. It wound its way uphill and ended with no side road to get back down to the train station that I could see. So I had to turn around and double back to the road I knew went to the station.
By the time I got back to Bahnhofstrasse (Station Street) it wasn’t long before my scheduled train to St Moritz. Heather and Sean had initially discussed catching the same train as we were on the same Bernina Express service until I realised my ticket was for a specific train earlier in the morning. No harm though, I figure I’d scope things out with the extra time.
Between Thusis and Tirano the Rhätische Bahn (RhB) network is UNESCO world heritage listed for its engineering marvel. It’s not hard to understand why. Even though they’ve modified and modernised a lot of the bridges and tunnels on the network, knowing how long ago they dug some of these tunnels and built some of these bridges almost defies belief. Across the entire journey the Albula and Bernina lines cross 196 bridges and travel through 55 tunnels over 122 kilometres.
The first leg of my journey was the Chur to St Moritz train that incorporates the Albula line section from Thusis to St Moritz, including the iconic Landwasser Viaduct and the Albula tunnel (that took 5 minutes and 20ish seconds to traverse by my count I’ll use a stopwatch tomorrow on my way back). Interestingly I was the only person in the entire first class carriage. Also I got interviewed by a couple of people from RhB’s social media team for a TikTok about people travelling in first class. So keep an eye out for that I guess?
Beginning the climb into the alps the train snakes and loops its way up hundreds of metres above sea level. This is usually the first leg of the entire Bernina Express route, but that version of the journey was booked out days after it became available so I had to settle for the St Moritz to Tirano leg.
On reaching St Moritz and stepping out of the train, I was surprised by how… not cold it was. The forecast was for 3 degrees but even with the overcast conditions and borderline snowfall it didn’t feel cold. Even when I sat near the lake to have my lunch. It wasn’t until a bit of a front moved through with some wind that it felt proper cold. That wind was obviously coming straight off some ice because that cold air cut through.
Heather and Sean arrived just on 2pm and we went for a meander around St Moritz. Wondering how many of the houses were occupied (not necessarily owner-occupied based on my previous post about the Zurich tour mentioning ownership rates here), trying to find good places to get good views, and me getting a second dose of heading down a street that had no side access back to where we wanted to go, forcing us to double back. That aside the place was amazing, and I imagine it would look stellar in the middle of January when winter is in full swing and seasonal residency would be higher than the off season it is now.
By 4pm we were headed back to the station to jump onboard our 4:15 Bernina Express service. The panoramic windows allowed ample viewing area but there were also small openable windows at the ends of the carriage for glass-free viewing (behind automatic doors to keep the rest of the travellers warm too). I almost regret not coming later into summer where the open-air carriages run as I think that would be a stunning experience.
The Bernina line begins by climbing from St Moritz further into the Alps. Crossing at the highest point 2,253m above sea level at Lago Bianco. The lake at the top of the Alps is divided into two, with one half flowing down to the south via the Poschiavino eventually reaching the Mediterranean, while the other half flows north via the Danube to eventually reach the Black Sea. During winter the lake freezes over, but during the high summer thaws to clear blue waters.
The line crosses over itself and loops back and forth as it snakes its way up and down both sides of the mountains. This process provides opportunities for travellers on both sides of the train to share in the mega views and not have half the passengers feel like they have missed out. Don’t quote me on this because I’m not sure I heard it correctly, but the scenic lines (Bernina especially) were engineered with tourist rail and sightseeing in mind. I could certainly believe it!
The journey ends descending down through the final stretch. Another road sharing location as the train rolls through one of the main streets of Tirano before coming to a stop at RhB Tirano. Onwards services into Italy (such as the one Heather and Sean would be catching tomorrow) require passengers to transfer from the RhB to Trenitalia as the rail companies operate on separate gauge track.
We had dinner at the restaurant at the station as the location we had initially earmarked that was between our hotels had stopped serving food by the time we were getting there. When in Italy, it’s either gotta be pasta or lasagne right? I had lasagne. Heather and Sean both had different pasta dishes (from memory). It was great, food was hot, atmosphere was buzzing as we were sitting outside right next to the station. All in all, it was a good night.
Until I got back to the hotel and tried to use the internet to upload the days highlights. But in the grand scheme of things for that to be worst thing about the day was really not that bad at all.