Alps pt2 - Glacier Express

Mountains behind St. Moritz from our hotel window

After our time in the Engadine region we were heading to the Valais. This would take us from the far southeast of Switzerland to the far southwest. Since the Alps run through the southern half of the country, a straight line might be the shortest but is not always the easiest path between two points. Normally the trip would require a lot of transfers, which would mean a lot of lugging our bags on and off of trains and through stations. Fortunately Swiss Rail runs a special train, the Glacier Express, directly from St. Moritz to Zermatt. The train even has special cars with panoramic windows and travels through spectacular mountain scenery the entire way. The trip takes eight hours. That's a long time when you consider that our flight from Chicago to Zurich was only nine hours. It's a world famous train route so we bought our tickets online two months in advance. It was a good thing as the train was totally sold out.

We had to leave from St. Moritz station at 9:15. We were packed the night before, had a quick breakfast, and caught the bus in Pontresina for the fifteen minute ride to the train station in St. Moritz. We were a little nervous the night before but of course since everything runs on time in Switzerland we got there with plenty of time to spare.

Beautiful scenery but the reflections make photography impossible

The first two hours of the trip retraced the route that we had traveled from the town of Chur on our way to Pontresina. This time the sky was blue and the sun was out so the scenery was spectacular. The route has several places where the train goes through spiral tunnels to gain or lose elevation. It crossed a number of picturesque brigdes very high above deep gorges. The most famous is the Landwasser Viaduct which was built in 1902. It is over two hundred feet high and leads directly to a sheer cliff where the train enters a tunnel. Just about every Swiss calendar has a picture of a train on this bridge.

Unfortunately as soon as the train started we discovered a problem. The scenery was spectacular and the panoramic windows gave a great view. But they also had terrible reflections on the window. It was not so bad while you were riding on the train. Your brain is pretty good at ignoring the reflections and just concentrating on what you are looking at. But it made for horrible photos. I thought that I could get rid of them with my polarizing filter but no luck. This time physics failed me.

Village in the Albula valley

We were lucky though because at the start in St. Moritz our car was only about a quarter full. So for the first two hours I could go from side to side and try as many photos as I wanted. Even so I didn't have much luck. Most of them had bad reflections in them. But a couple of times I was lucky. If our car was completely in the shade just as we passed something interesting, and I just happened to snap the shot at that second, then I could get a good picture. Out of all my attempts I got exactly two pictures that were good. But one of them was a picture of the train on the Landwasser Viaduct just as our car was coming out of the tunnel onto the bridge. I was pretty happy with that. At Chur the rest of the passengers got on so I couldn't take any more pictures anyway (our assigned seats were on the aisle and not by the window). So for the rest of the ride I just sat back and enjoyed the views.

Glacier Express on the Landwasser Viaduct

From Chur the train went through the canyon of the Rhine valley. Then it went over several high passes to reach the valley of the Rhone. Always there were views of big rivers, picturesque villages and big peaks in the background. The train didn't go fast. Often cars on roads beside the tracks would be passing us. This really was about the journey and not the destination. So we kicked back and enjoyed the ride. Although I do have to admit that towards the end we were getting anxious to arrive. The final twenty miles or so from Visp to Zermatt took over an hour. After a while we were tired of hearing the announcement, first in German, then French, then Italian, then English, that we were stopped to wait for an oncoming train. By the twentieth time or so it was getting old. But eventually we got to Zermatt. It just might be my favorite place in the entire world. So any trip that ends up with arriving in Zermatt has to be good. I guess I am a destination and not a journey guy.