Travel Dates 21st-23rd May 2011.
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I passed through London on the way to Paris, but I will mention that part of the trip later when I devote more time to my return to the UK a month later.
I deliberately planned this trip across Europe using trains and a boat, with minimal flights.
I have loved train travel since I was small, travelling across New South Wales and later Victoria by steam and diesel in the '50s and '60s. I wrote a little more about that when I described a nostalgic train trip on my Australian blog. Thus, the itinerary for this trip included the following:
Stansted Express from Stansted to London.
Eurostar, from London St Pancras to Paris Gare de Lyon via the Chunnel.
Lyria TGV, from Paris to Lausanne.
Swiss Rail, from Lausanne to Visp, changing for Zermatt.
Gornergrat, to the Alp from Zermatt.
Glacier Express, from Zermatt to Chur.
Bernina Express, from Chur to Tirano.
Trenitalia local from Tirano to Milan.
Trenitalia Intercity from Milan to Venice St Lucia.
Overnight Sleeper from Venice St Lucia to Zagreb.
Bosnia and Herzegovina local from Mostar to Sarajevo.
MS Lev Tolstoy from St Petersburg to Moscow.
In addition to those I used local metros whenever available in the towns I passed through.
I departed on time from Gare de Lyon, smoothly and without fuss at 8am. One of the pleasures of train travel is the difference in stress. Security procedures were less invasive, the queues were shorter, the whole experience more relaxed. But make sure you know which platform to go to and be on board when the train departs. It helped that I did some reconnaissance the day before. The old days of conductors calling “All Aboard” are long gone. The train simply glides quietly, almost imperceptibly away from the platform whether you are on board or not.
The Lyria TGV is a modern high-speed train but the speed is hardly noticeable until you pass under a bridge or close to a station. Occasionally I noticed we were swiftly passing cars on parallel motorways; most of those cars would have been travelling at over 110km/hr, but we left them easily behind. The seating in first class was spacious, the ride was smooth and the scenery pleasant; it became more spectacular as we left the rolling fields of France and entered the hills before Lausanne.
I changed at Lausanne and again at Visp, taking photos along the way from the carriage windows. The local trains in Switzerland were slower and less luxurious than the Lyria, but the scenery gradually became more spectacular. For photos it was an advantage to be able to slide down the top section of the windows for unobstructed pictures. I arrived in Zermatt around 4:30 pm after a very pleasant and comfortable trip.
Zermatt, apart from it's spectacular surroundings, is a small pleasant village in mid-May. Unfortunately the weather was unkind and my first two days were overcast and drizzly, including my ascent to Gronergrat which I'll describe in the next post.
The first thing I noticed was the lack of cars. It seems that the Police are the only ones allowed an internal combustion engine. All the other vehicles in Zermatt are electric. Even the Police use electric when possible; this is a Police car near the taxis and hotel minibuses waiting near the railway.
I took one of those cabs up to my pre-booked hotel to be greeted by a sign on the door saying the hotel was closed for renovations. Wonderful! But the sign also mentioned that I should go back down-town to the Best Western Butterfly Hotel, which had the same owners. It turned out to be a blessing; a better hotel in a better locality and they honoured the cheaper tariff of the original hotel. They also refunded the taxi fare. I must write a Tripadvisor review after this. I will be recommending the hotel.
The sun eventually came out on my final morning; that tiny white triangle at the top right of the second picture is the Matterhorn from my window.
Down-town is nothing special, but all of the necessities are available. Even in the "shoulder" season between winter and summer most of the restaurants were open with lots of choices of cuisine.
I enjoyed relaxing for a couple of days in Zermatt, despite the drizzle. The architecture of some of the older wooden buildings on their vermin-protection foundations and with their massive slate roofs was interesting, as were the various structures designed for avalanche protection and the other differences in the way the village was laid out to a town back home.
Next, the Gornergrat.
Cheers, Alan, Australia
Cheers, Alan, Australia