Posted by: Caroline | May 20, 2010

Ten Trains, a Bus, and a Cable Car

After a week of soaking in the Mediterranean atmosphere, we began what would be the final journey of our trip: a lengthy, confusing, but (eventually) rewarding trek into the Swiss Alps.

We boarded a train in Menton bound for Ventimiglia, the Italian border town we used to access Apricale earlier in the week.

With a few minutes to spare before our train to Genoa, we walked past this still-sleepy fruit and vegetable market.

At the beach, we caught a glimpse of the old town.

We switched to a Milan-bound train in the Genoa station.

After transiting through a host of drab, unremarkable train stations, arriving at Milano Centrale is a real treat. Classic exterior…

… modern, functional interior.

 Next stop: Domodossola! Are we in Italy or in Switzerland? Although technically Italian, the Swiss flag appears just often enough to confuse travelers.

The streets of Domodossola.

But once you board the swank, expensive Swiss train that leaves the station, you feel incredibly far away from the country you are actually in. In Italy, you can walk up to the ticket window and ask for cheap regional train tickets. In Switzerland, when you ask, “What’s the cheap way?”, your answer is a good laugh followed by, “There’s only one way.” (And it will cost you your bank balance as well).

Our first taste of Switzerland (besides its ritzy trains) was a stop in Brig.

By this time, we had already been traveling for twelve hours. But the snow-capped mountains were too enticing to stop for the day, and we decided to press on to our final destination: Fiesch, our gateway to glaciers.

This was a poor choice. We wanted to find some budget accomodation and go see the Aletsch Glacier in the morning, but what we mainly did was stand around looking miserable. One of us stood with the bags while the other traversed a whole side of the town searching for the simplest of “zimmer” (rooms)–anything that wouldn’t cost us our whole daily budget. Then we switched roles. Ten cars whizzed past as I stood forlorn on this street corner. In Albania, all ten would have stopped to ask if I needed help; in Fiesch, travelers don’t even get the most cursory of glances! (But the quality of Swiss chocolate is worth such treatment; there’s always tradeoffs).

We had considered returning to Brig after hearing that all the hotels demanded a small fortune for their services, but our decision was firm once we heard that the cable car to the glacier was not even in operation yet. May is still winter in alpine Switzerland! Exhausted and distraught, we caught the very last train back to Brig–along with a group of boisterous Swiss youth. That’s what you get for riding the 11pm train.

We gave up on our goal of seeing the Aletsch Glacier–or anything close to it–and caught the train to lush, pretty Interlaken. The mountain-fringed city attracts scores of adventure sports enthusiasts wanting to paraglide into its expansive flower-filled fields.

The Aare River

The person in charge of landscaping here deserves a raise. The city was blanketed in tulips in shades I had never seen before.

But for the budget traveler, Interlaken is just a day trip; this elite hotel and accompanying Rolex advertisement are a reminder to get out while you still have some money left in your pocket.

We did stumble upon one down-to-earth place: this moderately-priced cafe. In this German-speaking part of Switzerland, we couldn’t fall back on familiar Romance language skills. It made us feel a bit isolated. So it took me a few minutes to realize that I surprisingly understood what the signs on the cafe wall said. They were in Portuguese! Alex (who luckily was wearing his Mozambique shirt) and I were so excited to use our “obrigada” and “obrigado” again (Portuguese for thank you), and the proprieter was similarly pleased.

We stocked up on groceries at the Coop and boarded a train to Lauterbrunnen, a bus to Stechelberg, and finally–a cable car to Gimmelwald, the snowglobe-like farming village that is worth any number of train rides.

If I look less than amazed by the unbelievable scenery, it’s because I just spilled yogurt (our intended breakfast for the next two days) all over my things.


  1. […] We’ve had train adventures in places ranging from Mozambique and South Africa to France and Switzerland. Why not add Cuba to the list? After all, it’s one of only a few Latin American countries […]

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