East Switzerland – 4. Train from Grusch to Zurich

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The Swiss trains and railways system is undoubtedly the best in the world.

You would be hard pressed to find something this neat and efficient that covers all the country, with amazing scenery on every journey.

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DSCF0809 1024AS you can see, the pretty town of Grusch I think is quite typical of many of the idyllic looking villages in Switzerland.

There several characteristics of trains here.    There are several classes of trains with different stock and track like the funicular trains that go up impossibly steep hills.

The platforms are not high.  Often you can walk across flatter parts of the track.   The trains don’t actually go very fast, and the barriers, lights and sirens come on well in advance.   Some of the modern trains have a small motorised platform that appears to help you get up.

SBB is the Swiss railway operator, and it is also easy to buy your ticket using your smart phone and therefore know exactly where you are going and where to change and the right platform.   I didn’t get any pictures of Zurich’s station, but it is huge and has 45 platforms.

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There is a lot of freight I see going past.

GERMANY 1. Dachau concentration camp – 2. BMW museum – 3. BMW World futuristic showroom – 4. Neuschwanstein Castle – 5. 1972 Munich Olympics village – 6. Tourism and going out in Munich – 7. Deutsches Museum – 8. Business in the UK, Germany and Israel – 9. Friedrichshafen, a pleasant German town on a lake

SWITZERLAND 1. Trying to do ‘cheap’ Switzerland – 2. The town of Grusch – 3. Clever Swiss made things – 4. Train from Grusch to Zurich – 5. Zurich, the more liberal Switzerland – 6. Swiss dinosaurs

LIECHTENSTEIN 1. Plans – 2. Getting into this tiny nation – 3. Motorbikes, cars and kebab shops in Vaduz, Liechtenstein – 4. Small country topography – 5. Road up to the castle – 6. The Prince’s castle and vineyard – 7. bars, shops, Olympics – 8. Tiny country, big output – 9. Vaduz church – 10. Government buildings and museums

Funny funicular railways and scaling the steepness with God

Getting around Switzerland on trains is rather jolly, quiet, civilised and very enjoyable.

Given extreme terrain in places, a few more radical solutions are needed to get to certain locations.

I haven’t really heard of a funicular railway before, until I saw this one.   Funnily enough, this one was shut until the evening for some reason.   The other one I saw in Interlaken was completely closed for maintenance.

They look a bit like something from a theme park.   I will be honest, I don’t really like theme parks, they always seem contrived, and don’t like deliberately getting on apparatus to deliberately make myself sick and dizzy.   This is way better though!

Onward to the French speaking city Vevey, the place where milk chocolate was invented, where Charlie Chaplin spent his retirement and the HQ of the global overlord food producer Nestle.  As Montreux is just 8kms or so away, and I thought I would walk as it was a pleasant sort of day.   Is this a bus or a tram?   It seems to be both!!  Just as long as the driver doesn’t steer too far away from the overhead wires I guess it works well.  Look closely and the bus’s signage shows ‘Desert’ which is kind of odd here!!

Vevey, Lusuane and Montreux are the French speaking neighbouring cities on a hill over looking a lake Geneva, so the roads can be pretty steep, needing to be negotiated in a zigzag fashion.  These fruit trees seem quite common in this city, I think they are apricots.   There is a English Anglican church at the foot of the hill which I was surprised to see.

I was quite pleased to find one of the funicular tracks that just goes briefly between two stops;


This completely bonkers mode of transport is great!!  The rail car that goes up is completley autonomous, there is no driver or any other staff, in fact no staff are to be seen at all, my ticket was bought from a vending machine, and there is a large screen with the times, and an alarm sounds when its ready to leave and the doors open and close by itself.   Just a winch and a computer system seems to control the whole operation, probably just one very bored guard somewhere checking over it.   Someone has thoughtfully made the seats in the train heated which is great during the harsh winters here.  I would guess that the trains may have to specially designed for particular gradient of the hill maybe.   The steepest one in Switzerland goes 48 degrees!

Looking back, about half way along, you can see a lovely view of Lake Geneva, the ride is no longer than about 3 minutes, there is another car travelling the other direction, and the single track forks into two briefly and merges back, allowing a simple pass.

The short journey reminded me of some things happening for me at the moment, often we are up against a steep gradiant, with my time doing volunteer work likely to end in the spring, I am keep wondering what I will be doing back in the UK.   I need to find a new job,
new place to live and a new church.  At the moment I enjoy the work I do, the church I have here, the friends from dozens of different countries, I will need to go back to earning a regular wage again, and readjusting to life in post-recession UK and being a single chap in my mid 30s its hard to get an understanding what this year will hold, it all seems massively overwhelming.

My life with Jesus has meant that he has provide me with a way to conquer all kinds of enormously varied challenges so far.  But like this unorthodox transport system this is one of most hardest to try and fathom.  Here if I didn’t see this special railway, I wouldn’t of guess scaling this kind of hill would be impossible, but the Lord seems to provide when no tangible solution is in sight.   Up here you can quickly jump on another traditional railway system running parallel with the other line by the lake.   It was nice that it started to snow up here too, only for a short time though, I just had to stay under this shelter for about 5 minutes.

The town of Interlaken and the Balmer’s Herberge

Getting back to the magnificent Basel railway station, I was looking forward to this train which was taking me to Interlaken, a small town of just 5’000 ** in the middle of the country.  Having high homes that this ride would meet up to the high standards that Switzerland is famous for, I was a bit shocked that train was made of 45% standard carriages and 45% first class, this meant there was hardly any people traveling in the highest class seats, and not enough seats for regular passengers, this left a lot of people standing up and lot of large cases and ski equipment in the corridors.   In someways I wished I left earlier as it would of been nice to get see some scenery out of the train windows.

<<** the Swiss like to use slightly different grammatical symbols than the rest of Europe!>>

The remaining section in the middle of the train was the dining car and kitchen, so I snagged one of the last seats there and got a tea from the counter there.

After a couple of hours, I arrived in Interlaken, it was dark by then, and really difficult to figure out the terrain, just some ghostly black shapes in the sky which I found out the next day were mountains.

This hostel is great!  It takes its name from Eric Balmer who is something of a local maverick and entrepreneur in getting Interlaken one of the most famous hostels in the country and an adventure capital, this attractive traditional wood style building has everything needed to be a base point for a big adventure in the Alps.   Mr Balmer’s face appears on lots of pictures around the hostel showing him meeting famous people.   The hostel is made of 3 separate buildings with the main hotel and a (presumably purchased later)  annex with more rooms and big dinning area, there’s also a basement bar and dancehall under where I am standing, but it seems nice and quiet in the rooms which is good.

Interlaken is quite an apt name, as its between two different lakes.   As a small quiet town its nice when you go walking, everyone you meet will say “Gruezi!” (a Swiss type of greeting I am not sure of meaning but not used by Germans I think)

The town looks efficient, neat and orderly like everything Swiss, but make no mistake, this is not a boring place!   As well being a gateway to the mountains for skiing and snowboarding, there is also loads of other outdoor sports, a rental shop for ski hire is just a couple of doors away from the hostel, and these little cars can be hired from another place across the road.  If you take a close look, the yellow ferrari ‘prancing horse’ is actually a Swiss cow standing on its back legs!

As well as these logs stacked by the side of the ride, and the unmistakable charming style Swiss wooden houses, everyone seems to have a shed to store plenty of firewood for the harsh winters here.

I was pleasantly surprised that the local churches make the effort to advertise themselves to foreigners visiting Interlaken, but I wasn’t around to visit this place.

This wooden house (I think its a school) has a biblical message painted onto the timbers.  Its nice that Christianity seems part of the fabric of the community for a long time and still today.

Of course, Interlaken is completely surrounded by mountains.   These snow dusted mammoths are all around.   Not only that, but the ones in immediate view have ones behind exponentially larger, requires some specialised transport to get there.   As well, the whiter peaks blend in with the sky and clouds in an incredible way.

I found the vast beauty of the mountains show God’s work as something thats hard to comprehend from the ground, let alone see it from a web site, post card or brochure.   This is a place thats impacted my spiritual life like Israel has.

Next, train to the highest peak in Europe...