I took the scenic train to make my way out of Switzerland. The Glacier Express boasts that it’s the slowest fast train in the world, but I just liked the angled windows in the roof. Instead of going all the way to the end of the line and having to backtrack, I only booked it as far as Chur to give me time to get out in the snow again before the night train to Budapest.
Being the official tourist train, there were announcements through headsets. Interesting points, other than the facts I quoted in the last post, included the use of a snow plough that can move 19 tonnes of snow a minute to clear the tracks, the iron fence-like structures on the hills above were to protect the train line from avalanches, the dark colour of the timber buildings is from the sun on the larch, and the large, round, flat pieces of slat I’d noticed the day before between stumps and buildings was to keep mice out of the grain stores. The train engines also have skirts on them which I guess are to clear recent snow over a certain depth.
Out the window there was snow, rocks, streams and brown villages with red, green or yellow shutters. Mountains and occasionally sky. Coming up to the highest point, I got an inkling of what snow blindness might be like. A house might be the only shape to make out between the snow on the ground, the cloud all around, and small flakes dancing against the train window. Over the pass, the train followed an early art of the Rhine. Rock cliffs with caves rose above the river which ran clear blue over and around gravel beds. The colour reminded me of the thermal springs at Mataranka in the Northern Territory.
The train was actually a little late arriving in Chur and collecting my onwards ticket took a little longer than expected but the woman in the information office said I still had time to get up the hill to try some sledding. She said I could has up there for some instructions on what to do. (Although people do use the word sledging, I’ve decided the Australian cricket team have brought that word into disrepute so I’m sticking to sledding.) I was very self controlled and left my camera in my bag for the whole walk to the cable car. I wasn’t sure there was time for mucking around. Out of the first cable car half way up the hill and into a little red 4 person number for the rest of the trip up.
At the top I couldn’t find the rental shop for the sleds until someone sent me back to the cable car station. The weather worn fellow with his hat and greying beard got some other passengers to translate enough to work out what I was after. I paid and he handed me over a sled. There was to be no instructions and there was no helmet hire either. I’d just read a website about sledding safety and this was breaking all the rules. Trees, rocks, icy sections. I just went pretty slow, got overtaken by everyone left on the hill, and walked the icy bits, but it was still fun.
I stopped for a few photos before I went back into the middle cable car station. In the car, cabin, a group of people got talking to me. They were very happy locals after an afternoon of coffee schnapps since the weather wasn’t good enough for skiing. This was a local haunt and few tourists use these slopes. I asked for suggestions on where to go for the hours before my train and got a spontaneous invitation back to the house of one of the families for the Swiss meal, raclette.
On the way they showed me the highlights of the old part of town. Centuries old buildings with meaningful artwork on the outside walls. Narrow streets that were the main north south route through Europe in the middle ages and the fountains where the animals were watered and fed on the way. And of course a gateway for tax collection. Theirs was a 15th century, triangular, 5 storey building only converted to a house late last century for a bankrupting fortune. Massive thick walls, new oak beam roof, and a curious window – circular at the bottom with a small cross shape at the top – which implies a connection to the building next door (wall) which had been a convent.
Melted cheese, hot potatoes out of a bag with butter on top, sour gherkins and a selection of spices made for a quickly filling dinner. Good simple food for a family after a long day up the hill. Conversation ranged far and wide. How a voting system that asks for your opinion on the smallest of matters makes you have an opinion without fearing being in the minority or changing your mind and how that flows on to self image and cultural beliefs. How having a young family changes one’s pespective on travel to places that might be less safe. Eating ethically. Swiss Christmas traditions and how everyone is excited by the first snow fall of the season. The 6 year old son wanted to know why I wasn’t on my train yet if I was going to sleep on it, because it was late already. I tended to agree with him. When it was time, I was walked to the station, right to the platform, and in typical Swiss fashion, arrived perfectly on time as the train pulled away moments after I sat down. What a beautiful day!