Saturday, 2 June 2012

Off to St Moritz

Yesterday I left work at 3:00pm in an sort of excited haste.  Not only was it nice to leave the office early for a change, but I was excited to be commencing my final journey for this project, and I didn't want to miss that flight. Not that I'm glad that the traveling is ending - in fact I'm already planning a follow-up tour to promote the book - but it's more the sense of satisfaction that comes with reaching the final straight; that boost that you get from completing something, especially since there seemed to be little chance of me completing the journeys while still owning the clothes on my back.  At 6:10pm yesterday evening I was on my way to Zurich.

This trip is sentimental in more way that one.  It marks the final trip of the most exhilarating journey of my life but, just over a decade ago, my last visit to Zurich was the start of another very significant period in my life - my PhD years.  During the week I was trying to recall that visit, but could remember little of it.  In fact, I couldn't even remember what time of year it was.  As the plane touched down on the tarmac at Zurich International Airport the memories started flooding back.  It was not long after the September 11 terrorist attacks and security was tight.  I was in the middle of a long-distance relationship.  I had nearly missed the flight, which, despite what my family might have to say, was the only time I had seconds to spare before check-in officially closed.  The flight was delayed some 2 hours.  I was confused by all the signs in the airport - I had mistakenly thought that French was the main language in this part of the world.  Everything was expensive.  There were lots of churches.  It was very pretty.  It was a crisp Autumn day.  I only had 24 hours in the place.  It was my first tip outside the EU, and only my second time to continental Europe.  I took lots of photos with my little film camera.  I bought a lot of chocolate.  A lot has changed since.  Nothing has changed at all.  Zurich is still expensive and I'm still taking lots of photos.

Like then, I had little time to spend in Zurich this time round, and this morning I left for St Moritz by train.  Not long after leaving the station the beautiful Lake Zurich appears on our left.  As the train makes it's way away from the city I see the picture postcard Switzerland that seems so familiar: rugged mountain tops, green meadows reaching right to the forests; grazing cows precariously hanging on to the steep slopes, steep-roofed log houses set into the hills.  The rivers and lakes are a beautiful turquoise; the clearest I've ever seen.  The houses seem to have no boundary fences; the Alps provide all the garden they need; the fields and forests their playground.  The train makes it's way along the valley floor, passed all this beauty, until we Chur.  There I change trains, from the fast moving inter-city one, to one that is build more for climbing and twisting and winding.  This train is built for sightseeing, and not for speed.  At that's ok, because I have all the time in the world.

The Albula and Bernia lines of the Rhaetian Railway form only the third railway in the world to receive World Heritage status.  As it travels between Thusis to Tirano it winds through the mountains, gaining and loosing altitude through the dramatic countriside utilizing a series of clever spiral tunnels.  Between Bergun and Preda the line gains 400 metres in altitude inside a horizontal distance of 5 kilometres.  As the train croses over and back the valley and does 360 spirals through the mountains, you sometimes think that you're about to had back home.

At every corner there is breath-taking beauty, meadows full of flowers, snowcapped mountain peaks, trees, trails, waterfalls, rivers.  And then we arrive in St Moritz.  And I can't wait to explore!

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