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Journal of a 9-day coach holiday through 9 countries.

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This page last updated: 23rd March 2007.

Day 5: Swiss Glacier Express The wake up call comes at 7 am. Like yesterday, I go to the patisserie to buy some goodies for lunch. On returning to the hotel, I pay our bar-bill at reception.

I bring our suitcases down for loading into the coach and then have breakfast. Afterwards I sort out our other bags and check that I've left nothing in the room. I remember to take with us, the tiny bar of soap from the bathroom, as the drivers have told us the hotel in Austria doesn't provide soap!

We are on the coach ready to leave, when the driver announces "Would the occupant of room 106 please return to reception". That's me. As I approach reception, the young lady says, "Ah, yes, I remember you now; you did pay your bar-bill." Which is just as well as I didn't get a receipt as proof of payment. I am both embarrassed and annoyed.

As we approach the Gotthard Tunnel, there is a queue of lorries parked up for a couple of miles. Then we too are stopped in a line of cars. Shortly the lorries move off. We are delayed about twenty minutes before the stream of cars is allowed to proceed through the tunnel.

Beyond the tunnel, we leave the motorway and climb towards Andermatt. The road ascends in a series of huge hairpin bends. I feel slightly dizzy but try to concentrate my vision on points in the distance. I am feeling OK by the time we pull into Andermatt Station. We have about 30 minutes to wait before our train is due in. Some of the party take a walk into the small village. It is quite chilly at this height so we decide to stay around the station.

The Glacier Express runs between Zermatt and either Davos or St. Moritz. We are travelling just on the middle section from Andermatt to Chur. Three different railway companies are responsible for the operation of what is known as "the slowest express train in the world". This section is run by Furka Oberalp Bahn.

The train arrives. Our reserved carriage is at the end. A group of young Japanese tourists disembark. They do not seem keen to leave the train. A sign on the outside of the carriage reads that from Andermatt to Chur it is reserved for "Lager Holidays" [sic]. We are the last to board and the main part of the carriage, which is "non-smoking", is quite full. The end section, however is not so crowded. Only a couple of its occupants are actual smokers, so we can tolerate that for the benefit of the extra space to spread our legs.

Cheryl Imboden's account of the Glacier Express recommends a South-facing window for the best views, but the difference is fairly marginal. I'd probably agree.

Leaving Andermatt, the train ascends along a series of loops taking it high above the village to the Oberalp Pass. Our coach has already gone ahead and we see it at various points along the journey. The train stops at the summit of the pass. We are well over 6000 ft high and the glaciers spread upwards in both direction. Although not as impressive as the glaciers we saw in New Zealand, we have to remember that this is springtime. These trains run every day of the year, even in the deepest wintertime.

The train now descends, passing small hamlets. Cows in the green fields wear bells. Above us are the snow-capped mountains. We pass through the settlement of Sedrun and on to the little town of Disentis.

Here we stop for about thirty minutes. It is the ideal time to tuck into our goodies from the patisserie. You can buy food from the trolley that passes up and down the train, but it is quite expensive. Our carriage is shunted back and forth a couple of times. The Rhätische Bahn is the rail operator for the next section. As we are now out of the mountains the size of the train has been increased with three extra carriages added at both ends.

After Disentis, the train continues past farmland into the Rhine Gorge. Only the railway passes alongside the infant river Rhine. Huge white rock faces tower above us. There are caves within the canyon. The track runs through tunnels. We stop at a tiny station called Trin. It seems deserted, but around the station are tubs of flowers.

It is a short run then to the industrial town of Chur, where our coach is waiting for us. The next stop is Liechtenstein, a small country still ruled by the Grand Duke. He lives in a palace overlooking Vaduz, the chief town of the principality. The main square has been pedestrianised. The coach sets us down at a bus stop. It is a short walk into the square.

The town square is very pleasant but not particularly impressive. There are comfortable seats in front of a small formal garden. Next to that is a covered area, obviously used for concerts and other events. The main building seems to be an art gallery. Compared to similar buildings elsewhere, it is of a very plain design. On the opposite side are a number of shops, but they are mostly selling souvenir items, of the type found anywhere. One member of our party had been to Vaduz some twelve years ago. He told us that the traffic then flowed through the centre over cobbled streets. It is now somewhat characterless.

We return to the coach and head on towards Austria. We'd crossed the boundary between Switzerland and Liechtenstein without noticing it. At the Austrian border though, we have to wait some fifteen minutes while the driver deals with formalities. It takes only an hour or so to reach St. Anton am Arlberg.

After leaving the Arlberg tunnel, the coach takes us through the village to show us where it is. The hotel is not located in the village, but halfway up a very steep narrow road.

Kertess Hotel is a modern, smart-looking place. It takes a while to get everyone and their luggage off the coach and up to their rooms. Our room is very clean and reasonably spacious. The bathroom has a shower and toilet but no bath. The view from the window is onto the road below. The mountains in the background look lovely. The two huge cranes in the foreground are less attractive. There is building work being carried out just lower down the street.

Having settled into our room and freshened up from the journey (using the soap we'd brought from Paradiso), we go down to the lounge for a pre-dinner drink. Dinner is a three-course affair, much as it was at the last hotel. Here though, it is served by the hotel owners, their family and local staff. I don't remember the details of the menu, but recall it is tasty, wholesome and adequate. Two of the people on our table had walked into the village earlier. They reported that it was an easy ten minute walk down, and a strenuous twenty minute climb back. The few shops were apparently closed. This being predominantly a ski resort, it seems that not a lot happens here in spring.

We settle for an early night.

Journal Day 6 Photographs Day 5