Today was the day which filled me with both excitement and dread. We were going to spend most of the day travelling across 2 countries on 3 trains a boat and a tram. The potential for missing trains (or boats) was quite high.
The plan was that we took a train from Como to Bellinzona (in Switzerland) where we changed and met the “William Tell Express” which is basically the bog standard train to Basel, but with the addition of an observation carriage (big windows). That would take us to Fluelen, where we get in on a boat, sail across Lake Luzern to…errr… Luzern. Our final leg was then a bog standard train up to Zurich. 3 stops ob the tram and we arrive at our hotel. Simple, eh?
We began our journey as we left the apartment at 8:00 this morning, to arrive at the station 30 minutes later, 33 minutes before the train was due to leave (did I tell you I like to get to places early?). After a custard croissant we boarded our train for the first leg of our journey to Bellinzona. We bought the tickets for the William Tell Express a couple of months ago. You couldn’t do it online so we had to do it by phone (yeah, I know. How very 80’s). Even then we didn’t actually buy them, merely reserved them. We were given a 6 digit reference number and told to go to the ticket office in Bellinzona and pick them up. I had a bad feeling about this.
This was our first time in Switzerland and so my conclusion is that it is beautiful, but struggles for an identity. This is highlighted by the fact that everything appears in 4 languages (German, French, Italian and finally English. Always finally. Always the last one, but at least it is there). As we approached the ticket counter in Bellinzolna I was suddenly struck dumb as my mind tried desperately to decide “which language should I speak?”. It then dawned on me, “speak English you idiot. It is your native tongue after all”. With my decision made I strode confidently up to the lady in the ticket booth and spoke to her in English…..with an Italian accent.
I have no idea why I did this. Perhaps it was because I have been speaking English with an Italian accent for the past week, thinking it would somehow make me more understandable (it didn’t), or because people keep speaking Italian here so I thought I would join in. For whatever reason I did it. So let’s just draw a veil over that and move on.
I gave my reference number, she asked me to confirm my name and a couple of seconds later she was printing our tickets for Mr and Mrs Fenster. It was close enough.
Our train from Como got us in at 10:00, an hour before we got the William Tell Express (henceforth called the WTE, because life’s too short and my typing too slow to keep on typing it) at 11:06. Ok, so it was actually 12:06 as I misread the tickets. So we had 2 hours to kill in Bellinzona. In my mind Bellinzona (BZ, same reason as before) was going to be like Budapest or St Pancras station. The truth of the matter is that it is more like Wigan North Western but without the charm. Luckily they let us drop of bags off in Left Luggage (for free!) and let us explore BZ. It’s a pretty little place with a castle, a few squares, and a Pound shop (well a 2 Franc shop).
Our unplanned trip completed we headed back to the train. Bang on time, the train pulled in. We climbed (literally, they are very steep steps on these trains) aboard and headed into the carriage. As the door slid open I jumped. Stood before me was a slender lady, with jet black hair, skin the colour of David Dickinson but with the texture of a well worn satchel. But that was not the most remarkable things about this lady. I’m not sure if it was just because she appeared from behind a door that went “woosh” as it opened but what really freaked me out was that she was the spitting image of a female Leonard Nimoy (Spock, but as he is now, not as he was in the 60’s).
“Hello, I’m Ingrid, your tour guide”. Another tour guide called Ingrid? Is it compulsory? Has an EU directive been passed that I didn’t know about? Also, we didn’t even realise that we had a tour guide. She showed us to our seat and a couple of minutes later another couple came and sat opposite us (an Australian couple called Lou and Lynne. I kid you not). There were only 4 of us booked on (well that phone call to Switzerland last month was worth the money) so she would guide us all together. She asked if we had lunch vouchers (we didn’t) so she gave us some for use on the boat and the gave us all mini Swiss Army knives as gifts. I was warming to this woman.
Ingrid came from the German speaking Northern part of the country and had quite a thick accent and shall we say a German temprament. Her area of expertise appeared to be tunnels. You go through a lot of tunnels in Switzerland and these spiralled around to gain altitude. Considering they were built over a hundred years ago they are a marvel of engineering and ingenuity. Ingrid pointed out every entrance, and exit of every tunnel that we went through. I mean every tunnel. She tried to give us warning when something interesting was coming up next. Speed was the name of the game. “Just click…you can delete later “she told us…frequently…like at every tunnel. At one point she had myself and Lynne (the official photographer for the other party) poised, waiting to come out of a tunnel to take a picture of a rock formation. This is it:
Yeah, wasn’t worth it really was it. I just began clicking like mad, knowing I would delete most of them later for fear if upsetting Ingrid. At one point (when there was lull in tunnels) she produced a postcard each and instructed us the write them and she would post them for us. I mouthed to Karen “Write one to Margaret and one to the P’s.” (Margaret, Mum, Dad. If you are reading this then you will shortly receive a postcard from us. Please understand that it was written under duress and at high speed as being typically British we didn’t want cause a scene).
A few more tunnels and it was time to get onto the boat and say goodbye to Ingrid. As the train pulled up, 100 yards away we could see the boat pulling in. As we boarded it we left Ingrid welcoming the next party as they travelled the WTE the other way. Live long and prosper Ingrid.
Today’s cake of the day was a bit of disaster. We bought it in BZ, then realised that we got lunch so shoved it in the case and got it out in Zurich. We were in a rush and so didn’t make a note of what it was. It looked chocolate orientated with pine nuts on the top. When we tried it Karen spat it out as it had alcohol in it. It’s, shall we say a “solid” cake. I have Karen’s slice to eat, but to be honest, I may have to give it a few hours before I give it a go.