Category Archives: Trains
Last night the stars were brilliant. It looked like the Big Dipper was being projected right in front of me. Sadly, we had to move on from the stunning Whale Cove Inn today, but not before one more whale came by to say farewell, along with the harbor seals and bald eagle watching it all. Fortunately, the gorgeous vistas didn’t end.
We headed south down Highway 101 to the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area and drove two miles up to an elevation of 800’ – the highest viewpoint accessible by car on the Oregon Coast. We enjoyed the incredible views from the Whispering Spruce Trail and seeing the shelter built in the 30’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. During World War II, the site was used to watch for enemy submarines. This park is under the control of the USDA’s Forest Service and rangers were on-hand to explain local wildlife, as well as information about invasive species growing in the area.
We moved on down the coast to the Heceta Head Lighthouse, the most photographed Oregon lighthouse. Dating from 1892, it is still working, flashing every 10 seconds, and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. The former keeper’s house is now a six-bedroom B&B run by a concessionaire of the U.S. Forest Service (we did not stay there, but it would be interesting).
Nearby are the Sea Lion Caves, a privately owned concession that takes you down an elevator 208’ inside a 125’ high cave that is a hangout for Stellar Sea Lions. During the summer months, the Sea Lions also spend a lot of time sunning on the rock ledges just outside the cave. The bulls are loud, the pups are boisterous and they all smell.
The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area was a completely new coastal look; massive dunes, sea grasses and wind, lots of wind. We walked up to the top of some of the dunes. I cannot say it was fun. Trudging up through ankle-deep sand, getting stuck with the sharp grasses, wind practically knocking me over . . . the folks on the ATVs have the right idea. That would be a much better way to see the dunes, and obviously a very popular activity in this area.
We are staying in Florence for the night. Mostly this is a jumping off point for the dunes; there is a cute Old Town with restaurants and shops. As long as we can keep eating seafood and there is ice cream, we are good.
What a great way to travel from Vancouver BC to Portland Oregon. The only downside is it does leave at 6:30 AM, but it gets you into Portland at about 3 PM, rested, fed and entertained. It’s an absolutely beautiful route through Washington, the water views are so pretty it’s not even hard to stay awake.
Business Class seats are worth the extra fee, and taking two single seats (one behind the other) on the right side of the train car is really the best for maximizing your viewing pleasure. It’s comfortable and on par with any first-class European train. This train did not have a dining car, but the Bistro service and quality was not bad once the train got underway. Prior to departure, there was quite a line.
It was hard to get an answer about what time we needed to be at the station (since we would also be going through customs). At one point, we were told by an Amtrak representative the station did not even open til 6 AM; that is not true, staff is there from about 5 AM. Business Class and Global Entry have a separate line for check-in with no wait. Customs officers board the train at the border, but it a quick walk-through and a quick glance at passenger passports.
We started the day exploring the lovely Altstadt (Old Town) of Chur. They were setting up for what looked like a very impressive city-wide festival, too bad we can’t stay.
Then back on the train for a short, hour and a half, trip to Zürich. The scenery was exactly what you would expect to see in the Swiss countryside, pastoral green hills, cows, small quaint villages, clear lakes and the occasional castle. In fact, this is Heidi territory.
Once at the Hauptbahnhof in Zürich, we made a quick transfer to an airport train and checked into our hotel to drop off our bags. We are leaving for England at dawn tomorrow so we wanted to be on-site to make things as easy as possible at that inhuman time of the day. Then back into central Zürich.
There was no real agenda today, just walking around and taking it easy after the last few hectic days. We enjoy the Old Towns in European cities, and this one was no exception. Larger than many such districts, we found its sister cobbled-street neighborhood of Niederdorf across the River Limmat even more charming and definitely more upscale. Being ever-minded of equal opportunity, we visited cafes on both sides.
The Rhine River in Chur, Switzerland’s oldest city, was inhabited since the Neolithic era in 2500 BC and settled by the Romans in the 1st century BC.
It’s no secret my husband loves trains; while I may not share his passion for Lionel trains, model train displays, or being in the engineer’s cab, I do love riding trains; especially in Europe.
So, riding the Swiss Glacier Express was naturally at the top of our list. This morning we left Zermatt before 7AM and headed east to St. Moritz. We went back along the route from the day prior, to Visp, bypassing it for a quick stop in Brig. Other scheduled stops included Andermatt, Disentis, Chur and Filisur.
At times, I felt like I had been miniaturized and dropped into the magnificent Swiss model train display at Hamburg’s Miniatur Wunderland; I expected at any minute to see a naked couple in a field of sunflowers, or a team of detectives investigating a body in a river.
The “slowest express train in the world” (at an average 22 mph), covers 291 kilometers (181 miles) in about eight hours and every minute is riveting.
The scenery is nothing less than spectacular and I will try to let the few pictures here tell the story. Unlike the Rocky Mountaineer, these cars have no option to stand at an open window for photos, so you cope with windows getting progressively dustier, awful reflection, lots of electrical wires and the fact you are in a moving train, to try to get any shots at all. Mostly, you just have to sit back and enjoy the experience.
From snow-covered peaks, glaciers, bright green pastures, cows collared with giant bells, expansive evergreen forests, workers building new spiral tunnels, a helicopter flying buckets of cement to a mountain top, sheer limestone cliffs, deep gorges, raging rivers and towering waterfalls, we crossed 291 bridges and viaducts and travelled through 91 tunnels. At our highest point, at the Oberalppass near Andermatt, we were 6,670’ high. The segment between Chur and St. Moritz is also part of the Bernina Express; one area, known as the Rhaetian Railway in the Albula/Bernina Landscapes, has been a World Heritage Site since 2008.
Once in St. Moritz, we jumped right back on another train and headed back to Chur, Switzerland’s oldest city, for the night. My lesson for the day – you pronounce Chur, “Kor”.
Tips for anyone thinking of going:
There are 3 trains a day, just before 8, 9 and 10 am, from each direction. Reservations are required (there is first and second class) and all food and beverages are additional, and served at your seat (the dining car was discontinued years ago). Commentary is skimpy and by headphone, and the guy reading the English script could put sheep to sleep. Thankfully, we read a good description in a book prior to going. Most of the souvenirs available on the train are not much to brag about and better off skipped. If you have room in your suitcase, the angle-bottom wine glass they formerly used in the dining car (to keep liquid even), is a conversation piece.
The Swiss Rail/Travel Pass, www.sbb.ch, is a good way to go, but keep in mind, you still need to pay a bit more for a reservation on any Swiss scenic route like the Glacier Express. www.glacierexpress.ch