Bernina Express

Steps: 14,677

Today we took the Bernina Express, yet another panoramic rail journey. It’s short and sweet, travelling from St Moritz through the Bernina pass into Tirano, Italy. We then opted to continue the journey from Tirano back into Switzerland, although the service switches modes to bus.

Breakfast in St Moritz

The view from breakfast. Naturally it was beautifully sunny with no hint of inclement weather the day we leave. But I got my alpine hike in. I can't complain.

The view from breakfast. Naturally it was beautifully sunny with no hint of inclement weather the day we leave. But I got my alpine hike in. I can’t complain.

Breakfast in our St Moritz hotel was similar in content, if not as fancy, as the Zermatt hotel. However, they did have soft-boiled eggs. My love for runny yolks is matched only by my love for trains.

Breakfast in our St Moritz hotel was similar in content, if not as fancy, as the Zermatt hotel. However, they did have soft-boiled eggs. My love for runny yolks is matched only by my love for trains.

Bernina Express (rail portion)

At first, the views were normal enough. I've been on over 10 hours of panoramic train journey in the Alps, now, I've seen this before.

At first, the views were normal enough. I’ve been on over 10 hours of panoramic train journey in the Alps, now, I’ve seen this before.

But then the glaciers started appearing.

But then the glaciers started appearing.

Glaciers, you think. I’ve seen glaciers before.

Note this close, you haven't!

Note this close, you haven’t!

And because this is Switzerland and the Swiss are just that awesome, there are trailheads or lift stations at every glacier. Because it's not just enough to ride on by, you have to hike that shit.

And because this is Switzerland and the Swiss are just that awesome, there are trailheads or lift stations at every glacier. Because it’s not just enough to ride on by, you have to hike that shit.

All too soon, the glaciers came to an end. But I suppose there is only so much awe that can be inspired before one is overwhelmed.

The valley to which we eventually descended.

The valley to which we eventually descended.

The lowlands have their own charms.

The lowlands have their own charms.

A few comments on the Glacier Express and the Bernina Express for those who are wondering how the services compare. If I had to choose from between the Glacier Express and the Bernina Express, I would definitely choose the Bernina Express. It is far less touristy, far more relaxed and the scenery is, believe it or not, more grand.

The Glacier Express was so touristy that it had a freaking souvenir cart, which a crewmember pushed down the aisles in all the cars multiple times. The Glacier Express also had an audio program explaining sights as we passed them, and at the end of each segment, an obvious advertisement played for food or souvenirs on board. The Bernina Express also had some audio programming, but it was explanatory only.

The Glacier Express was very crowded, with nearly every seat taken, while the Bernina Express didn’t even have assigned seating. It became crowded only for brief segments of the journey, as most passengers appeared to use it for access to hiking and lifts than scenery.

The middles of the cars on the Bernina Express were wheelchair accessible and made for a great location from which to take pictures. Maximum freedom of movement and minimum reflections.

Although, if you really want to take the best pictures, the open-air Aussichtswagen appears to be ideal. Not as comfortable as the enclosed cars, I would imagine.

Although, if you really want to take the best pictures, the open-air Aussichtswagen appears to be ideal. Not as comfortable as the enclosed cars, I would imagine.

In all I enjoyed my ride on the Bernina Express far more than the Glacier Express. I wouldn’t do the Glacier Express again, particularly with the seat reservation fee, but I’m absolutely looking forward to doing the Bernina Express again. And next time, I’m going to use it for the access to awesome hiking!

Tirano

We had over an hour before the transfer to the bus service returning us to Switzerland, and we were not going to pass up the chance to have Italian food in Italy. If there’s a cuisine I love almost as much as my native cuisine, it’s Italian.

We had lunch at a restaurant mere minutes away from the station, that was highly recommended by TripAdvisor.

We had lunch at a restaurant mere minutes away from the station, that was highly recommended by TripAdvisor.

We were seated next to a couple of elderly Swiss ladies. I don’t know what possessed me, perhaps it was the proximity or something, but I brushed off my rusty German and actually initiated conversation with them. They were perfect conversation partners, understanding and patient, speaking slowly and enunciating carefully. They left soon after, with happy smiles all around.

Traditional buckwheat pasta served with potatoes, cabbage, butter, cheese, onion, garlic, and salt-cured beef carpaccio. Hide was a big fan of this dish, particularly the buckwheat pasta (the boy must be deprived; perhaps I should feed him soba). I personally found the dish a bit heavy, with potato and cheese. The beef carpaccio was exquisite.

Traditional buckwheat pasta served with potatoes, cabbage, butter, cheese, onion, garlic, and salt-cured beef carpaccio. Hide was a big fan of this dish, particularly the buckwheat pasta (the boy must be deprived; perhaps I should feed him soba). I personally found the dish a bit heavy, with potato and cheese. The beef carpaccio was exquisite.

Seafood spaghetti, including clams, mussels, octopus, and shrimp. The seafood was cooked with varying consistency: the mussels were overdone but the clams were great, some of the octopus was overdone while other pieces were oh so sweet and tender (I love octopus about as much as I love runny egg yolk and trains), and each shrimp was melt-in-your-mouth tender. But the true star of the dish was the spaghetti. This was my first experience  with true al dente pasta, and the toothsomeness blew my mind. I felt as if I had never eaten pasta before.

Seafood spaghetti, including clams, mussels, octopus, and shrimp. The seafood was cooked with varying consistency: the mussels were overdone but the clams were great, some of the octopus was overdone while other pieces were oh so sweet and tender (I love octopus about as much as I love runny egg yolk and trains), and each shrimp was melt-in-your-mouth tender. But the true star of the dish was the spaghetti. This was my first experience with true al dente pasta, and the toothsomeness blew my mind. I felt as if I had never eaten pasta before.

Talk about bang for your buck. The food is cheaper and way better in Italy. I can’t wait to go back to Italy for the food alone.

Bernina Express (bus portion)

The next stage of the Bernina Express was a bus taking us back from Italy to Switzerland, specifically the city of Lugano. It was also a pretty ride but it’s even harder to take pictures in a bus than on a train. I was hoping to sleep a little and take a break from looking out the window, but there were still much beautiful scenery, along the lines of lovely blue water.

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Lugano

When we got to Lugano, we made it five minutes away from the drop off point when I realized I forgot my cardigan on the bus. But by then the bus was nowhere in sight. I was extremely upset, but eventually stopped holding out hope. I’ll probably spend hundreds of dollars on inferior replacements for the next few years.

We checked into the hotel, which is even crappier than the hotel in St Moritz. Although it had been renovated, the lighting was completely inadequate and I could get neither natural light nor fresh air from the shuttered and rusted shut windows.

Gladly leaving the depressing hotel room, we went on our evening stroll to have some dinner and see a little of the city. Lugano is in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, and it certainly has a far different feel than either Valais or Graubünden. Naturally the mountains are still visible, and in fact the city is so hilly that it has its own funicular, but it has a distinctly more Mediterranean feel, both with respect to the weather and the people.

We really wanted more Italian food after our moving experience in Tirano, so we went to a pizzeria for pizza.

A margherita pizza, a good baseline to judge pizza styles. The toppings were far too heavy, resulting in a soggy dough, and the basil was nonexistent for decorative garnish. However, the tomato sauce was absolutely delicious, chock-full umami, and the mozzarella was solid too.

A margherita pizza, a good baseline to judge pizza styles. The toppings were far too heavy, resulting in a soggy dough, and the basil was nonexistent except for decorative garnish. However, the tomato sauce was absolutely delicious, chock-full umami, and the mozzarella was solid too.

We splurged on this platter of their fishes of the day (but, considering the rest of the prices in Switzerland, this was hardly indulging ourselves and far better value than most of what you get). It included fishes such as tuna, salmon, octopus, and amberjack. Most if it was very good, with excellent composition of ingredients and flavours (who knew citrus zest was such an excellent accompaniment for gravalax?).

We splurged on this platter of their fishes of the day (but, considering the rest of the prices in Switzerland, this was hardly indulging ourselves and far better value than most of what you get). It included fishes such as tuna, salmon, octopus, and amberjack. Most if it was very good, with excellent composition of ingredients and flavours (who knew citrus zest was such an perfect accompaniment for gravalax?).

It turns out that the night we were in town was the first night of the Lugano Longlake festival, apparently famous all over Switzerland. This was just happenstance, and not planned. So the streets were filled with people and music and, well, second-hand smoke.

Hide attempted to generate his own second-hand smoke with a cigar he had purchased before dinner, but tragically, he was foiled by the cigar that was kept too moist, a book of matches instead of a lighter and the wind.

To make him feel better, we got some chocolate and hazelnut gelato from a gelateria. Not the best I’ve had (a shop in DC has the honour), but decent enough and the hazelnut was delicious.

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