It was another early start today, and another serious day of travel. We needed to get from Chur to Rome by train, a distance of nearly 1000km. Chur might seem like an unusual destination in Switzerland, but this small city is the starting point for the famous Bernina Express. This 144 km scenic train journey winds its way over the Engadin Alps, crossing 196 bridges and going through 55 tunnels. This is not a high speed train – the train takes more than 4 hours to cover the 144km, as the gradients are as steep as 1 in 7.
There are regular trains that cover this route, but only the 8:30am train offers the glass roof panorama cars. There was time for a quick breakfast at the hotel, then we needed to grab picnic food at the station. Sunrise was at 8am, so unlike the Norway train, the entire Bernina Express journey was in daylight. We thought the Norway train trip was scenic, but this was a whole new level of scenic. We were lucky enough to have a perfect day, which made the scenery incredible.
Chur’s elevation is 593m above sea level and the high point of the train journey was 2,253m. It was amazing that a normal train could climb up such a steep incline. In places the track spiralled more than 360 degrees, and the engineering on this route made the Raurimu Spiral look pretty basic. It was fun being on a such a touristy train with people from all round the world enjoying the amazing scenery together.
Soon after the summit we made a stop at Alp Grum and were able to get out of the train for about 10 minutes. We hadn’t expected this and it was great to be get some chilly fresh air (it was about minus 10 degrees and windy!) and take some photos without window reflections.
After Alp Grum, we started the slow descent down into Italy. This side of the mountains was much steeper, so progress was really slow. Normally it would be frustrating to be on a train that travelled at 20 km per hour, but the scenery was just so spectacular that we were happy to have it last as long as possible. The landscape changed suddenly on our descent as most of the valley was bare of snow, even though we were still at a higher altitude than Chur.
We had a reasonably tight connection to our second train, but we weren’t worried about the Swiss train being late. We were due at 12:49, and rolled into Tirano station at exactly 12:49 – what a surprise! We had to change stations from the Swiss owned station to the Italian owned station, but they are right next door and the trains were about 20 metres apart.
The Trenord train took us from Tirano to Milano, with a large part of the journey along the shores of Lake Como. The scenery was beautiful although the Trenord window cleaners must have been on holiday, so the views had a muddy grey filter. I had accidentally booked first class tickets, but it turned out to be well worth it as we had a virtually empty carriage and second class was packed. Our next connection wasn’t as tight, but it was definitely the one I was most worried about. We had half an hour if we arrived on time, but also needed to find something to eat. It was going pretty well and we were tracking along about five minutes behind schedule. But then we hit train traffic congestion outside Milano Centrale, and just sat on the tracks. It felt like ages, but was only ten minutes. We arrived at a very manic Milano Centrale with 15 minutes before our next train was due to depart. We probably would have made it, although we may have gone hungry. But train congestion saved the day and our next train was delayed by 15 minutes. That gave us plenty time to find some snacks and watch all the craziness around us.
Our last train took us 575km in just over three hours, travelling at speeds of up to 300km/hr. It got dark pretty quickly and we spent lots of time in tunnels, so it was a good chance just to relax. The taxi ride to our apartment gave us a taste of Rome’s crazy traffic. After dropping off our bags, we headed straight to a Restaurant Cira, recommended as having the best pizza Rome. A good feed of prosciutto and melon and pizza was just what we needed after a long travel day.
After dinner, Andy headed off to the supermarket to get breakfast provisions and I took the kids for a quick look at the Trevi Fountain. It really is spectacular, such a huge fountain in a little square. Andy had a bit of fun getting back to the apartment. Tonight’s lesson was your GPS does not work in a city with narrow streets. With his hands full of groceries, he had set the voice directions on his GPS. He spent the next half a hour walking round in circles. It was only when he put the GPS away and followed his nose that he finally returned to base camp.