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D A Y - T E N

The opening of todays' dissertation will be about food prices, business hours, and liquor.

Swiss meals in restaurants tend to be pricey (average meal in an average restaurant seemed to be about 24 francs in my best estimate). With a ratio of approximately 2/3, that's about $16. A big difference, however, is that swiss prices include all taxes and tips. If the menu says 24 francs, so does your bill when you leave.   In the US, a dinner cost of $12 would add almost a dollar in tax, then the "expected" tip would be around $2 and you're at $15 out the door, so prices aren't "quite" as stiff as they seem. Sandwiches are usually available in most shops ("kiosks" abound, selling magazines, candy, whatnot, and they also usually have sandwiches. Average price - about 5 francs).

One VERY expensive item in comparison is soft drinks. A coke will normally set you back at least 2.5 francs, and milk and coffee are also relatively costly. Beer usually runs 3 francs and up, and brings up an interesting difference for US tourists. Although we had ready access to alcohol in hotels and any restaurant, at our new hotel in Chur I decided that the "honor-bar" beers at 5 francs per would add up, so decided to go buy a 6-pack. Had noticed a supermarket about 3 blocks from the hotel, bopped over, went thru it with a fine-toothed comb and NO ALCOHOL! Hmmmm. Well, I've seen this type of thing before - usually means a governemt-controlled alcohol distribution, so obviously they must only sell booze in specialty liquor stores. OK - city proper from here to hotel is about 3 by 6 blocks of stores and crowds, how many corners do I need to check before I find a liquor store? Answer - ALL of them, and ZILCH! None! Nada!

It is now about 6:30pm, and all the shops are closing up. I return to the hotel, as I know the clerk speaks good english, and ask about liquor stores (I can't BELEIVE I didn't locate at least half a dozen on the various corners.
Answer - "there is no such thing as a 'specialty store' that sells liquor"! HUH???
Department stores usually have a foods section, and they will also sell alcohol there. Also food markets. Whoops! I was just AT the supermarket, and no booze! Oh, THAT market doesn't sell alcohol! ?? OK - where's the nearest department store that sells booze? - Next block, but it is too late - ALL the stores close at 6:30PM! That's right, ALL of them!

Only thing open is restaurants - and around the corner - what else - MacDonalds! Their hours? "closes 24:00" - so - not EVERYBODY rolls up the sidewalks in Switzerland at 6:30pm{g}. Big Mac - 6.90 francs, "pommes fritas" (french fries - exactly same product as in the states) 2.8 fr "small", 3.2 fr "regular", 3.8 fr "gross" (there's a great translation for "large"). Value menu - Big Mac - small fry - small drink - 9.9 francs. Even "McFlurry" ice cream/candy mixture - and what's this? "Anstel beer' - 3.9 francs? Horrors! Does Ronald McDonald know about THIS?
Lines ALWAYS long at McDonalds, so swiss "veal" or not, burgers sell.

BTW - wife finds a grocery store next day, and they don't sell beer in 6 Packs! (I probably just lost most of my "possible" future swiss travelers with THAT revelation),
Oh, and although you can get a burger in various places and they're not that bad, FORGET hot dogs. They've got em - a long skinny wimpy thing inside a steamer jar, a loaf of bread which they pierce on a metal post to make a hole to insert the dog, and you get a full loaf of bread to chew on (which is 'good', because the hot dog is so tough you can hardly bite through it so you might as well have SOMETHING to eat out of the deal). This was not only experienced on this trip, but I tried a hot dog 10 years ago also - I tried again - nope - no improvement. Stick to burgers or eat Swiss meals.

Lessee - oh yeah - TRAINS!

Routes today: 910 915 940 930

We start the day on a local narrow gauge eastward to Landquart, then make a transfer to the line heading south into the Alps. We climb gradually up a valley, and eventually reach Klosters, the first major ski area. Leaving town, we make a 180 curve to scale a mountain and enter a tunnel. At the mouth I see a line diverging south into another bore that was not there 10 years ago. The swiss decided that the line we will be traversing later could not handle all the necessary traffic and decided to add another 20 mile or so tunnel to their system since I was here last time. Since it is "all" tunnel to the line on the other side where I have been before, I chose to skip it for a more "scenic" route.

We climb thru numerous direction reversals to gain altitude, and reach the Davos resort areas where we will change trains (no crossing lines, just a straight connection). We are now in heavy ski country with chairlifts, rope tows, and gondola lifts all around, and finally get the beginning of the first signficant snowing we have run into. Our ride beyond Davos is gradually dropping down a long valley and we encounter other ski areas, then suddenly we are in a canyon that is a geological "oddity". Here a river has cut thru for several miles, but "erosion" is lacking. Rather it appears that giant cracks several hundred feet deep (scroll down) split the mountains apart, and the river runs at the bottom of the cracks. The opposite sides of the river canyon are very close, with canyon sides so steep it would seem impossible to scale on either side.   The railroad has been cut thru on ledges where available, otherwise tunneling has been used to bore thru this extremley rugged and difficult section. We eventually pop out onto a level area and swing down into the station at Filisur, where our line ends at the juction of the main Chur-San Moritz line. We will return down that line to Chur later today (and see one of the "famous" sights of Switzerland), but now we will continue south thru another marvel.

Our connecting train arrives from Chur, and it is the longest narrow-gauge train I have ever seen in this country! A single engine (they must have INCREDIBLE horsepower in these electrics) is followed by 6 "panorama" cars (glass-windows in the ceiling) marked "Bernina Express", then a baggage car, then 12 more passenger cars. 19 loaded cars, and we will be climbing gradient that is just at the margin where rack would be needed for adhersion if it was any steeper. We are near the head-end, and board the first car behind a few other people and find - no seats! Ok - back we go - and go - and go - (the baggage car is "walk-thru"), and we walk thru SEVENTEEN cars before I find a car with 3 seats! EVERYONE is out for snow-play.

The line just south of Filisur is another engineering "marvel", as the valley ends at another narrow crevasse from a plateau high above, and the Swiss took the only way possible to ascend. Loop. and loop. and loop some more. The line makes what seems like dozens of switchbacks and loops, with high rock arched bridges crossing the narrow canyon, and each time you cross one you look down and see ones you crossed moments before until you really don't even know which way you are running as you pop in and out of the tunnels and continue climbing. Although we are running in heavy snow, I rode this previously in the summer, and it was just as beautiful in green as it is in white. Snow gets DEEP here, and train service interruptions due to avalanches are not uncommon.

Topping out of the canyon, we come to a hamlet of Preda (the station building is about the only thing there). We can debark and wait for 55 minutes for a train coming the other way, or continue to the end at San Moritz and return on the same train (another 25 minutes to end of line, with a 5 minute layover). Even with the crowded train, 55 minutes in "nowhere" is not that appealing, so we stay aboard. We immediately plunge into the Albula tunnel (another long cross-Alpine passage) and pop out in the "Engadine" region of southern Switzerland on a gradual downslope with heavy snow accumulation.

We reach the line that travels east to an end at Scuol-Tarasp near the Austrian border (the other end of the new tunnel from Klosters comes out up that way) and turn the other way towards San Moritz. At Samedan the line branches south to Italy (more on that in a moment) but we run on, go thru a short tunnel, and roll into the San Moritz station...and see our "connecting" train coming out our way as we come to a stop. In this case the scheduled "connection" apparently is not intended to be such (who but a railfan would ride all the way to San Moritz and leave without even getting off the train?). Since the tunnel into the station is single track, the "5 minute" connection is more likely just an acknowledgement that the inbound trains tend to be a few minutes tardy, and the time delay is just shown to allow the inbound to clear the way for the outbound, and equipment lays over for the next trip.

Having been here before, I know there are no shopping, stores, or whatever at the station proper, and San Moritz itself is steeply uphill to stores and shopping. Due to heavy snow and heavy crowds, we decide to just hang around the station until our train departs.
I watch as the power and the first 6 "Bernina Express" panorama cars are pulled off the front and into the yards, then another engine couples to the back and it pulls around, thru the tunnel and heads off for Tirano Italy.

The trip is a twisting mountain journey over a very high pass with massive snowscapes (even in summer), then winds down a narrow valley to the Italian Border. It goes thru twists and turns, and puts the "Tehachapi loop" to shame with much more scenic and impressive loops. The towns in the valley are very scenic, and much of the running in the towns is centered in the main streets. In places the street running makes you wonder if they outlawed "NIMBY's". We made this trip previously, and have seen a number of snowy passes so far, so skip it and reverse our route back.

At Filisur we remain on the main line back
to Chur, and just after passing thru, cross the Landwasser Viaduct, one of the most spectacular and photographed Swiss rail scenes. The line coming up the mountain comes to a river valley off a hillside, crosses a stone viaduct several hundred feet high (scroll down) that makes a long gentle curve to the right, and the last arch of the viaduct ends at a sheer rock cliff where the Swiss bored straight into a tunnel which comes out the far side of that mountain into Filisur. Pictures of the bright red trains of the line on the bridge are very common in Swiss rail and travelog brochures.

The line continues dropping lower thru a series of valleys, and eventually merges with the line from Amdermatt and we return to the Chur station.

There is still a couple of hours of daylight left, so after the girls head for the hotel, I jump on the narrow gauge line in the street in front of the station for a ride up to a mountaintop at Arosa. The train swings thru streets on the "old city" outskirts for several blocks, then swings to the side of the road and begins another long steep climb. Again we encounter the "split rocks" type canyon experienced earlier today, and at one point we cross a ledge between a pair of tunnels and when I look down, I not only wonder how they built this thing in the first place, I also wonder how people can work on the roadbed without a fear of "falling forever" (maybe they use safety ropes working up here).

We continue the climb, making numerous station stops with the snow getting deeper and deeper, and swing around a curve into the last station before the end and YIKES again!. There must be 300 people standing around with skis and sleds waiting to board our 5-car "reasonably" crowded train! Well, they jam 'em in "SRO"(and then some), and we wind up a couple miles further to the top and get breathing room as the train empties. As was the case on the Oberalp pass, snow-play down the slopes is apparently quite easily extended by taking the train back up to the top instead of lifts, and I just got a taste of a "busy" day up here.

How could a conductor have checked tickets in that morass? He couldn't. I'll get into ticket checking at a later date. We reverse back down to the hotel, and I suggest to the ladies that they make this trip "on their own" if they get bored in the days ahead.

Today - only 7 rides (99 now), another 226 miles (2564 to date). Will I make 3000? dunno 'til I add 'em up.

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