D A Y - T H I R T E E N
Another "money-saving" item here for any potential Swiss travelers.
DO NOT BUY YOUR RAILPASSES IN ADVANCE!
The Swiss Rail website provides pass prices in Swiss Francs, and also provides a direct link to their foreign purchase site with prices in US dollars. The price discrepancy does not appear to be a "currency conversion" factor, rather they have apparently just set a US price, and IT IS FAR TOO HIGH!
Passes can be for various lengths of time, first or second class, and there are "travel together" discounts also. I will give you my pricing as an example, and inform you how mine was handled.
A 15 day first class pass in US dollars is $400. The 2 ladies would always travel together and got a 15% discount, or $340 apiece, for a total of $1080 on the website if I contacted their US facility. Their "ticket shop" quoted the passes in francs at 580 + 493 + 493 for 1566 francs, and at the (then) conversion rate, it was over $100 dollars less. When I emailed and asked if I bought from them and charged it to a credit card, they informed me I would be charged the franc prices, but that due to mail losses, they would ONLY send the passes thru priority shipping at a charge that would just about wipe out the savings.
They ALSO informed me that I could merely email them the names of the persons wanting passes, pass types, passport numbers, date of arrival and train station desired and that I could pick up the passes which would be waiting at that station by merely giving our names (and charge them at that time to a credit card).
I did just that, and saved over $30 per pass with this simple method. (I also printed out the email regarding that info and had it along to "help" at the train station if there was any difficulty and I recommend that anyone else do the same, even though it was not asked for).
Routes today: 900 713 712 720 711
Well, we waited until a reaonable hour, then took an express to Zurich to switch to the next train to the Airport. It was New Years eve day, and the station was swarming with people in the station and the vast underground shopping areas, and the gals indicated they might want to come back after we got out hotel room and I told them it was "simple" and I would lay it out for them (we had again shipped our large baggage the night before at the train station direct to the airport, and were only dealing with overnight bags with clothing for the following morning).
At the airport we transferred over and then called the hotel shuttle and were shortly registered and encamped. The hotel shuttle was only runing intermittently due to the holiday, and I asked the room clerk where the nearest train station was and was informed "around the corner about 400 meters". The hotel paraphenalia showed we were at the "Airport hotel - Glattbrugg", and my maps and schedules immediately located the station and I laid out the info for the girls, telling them where the station was down the street, to take a train destined to Zurich, and when returning to look for a train departing Zurich at 06 or 36 minutes past the hour with a destination of "Oberglatt" or "Neiderweningen" (the destination of the 2 locat services that made this stop) and to get off at the 3rd stop - Glattbrugg.
I then bid them farewell and headed down the street to the station and.....?
I was at a traffic circle about a 1/4 mile away in a residential area, and there was no sight of anything even remotely resembling a train station in any direction that I could see. There was no choice but to trundle back to the hotel, where my inquiry was met with - "Oh - that was only a general direction. You must turn right another 2 blocks at the circle to the Opfikon station.
The WHAT station? Isn't this GLATTBRUGG?
Oh yes, but the Glattbrugg station is elsewhere - this is the Opfikon station.
Great! I have now given the girls improper directions on how to even FIND the station (don't even know how myself yet), and I have also given them detailed instructions on how to get back to the WRONG PLACE!
I pick up a house phone, get my wife and tell her to forget Zurich (too complicated) and to take a shuttle and shop the airport if money is burning holes in their pockets.
I then follow the (proper) directions, catch a local, and zip into Zurich. The day is half shot already, but the stub-end pair of routes from underground tracks 1-2 will fit into a run, so I go over and catch the first one available, a 3 car local to Uetliberg, somewhere in the hills to the west of the city.
We leave underground, branch off the other line, swing thru a few neighborhoods, and begin a gradual climb up hills behind the city, stopping and boarding an increasing load of people, many with sleighs (snow blanketed the whole country, and this is a holiday). We continue for a while, with the city gradually spreading out below, then hit the turn-back stop for "rush-hour" extras, and whoops! Probably a hundred people waiting for the train, almost all with sleds? We get the old "standing room only", proceed upward, and we are out of homes and into a forest area and still climbing. We come to another stop, and the hillsides are covered with people sliding around and playing in the snow. We climb to the last stop, and there must be a thousand people around the area where we will stop. There are also shops and a "skylon" (several hundred feet high observation tower).
I scrunch down in my seat as our train empties, expecting another mad rush of departing people, but we only gradually fill - apparently the crowd is up here for the views and snow play and is not descending (yet - glad I wasn't there when the day ended).
I ride back to the Zurich platforms and cross over and catch the other line from these platforms, to Sihlbrugg. This is the only train I have seen with the Swiss double-deck commute cars in other than the standard dark blue - it's RED! This line runs further inland from the lakefront than the main line, but runs parallel, and we proceed thru residential neighborhoods and eventually more open areas.
Shortly after leaving the city center I see a river/creek that has been concrete bedded for flood control. Due to space considerations, the creekbed has been laced with support columns and an auto expressway has been constucted in the air along the creek. (Must have been done a few years ago - don't think the environmental movement would stand for burying a creek like that in this day and age).
We eventually merge with a main line as it emerges from a tunnel and end our ride at the next station. This is now "THE" southern main, as all Lucerne AND Italy/Gotthard pass traffic from Zurich travels here. Several through trains roll by before a local stops, and I board and ride south to the city of Zug on another lake. Here the main splits with the Gotthard route running down the eastern shore and Lucerne traffic heading west around the lake.
I catch another local that heads west a short distance, then branches up and follows a valley northward to the west of Zurich (basically running on the other side of the hills I had ridden up earlier in the day). The local then merges into the Bern-Zurich main and we swing back into the Zurich station as darkness begins.
I now descend to the underground tracks 21-24 and watch the frequently changing boards for a train back to the hotel. Ah there - track 23 - local to Neiderwingen. I jump on, ride thru the couple local in-city stops that I know we go thru, and the announcement comes up "Necht stalt" ('next stop' I beleive) "Glattbrugg".
I took the train I had carefully spelled out for the girls (no wonder the name 'clicked'), and I am on the WRONG TRAIN!
Well, first things first - GET OFF THIS THING or I'll be in Germany!.
I get off at Glattbrugg, check my handy-dandy timetable and see I can ride back one station (before the line splits) and then come back on the diverging line to my proper station. Unfortunately, these are stricly local stops, and I will have a 20 minute wait here, and then a 25 minute wait going the other way. 45 minutes is a bit more than I desire, and with 20 "free" minutes, I decide to leave the station and see what gives.
The area is residential - light industrial, and there is no business activity or people around. There IS however a large "neighborhood" map posted on a kiosk, and it reveals that a one-block walk away from the station, then a 1 block walk to the right and I will cross a major road artery, and 2 blocks further along there is.."Opfikon Bahnhof" - my intended station!
I follow the instructions (feeling perfectly safe), and sure enough, there's the entrance I used earlier to the train. I go the 1 block further to the traffic circle, turn left the 400 meters, and I'm back at my hotel (which is in a residential area, not a "city center").
OK - how many countrys/cities do you know where you could get off at an urban residential rail stop AT NIGHT with no idea where you were, walk a few blocks based on a kiosk map (feeling perfectly secure) and find your way back to your hotel? (Maybe in south-central LA off the "blue" line?).
Back at the hotel, the girls have been informed that due to New Years eve, there is NO possibility of dining in the hotel restaurant (and there is not much else close by and they would likely have the same crowd problems). They do suggest however that they can accomodate room service, so that is how dinner is obtained. Service is quick and polite with 2 persons delivering trays, and (as usual) they depart without even the slightest hint of expecting a tip.
We are even more surprised later when I check and find that the prices charged were EXACTLY the same as the restaraunt menu - there was no "surcharge" or higher price for room service meals as is almost always the case in the US.
Today - 7 more rides - I've made 126 boardings to date, and 154 miles for 3276 travelled. Not bad for a country that is over half impenatrable mountains and that you can travel end-to-end in about 3 hours.