D A Y - F I V E
Ok kiddies, todays lesson will begin with a dissertation on "currency". I checked out conversion before leaving the US, and found the rate quoted was around 1.58 francs per dollar, but decided to "wait and see". At the airport, I actually got 1.62 on exchange, so it was a good guess. There were exchange rates posted at banks throughout the country, and the rate always seemed to hover at about that rate. They also get their cut "the other way", and conversion BACK were quoted from about 1.70 to 1.82, so you would lose a small amount in the conversion back (not a biggie, we just took all our remaining francs and applied them to our final hotel bill and did not need to re-convert any).
Except for miscellaneous items, Visa and Mastercard are accepted everywhere so that is what we mainly used (and the conversion rates I got back on my charges were pretty close to the 1.62 rate, so it worked out fine).
The swiss monetary system has evolved thru the years, and though it is a very stable currency, inflation has also struck there. The currency is bills of various sizes to assist in identification with common denominations of $200 - 100 - 50 - 20 - and 10 francs. There are no bills smaller than a 10.
I will list the coins and their relationships in (approximate) size to US coins. 5 francs (silver dollar), 2 francs (half dollar), 1 franc (quarter), 20 centines (nickel), 10 centines (dime). There is a half-franc (.50 centines) but it is smaller than the .10 centines and seems a little confusing at first. There also is an even smaller 5 centine coin which is bronze (the only non-silver coin) but it is seldom used as everything is now priced in tenths of a franc. There may have been a 1 centine coin in the past, but it is not in circulation.
The difficulty in dealing with the swiss currency is the (for US residents) lack of smaller bills, thus virtually everything not priced around 10 francs (about $6.20) gets you a handful of very many and large coins. The swiss tend to carry large coin purses to accomodate this, but it seems like an awful lot of metal to people used to dollar bills.
Almost nothing can be bought for under a franc, but the Swiss use the same gimmick as the US on pricing (US $19.95 because it looks cheaper than $20 dollars - Swiss CHF 29.90 for the same reason)
Since the girls are "doing their thing" again today, I will use it to explore an area of Switzerland that is not normally high on the "tourist" lists as it lacks most of the lake and/or high mountain scenery. This is the "Jura" region, the northwesterly region of the country that borders France. It is primarily hilly farm country with few major towns, but still receives extensive rail service.
Routes today: 280 450 500 230 240 236 237 226 331 410 210 252 280 460 340
I board the first train north out of Thun to Bern, then grab the next train east to Olten, a major junction. Although I could take a direct train from Bern to Basel where I am headed, there would be a wait, and since Olten is the junction of main lines from Bern (mine), Lucerne, Basel, Zurich, and Lausanne via Biel/Bienne PLUS local service, there will be virtually no wait at Olten.
I make my transfer to a Basel train, leave and plunge into a long tunnel thru a mountain range to the north, and emerge into a long valley leading to the Rhine and Basel. (There is a pre-tunnel line from Olten to Basel that parallels the route of the tunnel, still served by local service now that the main was tunnelled and improved). Basel is another large city, and sits at a junction of the border with both France and Germany with a large station (it includes 2 other swiss main lines besides the one I have come in on, plus 2 German main lines and a heavy use French main, plus local lines and streetcar services).
Since I have a long journey ahead, I merely grab the next train on the main to the west that has hourly service as far as Geneva (via a merge with the Biel/Bienne main) and ride as far as a junction at Delemont. Here the maps indicate a line branching off to the north that ends up as two stub lines to the French border, plus a split-off line to the west with multiple connections that I will explore.
Delemont catches me by surprise as again it is in a narrow valley, and although not necessarily shown as such on maps, the line continues up the valley towards France, but thru mainline services require the by now familiar "swap engine ends" and the express departs back the way it came and the follows a westward switch towards Moutier (I will be there later). The local I immediately board swings a few miles up the valley, and I drop off at a connection at Glovelier. This proves to be a narrow-gauge service, and I now have left the "commute" area from Basel and am in open country.
My train climbs a long valley, pulls another switchback/change-ends game (this is MU equipment with no separate engine, so it is merely a seat-swap by the driver) and we continue climbing and loop back to the west higher up in the hills. The balance of the traveling in this region really seems odd, as there seem to be no settlements of any size. We make about 2 dozen stops, and I never see more than a few buildings at even the largest stops. I guess it would be reminiscent of the "prairie locals" of the early 20th century in the midwest for lack of a better description. I wonder occasionally what the justification can be to maintain this kind of service in a sparsely populated area (hourly or 30 minutes service 18 or more hours per day), but learn that with a "nationally funded" rail system, any attempts to cut back service to "my" town gets such a hue-and-cry that Swiss just do NOT drop rail services.
Anyhow, we jaunt along westward, and I note there will be an exceedingly long connecting time at the line end at La Chaux-De-Fonds ( - 45 MINUTES! - UNTHINKABLE!), and see that another local line branches back to the southeast ahead at Le Noirmont with a more "reasonable" wait (2 minutes), and I switch trains there. This line is more of the same, and ends at Tavannes, where I can transfer to standard gauge service either to the southwest that will merge into a mainline serving Biel/Bienne or go eastward to Moutier (mentioned earlier). I go east to end-of-service at Moutier and am at the Basel-Geneva mainline I left earlier, which tunnels south from here to the main Geneva-Neucahtel-Olten line. Across the platforms another local line swings further east and will reach that same main without tunnels (this is possibly the pre-tunnel mainline) and switch to that line for the ride. It ends on the east-west main at Solothurn where I have decided to catch a westbound express, and as I get off I see another "toonerville trolley" line in the street out front and make a note to try it later.
My express rolls in, and proves to be one of the modern ICE-N trainsets that I have not ridden yet. I board and WOW! Due to being "new" they are REALLY class acts. Seats (in first class) are heavy leather, the colors are a beautiful grey (leather and most carpet and trim) with a lavender accent. All interior doors and compartment walls are an etched smoked glass, and the first class car (with the standard 1-2 seating), also has half the car in compartments (where 6 facing seats would be located are now 4 facing seats with consoles, shelving, laptop hookups, etc). The accomodations in the whole car easily rival the best first class seating I have seen on any airliner (no, I don't pay those kinds of prices, but like most of us I glance at them in envy as I follow the "herd" in the cattle-call back into economy). The express is a quite typical cab-coach-diner-coach-cab trainset with 7 or 8 cars (mutiple coaches) hooked nose to nose with another set for adequate seats, and rolls along so smoothly I don't want to get off, so bypass connecting mainlines back to Bern at Biel/Bienne and Neuchatel and stay onboard until my last chance for a "different" ride at Yverdon. If I continued, the express would next stop at Lausanne, and I have ridden from there to Bern previously, so opt for a cross-country local that will cross another east-west semi-main to the south and then countinue on into Fribourg on the regular main line.
At Fribourg I grab the next train (which happens to be an express to Lucerne), and before we reach Bern I check the schedule and find that if I stay on at Bern and continue to Kolonfingen I can connect to the local that arrives in Thun on the 41-42 stub tracks and be home faster than if I switch to a mainline Bern-Thun connection, so do so and arrive back at the hotel about 5:30pm.
Today - 13 trains, now 52 ridden - 318 miles, 1262 to date. Tomorrow - I "abandon" the ladies in mid-trip to their own devices.