Switzerland by Rail – 2013

Zurich, Switzerland

Arrived in Zurich around 6:30 PM last night. The airport info desk personnel advised us to travel into Zurich by train rather than a taxi since it was rush hour making the taxi ride an hour or more trip. Easier said than done with two large suitcases, a roll-aboard and three smaller bags. We’re not known for traveling light, especially when our trips cover three weeks and the weather on this trip will range from extremely cold to possibly hot weather. Add to that all the electronic stuff we carry on trips and it sometimes looks like we’re moving.

We bought two eight day Swiss Passes for Friday and two 24 hour travel passes. In hindsight I should have done more research and bought a 24 hour Zurich card, which covers transportations and museums, similar to the card we used in Copenhagen last year.

We took the train from the airport to the main train station. From the train station we thought about taking a cab, but decided to take a tram to the closest stop nearest the hotel and then walk the short distance to the hotel. It just took about ten minutes and besides going out the worse entrance to the train station, which had stairs, it was quite easy.


Eating out in Switzerland was more expensive than we originally thought. Dinner was $173 US for 2 8 oz steaks, with a salad, vegetable and a glass of wine each and no dessert.

When researching hotels, breakfast ranged from 20-30 dollars. The hotel breakfast buffet was fruit, cold cuts, cheese, juice, soft boiled eggs, yogurt and assorted breads and cereals. After breakfast we walked to the Museum of Art for a couple of hours then took a tram to Bahnhofstrasse, the expensive shopping street of Zurich.

For lunch we ate at McD’s because Sue wanted a hamburger and so far she’s never gotten sick from eating at McD’s. We usually don’t eat fast food, but finding gluten-free fast food is not easy in a foreign country, especially with the language barrier. Two hamburgers, fries and a Coke each came to $30.

Chilled at the hotel for an hour after lunch then took the tram to the train station to figure out where we check our bags for the trip to Wengen in the morning. The bags have to be checked in by 9am so they can handle the bags, instead of us, for the multiple train changes tomorrow. Afterwards we continued sightseeing and walked the remainder of the section of Bahnhofstrasse we didn’t cover previously and found the Zurich Apple store. ­čÖé

Later on we decided to take the two large suitcases to the train station today for the trip tomorrow. Therefore tomorrow, instead of having to be at the train station before 9am, we can sleep in and not have to get up by an alarm clock, something we try to avoid since leaving the workforce.

Dinner tonight was at a Mexican restaurant, because Sue can usually find something gluten free. Two chicken entrees, one beer for Joe and water for Sue. $80

We’re staying in Old Town (Altstadt) Zurich so we’re seeing a lot of old town just by walking around. We walked 3-4 miles today with much of it on cobblestone.

Zurich to Wengen, Switzerland

Today was our first day using our eight day Swiss Pass for rail travel. From Zurich to Wengen is four trains, and there’s a couple of possible routes. The most time efficient is Zurich->Bern->Interlaken->Lauterbrunnen->Wengen. That can be done in 2:49 if you hustle through the larger stations and don’t miss a connection (6 min in Bern, 8 min in Interlaken). But it’s the boring scenery route.Alternatively, you can go Zurich->Luzern->Interlaken (etc). That takes 3:47, but the scenery around Luzern, and especially Luzern->Interlaken is spectacular.

We chose the alternate route. Very scenic but the weather didn’t cooperate.

Some additional details on the day:

Zurich->Luzern was an InterRegional train, first and second class compartments.

Luzern->Interlaken and Interlaken->Lauterbrunnen were both Regional trains, also with 1st & 2nd.

Lauterbrunnen -> Wengen was a cog-drive regional, 2nd class only.

Checked into our home for the next four nights, the Sunstar Hotel, which opened for the season the day we arrived. Very few restaurants and hotels in town were open. The hotel offered reasonably priced (for Switzerland) five course dinners, so we ate there every night. The food was delicious and they did a great job preparing gluten-free meals for Sue. Pre-booking half board in advance will get you the best dinner prices.

Wengen, Switzerland

Today we really gave the Swiss Passes a workout. The weather was no good for going to the peaks of any of the mountains around, so we took a self-guided tour of mountain villages instead. We left Wengen around 10am, got back a little after 5pm.Wengen-> Lauterbrunnen on the cog drive regional train
Lauterbrunnen -> Gr├╝tschalp via cable car
Gr├╝tschalp -> M├╝rren by train (not cog drive, it’s pretty flat)
M├╝rren -> Gimmelwald by cable car
Gimmelwald -> Stechelberg by cable car
Stechelberg -> Lauterbrunnen by bus
Lauterbrunnen -> Wengen on the cog drive regional train

M├╝rren is where you get the cable car to Piz Gloria Restaurant(via Birg). It’s a pricy ride, but the view is spectacular. If you’ve seen the Bond movie “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, you’ve seen the restaurant/ski lodge at the top of Piz Gloria. Today the mountain was totally socked in, so we didn’t do that leg. If we can fit it in, and we get better weather before we leave, we’ll go back.

Lauterbrunnen-> Zweil├╝tschinen by train
Zweil├╝tschinen->Grindelwald by train

Grindelwald is the eastern access to Jungfraujoch. You can take the train from there to Kleine Scheidegg, then up to Jungfraujoch, or you can go from Wengen to Kleine Scheidegg and then up. But Jungfrau, M├Ânch, and Eiger were all socked in, just as Piz Gloria was. So we had to put that stop off.



The swiss community has webcams scattered amongst the ski peaks and towns, so you can easily see how the weather is in a particular area, by just turning on the TV. All the peaks were socked in worse than yesterday so we walked around town a bit, but spent most of the day relaxing at the hotel.


When we awoke and looked at the TV, the webcams for Jungfrau and Shilthorn showed beautiful clear blue skies! After breakfast we headed to the train station to begin our 1.5 hour trip to Jungfraujoch, the highest railway station in Europe at 11,388 ftand called the top of Europe. The first leg took us to Kleine Scheidegg by rack rail, where we changed to the Jungfrau railway rack rail train for the journey to Jungfraujoch. The air was thin, the sky was still clear and the 360 degree view was magnificant! While there we also walked through the Ice Palace.After descending back down the mountain to 5000 ft, Wengen was still cloudy. We had lunch and then looked to see what the weather was like at Piz Gloria, the stop on Shilthorn. Shilthorn was socked in so we decided to go to M├Ąnnlichen via cable car, then on to Grindelwald by gondola. The peak at M├Ąnnlichen was limited visibility, but the gondola ride all the way to Grindelwald was very scenic. Then back to Wengen by rail via Zweil├╝tschinen and Lauterbrunnen.


Tuesday morning we awoke and once again Jungfrau and Schilthorn showed beautiful clear blue skies! So after breakfast we had breakfast, checked out of the hotel, left our carry-ons there and checked our large bags at the train station, then headed to Schilthorn. Down the mountain to Lauterbrunnen, a bus to Stechelberg, a cable car to Gimmelwald, a cable car to M├╝rren, a cable car to Birg and a final cable car to Piz Gloria. The valley was still in the clouds, but they cleared about half-way up to Piz Gloria. Once again magnificent 360 degree views from Schilthorn with views of Eiger, M├Ânch and Jungfrau and more than 200 other summits. Just breathtaking!

While at Schilthorn, the clouds cleared from Lauterbrunnen Valley so we decided to take the scenic route back to Wengen. We got off the cable car in M├╝rren and walked through town and then took the train to Gr├╝tschalp, then the cable car to Lauterbrunnen. It was so beautiful to see the snow capped mountains of Lauterbrunnen valley and Wengen on the ridge across the valley! So glad we delayed our trip to Zermatt until the afternoon.During lunch in Wengen, a local told us it was the first sunny day/afternoon they had had since November.

Wengen to Zermatt, Switzerland

After lunch we picked up our carry-ons, changed clothes and headed for the train station for the next leg of our adventure, Zermatt at the base of the Mattehorn.

A three hour trip by rail from Wengen to Zermatt with five train changes; Lauterbrunnen, Interlocken, Spiez, Visp and Tasch and just a few minutes between each to make the connection.

Our room at our hotel in Zermatt had a great view of the Mattehorn, which was viewable but had clouds around the summit.

Zermatt, Switzerland and the Matterhorn

Awoke to clear skies around the Matterhorn. After breakfast we walked to the Gornergrat Railway station and took the train to Gornergrat, Klein Matterhorn, the closest train station to the Mattehorn. The sky was clear and we got some great shots.After lunch we walked to the Schwarzsee paradise to take the Matterhorn Express aerial cable car from Zermatt, through Furgg to Trockener Steg to Klein Matterhorn. We were running out of time so we did not have time to go all the way to the Klein Mattehorn station, so we made the decision to go almost all the way up and stopped at Trockener Steg. By that time we got to Trockener Steg we had about 30 minutes to enjoy the views before the last cable car headed down for the day.

Zermatt to St Moritz, Switzerland

An early morning wake up. The Matterhorm is beautiful this morning, but it’s time for the next leg of our adventure, the seven+ hour journey through the Swiss Alps on the Glacier Express train to St. Moritz. A very scenic train ride, but the windows did not open so it was difficult to get good pictures through the glass.

St Moritz to Basel, Switzerland

To get to Basel, we traveled by regional train from St Moritz to Chur and the windows did open, allowing for picture taking of a very scenic and beautiful valley. In Chur we changed trains, then onward to Basel.

Our eight day Swiss Pass ended today. We really liked traveling throughout Switzerland by train. The first class car was never full, except for the Glacier Express run. Even with two large bags, traveling by train was easy, because we fast-tracked our two large bags three times so we would not have to handle the bags ourselves with all the train changes required.

A few days in Basel then the next leg of our trip began, a river cruise on the Rhine River to Amsterdam. The Rhine was too high for the ship to get to Basel,so we boarded the ship on Monday in Mannheim rather than on Sunday in Basel.

Basel, Switzerland

We checked out the old town section of Basel, then traveled by tram to Pizzeria Mamma Lucia for lunch, but they were closed so we headed back there for dinner. Two pizzas for dinner with one being a delicious gluten-free pizza for Sue!


Today we enjoyed a lazy Sunday morning, then a visit to the Kunstmuseum in the afternoon to see the Picasso exhibit and a few other paintings by our favorite artists: Van Gogh, Gauguin, Monet, etc,.Back to the hotel for a Uniworld meeting to explain the upcoming changes to the itinerary because of the flooding of the Rhine and then everyone going on the cruise took the tram to a reserved restaurant in the Basel market place area for dinner. The dinner was excellent and they kept the wine flowing. Unlike ocean cruising, wine at meals is served as part of the meal and you’re also allowed to bring wine onboard to consume in your room or on deck without a corkage fee.