Before and after the Bernina ExpressNovember 18, 2017 in Switzerland
Despite being extremely thrilled about going on the Bernina Express today, it was difficult to leave Nonna and Tosca House. In fact, we almost missed our train as I thought Grace said that we leave the house at 8.25am, not that the train for Tirano where we start our journey on the Bernina Express, leaves the station at 8.25am. After breakfast, Grace quickly got all her layers of jumper, jacket and gor-tex coat on, and her face very quickly got very red as the house was very well heated. Red faced, she waited ever so patiently only for me to announce that I needed a last bano (bathroom) stop. When I saw her all bundled up, now scarlet face with sweat beads on her nose, I collapsed on the bed in fits of giggles for another minute, before staggering to the bano. As I was folding our wet towels to take downstairs in an attempt to be helpful to Nonna, I heard from downstairs a rather anxious "Hurry up. Even Nonna is getting worried." I slowly made my way downstairs with my nicely folded bundle of towels and did the long Italian goodbye of hugs and kisses, and even photo taking, until Grace told me very urgently that we only have 5 minutes before the train leaves. With a last gracia miele (which I thought meant thanks apple but it means thanks a million), and a very heartfelt arrivedeche (see you again), we ran to the station. Thank goodness that Italian trains are usually late as we just made our train. Ironically, soon after we boarded, our train was delayed even further as it had to wait on the tracks for an approaching train. That logic escaped me as I thought that in the case of an approaching train, one should get out of the way, and not wait on the tracks. Even if one was another train. Anyway, we still arrived in Tirano in plenty of time to have a look around the pretty town and it's Basilica where Virgin Mary appeared in 1504 and promised to end the plague if a church was built.
Bernina Express is one of three UNESCO listed railway lines. It is an engineering marvel that crosses the Alps from Tirano, Italy to Chur, Switzerland. It negotiats 55 tunnels, 196 bridges and inclines of up to 7%, with a total height difference of 1,824m on the 4 hour journey. The highest point of 2,253m above sea level is at Ospizio Bernina. All this enjoyed through panoramic windows and at a speed that allowed one time to marvel at the scenery.
The Bernina express terminated at the Swiss town of Chur at 6.25pm. We had to get back to Milan that evening to get to the truffle festival in Alba the next day. That meant going to Zurich to begin the long journey to Milan. At any other time of the day or evening, there is a direct and express train from Zurich to Milan Central Station. However, at the time that we needed to travel, we had 2 train changes, and a third change to a bus in Chiasso. The train changes went smoothly. We found the correct platforms on time and without much ado. Finding the bus was another matter. It was past 11pm at that time and freezing in Chiasso streets. A lovely Italian man took us out of the station and with Italian hands, illustrated the route. We had to walk down the street and around the corner of the train station. There we found bright lights and lots of people and cars. It was the border crossing from Switzerland to Italy. We walked across the border like walking across a road, avoiding traffic. We asked the border security where the bus for Milano Centrale stopped, and he pointed vaguely IBM the direction of a side street. That's where things got interesting. We walked down this rather dark alley of nightclubs and pubs, thronging with youths of interesting coloured hair and piercings, smoking something that smelt sweet. Certainly not the cigarette smell one is used to. We walked about 100 metres to the end of the alley and still saw nothing that looked liked a bus stop. We asked the only pair of old men there, and they pointed to back up the alley. So again we passed sideshow youths, getting rather anxious as it was almost time to catch the bus and we still had not found the stop. Almost at the end of the alley, we saw a bus pass along the main road ahead and stop. We ran. Cold air of sub zero temperatures hit my lungs. I start to wheeze, but I needed to catch the bus. There is no way I wanted to be stuck there all night if I missed the bus. So we ran about 200 metres to the bus. Wrong bus! The bus driver tried to tell us where to go with more Italian hands, but we were then in minor panic, panting, wheezing, and we could not understand. The kindly bus driver commands a passenger, and the passenger alights the bus and points to the side of the road just in front of the border crossing and said "bus wait". That's where we went wrong. We were looking for a bus stop, not a bus wait, whatever that was. A bus pulls up as we approached the bus wait. The correct bus. It was going to Milano Centrale. Grace, another nice young man and I were the only passengers on the bus. Feeling safe again, I was settling into sleep for the 2 hour journey, when the bus stopped and picked up a group of even more suspicious looking youths, probably the black skin scary cousins of sideshow alley youths. Grace told me to wake her if I was going to sleep. She wanted one of us to stay vigilant. Knowing that she would be travel sick if awake, I decided to do watch duty. To demonstrate to the whole bus that I was not someone to mess with, and to send the message that I was vigilant, I regularly stood up to pretend stretch and pretend look out the window whilst trying to look tough. Whenever the bus stopped and people would walk pass our bags, I would look alert and tough, but without eye contact. I don't know if it was because I actually succeeded in looking tough and alert, or they thought I was mad, or at least very strange, but we had a very uneventful bus ride. I felt bad being so suspicious and reacting so strongly to stereotypes.
All this midnight adventures just to get to the Alba truffle festival the next day.
Fortunately we knew where to go when we arrived in Milan as we dropped our suitcases off there 2 days prior. Our hosts were very welcoming of their midnight guests, and our bedroom was invitingly warm. Fnally safe, we had a hot shower and tumbled into bed.Read more