Switzerland · Uncategorized

An (Amended) Glacier Express Experience

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Happy Monday, one and all! If you followed along on Instagram or Facebook last week, you know Steve and I had a unique experience on the Glacier Express. This was a bit of a special situation, as Switzerland is having a highly unusual winter season, with more snowfall than they’ve had in 30 years! In case you incur a similar problem on your journey, here’s our tale and the work-around. It was too bad because we literally planned our entire trip around taking the Glacier Express, but I can be grateful that their priority is customer safety.

The Situation

Due to a heightened avalanche risk between Brig and Chur, the Glacier Express route was closed entirely between those cities. That’s roughly half the route! We still needed to get to St. Moritz that day to keep the rest of our trip on track, so our options were:

  • Cancel entirely for a refund and find another way (I asked about flights, but there were none)
  • Change our reservation to a later date (not possible, as this was a short trip with hotel reservations elsewhere for the rest of our time)
  • Take the altered route recommended by the Glacier Express offices and get a refund of our reservation fees and pre-purchased meals (only the first and last sections were available; the new middle half up through Zurich would be far less scenic and very out of the way)
  • Take a southerly route via Italy (adding almost two hours to our journey, making NINE train changes all along the way, and arriving much later at our destination in St. Moritz)
The Solution

We chose to take the route recommended by the Glacier Express offices. This way, we would still be able to see the first and last sections of the scenic route, and we would arrive as planned in St. Moritz just a little later than planned; we already planned to have the hotel shuttle pick us up there.

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Traditional route in red; new route in green
Our Amended Glacier Express Experience

Section 1: Glacier Express
While our experience was a bit limited, we still received many benefits of the journey. Here is our experience with details and pictures!

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Romantic Seating for Two

We boarded the Glacier Express train in first class, with the panorama windows from armrest level to up on the ceiling!

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Oh, so that’s why it’s nice to see out part of the ceiling!

There were places for luggage storage and hangers for coats at each end of the train car.

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Luggage shelf and coat hangers

At each seat were a set of earbuds and a pamphlet with information in six languages: German, English, French, Italian, Chinese, and Japanese, complete with pictures.

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Pamphlets and earbuds!
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Pamphlet in many languages.

The earbuds mentioned above were intended  to let each person listen to Swiss and Swiss German music selections, as well as an audio guide about the journey. At various spots along the journey, a gong would ring to alert you that there was something to note about the area, and that you could plug in your earbuds and listen!

Before the train left the station in Zermatt (our point of origin), we were given a menu—which was 19 pages! Due to our altered route we were unable to order any food, but we were offered complimentary non-alcoholic beverages. I’m not sure if that is typical, or if that’s because our journey had been altered. I got a coffee, Steve got a Coke Zero.

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Portion of the Menu
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Coffee on the Glacier Express

Section 2: Alternative Route
When we arrived at our first stop in Brig, we had plenty of time to find our next train. Thankfully, the attendant on the first train had handed out a paper with all the new information we needed, including arrival and departure times, departure platform number, and a map to show where our new route would take us.

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Stepping out in Brig really wasn’t so bad!

The section between Brig and Zurich was fine, as most of Switzerland is picture-perfect. However, this also made me appreciate the work that goes into making a scenic route like the Glacier Express special. Much of the revised route took us past construction, bland apartment and office buildings, and general industrial scenery.

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Not so scenic.

Upon arrival in Zurich, we found a place to buy lunch to take with us for the next leg of our journey. We stepped out of the train station to see a bit of Zurich, and found our next platform with no trouble.

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Next stop: Chur!

The trip from Zurich to Chur was nice enough. We followed Lake Zurich for a while, then made our way south back down to the Alps before changing trains again in Chur.

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Speeding past Lake Zurich

Section 3: Back on the Glacier Express
From Chur to St. Moritz, we were back on the Glacier Express route! This was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had, and that is no exaggeration. The little Swiss Alpine villages with their cute houses and picturesque churches truly made me think I had to be peeking into a snowy fairytale. Do I wish we’d seen the middle section? Of course. But this last section was simply charming enough to curb my disappointment at not making the whole trip as planned.

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Sweet church in the mountains
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Alpine village
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One of many viaduct bridges to help us make our journey through the Alps!

We made it to St. Moritz about 20 minutes late, but our driver from the hotel was still there waiting for us while the snow fell. Tune in later this week for what we got into in St. Moritz!

Tips for Taking the Glacier Express

Here are a few things we learned along the way. Perhaps these tips will help you on your own journey!

  • If you are taking the trains around Switzerland for several days or weeks, consider purchasing a Swiss Travel Pass; this pass includes the Glacier Express Route! However…
  • You must purchase your seat reservation for the Glacier Express separately; find out how HERE.
  • Check the Glacier Express Traffic Information page the day before your Glacier Express journey. In the case of a technical or weather-related problem, you will be able to learn what your options are and potentially change your plans in advance. We were able to explore our options and confirm that we would receive a full refund for our reservation and pre-purchased meal.
  • Incidentally, I don’t recommend purchasing the meal in advance; the prices were the same whether you purchase on the train or when you book your seat reservation.
  • You may be going both forward and backward throughout your journey. Bring motion sickness medication if you think you will need it.
  • There is no wifi and there are no outlets on the Glacier Express at the time of this writing; perhaps they will add these features in the future, or they will intentionally leave these features out to help you relax and enjoy the journey!
  • If I do this train trip again, I will probably try to make time to do a four-day trip and stop overnight in some of the little towns along the way. It really is a long day to do it all at once!

So what do you think? Did we make the right choice taking the trip anyway, or would you have tried something else? Travel is all about rolling with the punches, and we certainly had to roll with it this time around!

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