by Nancy Bestor
When we boarded our first train in Zurich, Switzerland, beginning a multi-train journey to Toulouse, France this summer, I must admit to being a little disappointed. The European trains of my memory were mostly wooden inside, with individual compartments and doors that could close others out. This Swiss train was sleek and modern, with plush carpet and upholstered seats. Granted, it had been 27 years since my last European train trip, so things were bound to be different, but watching Harry Potter travel to Hogwarts on the Hogwarts Express only added to my misconceived notion of old fashioned train travel.
The fancy train was the only disappointment of our train journey however (and honestly, it is difficult to call a fancy, modern train a disappointment isn’t it?). In two weeks time we would ride more than 30 different Swiss trains, and I never failed to be impressed. The cleanliness of the cars was terrific, the views from the windows fantastic, and the best feature by far was the wonderful and truly amazing precision with which the entire system operates according to schedule. At the beginning of our train travels, we worried about a four to five minute train change in a station, wondering if the train we were currently on would arrive in time for us to be able to walk to a new track and catch our next train. Without fail, every Swiss train we rode arrived at exactly the time the schedule said it would, and we never missed a connection. How do they do that, and can they give a few lessons to Amtrak?
We bought 15-consecutive-day Swiss Rail Passes before leaving the U.S. through www.gemut.com. Although not cheap ($644 per person for first class, $429 for second class), the Swiss Pass did include the Swiss Family Card, where children under age 16 travel free when traveling with a parent. With these passes, we were able to hop on and off any Swiss train at any time. It also included many gondolas and/or funiculars, necessary when traveling to Mürren, the city where we stayed in the Swiss Alps. For those special cable car rides (like our trip to the Jungfraujoch, see story here) holders of the Swiss Pass can buy discounted tickets, ranging from 20-50% off.
So it’s true that our Swiss Train trip was not the old style form of train travel from my memory, and it’s also true that there was not a candy cart with Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans like there was in Harry Potter. But traveling by train in Switzerland was still an outstanding way to get around a beautiful country, and see a fantastic amount of scenery along the way. Next time I’ll just bring my own Berti Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.