- 282 km as the crow flies
- 49 kph
- 47 eurocents/km
- 8286 steps – better than the day before
On the way to Strasbourg station yesterday it felt like a good spring morning, not a summer one. The plane trees are coming into leaf. We walked past a big bicycle park. It’s a good thing – but having it at the station itself might be even more appreciated. I wonder who it is aimed at.
At the station we had coffee and croissants at Paul. I don’t know how anyone could eat that blue thing, said my travelling companion, of a girl at the next table wearing a white woolly hat (with pompom) and a pink top. It matches her jeans I said.
Holiday people got on our colourful first train, watched over by solders. The blocky carriages were built in 1980 but felt older. The line ran between the Rhine (which we couldn’t see) and the Vosges (always visible, across a flat plain, and gradually coming closer). Probably the train keeps away from the river because, like the Danube and unlike the Moselle, this U-shaped valley is or was prone to flooding. The villages were close together, showing wealth.
Most of their churches had thin spires but one or two, to my surprise, had onion domes like those of Bavaria and Austria.
This is the territory of Georges Gorski, the protagonist of two novels by Graeme Macrae Burnet. Gorski, a detective, and other characters live in Saint Louis, the last stop in France before crossing the Swiss frontier to Basel.
Mulhouse (above) and Strasbourg are where they go to drink and have sex. Often, like us, they go by train.
Changing trains at Basel is not frictionless. The direct route to the platforms for further travel within Switzerland (on the right) is barred.
Travellers from France have to leave the station and use a roundabout route, adding five or ten minutes.
Next, to a place called Visp, we caught a smart Italian train jam-packed with people heading for Milan. We jumped into the buffet and sat there pleasantly, eating reasonable food and drinking good coffee. The recorded announcements were in four languages (German, French, Italian and English), in each of which Visp was pronounced differently. The stations along the way were mostly quite ugly. In Thun a Manchester United flag flew out of the window of a modern flat.
Between Thun (whose river Aase drains into the Rhine) and Visp (on the Rhone) we crossed the watershed.
At Visp we changed onto a train up the long valley to Zermatt.
In 1932 the operator agreed to invest in avalanche protection for the railway line – on condition that no motor road would be built for 20 years.
When the motor road was eventually constructed, Zermatt, at the top of the valley, voted in a referendum not to have it run into the town.
Täsch, the next town down the valley, became a park and ride. Only electric vehicles are allowed in Zermatt.
(But: I remember visiting the island of Sark, where cars are also banned. The young men drove their tractors with abandon. Here, electric taxis joyfully whip round corners like there was never anyone on the other side. The police don’t like the electric cars to come, said the waitress at breakfast this morning.)
(And but: it has a heliport.)
The train was red and modern, electric, with seats mostly in facing pairs and big big windows. It coped well with steep inclines.
In Visp we passed the Sepp Blatter primary school.
At Stalden young soldiers were having a beer. There is still conscription here (and women can volunteer). The valley was steep on each side. At Randa there was a long thin golf course.
As we went along we thought of the Reichenbach falls, where Holmes and Moriarty fall to their deaths. Seeing a hole in the mountainside, we thought of Thorin Oakenshield, the King under the Mountain. We thought of Fox’s Glacier Mints, with their polar bear logo.
We didn’t bargain on accordeon-swinging and yak-watching,
or on being able to meet our surfing needs in Zermatt.
On the Spanish side of the Pyrenees what’s striking is the continuing depopulation of the mountain villages. Here, you see traditional houses dated 1970, and lots of activity. It must be tourism, which has been going for 150 years, that makes the difference.
Zermatt itself felt weird, half closed down between winter and summer, overcast, overseen by that white line of mountains. Every other business has the Matterhorn (named after the town) as its logo. Being here made me want to walk, of course.
Our hotel had modern rooms (with more electric sockets than any I remember) and old fashioned public parts. A pair of visitors from Kuala Lumpur ignored an ordinary door with a handle and a small window, naturally enough, and could not find the lift.
In the station café I had amazing raclette (cheese on toast to the Nth degree), good white wine (Fendant, local) and an awful coffee. My travelling companion liked her apple strudel.
Swiss trains are excellent, but seem to be pretty expensive (the French leg was cheap). This journey was nearly as expensive as yesterday’s.