Weird & Wonderful Switzerland - PART II
USING THE SWISSPASS TO TRAVEL TO FRANCE AND ITALY
As soon as you start searching your travel options in Switzerland, the Swisspass pops up on your search engine. Until recently, you could buy access to the whole Swiss public transport system with only one ticket. (There are some limitations now, and the price has been increasing annually, but it’s still a bargain if you want to travel in Switzerland.) There are options for different kinds of passes and a variety of valid periods. We have found this to be an extremely valuable option to move around in Switzerland, but we never realised that it would eventually take us to France and Italy as well.
The CGN (Compagnie générale de navigation sur le Lac Léman) is a company that provides public transport via ship on Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), which means your Swisspass allows you to see Switzerland from the water. What we discovered well into our Swiss sojourn is that the CGN has a ship travelling from Lausanne to Evian a few times daily. It seems as if it’s mainly a ferry for commuters, but it enabled us to travel to France without spending any additional fees on transport.
The main reason we wanted to visit Evian was the world famous spring water, of course. A small exhibition teaches you about the years of natural filtering that results in the clear spring water bottled here, and shop assistants are ready to sell you some memorabilia, but our favourite part of the expedition was outside at the public fountain. Here the same water that is packed and sent throughout the world, flows freely. You can drink from the well or fill your water bottle. That is probably not an extraordinary experience in itself, but we noticed that it’s also the local watering hole. Residents drive here, park their cars, open the trunks of their cars and carry a crate filled with empty bottles to the fountain. There they proceed to fill their bottles before carrying it back to the car and jetting back home, where they fill their fridges with fresh, free Evian spring water. Of course, water is water, but this little moment made an impression on us.
That was France. Now, onwards to Italy.
While we were travelling on the train from Bern to Geneva one evening, we did something we’d never done before: we asked the conductor for advice on a route we planned to take. Conductors are always courteous, but never chats with passengers. However, as soon as we asked his opinion, his face lit up. As he was new at what his job, he immediately turned around and fetched a more seasoned conductor, who changed our next day from a merely amazing Swiss adventure into an extraordinarily Swiss-Italian affair. He advised us to get on the Geneva-to-Milan train and get off in Domodossola, Italy. There we’d board a narrow-track carriage to Locarno, and then we could catch a Swiss train again to Bellinzona, our original goal for the day. According to him, the Italian railway company allows Swisspass travelers to use the Centovalli route through Italy to get to that particular corner of Switzerland.
Of course, the trip through the southern parts of Switzerland was as picturesque as ever. We passed Montreux, Sion, and Visp as if we were on our way to Zermatt, but then we continued on towards Brieg, through the Simplon Pass and eventually arrived in Domodossola in Italy. A quick transfer landed us on a marvelously quaint little train, and then the journey became a dream. At first the scenery didn’t change that much. That-Man bought himself a cup of coffee from the snack trolley. What he received was a miniature plastic cup (like the ones they use at the dentist for you to rinse you mouth) filled with espresso. What else did we expect in Italy? It was probably the best coffee he’s ever had on a train.
Just as we got settled, our surroundings morphed into a serene mountainside forest. By now the little train was snaking along the leafy skirt created by the forest, climbing slowly, and the lush foliage enfolded us. We were gliding through a leafy tunnel, cocooned in a verdant emerald mosaic. Sounds faded into the background and the sights filled my being with a quiet content. Little houses that have apparently not seen change in many a year were perched on the slopes. Little vineyards planted generations ago watched silently as we passed. Every few kilometres we’d stop at a station to pick up and drop off some passengers, and then we’d move towards the next station. The train is much slower than the high-speed trains we’d gotten used to in Switzerland, but given the terrain, it’s understandable. We realised that this was an experience to savour, and boy, did we jump at the opportunity to just sit and gaze and drink in every spectacular new corner of the route.
Somewhere along the route we travelled along the Torrente Diveria (Diveria creek), flowing far beneath the train tracks in a deep gorge on its way to the River Po. If we were not trying to keep to some semblance of a schedule, i would probably not have needed much persuasion to get off the train and make my way down there for a swim. After what seems a day (not because you want it to end, but because you’ve basked in the seclusion of the journey), the train descends again to the valley and you arrive at Locarno, a short hop from Bellinzona. As we stepped off the little train we calculated how many days we had left before we returned home. Maybe it would be possible to do this again before we left . . .
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