Train Travel: (Zurich) Zug – Bellinzona (Switzerland) & return

November 30, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

I never intended to be in Bellinzona – well, not yesterday, anyway. The only time I can remember getting in touch with anything related to that particular place is when I dial into telephone conferences for business: for whatever reason the Swiss switch always being located in Bellinzona.

 

Yesterday then I actually intended to go to Lucerne instead, the picturesque town on the shores of the Lake of the same name, and of which taxi drivers keep telling me that many international tourists – Americans, most notably – apparently continue to believe it’s the capital of Switzerland (subsequently settling for Zurich as the next best bet, before ultimately learning about intriguing Berne – but that’ll be the subject of another post, I promise): There’s an interesting still life exhibition on at Bernheimer Fine Art, Blanca Bernheimer’s photography branch in Lucerne of the renowned Munich gallery of the same family, until early February 2015 and which I intended to attend along with picking up a print which I had recently purchased at Paris Photo (another very worthwhile event indeed; see related earlier blog post).

 

Alas, taking the S16 regional train out of Zurich Wiedikon (where I live) to Zug (where I needed to switch when heading to Lucerne), I mistakenly got on the Pendolino to Milan (the tilting train, designed to manage all the curves and switchbacks across the Alps all the way down to the capital of Lombardy in Italy; and on the way stopping in “Lugano”) instead of the one to “Lucerna” (not that close, come to think of it; another Italian course on the horizon, I guess, to try and avoid similar embarassements going forward). Happily enjoying a coffee and croissant in the dining car, my ticket in this instance wasn’t controlled until after “Arth-Goldau” – the last stop where I could have corrected my mistake without major ado, as I learned afterwards. Instead the conductor sympathetically pointed out to me that this particular train – an Intercity i.e. “not stopping for anything less than a major point of interest or tourism or business“ – wasn’t going to pull into any station again before – yes, you guessed it, Bellinzona (a good 90mins later)! So – now also correctly equipped with a return ticket to Zug / Zurich (this is Switzerland, after all) – I settled in to read “The Home Place” by Nebraskan Writer/Photographer Wright Morris on the way (a delightful book which might very well become the subject of a future post) and let myself be pampered by the staff of the Swiss/Italian restaurant car. And that’s where and when things took another rather unexpected turn (pun entirely intended) …

 

Between Lake Lucerne and Bellinzona, the train follows the river Reuss all the way up beyond a short distance after the town of Andermatt, where it crosses the boundary between Cantons Uri and Ticino (also the watershed between those rivers feeding into the North Sea and those feeding into the Mediterranean) to follow the river Ticino down towards Bellinzona and almost all the way to Lago Maggiore. This scenic route, an engineering feat of major proportions and a classic among train aficionados, I understand, is peppered with mountains, valleys and tunnels all the way, and leading through landscape rivalling that of Yosemite in the US – in fact, about 30 train minutes north of Bellinzona there are rock walls reminiscent of “El Capitan”, one of photographers’ most sought after and most recognizable mountainscapes all over the world, immortalized for instance by Ansel Adams and many of those trying to walk in his footsteps. So I did not get very far in my reading on the way down, when the light was still sufficient to savour this gorgeous landscape hurrying past all too quickly, arriving in Bellinzona slightly ahead of schedule, a few minutes to 4 p.m. on that Saturday 29 November in 2014.

 

The regular Pendolino from Milan in the opposite direction, towards Zug and Zurich, leaving on time at precisely 4:01 p.m. (this is Switzerland, after all, where delay announcements would start as early as a mere 30 seconds after the scheduled arrival or departure at the latest), I had the chance to re-appraise the particularly stunning run up to around Biasca or even a little further from the other side, before the fading light made me turn back to my equally captivating read for the rest of the journey.

 

And while not planned like this at all, this mistake / error / happenstance turned out one of the most fascinating as well as relaxing afternoons and early evenings which I ever spent in Switzerland over the last almost two years or so: serendipity at its best, and all you gotta do is embrace it.

 

And you are right – Bellinzona held me all of 5 minutes or so, but who knows …


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