i was psyched for the glacier exprss from the moment i saw it online, and the wikipedia entry did nothing to douse my desire for this epic railway journey. it was expensive, true, but worth every franc.
we left davos on a drizzly morning. i was in the sixth and final car of the panoramic view train. this meant the windows went up over our heads to allow all passengers views of the mountains that rose majestically on all sides not long after we left davos. the alps got bigger and bigger the farther west we headed. we traversed narrow valleys, nearly always running alongside a stream or raging river of some sort. tunnels galore, plenty of switchbacks, where the train would head up at an angle, then switch onto another track, and go backwards up that track, then another switch, and foreward again as we zippered our way up the mountain.
we did this over and over again. in some places, though, we just went through tunnels. these tunnels seemed like the beginnings of wooden roller coasters, though. you know when you roll out from the station and you are going through the dark and you can feel the coaster train swerving left and right, dropping up and down, etc.? that is what some of the tunnels were like. i have never been in railway tunnels that were more inclined than a degree or two, but we were doing some serious climbing and dropping there on the glacier express.
such climbing and dropping necessitated cogwheels some of the time. this is where there is a special cogged grooved thingy in between the rails for the train to grab onto when friction alone is not enough to propel the train up or down an incline. we were going up and down crazy inclines as we went through and over the swiss alps. it looked and sounded like casey jr.s wild ride from disneyland...i could hear the train saying "i think i can i think i can i think i can" (in german, though) as we negotiated the challenges.
it was foggy and raining, as usual, through most of the nine hours aboard the glacier express, but that fog and rain actually lent a surreal quality to the best part of the trip: our journez over the oberalpenpass, the highest point on the journey. the train has climbed to over a mile high at this juncture, and we found ourselves in the clouds, with cows and goats in the pastures alongside, and then, out of the fog, appeared a large lake. we were well above the treeline and high enough where about twothirds of the ground was covered with patches of snow. the snow and the lake reflected off each other as far as the eye could see as we made our way along the lakeshore. they matched so perfectly that i could not tell where one ended and the other began.
far away the lake appeared to spread out and drop off the edge of the world. i figured it was because of a dam, and i was right. we made it to the dam eventually and then started our downward descent towards zermatt, hometown of the matterhorn.
zermatt is only 1500 feet high, so getting down that low again necessitated another bunch of tight turns, crazy cutbacks, and cogwheel assistance. the craziest part came when we were on a cliff, a hundred meters above a town below, and i could see where there was a train track coming straight out of hte mountain on a long bridge. i had a feeling that we would soon be on that track, even though we were circling way above it, and i was right. we turned into the mountain and into a tunnel that took us 270 degrees, always turning right, and downward, and to the right, and downward, for five minutes until we came out into the daylight on the bridge i had seen minutes before from so high above.
by the way, the most famous scene of the glacier express, wherein the tracks come straight out of a mountain - in the middle of a cliff - and head across a mighty viaduct with legs stretching hundreds of feet down into the forest far below, was anticlimactic because the bridge was under repair so we had to go across it reallz slowly, and the entire contraption was draped in red tarps and surrounded by tons of scaffolding. oh well.
eventually we made it to zermatt, one of the places i had wanted to see more than anywhere else on my trip. i caught a quick glimpse of the matterhorn in the late afternoon sunlight - the stormy clouds were not present in zermatt, thankfully - on my way to my hotel.