Swiss train late!

Old Oct 22nd, 2009, 04:43 PM
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Swiss train late!

Engadine. Chur, and Zurich, Fall 2009

We had stayed one night in Chur attendant to riding the Bernina Express, but from advise on this board (thank you all), we decided that seeing the Engadine in the fall would be an interesting adventure. We picked early October as the weather was said to be, normally, pleasant, and the lodgings were still open prior to their late fall vacations.

Our plan was to fly to Zurich, train and bus to Soglio and stay three days, bus to Sills-Maria and stay three days, bus and train to Guarda and stay three days, train to Chur and stay three days, then train to Zurich for five days and fly home.

We were able to get business/first seats on Continental using miles, but they were unable or unwilling to upgrade us on the domestic sections. Not really a problem as the domestic flights are relatively short. In contrast to our last trip on Continental, this one went flawlessly and we arrived in Zurich as planned, shortly before 0900. At the airport we bought first class train tickets to St. Moritz via Chur, with a bus from St. Moritz to Sills-Maria-Maria.

Why Sills-Maria-Maria you may ask. Because a week before departure I emailed each hotel where I had made a reservation (I’ve often thought I was overdoing things when I do this) and this time the Hotel Palazzo Salis in Soglio responded that they had no rooms for the days I asked. I immediately responded that they had made an offer contingent on my providing credit card information, and I had immediately provided that information. I asked them to recheck, attaching copies of our prior correspondence, and they responded that they had no rooms for my dates. They suggested a couple of other hotels but none had internet connections. I checked my plan for what we were going to do in Soglio, and it included only a couple of hikes, so I decided it was not worth arguing with them. I emailed Hotel Edelweiss in Sills-Maria-Maria asking if we could add three days to the beginning of our reservation, but they could only add one, and gave me the names of a couple of other hotels in Sills-Maria-Maria, and the first one we contacted was able to accommodate us (Hotel Chesa Margun, not as elegant as Hotel Palazzo Salis or Hotel Edelweiss, but still a very comfortable place with a decent restaurant). As I write this, we are starting our second night at Hotel Chesa Margun and are very pleased to have saved a few francs.

I usually get second class train tickets, but as the leg from Chur to San Moritz is quite scenic, I got first class tickets (not that great a sacrifice with my half-fare cards). The leg from Zurich to Chur was indistinguishable from second class. Granted, the seats were a little wider, but the car was well worn and the passengers were very like those you meet in second class, which is hardly a bad thing. The leg from Chur to St. Moritz was on the same line that runs the Bernina express (the Rhätische Bahn), and the car was very clean and spacious. We spent a while recuperating on this leg as my wife had fallen backward while trying to move three bags up an escalator at the station, but fortunately she was only a little bruised. We shared the end of the car with a young Swiss couple with a child and a half, so it was a little noisier than the typical first class car, but the child and my wife got along and soon we were exchanging information. This helped at St. Moritz as the instructions SSB gives you on catching the bus basically say walk around five minutes and you will find it. Our new friends took us under their wing and took us right to the bus, and even explained to the driver where we were going and asked him to boot us off the bus at the right stop.

In retrospect, since neither of us sleeps well on planes, and as we were dealing with a major time change, it would have been a good idea to stay a day in Zurich to adjust. I have to confess that I dozed off a bit during the most scenic portions of our train ride, and I’m disappointed at that.
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Old Oct 22nd, 2009, 07:12 PM
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I stayed at Hotel Palazzo Salis in September. I faxed my credit card info to them, but when I confirmed it about a week later, they said they didn't receive the fax. I faxed it again and did get a confirmation. The hotel was spectacular. I have a passionate love of antiques, so I really enjoyed the hotel. Please tell us more about Sils Maria. I think the bus went through there on the way to Soglio.
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Old Oct 23rd, 2009, 07:18 AM
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Enjoying your report. thanks.

We have stayed in Sils Maria a few years ago, and loved it. I think it was the Hotel Margna.

We are flying to Zurich next June, and ending up in Tuscany, trying to decide whether to take the Bernina Express over to Italy or just the Zurich to Milan train, and then hiring a car in Italy.

Any help you can give, descriptions of the Bernina Express, your experience, would be gratefully received.
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Old Oct 23rd, 2009, 01:56 PM
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We checked in and it was a linguistic adventure. The man helping us spoke only German, I only know about ten words of German, but we got our business done. My wife and I laid down for a short rest, but didn’t dare to sleep as we wouldn’t have been able to get up for dinner. After a short rest, we walked through the town, which is not large, getting some pictures. We stopped for coffee at a plaza where the horse carriages pick up riders, only to find later that there was a place called Grond Café a few blocks further that had some lovely looking pastries and coffee. I had seen an advertisement for Grond and was looking for it, but as in many small towns here, they don’t put addresses on their ads, so you just have to ask or look. We finished our tour and returned to our hotel for dinner. They had a good number of clients in the restaurant, and we felt like we were the only tourists.

We had sliced veal with rosti for me, perch filets for my wife (they were out of salmon), and a frappe for my wife. We didn’t bother ordering water but shared a bottle of local Malanser that was excellent. All the food was quite good, too. The bill was presented as 131.50 CHF or 90.69 euro, and they did take credit cards.

We went to bed early, trusting that the sun would awaken us early. Our trust was misplaced and we finally rolled out of bed after 0900. I still thought it was early, and when we got to the breakfast room it was about half prepared. Unfortunately, that was because they were closing. They very graciously brought out more food for us and we had a good breakfast and set off to see Soglio. I planned a bus route over the Malorca pass and the man at the post office confirmed that such a bus ran, but referred us to a booth next door to buy our tickets. The lady (who spoke German exclusively) got our tickets, even inquiring as to whether we had a half-fare card before I had dug them out of my wallet. The fare for the round trip was 17.40 CHF each. I apparently misunderstood which bus to take and got on one headed to Malorca, but when it got there it turned around and brought us back to Sills-Maria-Maria. I went to the booth to find out where I had gone wrong, but it and the post office were closed (it was after noon on Saturday). I asked one driver which bus to take, but he didn’t know; a second driver realized that what we wanted was a post-bus (the yellow ones) and showed us where to wait. The post-bus arrived on schedule and took us over the pass to the town at the base of the mountain road (a thrilling adventure) where we switched to another bus for the final ascent to Soglio. Part of my confusion with the tickets, I think, is that it listed a destination other than Soglio, perhaps the name of the final station. So beware when you get on a bus here that you have the right bus company, because apparently there are more than one. It was, all in all, a nice excursion, and I like the trains, but I like the busses more, as they get you right into the scenery. The only disadvantage is the busses do not have opening windows, so it is hard to get good pictures. I would not have wanted to drive this route because of the winding narrow road, but there were some turn-offs where a driver could have gotten some nice pictures just before he crashed.

Soglio is very small, but very scenic, and there were quite a few visitors there, but few Americans, I think. It was not crowded, however, and for lunch we just wandered into the garden of the Hotel Palazzo Salis and took a vacant table, with no waiting. We had Bratwurst with rissoto for me, vegetable soup with meat for my wife, I hot chocolate, and 3 DL merlot with a tab of 49 CHF. While the food was quite good, the service was not, and it was difficult to get our check. I wondered if the waitress was the same employee who had lost our reservation, but enough of nastiness.

After lunch we wandered the town and bought some Creme de Chataignes. A medium jar was 12.5 CHF and I believe they did not take credit cards at this small shop. We then found our way to the bus stop for another thrilling ride back to Sills-Maria-Maria. In all, I think things worked out for the better as I suspect Soglio, at least for us, is a better day trip than a place to stay, and we got two thrilling mountain rides instead of one.

Because of the time we had spent on the first bus ride, it was late in the afternoon when we got back, too late to do much, so we stopped at Grond for a pastry and coffee.

We ate dinner at Chesa Margun again with good food. My wife had Weinerschnitzel with rosti (a substitute for the french fries on the menu) and I had calves liver in the Venetian style with rosti. With a bottle of Botenero wine the tab was 108 CHF or 74.48 euro.

This morning (Sunday) I set the alarm and we were on time to the breakfast room, which had a good selection waiting for us. I like a little cheese and some cold cuts, while my wife likes the local cereals and the home-made fruit salad. Some yoghurt and a good selection of breads completed the table, and the coffee and tea were excellent.

We left gratuities in the room and the breakfast room and checked out early, since we were up. The bill for two days for a room with a shared balcony was 398 CHF and credit cards were accepted. This is not an huge elegant hotel, but it is very clean and pleasant with lovely wood paneling almost everywhere that we assumed was knotty pine, but which they called larch, and there was no shortage of hot and cold water. I don’t know their rating (perhaps lowered because they have no elevator), but we usually stay in two star hotels and this would be among the very best we have experienced in that category.

We walked a long block to the Edelweiss, and asked if we could check in, as it was just after nine. They said we could check in, but our room would not be ready until noon. This worked well as we left our luggage (which they placed in our room) and gave us all the literature, maps, etc., about our stay, which includes a pass good on busses, mountain railroads, and cable cars in a surprisingly wide area. The pass is free for those staying two nights or longer.

Freed of our luggage, we caught a bus to Sills-Maria/Segi Furtchellasbahn and rode the cable car to the medium stop (the higher leg was not open, nor was the restaurant, perhaps because it was early Sunday morning). There were many families on the ride, and hikers, and the maps showed more trails than you could shake a stick at, but we weren’t in hiking mode, so we just took in the scenery and then rode the cable car back down. I discovered the real reason for all those extendable metal hiking poles; when you are in a crowd looking at the area map, you can point out what you are talking about with your pole, and when our carful first got to the top, we gathered and there were easily a dozen poles being jabbed about, but no one lost an eye.

From the top, we looked down on Sills-Maria-Maria, part of which was hidden by a ridge, and concluded the we didn’t need the bus to get back, we could walk. It was an even shorter walk than we realized, with no possibility of getting lost. We stopped at Grond Café for a pastry and coffee for lunch; the bill was just over 15 CHF, and my wife had a piece of sachertorte (I think, the cake that is made without flour) and it was quite good. I had a tart citrone which was sugarier than I am used to, so next time I think I will try one of their sandwiches.

We returned to the Edelweiss and our room was ready; they welcomed us and told us the times for dinner and breakfast, and a welcoming, tonight, then showed us to our room. The room is quite nice, although I thought the composition of complementary fruit on the table was a little crowded and had to eat a nectarine to straighten that out; I am now contemplating the banana.

English appears to be common at this hotel, more than at many of the smaller establishments, but I have to say that, though my ancestral language is still a mystery to me, we have been able to get along well even in those places where we do not share a language. We’re a bit tired now, and my wife is napping until the welcoming events this evening. We should really be out riding another cable car, as having followed this subject on Fodors (and another guidebook I won’t advertise), and read the literature from the hotel, there are far more things that we will want to do than we will be able to fit into four days, but one must preserve one’s strength.

They have a welcoming here at 1830, so we wandered around town some more, then repaired to the hotel lounge, an elegant room although they had not lit a fire. They have free WIFI in the lounge (it doesn’t reach the rooms, where you have to have some paid service) so I caught up on some things and let our kids know we were still kicking. The people then gathered and the hotel distributed glasses of wine (prosecco was one, I think) and canapes that looked delicious, but we were saving our appetite for the dinner. The manager circulated to meet us and let us know how well they would be caring for us. Then we went to the dining room for half-pension clients, where we all have a specific table assigned for our stay. I won’t add much about the food, as it has been well described before, and I am not a gourmet. I do think that people with more experience in fine dining would appreciate this place even more than we do.. They had an extensive table for starters, and another for the salad course. Interestingly, we have developed a taste for some types of European olives (in the Cleveland area we have a number of specialty stores that keep alive their ethnic traditions very well), but in the salad selections here they had black and green olives that were what we consider California style; I’m not complaining, I’m just saying I was a little surprised). Unless you went wild at the self-serve starter and salad tables (which would not be hard considering the great varieties presented, it was not a challenge eating a multi course meal such as this. The served portions were perfect, as was the preparation. Wine (and bottled water, I suppose; we didn’t order any) is not part of the meal, but there is a wide variety and your choice is added to your room bill (unless I get lucky). We had a local merlot, which was good, but not as good as the Adolf Boner we had had the night before, and which was on the list here, albeit at a few dollars more. We were both very happy with our meal and my wife, who often doesn’t eat all her food to maintain her girlish figure cleaned her plate here.

We decided to go to bed early, as we wanted to get up early to see Diavolezza in the morning light. Our room is fairly large with an elegant marble bath. The towel warmer would heat a small home. The floor is heated also, but the toilet seat is not. The beds are very nice, and the comforters on them are long enough that you can keep both ends of yourself warm. In many Swiss hotels they have a nice thick comforter, folded over to resemble a hot dog bun, but only about four and a half feet long, so if you pull it up to your shoulders, your feet stick out; if you cover your feet, your shoulders stick out. I’ve never figured out how to master these. I’ve looked on the internet, but found no answer there, either.

We awoke early and returned to our table for breakfast; the breakfast offering was as impressive as the dinner. Many kinds of fruit juices, cereals, yoghurts, and fresh fruit mixes. Cold cuts and cheeses of every description. 3-minute, 5-minute, and scrambled eggs, and sausages, bacon, and sauteed mushrooms, and baked goods of every persuasion (I’ve never had better bread than Swiss bread), and coffee and your choice of teas. I’ve probably omitted quite a few things as I wasn’t taking notes; to busy convincing myself not to be a pig.

After breakfast we stopped at the desk to double check my plan to get to Diavolezza and they said their recommendation was a bus to St. Moritz, then a train to Bernina Diavolezza, which is a demand station, meaning if you don’t push a button letting them know you want to stop there, the train won’t stop. Their plan was good. There were different busses to St. Moritz, but the number four line was the only one that went directly to the railroad station, so we picked that one. After catching the train at St. Moritz (there was a forty minute wait; I don’t know if we missed an earlier train because I stopped to ask for directions) we got off not 400 meters from the base station of the cable car. The weather was crystal clear, both on the ground and at elevation (there had been what I thought was fog at Sills-Maria-Maria, but since the valley there is actually at elevation, it was probably clouds). We observed glaciers and many hikers, but saw no mountain animals (there isn’t much vegetation there to support them) and it was very pleasant with a slight breeze, in the bright sunlight. We decided to have lunch there and return to Sills-Maria-Maria where they were having a village tour that afternoon. As soon as we sat down at an outdoor table and placed our order, the sun went behind a cloud and it became chilly. Fortunately we had ordered the barley soup and warm drinks, which was quite good, and the perfect food for a chilly day. The check was 29 CHF, which I thought was reasonable given the location and view, and quality of the food. Then clouds rolled in below us and after we finally got our check and paid and got to the cable car, the view was limited, as the cables just disappeared into the clouds. Still, it was a very good excursion and we were glad to have done it. But it gets better. At the bottom, the time for the train came and went, but the train didn’t. At that point, there is a single track, so the uphill and downhill trains have to coordinate, and neither showed up. The prospective passengers wandered around in a daze; things such as this just don’t happen here. There is also a postal bus on this route, but because they loop around the parking lot, none of us recognized the downhill bus, as it appeared to be going uphill. After about another hour, another postal bus appeared, and we were smart enough to catch it. Just as the bus left, the uphill train appeared, so apparently the train problem had been fixed. In any event, we ended up in Pontresina at the bus station. I had no idea how to get to the railroad station, but I recalled that my original plan had been to take a bus from Sills-Maria-Maria to Pontresina, so I knew I could get back on a bus. Make that two buses, as we had to change at Silvaplana, and it was hard for the bus driver to get me to understand that, but a friendly bilingual bystander put me straight. So we saw a lot of new scenery on our return, including the very bowels of St. Moritz, which was interesting and I think it added to our trip (at one point the road goes around a turn and the outside sidewalk is the preserved major turn from a bobsled run, I would guess of Olympic origin), but we didn’t get back in time for the tour of Sills-Maria-Maria. We eased our disappointment with some Apfelstreudel, coffee, and tea on the terrace at our hotel. My wife is resting in anticipation of another great dinner, and I am updating this and enjoying the lobby. Still no fire in the fireplace; I suspect they are trying to extend summer. Still, I find it very pleasant sitting in an elegant public room such as this without a TV in sight or sound. Nor even a phone or a clock. In fact, I think a man near me reading a newspaper is not happy with my computer, even though I keep the sound off. Incidentally, all our transportation on this day was without cost due to the pass distributed by the hotel.

Dinner was excellent, as always. Today they did not have the starter table, replaced with your choice of two starters. We both selected monk fish as our main course; as we ate it I remarked to my wife that when we used to eat monk fish at home, the piece we got at the fish stand was easily twice as big as the combined two pieces we got here, but the preparation was excellent and there was no sense of lack of food; I think we are just used to large portions in America, and the national figures on obesity and diabetes are a consequence of that. I ordered a white wine from Adolph Boner made with the completer grape, as I had really been looking forward to that new, to me, wine. Alas, they advised me it was sold out but they had some wine from another local winemaker using that grape, so we took that. It was quite good, but a little toward the sweet end of the scale, while I prefer the dry; my wife loved it.
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Old Oct 23rd, 2009, 01:57 PM
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Tuesday already and we were sure to get up early for another excellent breakfast. I tried body guard juice, which is a mixture of fruit juices and liked it, but my wife didn’t like it and stayed with orange juice. After breakfast, I took my suggested itineraries for the day to the desk. I wanted to be sure to be back at the hotel by 1830, as we had signed up for the horse ride to Fex with the authentic dinner.

Because of the iffy weather (which turned out to be good, just a little hazy) the lady at the desk said a visit to Lake Cavloc was a good choice, and explained how to pick the right path, and how long it would take. We aren’t really hikers, so we wanted to take the easiest route, which she said was just over an hour. She also suggested I add the cable lift at Surlej Corvatsch to our list, but only if the weather was clear. Without even a bottle of water, we hopped on a bus to Maloja where our hike was to start. On arrival, we went into the tourist information/post office, to find out where the first trail marker was, and waited in line over half an hour as the clerk was having difficulty getting information on the phone for another customer. Since the line was long, and I didn’t hear any English words, we decided to set off on our own. Not 100 feet down the road we came to a display of markers, and were clever enough to realize that lagh, with an umlaut, meant lake, so we had our answer. The marker gave an estimate of 1.25 hours; it actually took us about 1.75, with a lot of stops to rest, take pictures, watch frogs and birds, and anything else we could think of. There is some elevation on the trail, and we’re not used to that, so I would say this is not a strenuous walk, but it is not a stroll in the park. We passed the place where the trail splits into the walking and hiking version, and it was clear we wanted the paved walking version, rather than the hiking version that plunged immediately into some mud, a stream, and the forest.
We got to the lake, and it was worth the trip. They have a trail around the lake with a lot of benches, and we spent a lot of time just sitting on a bench and enjoying the view. We then went to the restaurant, which is elevated about 15 feet on a rocky outcrop right at the edge of the lake. We picked a terrace table with a good view and had soups (barley with wurst for my wife; bouillon with an egg for me) and a coffee and an iced tea. I had actually wanted a beer, but they had but one kind, listed by name, and quite a few wines. I didn’t recognize the name of the beer and thought it was a wine, so I had coffee. I did learn the name when the lady next to me ordered one, but it was too late. The food was very good, warm and filling, and the tab was 22 CHF. It took us awhile to eat as we were debating how I should approach the whole yolk floating in my soup. I finally just gulped it down whole. The walk back was more downhill, but just as long, so we didn’t get back to Sills-Maria-Maria until 1415 from what I had thought was a morning venture. Fortunately, the weather had cleared somewhat and the bus which would take us to Surlej-Corvatsch was sitting there like a temptress. We were a bit tired, but got onto the bus. The cable car was very uncrowded and a pleasant ride, almost with a guide, as the same man operated the first leg and the second, and showed us just where to go. It was a little hazy at the top, but fairly warm considering all the ice, and we could see an endless panorama of mountains. We didn’t stay long because we wanted to be sure to catch our horse at 1830, but it was still a memorable ride and we were glad we had found the energy for it.

They had twelve people for the horse/ride dinner, so two carriages awaited us at 1830. Although it was cool, the ride was pleasant, but slow, and they did have blankets for us. The hotel at Fex is ancient, and there was a lot of ducking as we went through doors. They had us all at a long table, with the lady from the hotel at the head, I was lucky to be next to her as she knew English. We selected our drinks and I got a bottle of local wine the sommelier said was dry; it was quite good. Dinner proceeded very amiably in German, then I asked the hostess what the German word for great-grandfather was, and said mine had emigrated from Boltigen. Some people there knew Boltigen, and one elderly lady even revealed that she had spent some years in South Africa and spoke English, although she was out of practice, so we started telling where we all were from, and the elderly lady said she had a daughter in Colorado, where my wife has relatives. The food was a sort of goulash, very good, and between the food and conversation, we used up our allotted time and I didn’t get to order a Calvados I had spied on the wine list. The horses were all present and ready (some of the dried meat in the starter course I had not recognized and I was hoping none was one of the horses who had seemed recalcitrant on the ride over). The ride home was an anachronism, as the carriages only had lanterns, and there were no streetlights nor traffic. It was a semi clear night with a moon and some stars, and we were glad to have signed up for the excursion.

This morning we had another excellent breakfast (they have pastries here in addition to the usual baked goods), and we took our plans to the desk to check that our connections would work. I had decided that we would do all cable car excursions while we recuperated from our moderate hike. We planned to be back at the hotel by 1730 for a wine tasting exposition, but it was cancelled for too few registrations.

I thought we could easily get Madhouse Marriage and Piz Nair in. Bus 2 connected all the necessary points, as confirmed by the lady at the desk (a very valuable resource if you come here). We were well on our way when the bus malfunctioned in St. Moritz; a door would not shut properly and the safety sensor prevented the driver from moving the bus. He spent many minutes trying to fix it himself, then a mechanic showed up, but could not fix it, so they finally disabled the door so the bus could go, and we would all ignore the constant alarm buzzers. So we were about an hour late getting to Punt Marriage Telstation, but apparently no one else had any problems and the crowd to get onto the funicular was big and aggressive. We finally got to the top and enjoyed the view, along with about a million other people.. Although it was past noon my now, we decided not to eat there because of the crowd, and took the funicular down to catch our bus. A number two bus showed up soon, but had an intermediate stop on his sign, and while I was trying to figure out if he was headed the right way, he left. This is really uncommon, as my experience is drivers are very willing to clarify things for us tourists. Anyway, we sat in the pleasant sun for an hour, and another bus arrived and took us to St. Moritz Schulhausplatz, which is the stop closest to the funicular to Chantarella (remember that name, as it is on the schedule while Piz Nair is not). We took the funicular to Chantarella and connected to the funicular to Corviglia, which in itself is a worthy destination. We had a lunch in one of the restaurants there while we enjoyed the view. One barley soup (with good bread), a fine ham and cheese sandwich (they forgot the ham but it was still very good) a ginger ale and a bodyguard juice came to 33 CHF. I would guess they take credit cards, but I paid cash. Prices are always a bit higher at these mountain restaurants, but the food is always good, and the view is worth the extra cost.

We then took the cable car to Piz Nair, at an elevation of about 10,000 feet. The air is thin and you notice it. But it was a very clear day and the views were tremendous. I think we could see the Matterhorn in the distance. This ride was far less crowded than Muettas Muragl, but you are so far above the vegetation line that the landscape is almost foreign. Still, I’m glad we went. We descended at leisure and the bus arrived as schedule to return us to Sills-Maria-Maria by 1600. We rested a bit, then enjoyed another delicious dinner, again with the option of one of two appetizers, rather than the starter table. I then stopped at the desk to arrange for transportation to St. Moritz train station in the morning, as we will be moving on to Guarda.

During the day as we sat waiting for a funicular ride, I glanced at the prices for the bus and mountain excursions we have been taking with out passes, and was surprised by how much the pass has saved us, even with our half-fare cards. This pass is one of the greatest money-savers I have ever come across, and although our bill at check out will be large, the pass that they gave us will go a long way toward making this a reasonable trip.

Thursday morning we were up early to pack (one of the nice things about staying more than a couple of days is that you can unpack and hang up your clothes so you aren’t living out of a suitcase; the downside is it takes a little longer to pack. We went down for an excellent early breakfast, and the waiter who had handled us was not on duty that day. This brought up some interesting questions on gratuities, particularly as we had not stayed on half pension in so many years we can’t remember when we last did.

I have developed the habit of leaving a thank-you envelope in the room for the housecleaner. I do this at the end of our stay, as I think of it as a gratuity rather than a bribe. I know that, particularly in large hotels, the housekeeper is actually a crew and by leaving a gratuity on the last day I may be placing it in the hands of someone who had not previously taken care of our room, but I trust them as members of a crew to deal with this situation. In college I spent some time as a waiter and bartender and it was not uncommon that one of us would clear a table that another had served, but we always put the tip in a glass for the person who had actually done the service.

Also, if the breakfast room is small or specialized to the point where you feel you have been served by a specific individual, I leave an envelope (always assuming, of course, good service); but in a large breakfast room where there is no real personal service, I don’t leave a tip. Here, where our special waiter was not there to get the envelope, I decided not to leave it. When we are not half-pensioners, I tip in the restaurant each meal, based on the service, the price, and what I have read of the practice in that country. Here I had a problem, as I got a bill at checkout that didn’t really show what the cost of our meals had been (except for the wines we had selected; I usually buy neither the most expensive, nor the least expensive wine, but one from the local area that catches my eye, or is recommended by the staff). I wondered if I left a tip would it shared by all, including housecleaning, which I had already tipped, and the masseuse who had seen neither hide nor hair of me. I was going to ask the advice of the lady at the desk, but things started getting hectic then, including a ride to St. Moritz that showed up early, so I just paid the bill and we left. I would appreciate advice on this situation, as I’m sure it will recur.

For your planning purposes, the bill for four days, including wine at three dinners (we paid directly at the Fex hotel excursion) with a few drinks, was 1679 CHF. That seems expensive, but considering the level of service, the rather good wines I had picked, and the free pass they gave us that saved hundreds of dollars on busses and excursions, I think it is a decent value. I wish I could afford it more often.
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Old Oct 23rd, 2009, 01:58 PM
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The hotel drove us to the St. Moritz train station (they would have picked us up on arrival also, but since I sometimes stop enroute and catch a later train, I didn’t have a certain arrival time, and the bus was very convenient. The hotel manager accompanied our group to the station and thanked us for our patronage. Since St. Moritz has real live ticket agents (Guarda, as I guessed, has only a machine) I bought both our tickets to Guarda and our tickets from Guarda to Chur. The ride to Guarda was pleasant, with only one train change in Samaden, and that on the same platform. There was about a 40 minute wait at the Guarda station for the post bus that took us to the actual town. I thought of just walking, but I’ve read that it is quite a walk, and after riding up in the bus I’m glad we didn’t try the walk.

We were a bit early to register, but the proprietress suggested we leave our luggage and see the town, so we did. As we walked past hotel Messier we decided it was lunch time and sat down on their patio area to enjoy a glorious view and some good food. We settled on a beer, a glass of wine, a bowl of barley soup, and a bowl of soup of the day (the waitress didn’t know the English word to identify the soup, but offered to let me look in the pot. I decided to gamble and ordered it, and it was a delicious mushroom soup that reminded me of the fine sauce they serve escargot in. The tab was 34 CHF and the meal was worth it. We then went back to Pensiun Val Tuoi and our room was ready. This is a pretty small inn made from a very old building. Our room is fairly small, but well designed, clean, and comfortable. We have a little balcony with a view and I am sitting there now, but I am rushing, as it appears rain is on the way. We’ve already walked all through town and watched them bring in the goat herds (one herd of goats has a nice balcony down the street, bigger than ours. All the buildings are interesting to see, the church tower keeps good time, and we found a small grocery (we hadn’t found one in Sills-Maria-Maria) so my wife is enjoying some chocolate while we rest and wait for the dinner hour.

I hadn’t realized what a small inn this is, with the same person doing many jobs. When we went to the restaurant (which has seven tables) for dinner, they apologized and said we would have to share a table; that has never been a problem for us, so we agreed. The menu is limited to one item. There was a nice salad table, and they recommended a local Pinot Noir from their list of wines, which was sufficient but not ten pages as some restaurants. My doctor will be glad to hear that the wine we picked came in a half-liter bottle, which apparently is becoming more and more common. My doctor needn’t know that I had another bottle waiting in my room, as I like a nice glass of wine in the evening while reviewing the day (we hardly ever go out at night) and, in this case, enjoying superb scenery from our balcony. The other couple joined us and when I apologized for not speaking German, they said it was no problem as they both spoke English. They were from Basel and were enjoying the mountains.

The only dish offered was either veal or young beef, batter coated and sauteed, and accompanied by spaghetti with a tomato sauce. It has a Swiss name, but I forgot it. In any event, it was excellent, as was the plum torte for desert. This was our first experience in such a small restaurant, and had I approached from outside and read German, I would have known what dish to expect. The experience was more like eating at a friends house, than a restaurant (a friend who is a very good cook).

After dinner, we walked around town a bit, then went to our room and sat on the balcony. It was not chilly, and all the stars came out as we watched the day end over the valley. We stayed there quite a while; listening to the goat bells and the church bell and I cannot recall such a feeling of serenity, despite the occasional vehicle passing under our balcony, which is over the main road into town. The drivers are very courteous and skilled here; I guess you have to be when your vehicle is eight feet wide and so is the road.

Breakfast was typically good with yoghurts, cereals, meats and cheese, and baked goods. Only orange juice was offered, and you could have coffee or one of about five kinds of tea. It was certainly spartan after the spread at the Edelweiss, but still a good adequate meal.

We then set out to visit Scuol. When I bought my tickets to come here, I specified from St. Moritz to Guarda cumun, which includes the bus between the Guarda station and the town itself, a challenging walk. To get to Scuol, the bus driver sells only bus tickets down the hill, and you have to buy the train ticket from a machine at the station. The lady at the hotel told us the machine was temperamental, and if I couldn’t make it work, I could buy the ticket on the train. The machine worked flawlessly for us (we collaborated to be sure we were pushing the right buttons. When I had used one of these before, it kept asking for a PIN for my credit card, and as I don’t have one, it wouldn’t work. Forewarned is forearmed, however, and I stood ready with my debit (ATM) card, with my pin. The machine took the card and didn’t even ask for the PIN.

The train came on schedule, but stopped at Ardez due to construction, and they switched us to busses. It was a bit confusing as they had multiple busses with varying destinations, all including the Scuol train station. I don’t know if the other part of their sign referred to a subsequent destination, or a variation in the route, but I asked for the most scenic route and they put us on a bus. We debused at the train station, a mistake as that turned out to be where the construction was. We decided to ride the cable lift to Motta Naluns while the weather was fairly clear, but after picking our way around most of the construction, we realized that it extended to the lift station, which was closed. Apparently they are rushing to be ready for the snow.

Since we were already part way to the center of town, we decided to walk, and it was an easy downhill walk. I found a badly needed ATM (I have been spending more cash than using credit cards because we have been in so many small places, besides, by credit card melted when I paid my tab at the Edelweiss). Right next door was Hotel Astras, which I have in my notes as recommended for pizza, so we noted that location and did a bit more wandering. We came back just before noon and got a table with a view on the terrace. My wife ordered a beer, and I ordered 3 dl of red wine, more than I usually have for lunch, but just right for a pizza. We perused the long list of pies they offer, picked one, and tried to guess which size (24 or 30 cm, as I recall, but we were educated before the centimeter was invented and have never mastered it). Then the waitress came and as soon as I said pizza she pointed out the first line on the menu, which said after 1800 (they must prepare it the Italian way, with a wood fired oven). We settled on soups; my wife had the barley soup with meat, I had what turned out to be a cream of garlic soup. The food was very good, and the tab was 32.70 CHF.

We had lingered over out meal enjoying the view, so it was time to head home. We sat at a bus stop, but when the bus had not arrived within ten minutes of its time, we decided we could walk. It seemed a longer walk back since it was uphill, and the bus we would have ridden pulled into the depot just as we arrived. The rest of the return was a model of Swiss efficiency: the train at Ardez started out right after we boarded, and the bus at Guarda station was waiting when we arrived. It had started to rain for, surprisingly, the first time on this trip. We went to our room and I tried calling Hotel Messier for a dinner reservation, but whether it was my cell or their phone, or our language, the call got disconnected. We put on our raincoats and walked over and made the reservation and had a few laughs about the reliability of phones.

Our hotel room has window decorations consisting of a grid of threads with figures embroidered on them. My wife said she liked them and had just the windows to put some in. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the dimensions of the windows, but Guarda has a store that sells crafts, so we went over there to see if they had patterns and instructions and materials to make our own. They did, but in German, which we figured we could work around. Alas, the grid of threads that is the base cost over a hundred CHF for what apparently was a piece 1 meter by 1.99 meters; the lady warned it was expensive as apparently the art of making these is disappearing. Since I didn’t have our sizes, and I’m not rich, we took their email address and are going to try buying by email once we know how much we’ll need.

We stopped at a restaurant for coffee and returned to our room to await our dinner hour. I am updating this and trying to get a picture of a small quick bird that lands outside our window every time I put my camera down, and takes off every time I pick it up.

We walked to Hotel Messier and they showed us to a very nice table, with a good view.

The menu is almost abbreviated, limited to a few dishes, often of local provenance. We opted for two small salads, a bottle of good local white wine, fried trout for my wife, and surf and turf for me (I really considered a few more esoteric dishes, such as hunters ragout, but decided on something fishy in view of my wife’s choice). All dishes were excellent. We added two servings of the Engadine nut cake, and a cup of espresso. Service was very good, as was the ambience, but I thought the nut cake seemed a little stale, but it was still very good and very rich. The check was 180 CHF.

We walked back to our hotel, both feeling very full and ready for bed. It is cold and damp tonight, and the clouds obscure the stars, so I will forego my contemplative time on the balcony.
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Old Oct 23rd, 2009, 02:00 PM
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This will be our last full day in Guarda and we have absolutely nothing planned. We slept in until 0700, then went for our usual healthy breakfast. They have an interesting choice of cereals here, and cheeses too. When we finished and went back to our room, it had already been cleaned. I should point out that this inn has free wifi and a TV in the room, but no minibar or refrigerator. I’ve not turned on the TV but it appears to have a cable converter. There are a lot more interesting things to do while traveling than watch TV, although I do sometimes watch CNN; its interesting to get a perspective other than what we get back home. I checked my email and banks, and we practiced our German, what there is of it, at a site that offers words and phrases. I found that I have not even been saying I don’t speak German correctly, but I think I have it down now. We had decent weather, with the prospect of it worsening, so we decided to do a little walking; a neighboring village is only 20 minutes away, Swiss walking speed, but the scenery is so beautiful that we kept stopping and ended up getting only half way when we came to a pile of stones next to the road; it was an obvious sign that since we had been walking downhill, it was time to turn back and explore the other end of Guarda. We were looking for a place for lunch, but few restaurants seemed to be open (not that there are many in the first place), so we stopped in the market contemplating buying the makings of sandwiches, but while they had all the ingredients, none were in individual sized packets, and I decided not to get pastry until I have recovered from last night’s nut cake. So we went back to Hotel Messier and took a table on the terrace; there were very few customers today, perhaps there were more inside as it was a little cool. My wife had the barley soup and a beer, I had the soup of the day (beet) and a glass of nice dry white wine. My soup had some objects in it that were the subject of much speculation; my wife said they were brains, and they looked like brains, but they were smaller than the brains I have seen. It turned out they were dumplings. The food was good (they bring you bread with your soup, so it is a filling meal) and the view and ambience were quite nice; a few more people showed up, but it started to rain a bit so everyone went inside. Our check was 36 CHF. As we left the rain stopped, but we went home to rest a bit anyway. There are a lot of goats in this town, and the streets are very narrow, so between the goats and the traffic (there isn’t much of that but it fills the road), so you have to be pretty nimble walking around. The weather has been very changeable today, with intermittent periods of sun, but mostly cloudy and cool, so we are constantly moving out to the balcony and back as the temperature changes.

Dinner was wonderful, assuming you seek a taste of the local cuisine. The salad bar was complete, although the only dressing was the white french which is common here. The entree was a plate of assorted meats (sausage, a meatloaf, and what I call fat back, pork with abundant fat, served on craut, with potatoes resembling rosti, but with less structure, much like good home fries. I felt that while all of our food on this trip has been excellent, much has been continental, and this was true Swiss food. Desert was a cake based on what our neighbors said was cottage cheese (the Swiss word has escaped me) with poppy seeds and was delicious. We also had a half liter of local red wine that was quite good. Again, eating at this inn feels like dining at a friend’s house.

Tomorrow we are off to Chur. I’m very glad we included Guarda on this trip. It is very pleasant and quite a contrast to the lower Engadine. I don’t know if it is the season or not, but the Engadine seems less touristy than the BO, and as scenic.

Breakfast was good again; some of their cheeses are really good. We packed and said our goodbyes, and got to the bus stop, 70 meters away now that we knew the way, and had a half-hour wait for the bus. This extended over 0900, so I walked to the church to try to see the bell ringer in action (they have real bells, rather than recordings, and I presumed there was a real bell ringer, but the inner doors were locked and we couldn’t see into the bell tower. A young boy who spoke German had the same idea, and could read the signs, but found no way to get in.

As I walked back to the bus station I realized how far from the USA we were; the church has absolutely no parking lot; in my town the inner city churches with limited parking are failing, being replaced by mega churches with more parking than a stadium.

The bus was on time and the driver warned us that we wanted the second train, not the first, and he was, of course, correct. The weather had been clearing as we left Guarda, and it was a nice scenic ride to Chur, except for one very long tunnel. We repeated our cute trick of getting lost on the short walk from the train station to the Stern Hotel, but recovered just as we had before. We were too early to check in, so we left our bags and they gave us a town map and suggested we see the old town. It was Sunday morning so almost nothing was open and there were few people about, but we found a café with outdoor tables when we got hungry. My wife had a hot chocolate and barley soup (different from that we had had before and, frankly, not as good. I wanted a ham sandwich (the menu listed various Panini) and a glass off wine, but language problems got in the way of my ordering, so the waitress left and sent over another, who explained the choices. I picked one that had ham, cheese, tomato, and what was described as salad, but apparently my order got lost and my wife was done and there was no sign of my sandwich, or either waitress; we snagged a third and tried to explain what had happened, and shortly thereafter the original waitress showed up with a large sandwich, but lacking the salad. It was actually pretty good, but larger than I like for lunch. The bill came promptly and was 24 CHF.

We wandered a bit more and found our way back to the hotel, where we registered and made a dinner reservation for 1800 (the restaurant here is good, but small, so reservations are a good idea). The weather was good, and museums here close on Mondays, so we decided to visit the art museum. It is in a lovely, almost palatial, old residence and that alone is worth seeing. They make you put everything, even purses, in a locker (you get your locker fee back when you return the key). They had a lot of modern art, which is not our milieu, and some nice older stuff, primarily by local artists, that was often enjoyable.

When we finished, we were a bit tired, so returned to our hotel for a nap before dinner. We were in the annex at this hotel, which has smaller rooms and lower prices. The rooms have recently been redone and are attractive, but have a small bath and no closet, so we are back to living out of suitcases.

The dining room is very nice and the food and service excellent; they recognized our linguistic impairment instantly, and brought us an English menu. Our waitress spoke flawless English and was very friendly. We had stayed here one day in May, and as she took our order she asked if we hadn’t been there before, and when I said yes, she said she had recognized my wife’s lovely eyes. These people will do anything for a tip. We had mixed salads that were excellent; my wife had what I recall as being called mallons, which I think are boiled potatoes ground and formed into tiny balls with cheese (it resembled a dish of seasoned brown rice) with applesauce, while I had the councilman’s plate (two filets of varying meats, I think beef and veal) with sliced potatoes covered with cheese, some excellent vegetables, a slice of cooked apple, and a cooked pear that had been soaked in wine, and cranberries. We had a nice local wine (Pinot Noir by Boner). My wife was stuffed (hers is said to be a dish enjoyed by the local country folk in the winter, and it was filling), and so was I, but I had a taste for desert and when I asked for the menu my wife relented and ordered a scoop of chocolate ice cream. I had creme brulee. It was an excellent meal. The tab was about 170 CHF; I’m not certain as I charged it to my room.

This morning we had an excellent breakfast in the breakfast room, which is a different room than the restaurant. It had a wide variety of what we have come to expect in a Swiss breakfast, supplemented by bowls of cut up fruit and soft boiled eggs. The breads here are excellent.
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Old Oct 23rd, 2009, 02:01 PM
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We now had two days left here, and I wanted to visit Maienfeld (my wife is a Heidi fan) and Arosa (not to ski, but to ride the train), ride on the cable car in Chur, and visit the cathedral. Alas it was raining. I asked the receptionist about the weather, and she said it would be about the same in Maienfeld, and that it would be colder with possible snow tomorrow. Rain here doesn’t seem to last, and I thought seeing a ski resort would be better in the snow, so we got into our rain gear and bought tickets to Maienfeld. The weather was actually clearing before we left and was pretty good. The Heidi concession at Maienfeld is not in town, but a healthy walk up into the hills above the town; the signs say 40 minutes, but we are old and slow and stop a lot to take pictures, so it took us much longer. Also, it is not readily apparent how to get through town to the right road, so we got lost a couple of times until we ran into a Heidi gift shop (there is another at the concession) where my wife picked out a Heidi book and I found a free map and good advice. The ascent is through vineyards and a few meadows. I was surprised that some of the vineyards had not yet been harvested, but they know their business better than I.

There is actually a Heidi hotel and the Heidi house. We mistakenly walked all the way to the Heidi Hotel; below it is a parking lot for busses, and below that a path leads off to the right to the Heidi House. I don’t recall that the path was properly marked (I always stop to read the signs, and rest), and had we turned there we could have saved ourselves a few hundred meters. We visited the gift shop at the concession, but didn’t buy tickets or go on to the house and the exhibitions. We were a bit tired so we started back down; the lady at the lower gift shop had pointed out a couple of other, less direct, but more scenic, paths we could have taken, but having been lost once already that day, I chose the familiar path down, which certainly didn’t lack scenery. It was a little after lunch time now, so I told my wife to pick a place if we came to one that caught her fancy. It was Grill-pizzeria Da Elio in Maienfeld. We had their large four stations pizza, with a small beer and 2 DL of local red wine, and it really hit the spot. The tab was 29.40 CHF.

Refreshed, and in a town with many wineries, I resolved to buy a couple of bottles, but we had run into the lunch-hours shutdown tradition, and could find no stores open; I did drool on a number of windows. My wife also wanted to visit a WC, so we were on the lookout for one of those also, but again found none (there was a nice one part way up the hill, but we didn’t have the energy to retrace our steps. I said there would certainly be one at the railroad station, or on the train. Sadly, Maienfeld is the only Swiss train station I have seen without facilities, and the train didn’t arrive for another 35 minutes. It had started to rain a little just before we reached the station, and the weather was a bit dreary when we got back to Chur, so we went to our hotel. It has cleared up again now, but my wife is napping, and I’m not stupid. I’m glad we went to Maienfeld. It is pretty country and I enjoyed walking past the vineyards and speculating why some had been harvested, some not, and some only partially. We’re also looking forward to cold and snow tomorrow. Not having been here in October, we brought boots, scarves, mittens, hats, and winter coats, and have started to get tired of hauling them all along without purpose; now maybe we’ll get some use out of them.

We had dinner at Hotel Stern again. They had a four or five course special for the Fall season; we opted for the four because we don’t eat a lot. We started with a plate of delicious breads, as always, then had cream of wild mushroom soup that was wonderful. For our main course we selected veal over venison and it was delicious, down to the accompanying vegetables. We then had soft centered chocolate tarts that were so rich and decadent that they alone would have sated a healthy appetite. Our finale was some local cheeses with a plum confit. We accompanied this with a bottle of water and a bottle of very good local wine, While window shopping I had seen a local cherry liquor, and as I struggled to find that on the menu, the waitress suggested a cherry liquor made by the hotel, with cherry, cinnamon, and anise, so we tried that. It was very pleasant, and not overalcoholic as are some liquors. It was an elegant meal, and so was the tab: 230 CHF. We were stuffed, but it was raining, so we skipped our normal walk and went straight to bed.

We were up fairly early for another good breakfast. The rain had stopped, but it was windy, hazy, and cold. Back to the room to break out the silk thermals; we carry silk long underwear, because it is so compact it takes almost no room, but does a pretty good job of keeping you warm. Trains for Arosa leave at 9 past the hour, and we were early enough to catch the 0909 train. My plan was to just ride the train up and back, and have the afternoon free, but the ticket agent, an obvious seductress, asked me if I wanted the ticket that allowed you to ride the cable cars, busses, and boats; how could I resist? So I flashed our half-fare cards, parted with 45.60 CHF, and had two tickets for a full day of activity. Best yet, the snow the receptionist at the hotel had predicted yesterday showed up as soon as we were about a third of the way up the mountain. This is an old train route that doesn’t get above the tree line, and has almost no straight track, so it is a slow ride, over an hour to Arosa. But the scenery is as good as any I have seen, and I would highly recommend riding this line. While both sides of the train have their share of good views, I think the edge goes to the right side on the uphill leg, and the left on the downhill leg. Our up hill leg was early and the car was almost empty, so I could flit from side to side trying to catch the best view. Arosa is a pleasant town, if you like ski-resort towns with a small lake right in the center of town. We first rode the cable car nearest the train station, two legs to about 3500 meters, if I recall, but the view was obscured above the changing station, so we just rode up and down. There was no crowd at all. My wife suggested we might want to skip the next cable car, but I always have faith that there will be better weather somewhere, sometime, so we caught a local bus to the base station of the second cable car; this was one with four-person cars and no operator on board. The weather did clear just before we started up, but then clouded up around the upperstation, There was no crowd. We started down almost immediately and the weather cleared as soon as we boarded the car, and our descent was perfect. It was still cold, but the local bus was waiting when we disembarked, and we were on our way back to town. While waiting for the bus up, we had noticed a Pizzeria near the bus stop, and it was well past lunch time so we went in. We split a four stages pizza (quite different from others we have had: this had tomato and cheese, artichokes, ham, anchovies, and a poached egg on each of our halves (they charge a bit more for a pizza when you share it, but bring half on each of two plates, and obviously added the second egg). There might have been more on there; it was crowded, but good. My wife had a small beer and I had 2 dl of local red wine. The tab was 43 CHF, influenced by the splitting charge and, of course, the ski town surtax. It was a very pleasant meal and we lingered a bit. The train ride down to Chur was just as beautiful as the ride up, but the car was more crowded.

On arrival, it was sunny and clear in Chur, so we walked through old town a bit looking for a wine store I had been earlier. We couldn’t find it, but we found one that sells spirits the old way: they have jars and kegs and you pick what you want and they bottle it for you. It was one of the most pleasant smelling stores I have ever been in. I was seeking, however, some local wine to bring home as a souvenir, so we kept looking and finally found some at another store.

From a distance, Chur’s cable car didn’t appear to be running today, and I didn’t want to walk all the way over there to check, as it was late afternoon, so I think we are done with Chur, but for finding dinner and packing. The only think we didn’t get to was visiting the Cathedral; the cable car wasn’t really on our to do list because I didn’t even know about it until we got here and I saw an ad in a local magazine, but it would have been nice to try. They also have an ad for a Bernina express excursion, riding it to Tirano in the morning and back the same day. We’ve only ridden it from Tirano to Chur, and it was magnificent, and with another day I would be very tempted to reexperience that trip, going both ways.

For dinner, we decided to try Hotel Drei Könige, which was listed as another restaurant specializing in the local cuisine, and was just across the road. It is far less elegant than the restaurant at the Hotel Stern, having the ambience of a workingman’s establishment. They handed us a menu covered in the pelt of some animal, and we noted that prices were substantially less here. We had barley soup for my wife (it is surprising how much variety there is in this dish) and a mixed salad for myself, and holzfeller-rosti (rosti with ham and egg) for each of us, served in an ancient pan that certainly added to the ambience. We drank half a liter of mineral water, and half a liter of Maienfelder wine, both good. The rosti was a bit greasy, but edible. We were both full, so ordered no desert. Service was good and the tab was 85.40, credit card accepted. I would say the difference between the hotel Stern and the hotel Drei Konige is the difference between a chef and a cook. Both will fill you, but for the fine touches and decorative steps, go with the chef.

The next morning we enjoyed another good breakfast (at each breakfast, I am reminded what excellent bread and rolls the Swiss produce), checked out, and entrained for Zurich.
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Old Oct 23rd, 2009, 02:02 PM
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On arrival, we had good instructions to Hotel Josef, but they were dependent on leaving the right side of the station, and we had no idea which that was, so we stopped in the tourist office for advice. Set right, we walked to the hotel and arrived early, so we left our luggage and set off to explore old town, It was a bit chill, but it had been cold in Chur, so we were dressed right. The hotel’s instructions on getting there from the train station are accurate, but involve walking up a lot of steps, not easy when you are dragging luggage. If you turn right at the base of those stairs and walk up the sidewalk, under the elevated rail car, you will come to an intersection, and on the left there is a ramp going up to the top of the wall, about 70 meters beyond the hotel. It’s a bit longer, but we found it easier than doing the stairs. If you turn right at that intersection, you will be right in the middle of old town. Old town is vary interesting, and easy to navigate. We lunched at Gran Café on the river with two croque monseurs that included salads, a hot chocolate, and a glass of local white wine. The food was good and the tab was 35.20 CHF. We returned to our hotel and checked in. The room is nice, with an armoire to hang your clothes, a refrigerator, a safe big enough (the first one) to hold my computer, and a nice powerful towel heater. We rested a bit, then went out again to pick up the Zurich guide I had forgotten to pick up at the train station, and see a little more of the town. For some reason, we were a bit tired and didn’t get too far. We returned to the hotel and had a short nap, then went down to the restaurant. The hotel restaurant is said to be crowded at lunch, but not at dinner. They have an interesting policy for guests: for 28 CHF you can have a three course dinner, with your choice of meat and vegetables, but limited to what they had prepared for lunch. For 47 CHF, you can have a three course meal, with starter, main, and desert chosen from anything on the menu. Drinks are extra (a local pinot noir was, I think, 42 CHF for a bottle. We had a salad for my wife and soup for me, a huge prawn dish for my wife and a large veal dish (I ordered the half serving) for me, and two nice deserts, with a bottle of water and a bottle of wine. Both our dishes were more than we could eat; very good, but very rich. The tab was 140.20 CHF.

Breakfast was very good. They have almost hard boiled eggs, but the breads are not quite as superb as we have found at other places, but hardly inedible. After breakfast, we started out on the walking tour in the Zurich Guide. I guess we had more energy, because we got farther quicker than I had expected, and by 1100 we were at the quaibrouche (it was a bit cold to enjoy that) very near the kunsthaus (art museum), one of our prime objectives. I reasoned that every art museum has a café, so we rushed up the hill to the museum. We checked out their outside displays of sculpture, and noted a nice café affiliated with the museum, but outside. I went into the museum (noting a sign that I think said the admission was 23.50 each, and asked about being able to leave to eat, and they said an admission was good all day, and included in and out privileges. I drew my credit card and asked to the complete admission package (they had a special exhibits of Seurat, and the charge was only 31 CHF for two. This is a superb museum, the best I have seen in Switzerland and among the best we have seen anywhere. We rushed upstairs and were overloaded with masterworks of all schools. We decided to break for lunch and went to the café in the other building. I had soup and a glass of white wine, my wife had a salad and iced tea. The food was superb. The tab was, I think, 35 CHF; I paid cash but I’m sure they would have taken credit cards. We returned to the museum and spent the rest of the afternoon there. I’m not sure we saw everything, I think their might be some Swiss art in an annex, and I often get lost in art museums, since I am looking at the works, rather than where we are going. We grew tired, and decided to leave, rather than going around again and reseeing some of the works. We had just enough energy to wend out way through old town and get back to our hotel for dinner. I know there are more museums in Zurich (in fact, our schedule is so full we don’t have time to return to the Kunsthaus), but I would strongly urge anyone who has occasion to visit Zurich to visit this museum.

We got to the restaurant at our hotel at 1830 (they open at 1730) and it was deserted. The waitress was busy, lacking customers, in the storage area, but welcomed us once we made some noise. My wife was not hungry, so skipped the special and had no starter, just a pot dish of chicken, cheese, and vegetables. I had the soup of the day (I like soups of the day; the chef seems to put special effort into them; the only problem is when you return and want that soup, they don’t have it), a delicious spicy concoction of beans and noodles, wild boar from their special fall menu, and a desert (I hadn’t before had wild boar; it didn’t taste like pork, possibly due to the lack of fat). A bottle of water and a bottle of local Pinot Noir completed the experience. Again, the food were delicious and very filling, and neither of us could finish the entire dish. The tab was 114.20 CHF.

We now have three days left in Zurich, and much more to do than will fit into those days.

We must be getting tired; we slept in and didn’t get down to breakfast until 0800; the breakfast room was a lot busier at this later hour, but they didn’t run out of food. After breakfast we suited up and stopped at the reception desk. I had emailed the Buhrle collection a few months before leaving, as their web site reported they were no longer open to the public, and they responded that they had a tour two days a month, so I had arranged to be in Zurich on the sixteenth. When we visited the Kunsthaus I inquired of the lady at information, and she said the Buhrle collection was closed, and was in fact going to be shown as a traveling exhibit at the Kunsthaus next year (12 February to 16 May 2010). I grew concerned and tried to call the Buhrle collection, but I am not adept with my cell phone, particularly overseas, and particularly in German and couldn’t communicate with whoever I reached. I told my sad plight to the receptionist and she volunteered to call them, and was successful and even made us a reservation (I had thought my email made the reservation, but apparently I was wrong). In any event, we were rescued; we thanked her and headed for the train station; today we were going to Winterthur to their Kunstmuseum. I bought round trip tickets, but when I looked at them, they lacked the two arrows that show they are a round trip; they were denominated as TAGESKARTE for zones 10, 20, 21, and 22. If I understand this correctly, it is a day pass for all transport in those zones. When you buy a ticket for a tram, you can also get a day pass and tram to your heart’s delight.

I had careful instructions on how to get to the Winterthur Kunsthaus; train to Winterthur, bus 1, 3, or 6 on Stadhausstrasse to St. Gallen, then walk left to the museum. Alas, I saw a bus I, but I wasn’t sure it was headed in the right direction, so I asked for help at the ticket station. The lady advised me that the Kunsthaus is closed for repairs, and suggested the Museum Oskar Reinhart am Stadtgarten, right in the same neighborhood. She further said don’t bother waiting for a bus, it is only a short walk, and pointed us the right way. Her advice was quite correct. At the Oskar Reinhart. I pulled out my credit card, but they wanted cash so I surrendered 24 CHF (for two of us). They don’t allow photography inside, nor purses, so we took a locker (free) for our stuff and entered. It was a large and well presented collection (no modern art), and I’m not sure how much was from their permanent collection (said to be mostly Swiss artists) and how much, if any, might have been borrowed from the Kunsthaus (not too much, I would guess). There are six large galleries on three floors. We got through the first four and decided to break for a late lunch; alas, their café is very basic, having just some drinks, so we decided to see the last two galleries, then go into their old town to find lunch. It is an excellent museum and we were glad we got to see it, but we were also tired.

We found a nice looking semi-crowded Italian restaurant in old town (Cantinetta Bindella) with a pleasant appearance and good service, but the food was not as good as one would hope. My wife had minestrone soup and iced tea; I had ravioli salvia (small portion) with some dry white Italian wine (they had no Swiss wines). The tab was 38.50 CHF.

The train back to Zurich ran smoothly, and we were soon walking through old town looking for a place to have coffee. It was cool, so no terrace tables were open and a number of places we stopped at wanted to serve food, rather than just coffee, but we finally found one with good coffee; 8.80 CHF for two cups. I had almost thought that this was the red light district, as there are more than a few sexually oriented shops and cafes, but apparently the red light district is on the other side of the river and this is just normal.

For dinner, we ate at our hotel again. My wife had an omelet that included a salad, I had soup of the day (paprika), a small portion of roast lamb, and we each had an iced cream desert, with a liter of water and a bottle of good Swiss pinot noir, the bill was 125 CHF. The food was excellent, and the service attentive, although there was but one waiter who grew busier and busier as the restaurant filled up. They are closed on the weekend, so we will have to find new places to dine.

We slept in a bit again and the breakfast room was almost full, but no lack of food. It was a dreary day with a touch of rain, but we started out for our day of distant sightseeing. I bought tickets from Zurich to Schaffhousen to Stein-am-Rhein and back to Zurich. It was still drizzly when we got to Schaffhausen and it was not apparent which of the eight or ten busses there took you to Rhinefalls, so I decided to walk. After ten or fifteen minutes of seeing no signs, we concluded (correctly) that we were headed the wrong way, so we went back to the station and asked. Bus number 1 is the one you want, and it stops on the road just to the right end of the station as you are facing out of the station. The fee was 2.20 CHF each, each way, and that was with the half fare card, paid to the driver. They let you off at a station called Rhinefalls (!) that is actually about three blocks away from the falls, but they have yellow arrows and footprints painted on the sidewalk to help the directionally impaired. You arrive beside a large building at the top of the falls, without much view, but if you follow the footprints down the hill you pass some nice viewing areas and arrive at the bottom, which I think gives the best view. Follow the footprints back to the bus stop, give the driver some more money, and you are on your way back to the train station. I’m all for walking to save a short bus ride, but I recommend the ride here because of the convoluted path. Actually, when we were lost we walked a bit through the old town center of Schaffhousen and it looked very interesting. I would have liked to spend more time there, but we were short of time. I would point out that on little trips like this, it is good to know the geography; the train from Zurich to Schaffhausen was not direct, for example; you have to change in Winterthur. When you buy your tickets, you can ask for a routing card, that will show all these intermediate connections, but even then, if you take a later or earlier train, it may follow a different route.
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Old Oct 23rd, 2009, 02:03 PM
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The ride from Schaffhausen to Stein-am-Rhein was pleasant, but there were an awful lot of stops on the way and I expected only a few. I started to think I might have dozed through my stop, but my wife said she had been awake (sure) and we hadn’t missed it. We arrived in rain and started to walk into town resolving to have lunch at the first dry place we found. That was Restaurant Klosterstubli just over the bridge as you are getting into the old town, and it was more than just dry. The ambience was superb; the food was just as good. They had a whole page of Rosti plates, with varying toppings. My wife had the Aelpler Rosti, with a mix of ham, cheese, and vegetables topping it; I had the St. Gallen Rosti, with sliced sausage (veal, I think) and cheese topping it. My wife had tea, and I had 3 dl of steiner red wine. The portions were much larger than we usually have for lunch, but they were so good we both finished them. The bill was 51.20 CHF, and they did take a credit card.

It stopped raining, with intermittent sunshine even, so we spent quite a bit of time walking around the old town. This place gives the term housepainter new meaning, as they leave few spaces undecorated. The trip back to Zurich was pleasant, with one of those unanticipated changes in Winterthur. On arrival, we got our obligatory souvenir shirt at the tourist information office in the terminal (we had been looking sporadically elsewhere for a better deal, but no one matched them). When we stepped outside to walk to our hotel, it was raining lightly, and before we were half way it was raining heavily with some sharp hail (and me without a hat, or hair). We, with everyone else, window shopped for a while until it eased, but it hasn’t stopped yet.

Despite the weather, our day trip was quite pleasant. If I had it to do again, I would leave a little earlier and spend more time in Schaffhausen.

This evening we went out to dine at about 7, later than usual, and all of old town was crowded (the rain had stopped). We decided on Santa Lucia and got a table with only a short wait, but it was quite noisy. We ordered wine (Italian, they didn’t have Swiss) and water, and before I had finished my first piece of bread, our four stages pizza was at the table. Honestly, no one can cook a pizza that fast, and have it cool down, so we concluded it had been precooked a day or so earlier, and the taste was consistent with that opinion. We ordered two ice cream (I know what Gelato is and this was ice cream) that took over an hour to arrive (possibly they had been pre-frozen and had to be defrosted). They seemed to be turning over the tables rapidly, as you find in the USA, but certainly didn’t do that with us. The tab was 88.70 CHF. I would not recommend them.

Sunday our only scheduled activity was a 1300 tour of the Buhrle collection, but this was complicated a bit as it is in a residential neighborhood, with few signs until you are almost there. We had not used the trams yet, but when I asked at the hotel a few days earlier, they said just buy a ticket at the ticket booth (a day-ticket if you want a bit more use). Not on Sunday morning you don’t; the booth was closed and we were facing a machine that had more German words than I do. It also wouldn’t take a credit card, or currency; fortunately I had a pocket of Swiss coins. It also wanted to know what zones we would be tramming in, and I just guessed Zone 10. I left the machine much lighter (11.20 CHF in coins, thanks to my half fare card) with what I think are two day passes. I say I think, because no one has asked to see them.

My plan was to take tram 4 to bahnhof tiefenbrunnen, then look for signs or ask advice (I had the street address of the building). Tram 4's track, it turned out, was under repair and it only took us to Bellevue. The ticket offices were still closed (they are closed all day Sunday), but I knew that an alternative was what I thought was tram 2. A helpful guard took us under his wing and showed us bus 2, which got us to bahnhof tiefenbrunnen (a couple of train lines also apparently could have gotten us there). There were no signs showing the way to the building (which is apparently not widely known), but a helpful clerk in an open florist’s shop did a search on her computer and showed us the relative location (uphill, like everything else in Switzerland) and showed us how to get to the other side of the tracks to start our quest. We found many dead ends, private lanes, etc. but finally came upon a sign pointing to the museum. We arrived over an hour early and had to wait outside while they set things up for the tour (they are understandably very concerned about security, as they lost some masterworks to theft a couple of years ago, which is probably why they now offer only these private tours two days a month). I had started extra early, allowing for difficulties finding it, and planning to eat an early lunch in the neighborhood after arriving. Alas, this is an upscale residential neighborhood and there are no cafes, nor WCs, for that matter. I didn’t take notes, but when I return, I will leave the station and go back toward central Zurich until I come to a commercial street going uphill (to the right), turn onto this street and go up about two or three blocks. When you come to a brown directional arrow with the name Buhrle on it, pointing to the right, turn right and go a block or two to the museum at ZollikerStrasse 172, with a small sign saying the museum is permanently closed. That’s the spot.

Shortly before the appointed hour, other people started arriving and they came out, checked us off their appointment list, and let us in. As you enter, the art is everywhere; going up about five steps to where you buy your ticket and check your large bags and cameras, you pass two Delacroixs. This is a baronial house and one might wonder just how much great art can be displayed in a building this size; enough to dazzle anyone. They have exceptional works; I usually don’t particularly like the kinds of statues found in very old churches, but theirs were beautiful. All the rooms are crowded with masterworks. In the corner of one room, they had a Degas painting of ballerinas, a Degas statue of a young dancer, and the Renoir portrait of young Irene; I found it hard to look at them, as I was constantly being distracted by the others, it was like having your favorite foods spread before you, and you can’t take one because you are drawn to the others. They have quite a few Monet’s and other impressionists, but their two water lilies we under conservation and not on display. Herr Buhrle was a major supporter and contributor to the Kunsthaus Zurich and the two water lilies there were donated by him. Today’s opening was a tour conducted in German; when they realized we didn’t speak German, they suggested we view the exhibits on our own. I thought that was exceptionally courteous and we could go at our own speed, and repeat what we wanted to repeat. The cost of this visit was 25 CHF each; it was worth far more. The art we have seen in our few days in Zurich has been the high point of this trip.
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Old Oct 23rd, 2009, 02:04 PM
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Having seen more than we could digest, we left to get late lunch. Much of Zurich apparently shuts down on Sundays, as I think it is not primarily a tourist town. We saw no cafes or restaurants open until we got to Bellevue, where a few were open. We found a café bar restaurant called Skebe on a nearby side street. My wife had a Croque Monsieur that was exceptionally complete
with two sandwiches, chips and guacamole, and a small salad, and a hot chocolate. I had a bowl of cream tomato soup and a glass of local red wine. Everything was quite good, and the tab was only 31.80 CHF.

We returned to old town near our hotel; I wanted to get a couple more bottles of wine as souvenirs, but the stores are all shut down except for the eateries. Even the sex shops are closed!

Many restaurants were either closed or crowded. We finally picked Swiss Chuchi, which was crowded, but managed to give us a table that was reserved for later, apparently reasoning, correctly, that as Americans, we don’t linger over our meals. Most of the clientele appeared to be tourists, but the service was good, as was the food. My wife was not hungry so ordered pumpkin soup and a salad. It was a full meal. I decided to try raclette as they had a whole variety of plates; I chose pork. They brought out a small electric device and plugged it in. The top was a griddle, while the middle was a broiler. It put out a lot of heat, but I enjoyed that as the last couple of days have been cold. They then brought a small dish of pork filets (marinated I think, because they were very good when fried. There was a small bag of boiled potatoes, and all the accoutrements of raclette around the edge of my large plate. You cook your pork on the griddle, and melt your cheese in the broiler, all while you are trying to eat what you have already prepared. I was so busy cooking I almost forgot to drink my wine. Still, it was a very enjoyable meal, and I’m tempted to try making raclette at home. With wine, water, and two deserts, the tab was 166.50 CHF or 118.93 Euro; they did take credit cards.

It was drizzly out, and we wanted to get to the airport early, so we walked back to our hotel and went to bed. In the morning, the breakfast room was crowded; I guess a lot of people were leaving that day. We walked down the ramp and across the river to the train station. There was a line, so I bought our tickets at one of the machines. It was 3.10 CHF each with the half-fare card, which was a bit less than I had been expecting, but if the machine is happy with that, so am I.

I had picked the dates of this trip to be late enough to catch the changing foliage, but early enough to avoid the rainy weather. We did see changing foliage, but not to the extent we saw when we got home. I don’t know if this is because so many of the trees in Switzerland are evergreens, or that we missed the prime changing season. I know the people around here to go to New England to follow the colors usually don’t schedule firmly in advance, but wait until they get a call that the change has started, then leave to see it. Still, the scenery we saw was wonderful and we really enjoyed the experience.
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Old Oct 23rd, 2009, 03:01 PM
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Sorry for the delay in posting this, and the length. I know carry a PC with me and write the report of the daily activities that night, when my memories are fresh, then edit it when we get home, but I find editing on a PC very hard, since you can see only one screen, and I'm too old to go back to handwriting things. Once I have it finished, I divide it into posts (I think Fodors has a limit on how long one post can be) and post them one after another. Unfortunately when I tried to post, I got some kind of code that seemed to indicate the posting had failed, so I went out to sacrifice a chicken, only to find the next day that the first post had actually worked!

A knowledgeable poster has advised that the card I was so happy with giving free transportation and lifts is available only in the non-skiing season, so check on that before relying on it.

We rode the Bernina express last May from Italy to Chur and it was a wonderful ride, very scenic, but as it didn't leave until, I think, 1400, the end of the ride was in failing light. I still intend to ride it from Chur to Italy and back, someday, but we didn't have time this trip. The Bernina express travels at speed, so it is sometimes hard to get a picture before the picture has changed, but for just watching and seeing how they overcame mountains and gorges, it is well worth a ride. Actually, I have enjoyed every alpine train we have taken in Switzerland, and I particularly liked the train from Chur to Arosa, because it goes very slow, so you can see everything and take pictures. There are other trains crossing the alps in Switzerland, and I think any of them would be scenic.
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Old Oct 23rd, 2009, 03:02 PM
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hi clevelandbrown,

i have so enjoyed reading your report this evening; its detail and your wry humour kept me awake while i waited for DS to phone to say he needed picking up from the station. I had no idea that Zurich was so interesting and may well add it to my "to do" list.

regards, ann
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Old Oct 23rd, 2009, 04:33 PM
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I love your wonderful, detailed report! I would like to visit Sils Maria next year. It sounds like you had a wonderful time there. Although, your hotels cost a bit more than I usually pay,well a lot more than I usually pay. After reading about your meals, I am very happy that I don't eat much of anything other than ice cream and junk food. I stayed in Chur twice in September, but only for overnight coming from Tirano then going to Soglio, so I didn't do anything there. But now I know there are interesting things there. And I will do the train to Arosa. You stayed in the hotel in Zurich that I have been staying in for many years. The staff at St Josef are all so very nice. And I love the breakfast and of course the sparkling clean rooms.

Thanks for sharing in such a detailed form.
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Old Oct 25th, 2009, 12:52 AM
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Thanks a lot for this wonderful, very detailed trip report. Looks like you visited most of the beautiful places in the Engadin. Even Lake Cavloc which is off the beaten path! It is too bad you were not able to book the Edelweiss through that German travel company, would have saved a lot of bucks. Still, sounds like a very good experience in that hotel. That dinner in the Fex Valley with the horse-drawn carriage transfer is very special, isn't it?

I.
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Old Oct 25th, 2009, 10:17 AM
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Yes, that evening was something to remember all your life. Thanks for recommending it.
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