Tirano to Milano – a long day on trains

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When you decided to train your way from Zurich to Sicily, you know its going to take some time and you’ll spend a lot of time on trains, but this day was rough.

We were only 4 days into our trip and already on our 3rd country.  Plus we’d just spent 4 hours on the Bernina Express, so we’d been sitting for half the day.  Which is why we decided to break up the day by spending two hours wandering around Tirano.

The Bernina Express ends in Tirano and you can race across the town square and buy tickets for the regional train to Milan that leaves in 20 minutes.  Or you can wait it out.  We recommend a wait.  Tirano is a lovely town, with loads of restaurants and some beautiful churches and scenery.  Why rush to sit on a train for another 3 hours?

We wandered away from the square surrounding the two train stations, because all the menus were geared toward tourists, and only 2 blocks away found Lo Scrocchiaro for some pizza and wine!

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Back in my happy place

Once fueled up, we walked the main street toward the cathedral we had passed coming in on the train Santuario della Madonna di Tirano.

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This town was a serious feast for our eyes.

After wandering around the church and back to the main square, I grabbed a couple beers for the next long train ride and we settled into our regional train for the journey to Milan.  Its just under 3 hours if the train is running on time… which didn’t happen.  It took us over 3 hours.  But the scenery was gorgeous.

After passing through farmers fields the train suddenly turns along the Lake Como coastline. I spent the next 45 minutes trying to find George Clooney 😉

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George? Where you at?

We finally arrived in Milan, just in time to stand in line again at a Tim Mobile store to get our Italian sim card.  It was another painful 30 minutes before I got out of there, but listen, if you plan on using your mobile phone abroad, I would hiiiighly recommend getting a local sim.  And here’s my “travel hack” –  I bring my old iphone and insert the foreign sim into it, essentially turning it into a wifi hot spot I can carry around.  That way my current phone still has all my phone numbers stored, my friends and family can reach me while I’m abroad, but I can still connect to the internet (and google maps!) without racking up “roam like home” charges.  Plus, the phone plans in Europe are so much better than our Canadian ones.

For 32E I received a plan good for 30 days, unlimited local calling – that’s every country in the EU, not just Italy – and an insane amount of data, like so huge I cannot remember it because I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.  And you can roam in other EU countries with these plans, so my phone worked in Malta and France by the end of the trip.

We used the data on that Italian sim constantly for the remaining 3 weeks of our trip, and we didn’t run out.

Anyways, back to Milan!

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How gorgeous is the Milan train station?!

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It was a brief walk from the beautiful art deco train station to the incredibly chaotic checkin at our hotel.  We stayed at the Hotel ibis Milano Central, as Milan was just a brief stopover for us.  We got a reasonable price and the hotel was clean.  And that’s about all of the positives I’ve got.

Dumped our bags, took showers, and took off to see the sights and EAT. MORE. PIZZA!

This post is getting long, but here’s another story for you.  I’ve been instagram stalking a pizza restaurateur, Gino Sorbillo, for years.  Constantly cursing that for all my trips to Italy (this is #4) I’ve never made it Naples to do a pizza pilgrimage.  Well reader, he has not one, but two!! pizza restaurants in Milan.  So we went to the one right off the Duomo.  And it was as religious of an experience as you can have as an atheist pizza enthusiast.  The pizza was perfect, my spritz was perfect, the waiters were so lovely.  I had the best time, and cannot wait to go try his OG location in Naples… one day… siiiiigh.

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In actual heaven

Still fighting the jetlag we did a quick zoom by the Duomo and then wandered back to the hotel to pass the F out.

 

The Bernina Express

IMG_0889One of the highlights of our trip was the train ride through the Swiss Alps into Italy on the Bernina Express, which is considered one of the most beautiful train rides in the world!

Reaching a height of 2,253 metres (7,392 ft) above sea level, it is the highest railway crossing in Europe and the third highest railway in Switzerland.

We had booked our tickets about 6 months ahead of time, because the closer to your date the more expensive train tickets are.  I used the Man in Seat 61’s excellent workaround tips https://www.seat61.com/BerninaExpress.htm and it does make a heck of a price difference! You will have to go to the Swiss rail site to pay to reserve your seats.  If you’re traveling in a group/pair I would suggest doing this.  But when we travelled in early October, we found the first 2 cars were full, but the ones at the end were empty.   We had reserved ahead so we had window seats, as Shawn and I like sitting across from each other, both at the window.

Fair warning, the seat plan posted on the train walls was incredibly confusing for pretty much everyone but myself.  We heard many arguments about who was supposed to sit where, and got into an amazing fight with the stodgiest British couple after they passive aggressively accused us of stealing their seats.  Spoiler alert, I won 🙂

The train leaves Chur just after 8:30am, so it was another early morning for us. Jetlag does help with that. We had arrived to Chur at sunset, so this was a nice surprise from the bathroom window!  IMG_0782

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The Chur train station

We lucked out with the weather, what was supposed to be a cloudy rainy day gave way to a beautiful sunny morning and afternoon.  Our views from the train were completely unobstructed. 

We had paid extra to sit in the glass domed car for better views.  Honestly, in the dome car, it really doesn’t matter where you’re sitting, your eyes are in for a treat from any of the seats.  However, you can’t take glare free photos, so if you are interested in taking the best photos, the regular train cars are the place for you, as you can open the windows.

Now, here’s those killer photos you came for:

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The Bernina Pass!

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The train stops at Alp Grum, which has an elevation of 2,091 m, for a chance to stretch your legs and get some more killer photos.  IMG_0881

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Serving up shots at 2,091 m!

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Shawn enjoying his grappa

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Carly enjoying her schnapps

Once we got back on the train we decided to explore the cars at the end of the train.  They ended up being empty, so we left our terrible seat mates (honestly our entire train car was filed with horrible Brits and American retirees) and headed to the empty train car for a very quiet and much more enjoyable ride down the mountains.

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Lago di Poschiavo

Quite possibly the most spectacular part of the entire trip on the Bernina Express comes near the end, the Brusio Railway Viaduct – of which I have ZERO photos! I was using Shawn’s phone to take a video of us going around it, sorry! It really was spectacular.

The train pulls into Tirano around 12:49 pm and you can rush across the tiny town square to the Italian train station and buy a regional ticket to Milan for the 13:08 train.  Or you can stick around Tirano for another 2 hours, have a nice lunch and explore this quaint town before moving on.  Which is exactly what we did.

 

Zurich and Chur, a stopover on the way to the Bernina Express

When we started planning this trip and decided we would try and get from Paris to Malta without planes I decided we should probably take a scenic train through the alps.

Turns out that can be very expensive. Switzerland ain’t cheap. Thankfully the Man in Seat 61 has a killer workaround for getting tickets on the Bernina Express for cheap! https://www.seat61.com/BerninaExpress.htm

We followed his advice but decided to spend our overnight stopover in Chur instead of Zurich for a bit of a sleep-in.

We left Paris at 7:30 and arrived in Zurich at 8:45. A very quick and cheap train ride into the main station later we were ready to explore. Fun fact! Nothing is open on Sunday’s in Switzerland. No clothing stores or other shops. Only a few restaurants and bars. It was a weird tourist ghost town.

After a quick breakfast we decided to hit the art gallery. And if you have a Sunday in Zurich, you should really visit. It’s so quiet. It was the most chill experience ever. We got to actually enjoy the art. And get up close!

We did struggle to fill the rest of the day. Which is really not that bad. We did some wandering, ate some bratwurst, wandered more. And then found Oktoberfest at the train station! Perfect way to wait for your train!

We grabbed our train to Chur, which took about an hour and a half. The scenery was gorgeous, mountains set against lakes.

We got into Chur just before 7pm. And it was like the town that feared sundown. There was no one out. No restaurants open. We checked into our hotel and then set our for food. And came up short. A Swiss Bierhalle was open but they didn’t have a great menu. So we kept winding our way through the tiny streets, becoming more and more disheartened until we finally found a kebab shop! And it was open and they were massive and amazing.

We stayed at the Ambiente Hotel Freieck, would recommend. Easy walk to and from the train, large rooms, great breakfast!