Multi-culti world of the Glacier Express
It’s among the world’s top ten rail journeys: the Glacier Express. The RhB’s flagship line attracts people from every corner of the globe. Every day a new mix of nations creates a microcosmic world on board: three encounters as this cultural melting pot makes its way from St.Moritz to Zermatt.
Coach 44, seats 11 and 12, 2nd class:
Indian food with Namrata Surendar und Rahul Prasad
They have only been in Switzerland for ten days. Both come from Bangalore in the south of India. And they are now living in Passug, just above Chur. How on earth did they end up here in this Swiss holiday region? The answer is tourism. The budding professionals are pursuing postgraduate studies at the Swiss School of Tourism and Hospitality. And the Glacier Express marks their inaugural visit. Their first impression? "Unbelievable. I can’t get enough of the views", she says. He casts a professional eye: "This is actually a hotel on wheels. Except that you can’t stay here overnight, sadly. And the train does sway from side to side a bit – the waiting staff have to be really careful not to spill anything." Of course, the two of them have seen the Swiss mountains and trains in Bollywood films – many times. But he didn’t expect the natural landscape to exude such a sense of tranquillity. This breathtaking experience is perfect for Indian visitors, she adds. Apropos: the two hotel professionals have preordered Indian meals. Namrata is enjoying the vegetarian jalfrezi dish. She doesn’t eat meat, owing to her religious beliefs. Rahul has chosen the chicken masala. But first, they dutifully consume the salad. Something they would never eat at home – it’s unusual in India. The yoghurt dressing tastes just fine. They go without bread: "We’re not used to dark bread. We eat pitta bread, roti prata or naan, usually together with the main course and rice – all with our hands", Namrata explains. Both agree that the main courses taste authentic. They could be a little bit spicier, though. But the Europeans are cautious in that respect. "Maybe pickles would be a good idea, so people could decide the hotness of the meal for themselves", Rahul suggests. The rice meets with approval: "A few candied fruits, roasted cashew nuts and mustard seeds or a couple of deep-fried curry leaves would make it that bit more Indian." And she adds: "I would maybe replace the beef with lamb, because cows are sacred in India." They are both clear about dessert: Swiss chocolate, of course! "It’s perfect for this train, which represents the best of Switzerland in concentrated form."
Coach 44, seats 45 and 46, 2nd class:
Celebrating with Renate and Friedrich Schliephake
"We wanted to treat ourselves to something out of the ordinary for our silver wedding anniversary. St.Moritz, Zermatt plus the Glacier Express in four days seemed just the thing, especially when you get a good package deal by booking well in advance", say Renate and Friedrich Schliephake from near Goslar in Germany, where they normally travel on the Brocken railway – sometimes even by steam train.
The train winds its way through the autumnal Rhine Gorge, Switzerland’s very own 'Grand Canyon'. The Schliephakes admire the view in silence. "Fantastic. I never imagined it would be so impressive", she says. He agrees: "It looked really spectacular on TV – you know, the show on which the singer Leonard travels around. He’s Swiss, isn’t he? But...wow!" They watched the travelogue twice before finally embarking on their own trip. One that is now exceeding all their expectations. They display not a trace of boredom. "Everyone is so nice and friendly, eager to help." The dish of the day is served: goulash, rice and vegetables. They reserved their seats in advance, but not the meal. They wanted that to be a surprise. They appear to be enjoying it, eating in silence as they listen to the information through their earphones. If only the little earbuds didn’t keep falling out. They have to laugh. "How do those Koreans over there manage it? They seem to be able to get them to stay in. Maybe our ears are just too big or we’re too clumsy. The system itself is perfect, very discreet, it doesn’t disturb anyone." And it’s already time for dessert: tiramisu. Grinning, Renate Schliephake pushes her plate over to her husband’s side of the ta- ble. He tucks in, the two portions disappear in record time. Did it taste good? "Can’t you tell? I’m surprised you even need to ask! I would have preferred potatoes rather than rice with my main course. But that’s a matter of taste", he says. Apart from that, he is totally satisfied. They will come again. And go on the Bernina Express next time. They have bought a souvenir DVD. "Seventy minutes of the Glacier Express. Instead of taking thousands of photos, we would rather show our friends back home these professional images. Rest assured: we are just the first of many visitors to come."
Coach 45, seats 43 and 44, 1st class:
The view from Japan with Shoichi Tamura and Satuki Hirata
A first-class carriage, full of Japanese tourists. A mixed bunch of people on a special excursion. All equipped with at least one camera. The sound of nonstop clicking. And laughter. For just as popular as photos of the landscape are snapshots taken with two or three friends on the train. We are now on the stretch of track between Chur and Disentis, where everything is high speed. The three-course meal is served up with military precision. Salad, followed by rice and fish, specially prepared for the group. Dessert is standard: tiramisu. "My visitors love sweet things – especially Swiss chocolate", the tour guide explains. Everyone eats quickly. After all, they don’t want to miss anything. The panoramic view from the outsize windows is superlative – everyone is agreed on that. And the windows in the roof of the coach top it all off – they’ve never seen anything like it. You won’t find anything quite so spectacular in Japan. Maybe the Odoriko train on the Ito line, someone suggests, the express train between Tokyo and Shimoda. It also has "nice views". But the Glacier Express is unbeatable. "Only the Hiram Bingham from Cusco to Machu Picchu is comparable. That’s an amazing line, also with valleys, ravines and water everywhere", comments Shoichi Tamura from Tokyo. He travelled on the classic train in the Andes with his wife. Today they are accompanied by a friend. Have they bought anything yet? "Too expensive", he groans. And for fun takes out his wallet: "Empty, you know." The Japanese are a little tired of shopping, the tour guide explains. If they buy anything at all, they tend to splash out on luxury items. "In a few minutes we will be arriving in Andermatt", the loudspeakers announce, sparking a flurry of activity. Headgear is quickly donned, warm jackets buttoned up. Ready for the rest of the journey to Visp by motor coach. Faster than on board the slowest express train in the world.