Swiss Tour Day 2: A team building exercise in Italy

Posted by Steve Sweeney
on Wednesday, September 12, 2018

LUGANO, Switzerland — Picture it: Zurich, about 9 a.m. this morning. We were finished with breakfast in our hotel and waiting in the lobby waiting on our tour guide to check the train schedule. We were supposed to start in Zurich and end up in the large Italian-Swiss city of Lugano for dinner after a few hours at Bellinzona (also Swiss) looking at castles and old stuff. We ended up on a round-about tour of northern Italy by train and finished our day by finding out what a kumquat tastes like. It’s not bad.

What happened is that the usually punctual, on-time, orderly, perfect Swiss trains were being canceled left and right. There was just no way we were going to get to Lugano in the south going over, under, or through the Gotthard Pass. It was crazy. We heard later that maintenance work on the pass had not been completed in time to the newly opened Gotthard Base Tunnel back into service.

Our tour guide, though, committed to making our day a success. She had overheard from a Swiss Railways worker that maybe we could catch a train through Italy to where we wanted to go, but we’d first have to go to Brig. Well, sort of.

We took the InterCity train west to the Swiss capital city at Bern, which double-backed to Brig by about 1 p.m.. So far, so good. But once in Brig, we switched to the TrenItalia network and ducked through a series of small Italian towns — pretty, mountain towns —  through the Simplon tunnel, saw an automobile ferry and tracks full of beat-up equipment before changing trains about 3 p.m. in Domodossola.

We traded a modern articulated light-rail-like regional train for what would I could generously describe as double-decker Comet coaches on an all-stop Milan-area local train. Did I mention it was pushing 80 or 90 degrees in the cars? We changed trains again in Gallarate and then back on a Swiss train at Mendrisio.

From Mendrisio, we took the articulated train to Lugano Paradiso about 5:30 p.m. where we got off and walked a few more blocks to the local funicular, rode to the top to cool off and take pictures. 

By the time we finished, some people were plain tired out, but soldiered back to take a train 10 more minutes into Lugano. A handful opted for taxis.

We ate dinner at 8 p.m. and unwound. 

My table mates joked they had lost me somewhere in Italy because they hadn’t seen me for a few hours today. Others were remarking on the weird and wonderful equipment that we rode saying it reminded him of time in Europe in the 1960s. Others could not believe the views we had from Italy’s lake country, the tiled-roof homes and slightly decrepit depots.

Without time enough to stop for lunch, we shared snacks and water bottles that we had — breaking bread, if you will. And by the time dessert rolled out: iced raspberry parfait with a dollop of cream and a yellow berry in a dry husk — we felt a bit punchy trying to figure out what that berry might be. 

“Gooseberry” someone said. 

“I thought it looked like a tomatillo.” Another uttered. 

“No, it’s a kumquat.” One woman replied. A kumquat. Certainly not, it didn’t have the right skin and would peel. Kumquats are not at all like cherry tomatoes.

It was juicy and bitter — edible at least.

”Chef?” someone asked. “What fruit is this?”

It was ... a kumquat. Who knew?

And it was then, or about then, that we reflected on our adventure. Nothing had gone to plan other than we ended up at the right hotel. And everything we did was a save by our tour guide. It was tough and sweaty, but we kind of liked the departure from the ordinary.

If I may say, tomorrow may go according to plan, but if not, we’ll still have fun. See you in Chur. 

(PS, if you made it this far into my blog post you get to see my best iPad picture from a moving train in lake country. I’m definitely bringing the Mrs. back one day.)

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