The Train from Milan to Zurich
“We can sell your ticket here, but for the dog you must buy on the train.”
“Ok,” I replied. I vaguely remembered some complication with dog travel when crossing this particular border, so I wasn’t worried. Mostly I was just excited about the direct train from Milan to zurich through the mountains of northern Italy and Switzerland.
There are more scenic ways to travel this route. The Bernina Express rivals the Glacier Exress as one of the most scenic train lines in Europe (The Man in Seat 61 has information on that route) but I am interested in direct lines…no connections that require the hauling of my dog’s large travel box on and off of trains.
When I arrived at Milano station the next morning to catch my train, I was a bit thrown off by my seat reservation. I was 30 minutes early but I spent the entirety of that time walking up and down the platform trying to figure out the car numbers. Finally I just chose a door, hauled my dog and her box up the steep steps, discovered that the luggage area was full and so found a place for it near one of the doors. About that time I also discovered that I was in the wrong car (about 2 cars off and that I couldn’t travel through the train because Bonnie’s box wouldn’t fit through the isles. Also about that time, the train began to pull out of the station.
So put Bonnie in her box and chose a seat where I could see her knowing that at some point I would be kicked out of my place by a reservation holder.
Europe is fantastic for dog travel. Dogs are allowed on most modes of public transportation with the correct ticket and the correct restraining devices. Italy and Spain require muzzles, the rest of Europe is fine with a short leash. People look at me like I’m crazy when they see Bonnie’s travel box, but I’m flying from Frankfurt and will need the box there…so it is on this little journey of ours like an annoying and slow third traveler.
The train moved through the Italian countryside – past the large sheds and warehouses one often finds beside railroad tracks, past the rectangular green fields, and past the small, modern towns made of concrete and steel and soul-less dreams. I’ve seen this landscape before, in more than a dozen different countries…and the rocking of the train soon put me to sleep. When I woke up little had changed except that the landscape had more hills and the villages were further apart.
The Adventure Begins
At our last stop in Italy, a border agent led a long line of immigrants from Africa from the platform onto the car just behind my car. They carried no luggage except for the occasional handbag or purse. A few moments later there was an announcement on the train’s PA system to the effect of a delay due to a repair that needed to be made.
About 20 minutes later there was another anouncement informing all passengers that the train could not be repaired and would not be going on – catch the train on platform one.
We all dutifully filed off the train. Me with my enormous dog box, and the border agent with his long, silent line of immigrants. There was a general sense of confusion on platform one. Was this our train, or should we wait for another? Eventually people reached the conclusion that this was, indeed, our train. and we all filed on to the little regional commuter train.
A few moments later an announcement informed us that passengers to Zurich would ride as far as Bellinzona where we would change trains once more. Even as we traveled through the steep-walled valleys of southern Switzerland the irony of three changes when I’d been so anticipating none didn’t escape me. A group of school students boarded the train with their teacher. They were all surprised by the number of passengers and the students were clearly disappointed to not have a seat. They rode three stops before getting off.
As we made our final change, one of the conductors put me on a bicycle car – a train car where half of the space was given to bike racks. In the US, we would find this use of space absurd. After all, passengers pay fares so the more spots for passengers you have, the more potential profit you have…we forget that transportation must be, first and foremost, useful. Useless attempts at public transportation that ignore people’s real-world needs: the need to transport a dog or a bike or a baby stroller or a large suitcase or some skis or…well, you get the point.
The scenery was everything I had hoped for and more. The train skirted lakes overshadowed by the Jagged peaks of the Swiss Alps. In the shadow of these mountains I understood their draw, their attraction to nature lovers everywhere. I have seen many beautiful mountains, some even to rival these, but there is certainly something unique, something magical about lure of the alpine meadows that drape across the shoulders of the rugged landscape.
We arrived in Zurich nearly three hours late – I could have caught the later train and arrived only a few moments later. I found the left baggage office were I arranged to leave Bonnie’s travel box, and began the long walk across town to my hotel – a long walk ending a long day on the train from Milan to Zurich.