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Reaching for the moon.

In early January, winter storm Andrea chased 120 mph winds across Switzerland. As heavy snowfall delivered up to a metre of fresh Powder in less than 24 hours, many parts of the Alps were temporarily inaccessible due to considerable avalanche risk. The long list included Switzerland's cradle of winter tourism, the Alpine metropolis of St Moritz. This was disappointing news for me, as I was due start the new year in style with a full moon train ride across the Bernina massif.

The good news came at the eleventh hour. The train lines re-opened just in time and--as if waiting for the signal--the heavy clouds that had blanketed the country for days began to disperse. I could hardly believe my luck. Not only was I going to get to go, but also there was an increasing chance that I might even get to see the fun moon.

Tripping along

After travelling along the Albula line to Engadin, I arrive at St. Moritz station at 6 p.m. and am promptly welcomed by a Japanese film crew that has crossed continents to capture every second of this unique experience and is visibly relieved that its efforts have not been in vain. I echo the sentiment with a smile and introduce myself to Stefanie Cramerie and Irene Pluss, our hostesses on this Extrafahrt (special service), courtesy of the Rhaetian Railway.

Inside the second panoramic carriage, I find my designated seat and gladly receive the complementary glass of Prosecco that awaits me atop a neatly folded napkin. As raise my glass to my fellow passengers, I am pleasantly surprised to see a wide mix of ages and nationalities--across the corridor from me are four Swiss friends in their early twenties, and right in front of me, there is an elderly English couple and a Russian family with two young kids. The chatter grows louder as the Prosecco continues to flow and we slowly commence our journey along the UNESCO World Heritage track into the Bernina massif.

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Chasing stars

As we travel through the dark night, the large illuminated carriages with their 2-metre tall observation windows shed light onto the edge of the outside world, revealing animal tracks and a staggering metre-and-a-half of glistening snow At every bend, the locomotive comes into view, huffing and puffing while ploughing its way through the white winter landscape.

After Pontresina station, village lights become increasingly infrequent and larch forests grow less and less dense. Ahead ties the Bernina massif, dark and ominous. I am straining my eyes trying to make out any details, when, suddenly, the hostesses flick the light switch and the dark outside extends inwards. As my eyes adjust, I begin to see the outlines of the glacial landscape with its colourless, irregular shapes.

Under the watchful eye of the Pole star, we slowly climb towards the Bernina pass, passing Morteratsch (1,896 metres) and Bernina Diavolezza (2,093 metres) before finally reaching the highest point of the entire train network of the Rhaetian Railway near the Ospizio Bernina station at Lago Bianco (2,253 metres). Forty-minutes after setting off, we arrive at our final destination Alp Grum, the first station south of the Alps. Outside, the wind is howling and temperatures have plummeted below -10.

Moon-struck

Wrapped up head-to-toe in every item of clothing we own, we brave the elements for the short walk to me Ristorante Albergo, stopping just for a brief moment to take in the scenery. I smile with sympathy at the Japanese film crew setting up their oversized tripods, knowing that I will be joining them later. But first comes the culinary highlight of our journey, a three-course dinner by candlelight.

After a salad starter, our moitie-moitie glacier fondue arrives. The room goes quiet. I am eagerly dipping my cubes of cumin bread into my pot of gooey goodness, when suddenly notice the snow-covered landscape outside the window transform and come into focus. From one moment to the next, I forget all about eating. It is time.

Just before we are due to board the train back to St. Moritz, out from behind the rugged edges of the mountain pops a brilliant and perfectly formed circular disk. Its bright shine washes out the starry night sky and illuminates the scene around us with a strangely colourless light. AS we travel back into the massif, the landscape looks almost lunar, black and white, accentuated only with the occasional highlight of glistening snow. It is a captivating sight, dramatic and eerie. We sit in silence, watching in awe.

Suddenly time begins to fast-forward and before we know it, we pull back into St. Moritz station. As we disembark and go our separate ways, we nod at each other knowingly, united in the silent understanding that we have just witnessed something quite extraordinary.

Make it happen

Upcoming dates: 8 March 2012, 9 March 2012 Price: standard CHF 83: reduced fare CHF 69

Reservations: Train station St. Moritz 081 288 56 40

Rhaetian Railway

Switzerland's largest network of private railways, the Rhaetian Railway operates predominately in the trilingual Canton Graubunden. Serving tourist centres such as St. Moritz and Davos, it offers some of the most unique train experiences in the country, including the Glacier Express and the Bernina Express.

www.rhb.ch
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Title Annotation:travel: off the beaten track
Author:Scheuringer, Carina
Publication:Swiss News
Date:Mar 1, 2012
Words:882
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