Personal Journeys

PERSONAL JOURNEYS

August 15, 2004|By Special to the Sun

A Memorable Place

By Tom Potts

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

By rail into the Alps with new friends

I have been fascinated with railroads all my life, so the decision to buy 15-day Eurail Passes for a European vacation was an easy one. For two weeks, my wife and I traveled in luxurious comfort through the heart of Europe.

The most memorable of our rail journeys was the nearly 10-hour trip from Vienna to Zurich. On a crisp November morning, we boarded Train 62 for a prompt departure at 9 o'clock. The appropriately named Transalpin was billed as the oldest established high-speed link between Austria and Switzerland.

We shared our six-seat compartment with an Austrian couple and a German father and son who had been on holiday in Vienna.

For the first hour, the twosomes conversed in their own languages. Then one of the Germans turned to us and said in perfect English: "May I ask you a question? Exactly what is Halloween?"

His question arose from a news report he had seen. From then on, English was the universal language of our compartment -- our four new friends spoke it fluently. The Austrian couple talked about their recent visit to the United States, and they pointed out a famous abbey in Melk as the train passed through that town.

Our route followed the Danube Valley, continued across Austria to Salzburg and then to Innsbruck before moving into the Alps. The scenery was spectacular. Each curve or exit from a tunnel exposed another view of breathtaking beauty.

The towns, meadows, streams and mountains were as they have been depicted on postcards for decades. The roadbed was smooth, and we seemed to glide along without the jostling experienced on most American train rides.

As Train 62 gently rolled through some of the towns without stopping, the stationmaster -- complete with uniform and red hat -- came out of the small station and stood at attention in front of the door. It might have been an official duty, an act of respect for a fine EuroCity train or just a feeling of excitement in watching the train pass by. The neat uniform was another example of the order and cleanliness of Swiss Rail.

The setting sun bathed the snow-capped mountains while automobile and house lights were being turned on in the valleys. It was almost dark when the train came to the edge of Lake Zurich, and then, as if someone had pulled a switch, a full moon appeared from behind the clouds to reflect on the calm waters.

After the train had pulled to a smooth, on-time stop in the Zurich station, we said goodbye to our new friends, and faced the reality of night in the bustling city. But the magic and beauty of that glorious day and our ride through the valleys and mountains of Central Europe will never be forgotten.

Tom Potts lives in Houston.

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Let Us Hear From You

We want to know about your travels, your experiences, your pictures. Here's how to participate in this page:

My Best Shot -- Send us a terrific travel photo with a description of when and where you took it. (Cash value: $50.)

A Memorable Place -- In 500 words or less, tell us about a travel experience that changed you; about the nostalgia a certain place evokes; about a favorite beach, the mountains, a city cafe. Include a photo. (Cash value: $150.)

Readers Recommend -- Briefly tell us about places you've recently visited that you'd recommend to other readers. (50 words or less; photos are welcome.)

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