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Swiss Transportation: Almost too good?

June 3, 2009 @ 2:59 AM | Permalink

One of the things that happens after living in Switzerland for awhile is that you get used to its excellent public transportation system and start assuming neighboring countries like Italy and France will also have transportation options that can whisk you away in a timely fashion to a town in the middle of nowhere. Uh, they do. It's called a rental car.

But in Switzerland, you don't need a car. Not for living and not for touring. In fact, I've lived without a car for three years now. The Swiss train will bring you to the bus that brings you to the cable car that brings you to that beautiful meadow in the middle of nowhere. And all connections will have minimal waiting time.

Two weeks ago, I took a train and then a bus to a field of irises in a town called Vullierens that was in the middle of the French-speaking countryside and maybe had 10 houses total in its town. In any other country, this place would be ignored and shunned by public transport, but in Switzerland, every town is considered equal when it comes to getting around. The bus to Vullierens was clean. The bus was on time. And the driver made sure to yell out my stop for me since stops are far from obvious when you're in the middle of cow country.

Mountain trains to narcissus fields. Cable cars down to a lake for you to catch a boat to town. It's a wonder how it's all coordinated, as the wait time is usually next to none and one could make a career of running from one Swiss transport connection to the next.

It's especially painful to make Swiss connection times with luggage. Monday night, I literally had five minutes to get myself from track 54 to track 16 in the Zurich main station. This would have been fine under normal circumstances, but weighed down with luggage it was a real athletic feat. Especially since in the process I had to take two escalators, one set of stairs, and dodge hundreds of people, some of whom were headed towards me at high speeds with strollers, cleaning devices, and huge pieces of luggage.

I don't know how the parents with kids and babies catch these tight train connections—especially with the way stroller fashions are approaching the SUV size.  And you'd think the retirees would have issues with having two minutes to run across a station, but in reality, they are champions—maybe because they usually carry hiking poles, which are ideal tools for pushing through crowds.

Sometimes I think the Swiss transportation system is a little too good. If the trains, buses, trams, boats, funiculars, and cable cars would just leave a few seconds late sometimes it would sure spare some of us a lot of pain. But then again, a few sore muscles from trying to make a Swiss transport connection time are nothing compared to the pain at seeing the train pull away while you're still a few feet from the door.


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