Koblenz – Basel – Mulhouse Ville – Basel – Zuerich – Milano

I’d varied the schedule a little yesterday, stopping in Koblenz rather than Mainz, but that was not a significant problem as I’d found a way to get back on schedule, by skipping the small deviation into the Black Forest. It didn’t even need an early start. A relaxed breakfast then one more trip down those 213 steps (this is when I counted them) and a walk across town.

The Rhine valley is busy with mostly commercial traffic at this time of year. As I crossed the bridge I saw a huge container vessel below me, and was surprised that the bridge seemed to be lower than some of the containers in the hold. It was only as they pulled away from the bridge that I saw it rising and realised that this was a clever trick to get under bridges.

The train arrived 10 minutes late. I consulted the planner and it seemed there was a later connection so not the end of the world. I marked it into the planner as normal and gave it no more thought for now.

The river is constantly interesting, be it pleasure craft, all sorts of commercial traffic, or the many towns, castles and other points of interest on the way. At this time of year it is perhaps a little grey looking, but the lack of leaves on the trees means you see more, so it’s a trade-off. I would love to come back on a warm summer day though.

I’d stopped in Basel on the first trip, so knew where to grab a tasty lunch before jumping on my train into France. This was the route where I’d been on the crazy old carriage on my way to Strasbourg. This time is was from 1989 (I checked) but still very quirky. I generally only put train photos onto their own page, but for the fun of it, here they both are.

I went online to reserve and pay for the connecting service to Lyon and Nîmes, but the Interrail app wasn’t playing ball, apparently you have to do this more than an hour before the train departs. Instead it has to be done at the station. Lesson learned, or so I thought. The machine wasn’t playing either, it said there were no reservations available for the rest of the day.

Ticket machine at Mulhouse Ville
Ticket machine at Mulhouse Ville

I spent a little time looking at my options. The first one was to try rebooking not using my Interrail pass. That gave an option, but at €197.00. Thanks SNCF, I’ll pass. Another lesson learned, Interrail tickets are rationed.

Mulhouse Ville is not the most exciting of destinations, and the only ways out of town available to me were north to Strasbourg, or back to Basel. I chose the latter. Earlier in the day I’d briefly pondered a change of route via Milan when the first connection had been missed, but decided against it as I really wanted to see Nîmes which I don’t know at all. It was now my best option.

Another half hour in Basel, which is now the only station apart from Stafford and St Pancras that I’ve visited three times on this trip, and I was on the very smart and comfortable SBB service to Zurich.

The connection in Zurich was only a few minutes, but comfortably made and I was on the Milan service. I thought I’d cracked it on this one, as I walked past the restaurant car, but the train was in two disconnected sections and I was very disappointed when in my section a crew member came through offering a menu of uninspiring reheated food. The table opposite went for it, but I was more than happy that I’d passed, when I saw it.

I’d not done this route before and it is stunning. The snow has all but gone from the mountains, but the lakes create some lovely settings. Sadly is was so late in the day that photos were mainly reflections of the lit cabin, but it’s certainly a route I’d do again.

It also passes through the longest and deepest railway tunnel in the world at Saint-Gothard. Only opened in 2016, the train did the 57 km in less than 20 minutes. There was great 4G phone coverage throughout, so I was chatting away while deeper underground than most mines. Quite amazing!

By the time we were at Como, it was pretty much pitch dark. I could pick out the lights of the funicular that I’d gone up last October, but not a lot else. Night vision mode on the camera gave a lot more detail than I could see for myself.

Como at night, showing the funicular
Como at night, showing the funicular

I love Milan, and it all feels terribly familiar, having spent time here so recently. It was by now after 10pm so I dropped my bags in the hotel that I’d found a little while earlier and jumped onto the Metro to a cafe that we’d used a couple of times. Unlike so many cities, Milan doesn’t go to sleep at 8pm and after eating, I wandered around for ages, ending up in the canal district, before jumping onto one of the ancient rickety No 10 trams, back to my hotel.

Considering the day had gone so badly wrong this was a lovely way to end it.

Now to work out what happens next. I’ve already established that there are no trains from Milan to Barcelona or Madrid, which would have been perfect, so it’s going to be a matter of picking my way through France.