8. Vacation memories: Swiss train adventures

We took our kids from Toronto, Canada to Switzerland on vacation. This is our adventure.

This is a multi-part series. Scroll down to the end of this post for a list of the previous stories in chronological order.


So you may have heard me talk about on-time performances in the Swiss public transit system.

Well it didn’t happen to us. Ha. πŸ˜‚

On the second day of our arrival in Switzerland we were invited to visit my uncle’s vacation home in the Swiss-Italian canton Ticino. He remodelled an ancient family home into a modern place to spend retirement, leaving intact many of the original antique features.

The village is nestled into the side of a mountain and has about 700 inhabitants, currently. It is located a 15 minute drive north of the city of Bellinzona, which, incidentally, is close to the Italian border and the famous city of Milan in Italy.

In order for my aunt to accompany us though, she had to bring her two 12yo dogs on the train.

The first leg of the trip passed without incident. We boarded the train in my home town and travelled to the grand central station in Zurich (Hauptbahnhof), a short trip of about 20 minutes in duration.

In Zurich we had to board a Schnellzug (a train travelling to the city of Bellinzona without stopping along the way). This proved relatively challenging because the dogs are quite large and due to the heat wave were a bit uncomfortable. Fortunately they are incredibly easy going dogs so it was slightly more stressful for my aunt; the dogs didn’t really seem to care much other than the heat being a bit of a distraction.

Bonus: there was air conditioning inside the train and we found two 4-seater seats across from each other.

But here is where the adventures began.

As we sat down and the children started snacking on their icky Burger King lunch (DO NOT GET ME STARTED), some guy shows up and tells us we are in his seat.

Apparently he ordered seating online and was assigned a seat number.

We checked our tickets – no seat numbers.

We then checked the little electronic indicator next to the seat number and it did not say ‘reserved’.

There were several empty single seats within spitting distance of us, but the guy insisted on sitting in his seat.

He said the dogs don’t bother him, so we shifted a bit. Let the guy have his stupid seat… Kids remained where they were so that was good.

We settled back down and suddenly, the A/C conked out. 😢 (It was 36 degrees Celsius and getting warmer by the minute.)

The dogs started panting harder.

Then, a lady showed up and told us we were in her seat. Same sort of situation; she booked online and was assigned a seat, but it was not indicated as such.


This surprised me a bit given the usual Swiss efficiency, and the low margin of errors…

Again, several single seats were around us but she insisted on sitting in her seat.

One of us had to move.

Here’s the thing: seats are not assigned when you purchase tickets in person. You can however choose a seat assignment when booking online. Only no one bothers to link the reservation from the website to the actual seat on the train. So, the bulk of the people who travel on this train had in-person bought tickets, not online ones…and therefore not assigned seats. Only the online booking passengers had reserved seating. Which wasn’t marked reserved on the train.

Are you following me here? lol

It was…maddening. πŸ˜‰

After a while we realized we’re about a half hour past our departure time.

Can it be that we have a delay? In Switzerland? On our second day of vacation?

This is practically unheard of.

Eventually there was an announcement about technical problems, and another 30 minutes later, a new announcement came that we had to leave the train and re-board another one parked behind us.


We felt sorry for the dogs…

There was no way in hell we were going to find another section like we did before…

Long story short, we opted out of taking the replacement Schnellzug and waited for another, regular train to take us to Bellinzona. It took longer, but was much less packed, and we had more space for the dogs.

The scenery was spectacular (until we ended up in a 30+km tunnel…) πŸ˜„

When we finally arrived in Bellinzona my uncle was waiting for us with his car and he took my partner and the kids first, and then came back to get my aunt, the dogs and me.

While we waited, I had to pee. (Surprise!) In Switzerland, some WC are free, and for others you have to pay. I talked about this in another blog post and many readers commented about their country and public restroom systems. (Click the link to read more on that topic).

I foresaw this peeing situation (!) and brought coins with me.

The restroom was a very fancy experience…let me tell you about it.

The pay thingy was fixed to the outer wall and only after you deposit the coin does it open the automatic doors to let you in. (Question: what happens if you’re in the WC and the zombie apocalypse happens? How do you get the door open to get out when electricity fails?)

There were two stalls plus the hand washing station.

It was very clean and fully stocked.

I did my business and left without any trouble.

My aunt later asked me if I noticed the purple light. I thought the lighting was odd but I didn’t really register it. She explained that the lighting was adjusted so that you are unable to see your own veins. Because of course drug users might utilize the washrooms to inject themselves…

This was news to me. I had never heard of this before. Have you?

Finally my uncle returned to pick us up and we arrived at his home around 5 pm. We spent most of the day travelling again due to the train delay in Zurich, but everyone managed to keep good humour and even the dogs survived.

This is the scenery that greeted us on arrival in the town:

My poor aunt was incredibly relieved that her male dog Momo, the brother of Fiorella, didn’t get hurt on the trip. He suffers from hip dysplasia (problems with the hips in large dogs).

And so ended another travel adventure.


  1. Vacation memories: travel day – part 1
  2. Vacation memories: travel day – part 2
  3. Vacation memories: from flight attendant to passenger 20 years later
  4. Vacation memories: arrival in Zurich
  5. Vacation memories: exhaustion and a trip down memory lane – part 1
  6. Vacation memories: exhaustion and a trip down memory lane part 2
  7. Vacation memories: exhaustion and a trip down memory lane part 3

Vacation side note: what is wrong with me?

20 thoughts on “8. Vacation memories: Swiss train adventures

  1. I’m amazed. I thought Swiss trains were supposed to be never delayed — you probably encountered the only technical fault they had this year πŸ˜‰

    The booking system sounds bizarre. Someone really failed to think about how this would work when they set it up.

    Liked by 1 person

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