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Wild and without a shortage of rides

After a very short introduction we are packing our bags and leaving St. Gallen for Filisur via Chur. As always, we wish we had more time but that seems to happen with every place we visit. St. Gallen was unexpectedly beautiful. We were not prepared for it since we only came so Caroline could visit the famous Abbey Library! St. Gallen should be on people’s radar more than it currently is. The architecture is just stunning, and completely unique. We thought it would be just the same as Austria but we were absolutely wrong!

Anyway, we are leaving now and here we are waiting by the side of the slip road to the autobahn under a little bridge. It’s not particularly pleasant but it will end with us getting a free ride, so we won’t complain too much.

Train nerd, and proud!

Today is an exciting day because we are heading into the Swiss Alps to a small town so I can look at train bridges. I’m not even embarrassed. The engineering and beauty of these structures in the Swiss Alps are unrivalled. There are other things to do around the area, because, well, it is stunning. It is also about the journey rather than the destination.

Since it is well in to Autumn the area will be cold and most tourism will have died down. Not that it is a particularly popular destination. We couldn’t find very much information about Filisur, apart from bits and pieces found scouring Google maps.

We really are not quite sure how today will go and we don’t really have a backup plan. There is a campsite in Filisur (the village closest to the bridge) so that is ultimately our destination – but it is a long way and we are not sure how busy the roads will be. The Glacier Express does pass through Filisur so there is that, and we did want to ride it. It’s just very expensive to do the whole route from Zermatt to St. Moritz.

Part of the business trip

The first leg of our journey is backwards, we have to head back to near the border of Austria to a small town named St. Margrethen. From there we can head south through the valley towards our destination.

We don’t wait very long for the first ride, a local Swiss business man with his Russian wife pick us up. Our immediate destination is a slip road just outside of town, a 25KM journey from where we are right now.

Throughout the short ride the man is very inquisitive, asking about how hitchhiking is going and what our plans are. He is also very chatty about his business ventures, of which he is very proud. He has a very fancy car so it is obviously working out for him (and us!). Everyone is happy.

His wife, however, is the epitome of a Russian stereotype. She shows zero interest in us and barely moves a muscle on her face for the entire journey. Even when we try to butter her up with our plans to travel through Russia on the Trans-Siberian express.

We say our goodbyes on the side of a road seemingly in the middle of nowhere but in reality just outside of St. Margrethen. It looks like a bit of an industrial estate and we decide to call the stretch of path outside a carwash shop our home for now. It is just before the roundabout which leads back to the motorway and there is room for a car to pull over.

From the car wash to the next fancy ride

We scrub our hitchhiking sign clean and write out next destination: Chur. From Chur we can catch the train the remainder of the way to Filisur if we are running out of time or the traffic is not too plentiful. The drive to Chur is around an hour at just over 80 kilometres, all the way down the motorway. We are hoping it won’t be too complicated!

It takes quite a while to get a ride but it’s not so bad, the weather is fine. Blue skies all around and we are standing here in just our t-shirts. Pretty crazy considering it is October. After around an hour we notice a jeep that rolls past that has a very inquisitive young girl in the back pointing at us. Nevertheless, the car passes.

However, 5 minutes later we witness a Déjà vu, the same jeep comes along the road again, but this time stops in front of us. It turns out the young girl convinced her parents to come back and pick us up! Yay to the inquisitive youth!

They can’t take us all the way to Chur because their home is just off the highway at Landquart. The father tells us that he will drop us off at a petrol station on the motorway where he is certain we will get a ride to Chur from. It’s only about 20 kilometres from Landquart.

Simultaneous translation

Just like our previous ride our hosts are a mixed bag of ethnicities and languages. The father is from ex-Yugoslavia and speaks Serbo-Croatian, Russian and German. He moved to Switzerland in the 90’s when war broke out in a collapsing Yugoslavia. He started a business and like our previous driver it’s going exceptionally well. The kid, around 15, is fluent in German and Russian. The mother is from Russia, and only speaks Russian.

We sit in the back with the girl and Caroline speaks German with her for the majority of the drive. She is absolutely fascinated with us hitchhiking and asks a thousand questions about our journey. We also tell about our plans to travel through Russia on the Trans-Siberian express, this time our hosts are excited! It turns out the mother is from a small town along the route of the Trans-Siberian express. She insists that when we visit the the small town we should send a postcard to the family. She doesn’t have Facebook so Caroline writes her e-mail address down and the girls says that her brother will send a Facebook friend request and we will exchange details there.

Since the mother doesn’t speak German or English the girl translates everything back to Russian for her mother, and Caroline translates from German into English for me.

During the drive we pass the tiny Alpine country Liechtenstein and its capital Vaduz. The motorway hugs the border of the country but there is no sign of any actual borders, much like everywhere in middle Europe. You would cross the border and have no idea you were in a different country except for the welcome signs!

Stunning service stops

Our new family drops us off at the petrol station and we wave goodbye. We use the toilets (massive problem when hitchhiking) and take in our surroundings while we think of how to proceed.

We are in a huge beautiful green valley. The mountain peaks are standing tall. Everything is bright and illuminated in the midday sun. It is actually beautiful here. We had no idea it would be so. Well that’s a lie, everybody knows Switzerland is beautiful. But who would have thought it would be even at a petrol station.

A huge chalky blue river runs by the side of the road and we wish we could run down the banks, strip off our clothes and jump it. The river is clean and the colour is sublime.

We have a schedule so we decide what to do. We are currently standing at another small roundabout which leads to the motorway. There is a fair bit of traffic and not really anywhere for cars to stop. We decide to walk down the road, the opposite way we want to go until we find somewhere cars can pull over. The road is busy so it shouldn’t take too long.

Albanian mad man

We walk down the road and there is a bridge over the river, just after, the road turns back north towards Walensee, a beautiful huge alpine lake. There is plenty of space here and traffic is moving particularly slow which is usually good because we can make eye contact while putting on our best smiles, which obviously melts the drivers hearts and they immediately stop.

It works exactly as expected and this time we get picked up by an Albanian guy! Switzerland is pretty diverse! He pulls up in a really crappy old car and looks like a bit of a weirdo – but we can see he has a painting from his daughter hanging in the car so we’re not worried. He’s just a mega egocentric dude albeit extremely friendly. He takes us the short distance to Chur and drops us off outside the train station.

Somehow he starts ranting about Turks – At this point he doesn’t know of my Turkish heritage and I decide to keep quiet. We’re not quite sure regarding his vendetta against Turks but we’re not about to make it worse. In any case there is no point arguing with someone who assumes a country with 80 million inhabitants are all the same. We let the ignorance prevail. He basically rants for about 15 minutes how Turks are all lazy. Oh well, at least he is friendly towards us.

Cute, colourful – Chur!

As we enter Chur we notice how beautiful it is; an old medieval town surrounded by mountains, cute, colourful and wonky architecture. What’s not to love. There’s no shortage of these types of towns in Austria and we have just visited some in the last few weeks (like Salzburg, St. Wolfgang and Innsbruck) but everything feels different in Switzerland! The desire to ride the Glacier Express is strong here and we fix our plans. We will catch the next train heading towards St. Moritz and get off at Filisur. The train is arriving at Chur in one hour.

I really want to explore this cute little town so Caroline agrees to wait at the train station with our rucksacks while I run around town with my camera. I’m super happy that we get to ride the Glacier express and it turns out to not be that expensive since we are riding just a short portion of it. As it happens this is one of the best sections though, so we are quite happy with ourselves. The sun is still beaming down hard so I leave Caroline outside the station reading a book and watching the busy inhabitants of town rushing around.

Pressed for time but in love with Chur

I don’t have long so I decide to first walk up to the town square and see where that takes me. The town is bustling and people are outside everywhere, enjoying the sunshine, drinking and eating. The tall, narrow, pointy buildings are cute as hell. It’s like a dream town here.

I walk down a small side street and end up on the backside of the town. This road leads up the mountain pass which heads towards Filisur. I consult Google Maps and it looks like I might be able to take another road just around the outside of town that winds up a bit of a hill, with the possibility of some views over town. The quest begins, it cannot be interrupted now. I have approximately 35 minutes to be back at the train station, ready to hop on the train.

I march as fast as I can without running up the hill. The path winds through some houses, the people out on their lawns, again enjoying the wonderful unexpected late summer. I see a car park to the town hall building to my left. It sits above the road and it looks like it should have excellent views back to town. It’s not allowed to enter, but I’m just a tourist so it doesn’t really matter, right??

Chur from above

As I imagined the views are really incredible, over all the wonky buildings and red roof tiles of the pointy buildings. A huge peak rises just behind the town and it makes the whole town look like it was squashed and squeezed just to fit in to this very perfect location.

I follow the road around and again the views are exquisite. The whole town is surrounded like a castle by medieval walls, and beyond that, vineyards run up the lush green slopes, soon to be covered in snow as the winter inches closer.

I check the time and I have 5 minutes to make it back to the train station. I start running. Google maps says it is a 15 minute walk. Damn. I’m going to be late, as usual. I run through the narrow back streets of Chur, and soon end up back on the high street. I’m pretty close now so I text Caroline telling her I will be a little late but we will make it fine if she goes to grab the tickets now.

The Glacier Express from Chur

We board the train with our huge rucksacks and our Glacier Express tickets. I want it to be magical but it’s just a normal train. To the Swiss there’s nothing exciting about it. It’s full of normal people, students, commuters and families. It’s very busy but we find a window seat and press our faces against the glass, mesmerised by the views. Meanwhile a Swiss student giggles at us from behind his book at how often we exclaim “wow” and “so beautiful”.

FACTS FACTS FACTS

How to get there

We didn’t quite get to Filisur in this article but we absolutely recommend visiting Chur. It’s stunning, just like St. Gallen. It’s a lot smaller and has more of a laid back mountain feel.

Wherever you are in Switzerland, you can just grab a train. If you are not up to hitchhiking that is. The roads are obviously great as well.

We recommend riding the train because it is such an authentic Swiss experience. The views are incredible and the engineering and infrastructure is just mind boggling.

Things to do in Chur

  • Chur is the oldest town in Switzerland so absolutely plan enough time to walk through the old town and admire the beautiful architecture.
  • Take a trip to the nearby Ruinaulta, the gran canyon of Switzerland. Trust us when we tell you it is absolutely stunning.
  • If you are feeling adventurous, definitely go rafting on the Rhine!
  • Visit Walensee, a massive alpine lake surrounded by mountains complete with its own Schnittlauchinsel, for the non German speaking readers among us: The Chive Island!
  • Ride the Glacier express
  • Ride the Bernina express, a shorter scenic train from Chur to Tirano in Italy
  • You could visit Liechtenstein, the tiny Alpine country. It’s just a short distance from Chur!

Accommodation

Since we didn’t stay anywhere in Chur, we will just drop in a widget with some of the latest deals from hotels in Chur on Booking.com.

Booking.com

Pro Tip

Take the side streets from the center of town and head upwards. In just 5 non-strenuous minutes you will have grand views over the fairytale town!

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