I knew we didn’t have a lot of time in Switzerland, but there was nothing I could do. We were traveling by train from Italy to Brussels and the great Alpine nation of neutrality was just a pit stop, a way station. I promised myself I’d return one day if I liked what I saw but what I never expected was to quickly and completely fall in love with a city I’d never heard of before – Chur.
We left Italy on the Bernina Express, one of the world’s great rail journeys that snakes along some of the most stunning landscapes in the Swiss Alps. The train journey concludes in the unexpectedly amazing city of Chur. When I planned my trip I’m embarrassed to say that Chur was completely new to me. I Googled it, located it on a map but still couldn’t find out that much about the town. I secured a hotel for the evening and we planned just to spend a few hours in town to rest before the long train trip to Brussels. If only I could go back and change things.
Switzerland immediately matched all of my expectations. The night air was crisp and pure as we stepped out of the train station, the streets were neat and clean and there was an underlying sense of order permeating everything. All that lacked was a banker wearing a Rolex and my preconceptions on Switzerland would have been complete. It was late, we were tired and it was Sunday, December 23. I thought for sure we’d be out of luck trying to find an open restaurant due to the holidays, but the first of many Churian surprises was about to occur.
Not only were some restaurants open late, most were open and doing a bustling business. We settled on a Swiss gastro-pub, muddled through a combination of bad German and English and sat back content and relaxed. After dinner on a search for gelato, fueled by our recent consumption in Italy, we discovered not ice cream but a remarkable town.
The shops were closed as we meandered down the main pedestrian zone; just a few couples were out enjoying the surprisingly moderate temperatures. We rounded a corner and suddenly stepped back in time. A clock tower chiming the hour rose up before us and the buildings shifted from modern retail to old fashioned Alpine in a matter of seconds. Walking around town the community had a feeling to it, a sensation that automatically appealed to me and before I knew it I had fallen in love with Chur. An unlikely romance if there ever was one.
We eventually did find that ice cream, but McDonald’s was the only choice. Walking back to the hotel eating my McFlurry I smelled the mountain air again and thought to myself how lucky I was. Lucky to find places like Chur, to discover new cities and towns that are amazing in their own right and much more than a mere pit stop on a race across Europe. I vowed to return one day and see it properly, to discover more hidden secrets to a little known city in the Swiss Alps.
What are some of your favorite travel discoveries?