The Swiss Federal Railways (SBB), First Class – Giruno RABe 501: Zürich Airport to Milano Centrale

Introduction

Today I am on my way to Milan to see Salome at La Scala. To be honest, I find Salome more than just a little disturbing, but I have been meaning to see an opera at La Scala for a long time, and now seemed like a good time. I figured I could also use this as an opportunity to run a little experiment of my own and compare journey times between the train and airplane on the route between Zürich and Milan.

First Leg – Zürich Airport to Zürich Main Station

I catch the 14:48 train from the airport to Zürich Main Station. Trains are frequent, and the journey time is usually about eight minutes give and take. At the Main Station I have nine minutes to make my connection.

Second Leg – Zürich Main Station to Lugano

Direct trains between Zürich and Milan run every two hours. Alternatively, there are trains to Lugano with a good connection to Milan, which is what I am doing today. Strangely, the connection via Lugano is even slightly shorter. The departure from Zürich is at 15:05, with an arrival in Lugano at 16:58.

The services to Milan are operated with rolling stock belonging to the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB). The Giruno is a fairly new addition to the fleet that was introduced to replace the highly unreliable Pendolino trains that previously ran on the line. Like its predecessor, the Giruno has tilting capabilities that allow it to travel at higher speed through Switzerland’s mountainous terrain. The Giruno is built by Swiss manufacturer Stadler.

The Cabin & Seat

There are four First Class coaches, one dining car and six Second Class coaches that make up a unit. Today two units have been coupled together. The First Class cabin is spacious and comfortable in a 1 + 2 configuration. There are plenty of seat options available depending on whether you are travelling on your own, as a couple or in a larger group. However, if you are planning to work on your laptop, take note that not all seats have a tray table suitable to place a laptop on. Some seats do not have a tray table at all.

Every seat comes with a coat hook and a power outlet, with separate plugs for European and Swiss standards.

The Route

The journey from Zürich to Milan is interesting and scenic, as it takes the train past Lake Zürich, Lake Zug, and Lake Lucerne. The route also passes through the world’s longest railway tunnel, the Gotthard, with a length of 57 kilometres. The journey through the tunnel takes about 20 minutes. It is the only time the train speeds up to 200km/h on the journey.

Catering

The dining car serves a wide selection of hot and cold dishes that you can enjoy in the dining car or that can be taken away to eat at your seat.

Third Leg – Lugano to Milano Centrale

I have four minutes to make the connection in Lugano. And from what I am told, they usually wait if there is a bit of a delay. The trip from Lugano to Milan is operated by a Swiss regional train. There is a First Class section at the head of the train, but reservations are not possible. Seating is arranged in facing pairs. The only difference to Second Class is that the pitch is slightly better. The train leaves Lugano at 17:02, to arrive at 18:15. However, we pick up a delay on the way, so that the train does pull into Centrale until 18:28.

Getting to the Hotel

In Milan I am staying at the Room Mate Giulia Hotel near the Duomo, in walking distance to La Scala. It is four stops by metro from Centrale. Eventually, I arrive at the hotel at 18:45, more or less four hours after I departed from Zürich Airport.

Conclusion

The journey from Zürich Airport to Milano Centrale is easy and straightforward. The Giruno is a very nice and comfortable train. It is also very nice that the hotel is only four stops away by metro, which is very convenient. The only negative aspect of the journey is the regional train for the last sector from Lugano to Milan. Not only is that train not very comfortable, it was also incredibly crowded from Como onwards and all the way to Centrale. I think next time, I would make sure to catch one of the direct services instead.

Berlin – Puccini’s Turandot at the Berliner Staatsoper Unter den Linden

Turandot is probably Puccini’s most problematic opera. In fact, it took him so long trying to come to a convincing ending, that eventually he died before completing his work.

The plot of Turandot has its issues. Let’s face it, after the beautiful aria at the end of which Liu kills herself, it was always going to be difficult to top that and come to a convincing happy end. And that’s where the production in Berlin was so good – because there is no happy end!

In the production I saw in Berlin, the conductor was none other than the fabulous Zubin Mehta. The role of the vicious Turandot should originally have been played by Netrebko. But after she refused to take a stand and condemn Russia’s vicious attack on Ukraine, she was dropped by the Staatsoper. And rightly so. And to be honest, I don’t think it’s a great loss, seeing as she is slowly getting a bit past it.

From my hotel to the Staatsoper it’s about 45 minutes on foot and the route takes me through the Brandenbuger Tor to Unter den Linden. Just before you reach the opera, there is the Russian embassy and the Aeroflot offices next to it on your right. Exactly opposite, on the left side of the road, a banner has been put up in support of Ukraine – in full view of the embassy.

On my way back to the hotel it’s already dark, and the Brandenburger Tor and the Siegessäule are beautifully illuminated.

Budapest – Aeropark Museum, Ferihegy

Here’s the link to the museum’s website.

WARNING: If descriptions of grown men geeking out at the sight of an airliner make you uncomfortable, you may not want to continue reading.

How to get there

The Aeropark at Budapest airport is easily accessible on foot from Terminal 2. There is a clearly signed path from the lower arrivals level. The walk takes about fifteen minutes at a leisurely pace.

How to get in

The entrance fee is fairly small and payment by credit card is possible. More information can be found on the link at the top of this post.

What is there to see

Let the geeking begin… The Aeropark Budapest is a museum dedicated to the history of Hungarian civil aviation, and that means mostly to the history of its now defunct former flag carrier – Malev. The carrier’s name is an acronym of Magyar Légiközlekedési Vállalat, which is, admittedly, a bit of a mouthful unless you’re Hungarian. In addition to a very large collection of civil aircraft, there are also a few ground vehicles.

The Ilyushin IL-14

The Ilyushin IL-14 was a Soviet-built mid-haul airliner that first flew in 1950. This aircraft is preserved in it’s authentic Malev livery from that period. In case you’re interested, the restaurant 34 at the end of runway 16 in Zürich has an IL-14 preserved inside. You can eat under the aircraft and it’s also possible to take a look at the interior, which has been converted to a lounge area.

The Ilyushin IL-18

The IL-18 was the Soviet union’s answer to the DC-7 and first flew in 1957. There are two aircraft of the type preserved at the museum. The one in the older livery is open to the public. Inside, only the cockpit remains intact. The cabin is empty and houses an exhibition on Malev’s history.

The cool thing about this museum is that’s possible to get real close and personal with the aircraft. The fact that you can actually step inside to look around is the icing on the cake.

Study of a nice pair of spinners.

The Tupolev TU-134

The Tu-134 was commissioned by Nikita Chruschtschow himself after he got a chance to see the Caravelle on a state visit to France. The Tu-134 first flew in 1963. Perhaps one of the most noteworthy features of the example on display at the museum is its glas nose, which was used by the navigator. The Tu-134 is also open for visitors.

An interesting difference between Western and Soviet airlines that was the trademark of the Tupolev airliners what that the wings were angled slightly downwards, whereas Western jets either have level wings or wings that point slightly upwards. I suspect that perhaps the Tupolev was intended to take advantage of the ground effect, considering that the engines were not so powerful back then, and aircraft tended to be seriously underpowered.

On the Tu-134 and the 154 the main landing gear did not retract into the fuselage but into a pod protruding from behind the wing.

The cabin on this aircraft is quite well preserved. Back in the good old days the overhead compartments were open, which is something that is impossible to imagine these days!

The wood table marked the Business Class section. My dad flew on the Tu-134 several times and always said he would have preferred travelling in Economy Class simply because he was worried that in case of an emergency landing, the table, which could not be folded away, would likely crush your ribcage.

The Tupolev TU-154

As far as I’m concerned, the Tu-154 is certainly the jewel in the crown at this museum. The Tu-154 had its maiden flight in 1968. Its dimensions are slightly larger than the Boeing B 727-200. However, it has a lower seating capacity. This aircraft is also open to the public, bust most of the interior is currently still being worked on.

So pretty…!

The business end of the T-154.

Other exhibits at the museum include two nicely preserved Yakovlev Yak-40s and a Lusinov Li-2, which basically a DC-3 built in the Soviet Union under licence. However, I didn’t manage to take any photos of them.

Conclusion

The Aeropark museum is certainly worth a visit. I really loved it. The next time I visit Budapest, I’m certainly going there again. I think for me the attraction of this place is that it offers a rare glimpse into the history of Soviet airliners that we don’t often get in the West.

Rome – The Colosseum

The Colosseum gets its name from the statue of a colossus that once stood near its entrance. The colossus has long since decayed to dust, but the huge amphitheatre, which is part of the Forum Romanum, still stands, and a lot of it has remained largely intact.

A visit to the Colosseum is certainly worth it. I must confess that my prior knowledge of the construction and its history was somewhat limited and relied heavily on the Gladiator film, which featured Russell Crowe strutting around, showing off his chest hair and being perhaps just a tad overly dramatic. Fortunately, as you enter the Colosseum, there is an interesting exhibition which tells you a lot about the histroy of the building and its purpose through history.

Just a word of warning though: there isn’t really all that much shade inside the Colosseum, so if you’re visting in the summer, like me, make sure to take a hat and use a powerful sun screen.

Tickets to the Colosseum and the Forum Romanum can be purchased online. Entry to the Colosseum is for a specific time slot, and the guards will only give you twenty minutes leeway to enter. For the Forum Romanum however, you do not need to have a specific time slot.

Beijing – The Summer Palace of the Empress Dowager Cixi

The Summer Palace is located about 20km away from the Forbidden City of Beijing.

The history of the Summer Palace is very closely linked to that of the Empress Dowager Cixi who, for all practical purposes, ruled the Qing Dynasty for nearly 40 years. The Empress Dowager is referred to by the Chinese as the Dragon Lady. Her reign is known as the reign of blood because of all the people she had murdered to retain power.

Cixi became the Empress Dowager following the death of her husband during the second Opium War in 1861. The idea had been for her to reign until her son was old enough to take over power. But when the time came, the Empress Dowager was reluctant to hand over power and instead had her son murdered. She then appointed one of her nephews to be the new emperor. He was only three years of age, which bought her some time before he too would make a rightful claim to the Dragon Throne, requiring her to relinquish power. Tragically, the little boy did not last very long and the Empress Dowager eventually had him murdered as well.

Dragon Lady then nominated a little boy that went by the name of Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi, also aged three at the time, to ascend to the Dragon Throne. Which eventually he did, but only because the Empress Dowager died a little while after she made the nomination. Pu Yi went on to become the last Emperor of China. He died in 1967 in Beijing, as a simple gardener of the People’s Republic of China.