A real life picture postcard!
Two hundred years ago, Mount Rigi was already Europe's most popular mountain excursion destination. Visitors walked to the summit or were taken up on horses or in sedan chairs. The Rigi Railway – Europe's first cogwheel railway – has been operating from Vitznau to the “Queen of the Mountains” since 1871. Swiss Post is marking the 150th anniversary of the event with a special postage stamp. It celebrates a service that connects people to far more than just the breathtaking scenery.
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Vitznau, 9.15 a.m. A jolt goes through the red train’s old-fashioned wagons. The cogwheels bite. Engine driver Patrick Studhalter slowly pushes the control lever forward and takes the almost 85-year-old train up to its maximum speed of 18 km/h. Marco Tampini is also on board. He has worked for Swiss Post as a mail carrier for 31 years. As well as Vitznau, he is also responsible for delivering mail on Mount Rigi. “Don't I have the most beautiful office in the world?” he asks. It is hard to disagree. As soon as we have gained enough height, the trees part to reveal a view that couldn't be more picturesque. Far below us, we see the metallic sheen of Lake Lucerne under a blanket of grey cloud. We also take in the magnificent mountain vista that includes the Stanserhorn, Bürgenstock and Pilatus. “It's as if nature is constantly reinventing and showing itself in all its splendour”, says Tampini, who has been to Mount Rigi countless times. It never ceases to fascinate him.
Swiss Post is always on board
Since the first cogwheel railway in Europe from Vitznau to Rigi-Kulm was launched in 1871, Swiss Post has also been on board, serving households on and around Mount Rigi high above Lake Lucerne by train and on foot. It has achieved this not least with the active support of the railway personnel. They usually lend a hand when it comes to loading and unloading the wagons with parcels and letters. Engine driver Studhalter sums it up: “I actually do a bit of everything – I’m the engine driver, train attendant, conductor, mechanic and mail carrier all in one.” The workers talk with one another and help each other out. Without a doubt, they have formed a close bond through their shared history and stories. So it is not surprising that Swiss Post created a postage stamp to mark the 150th anniversary of the Rigi Railway. It is more than just appreciation of the railway technology of the era, it is also a sign of mutual respect.
Despite the breathtaking panorama and the artistic Rigi stamp: Marco Tampini does not have much time to ponder or daydream during the trip up the mountain. From Vitznau to Rigi-Kaltbad, engine driver Studhalter has to slow down every two to three minutes. This is when Marco Tampini springs into action and skilfully deposits the mail – almost in flight – into black letter boxes as the train keeps moving at walking pace. Residents will pick up their mail from these letter boxes later on. There are six of these letter boxes between Vitznau and Rigi-Kaltbad. The train also stops briefly at three points to allow parcels to be unloaded.
On foot or by e-Bike
Right on schedule, we arrive at the Rigi-Staffelhöhe station at 9.37 a.m. Here, at the Edelweiss “Herb Hotel”, is where the more conventional segment of the delivery round begins. Marco Tampini has to deliver the mail to a good 70 households all the way down to Rigi-Kaltbad. He has two hours for the approximately five-kilometre route (uphill and downhill). “That's usually just enough time when you're on foot", he says. In summer, he often takes one of Swiss Post's own e-Bikes complete with trailer for part of the route in Rigi-Kaltbad. At around 1,500 metres above sea level and somewhat exposed to the elements, the schedule can sometimes get a little tight. Like in January 2018, when storm Burglind swept across Europe with gusts of up to 200 kilometres per hour. “I had to improvise and change my route because I simply couldn't make any headway in some of the more exposed areas with strong winds and icy roads,” Tampini recalls. Of course, he also has some more pleasant stories to tell. “I spotted three nice, big porcini mushrooms smiling at me from the side of the road,” he says, “I smiled back and popped them in my pocket”.
A coffee after work
We have now arrived in Rigi-Kaltbad, location of the mineral bath & spa designed by the famous architect Mario Botta as well as St. Michael's Chapel in the Rocks. Marco Tampini starts by feeding the P.O. boxes near the village square, and then loads a handcart with the parcels that he dropped off at the train station on the way up. He is now on the last loop around the eastern part of the village.
11.05 a.m. Finished! Best of all: we even have time for a quick coffee before heading back down to Vitznau at 11.15 a.m. We sit at a table in front of the village shop, which is also a post office, souvenir shop and café. The sun is starting to emerge from behind the grey clouds. We look down on Lake Lucerne. The grey waters from earlier this morning are now a shimmering blue. It's a picture postcard. In real life!