Monday, May 4, 2015

Switzerland part 1

Of course it started to rain that night... and it rained for hours. It sort of set the tone for our last day in France too. Cold, wet, miserable weather and a strong headwind. Funny how strong winds always seem to come from the opposite direction... It's one of those days where we should have stayed put I suppose. We left just a couple of days ago with 25°C, but now found ourselves 1500 km further south in 12°C and gale force winds. Once we entered Switzerland the weather improved somewhat, temporarily anyway. As it turned out we were only temporarily in Switzerland too. Part of lake Geneva is apparently French, and as we followed the lake we thus returned back into France again! The things you learn on the road... So whilst we thought we had left France behind, we found ourselves crossing the border again into it. 

Filling the tanks up in Switzerland proved a problem. My European ATM card, which should have 'world coverage' didn't work here. My Australian card however did! Go figure. It's funny how we always seem to have problems with paying when in areas known for money. My card didn't work in Las Vegas either for instance, while we had also found it useless at a fuel bowser terminal called 'Easy Pay'. Now in Switzerland it proved problematic, a country known world wide for it's debatable banking practises. 

We stopped at McDonalds for free wifi, which in Switzerland turned out to be controlled by a company called Orange. A telecom provider. It promises an hour free internet but needs to send you a code to your mobile... Technically there is no need for them to know my mobile phone number as every computer has a unique number which they can use to check if it has been connected that day before. So what do you do if you don't have a mobile, or your mobile doesn't work in Switzerland? You check the option that you don't have a mobile phone! Guess what happens when you tell them you don't have a mobile... Orange gives you a number to call for a code... Try and find a phone booth in 2015! No internet then...

We had intended to find a free spot somewhere along a narrow road into the mountains we had found on the map. According to the map there was nothing much there. In reality it was quite busy and lined by lots of villages and farms. Alas, finding a spot to pitch the tent wasn't easy. We dismissed 3, before we finally found a spot. The first was on the other side of a bridge, which was too narrow for the bikes to cross. The second a quarry where we couldn't pitch a tent and the third was sort of ok but in open view. As we left the last one I spotted a trail right opposite to it into the mountains. We ran the bikes up, pitched the tent by tying it to two trees (no way to get tent pegs in rocks) and fled inside to escape the rain. Dinner consisted of a 1.05 Euro can of soup. It was sort of ok although we wonder what they put in the sausages... It certainly wasn't meat, slaughterhouse refuse perhaps or even something more sinister.

After a short dry spell, clouds moved in quickly, followed by thunder and lightning plus lots more rain... We fled into the tent while the rain was belting down on it and a river started flooding the vestibule area... Maybe this spot wasn't the best to put up a tent anyway. Too late to worry about it now though, so we simply fell asleep and would have a look at the damage in the morning. Through all the rain a little bird was singing merrily in the trees somewhere...?!?

Not every bus conforms to Euro 5 pollution standards..
The next day we entered Switzerland properly and found ourselves surrounded by snow covered mountains of unbelievable beauty, we felt the trip had properly started. Sure the Ardennes and Vosges are beautiful areas. The Ballon 'd Alsace is a beautiful too. But Switzerland is on a different scale altogether. If you like mountains, like we do, then this is about as good as it gets. Whether or not it is the most beautiful place in Europe is open for discussion. Austria and northern Italy are right up there too. So much so that we can't choose between them. And what about Norway? All equally beautiful as far as we're concerned.

Automatic chain lubing is
great under these wet
conditions. Tutoro keeps
everything moving smoothly
Being early in the year meant we saw lots of snow. Not so much on the road perhaps but definitely on the mountain tops. The views were amazing! The weather was supposed to be rainy all day, and while there were lots of clouds around, most of them cleared to make way for a partly sunny day. How lucky were we? 

The first serious pass we were about to do, turned out to be closed... We went up anyway to have a look and actually made it to the top of the pass. The problem was just after the top, where an avalanche had covered the road in snow. We walked through the snow to have a look if there was a way through but found the road blocked with snow for at least two kilometres. We even tried to get the bikes through the snow but 300+ kg bikes and frozen snow don't mix, as we found out. There was no alternative but to drag the bike out and ride the same beautiful pass down again. Still there are worse things to do on a Sunday!

We did find an alternative route, which picked-up our original route just after the avalanche. It was again beautiful vista after beautiful vista. Snow, rugged mountains, Swiss villages like in the picture books and beautiful roads. During one of the photo stops Mike saw a snowboarder coming down the hill fast and took a photo of it. The snowboarder stopped for a chat and turned out to be a traveller himself. He had travelled for two years in a LandRover through Africa and Europe. 

At the end of the day we ran into another closed pass, back tracked and took the alternative road... which turned out to be closed as well! Now what? Looking at the map we saw there was no other way but a big detour north as all the passes around turned out to be closed too. We decided to ask the visitor info centre in the morning to see which passes were open as a new route through Switzerland was clearly needed! To be honest this kind of took us by surprise. It was end April after all. We had no idea passes would be closed so long after the winter.

We camped surrounded by the most stunning mountains. We were also surrounded by snow and Swiss cows with the typical clanging bells. Cows don't sleep much at night... so the bells kept going all night too :-)