A brief visit to Switzerland

When I wrote the last Diary blog we had booked in to get new tyres and were spending what we thought would be a quiet afternoon catching up and relaxing, at the Stezzano camperstop. Sadly there was a party in the afternoon and early evening in the park behind us, and boy were those people noisy when they were returning to their cars – spending hours chatting at the tops of their voices!

Anyway at last they all left and we had a peaceful if hot night.

24th July

There was not much to do until the appointment at the garage at 4pm, so we were resigned to most of the day waiting around. In the morning it rained heavily – I mean REALLY heavily so we just stayed in the van. When it eased off we drove to the little coffee shop (didn’t want to walk in case it poured again!). Forgot to buy bread so I went out later to buy some, and fell victim to the crazy Italian opening hours. Every shop was closed.

Finally it was time to go to the garage. We played cards while they fitted the new tyres. They were done by around 6pm and we then drove off towards Lake Maggiore, via the motorways. Reached a camperstop at Mergozzo (tiny town at the end of a tiny lake just off Maggiore) around 8pm, and went for a meal at a pleasant lakeside restaurant. That rain had left the air fresh and cool.

However we were not destined for a good night’s sleep – quite a lot of traffic noise, a rooster, and worse – a smell of gas fumes in the van that has been there since the van was left at the airport and was getting worse. Before you worry too much we do have a carbon monoxide detector in the van. But I spent a sleepless night worrying about it and thinking that just as one problem was solved another one rears its ugly head…

25th July

We spent some time this morning investigating those gas fumes. Eventually after some online research and sniff testing around the van, we realised it came from the fridge flue. The fridge has been running on gas except when we are driving a lot lately as we have not been on campsites to use electric. At the back there’s a flue running up behind the fridge and venting outside via a grill. Above the fridge is a cupboard and the fumes smelt strongest there, so we figured that a seal is broken somewhere letting the fumes in via that cupboard.

There is only one answer to problems like this – duck tape. We taped up all joins between that outside vent and the inside cupboard. It seemed to help.

Drove north, into Switzerland, taking our time through gorgeous Alpine passes. We reached Saas Fee, in the next valley along from Zermatt. Here there is a camperstop – well, a car park where you are allowed to stay overnight. There is some confusion about whether free-camping is allowed in Switzerland at all. It was the most complicated system ever – had to go to tourist information office to get day passes, then to the car park office to get a key so we could open the box and plug in our electric cable (wanted a fume free night!) Both offices were a five minute walk in opposite directions to the car park. Finally we got ourselves settled. It was cold up here at 1800m – Google was telling me 2 degrees but I don’t believe it. Definitely under 10 outside though. Shame I’d left my fleece in Bergamo airport arrivals.

At some point on the drive up here a cupboard had swung open and broke off its hinges. So that was yet another running repair needed – this time Ignatius fixed it using a cook’s match and some superglue to fill the holes and allow the hinges to be reattached. Sigh. One thing after another!

26th July

We made good use of our day passes today – they covered all the cable cars and gondolas in the valley. Went up one to a glacier and had a walk around, at about 3000m. It was a bit cloudy – we were under the cloud but could not see the summits.

Kath walking

saas fee1
Lunch stop 2

Then we went back down to the village and up another gondola to 2300m, and walked to a peak at 2700m (approx). Lovely walk, loads of Alpine flowers, and the weather improved as the day went on. Very enjoyable. However at 25 CHF a night we did not want to stay another night, so we left around 5.30 and headed to the Zermatt valley.

saas fee2
Summit view

Here’s where things went wrong. We knew you cannot drive private vehicles to Zermatt and have to park at Tasch and take a train or taxi. But we’d assumed we’d be able to park overnight at Tasch. You can – but you may not sleep in your vehicle overnight. We checked out the two small campsites in the area – both were very full and very expensive. We aren’t prepared to pay 43 CHF when we don’t actually want to use any of the campsite facilities – just need somewhere to park overnight. Eventually after checking out all the limited options we concluded campervans simply aren’t welcome in the Zermatt valley. We headed back out, looking for laybys that did not have a ‘no camping’ sign. Found one a long way back, and stayed there for the night, feeling very cross.

Before switching the fridge to gas, we had another go at duck-taping up all the seals. This time it worked and we had no gas fume smells overnight – hurray. We will obviously have to get this properly sealed and a full gas service done, but hopefully this fix will last until we’re back home.

And we re-planned. Switzerland, although beautiful, is not particularly campervan-friendly. France, on the other hand, is. We found ourselves longing for the French aires, free-camping laybys, cheap campsites. I had wanted to see the Matterhorn hence our attempts to get to Zermatt, but on checking the weather forecast I realised we would not see it tomorrow anyway -the cloud would be too low.

27th July

So this morning we cut our losses and set off, along the Rhone valley to Martigny then over the pass into France, down to Argentiere near Chamonix. There’s a campsite here we stayed at and loved in 2013, along with the boys, in a large tent. Thankfully they had space for us, and so here we are for a few days. The washing’s drying around me as I type, there are loads of walks we can do, the campsite costs about 20 euro a night and is lovely, and we have free travel on local buses and trains in the valley.

argentiere
Settled at Camping Glacier d’Argentiere. That snowy mountain in the background is part of Mont Blanc

We’ve had a few good days in Switzerland – the little trip to Davos and then Saas Fee. We’ll come back some other time and do more of it.

 

Travels with Fionn

13th July

After a very hot night at the Lake Garda campsite we headed north, via the shores of Lake Iseo and up towards the mountains. We drove over the Gavia Pass, which frankly was not suitable for campervans. It gave a 3.5 ton weight limit at the start of the pass but no other warnings, and we are 3.5 tons, so thought we would be ok. But it is a very narrow road, with not enough passing places and no crash barriers between the road and the sheer drop. We could not even pass an oncoming motorbike (and there were a lot of those driving cautiously over) without one of us having to pull over. Thankfully we met few large vehicles and when we did, there was always a passing place nearby. I was very thankful to reach the top and see the better road down the other side. Well done Gertie and Ignatius for making it over safely!

gavia pass.jpg
Gavia Pass. This was one of the better sections.

Drove on to Bormio, where we had a welcome beer in the town centre and spent the night in a camperstop car park.

14th July

Another day, another mountain pass. The Stelvio pass, which is the second highest in the Alps. The original plan had involved Ignatius and Fionn cycling over it – Fionn using my Boardman bike (the one that was stolen). The Plan B involved driving over it. We knew this pass had a proper road over it so it was a relatively easy drive – just around 48 hairpins on the way up and same again on the way down!

At the top Fionn and I went for a walk. We were at about 3000m (the pass is 2757m) so could certainly feel the lower oxygen levels. In the First World War there was quite a bit of fighting in this area between Austro-Hungarian troops and Italians, and we saw remains of some barracks way up in the mountains. Sadly we could also see how badly glaciers in this area are retreating due to global warming.

stelvio walk
Fionn walking above Stelvio pass

On down the pass, through spectacular scenery, to a small town Glorenza by the river Adige, where we stayed at a very pleasant small campsite. Lovely cool temperatures here!

15th July

To Switzerland! We drove through more gorgeous Alpine scenery, over the Fluela pass. Again Fionn and I had a short walk at the top, then we dropped down the other side to Davos. Once over the border we had a coffee and nearly dropped with shock at the price. We’ve been used to paying 1 euro, maybe 2 at most for a coffee, but in Switzerland you pay more like 4.50 or even 5 Swiss Francs, which are worth almost as much as a euro. There won’t be so many coffees out while we are in Switzerland.

My aunt and uncle live in Switzerland, and were staying this week in a holiday flat in Davos that my cousin has rented for the whole summer. We’d arranged to park outside the flat for a couple of nights to spend some time with them. We arrived in the early afternoon and it was good to see them looking fit and well. They took us for a walk up the mountain behind the flat – a couple of hours of walking uphill- ¬†and then down via a funicular. Aunty Miriam cooked us a meal, and Fionn slept in the flat (we stayed in Gertie outside). It was a cool night – delightful to actually need the duvet and blanket over us for a change!

aunt and uncle
My inspirational aunt and uncle

16th July

The 5 of us set off for a trip up the Jakobshorn mountain. We took a bus into Davos centre, then two cable cars to the top of the mountain. From there we walked an easy path to a small lake where we had a picnic lunch. Ignatius, Fionn and I then walked up a peak – the Jakshorn – and along the ridge from there back to the cable car station, while my aunt and uncle walked back the easy path. We took the first cable car down then walked down the second stage. I am not going to admit I was worn out after the walk as my mid-80s aunt and uncle would not admit they were tired either.

summit ridge
Fionn and Ignatius on the Jakshorn summit ridge

Back at the flat, Ignatius and I cooked dinner for everyone. So lovely to spend time with my aunt and uncle!

17th July

Time to head back towards Bergamo as the flight to Manchester to attend Fionn’s graduation is tomorrow. We drove back over the Fluela pass, then through St Moritz and down towards Lake Como. All beautiful scenery. We stopped for lunch beside one small high lake, and stopped again to look at a waterfall just after the Italian border (so we could afford a coffee!!)

lunch stop
Not a bad spot for lunch!

A few miles from our planned overnight parking spot an ominous thump thump began sounding from the right hand rear tyre. We investigated and found a bolt stuck in the tyre. Not good. There was a service station & repair shop nearby (lucky!) so we drove there and asked them to look at it. They have done a quick repair on the tyre and we are hoping it will last – need to check the status in the morning. The important thing will be to get to Bergamo tomorrow for the flight – Ignatius and I can get the tyre replaced if necessary when we return to Italy next Saturday. Fingers crossed!

Regular blog readers may remember the previous puncture in Sicily – right front tyre. That was also a screw embedded in the tyre. Are we just unlucky or what?

We’re off (all being well!) to the UK tomorrow for a few days to attend Fionn’s graduation ceremony. Gertie will be left at airport parking in Bergamo. We return (without Fionn) on Saturday. So the next diary blog should be all about Sheffield! The forecast is for rain.