Celtic Illumination, part 167, Trains, planes and automobiles.
It was strange enough staying in a hotel that wasn’t a hotel but now I didn’t know if I was up to finding a ferry terminal that wasn’t on the map. Actually it was no bother at all. As directed, I drove along the side of the lake and came to a small village that seemed to have evolved around the ferry terminal. I could see that we had three or four hours to wait for the next ferry so adjourned to the café that sat next to the ferry terminal. It was one of those picture postcard Swiss buildings, with the wide sloping roof, balconies and another notch on my something I had always wanted to do or visit list.
It was a strange building, seemed as if it were some sort of civic centre, but by following signs we ended up in a small bar. Again I was in my element as it was full of carved wood and stuffed animal heads, which to me said Alpine. We settled in and scoured the menu. As usual I was adamant that I was eating local while the other three opted for the safer omelette and chips and sausage and chips. I ordered a local veal dish and began to prepare myself by drinking some of the local beer.
My three compadres were served their meal first and I scavenged chip after chip from them as I was quite hungry. Eventually the waitress came to our table pushing a serving trolley with a massive metal dome. She opened the dome and served me a huge lump of veal in the most luxurious creamy mushroom sauce. Everyone tasted it and agreed it was superb and I can honestly say it was fantastic. Had I been at home I would have cleaned the plate with a slice of bread. Satisfied and full to the gunnels we sat up as the waitress approached our table for what we thought would be the settling of the bill. Instead she opened up the large metal domed server and produced a similar meal stating, “Here is the other half sir.”
Everyone was full but we soldiered on and made sure that we cleaned the plate. It was a grand way to pass the time and we rumbled off to the Beetle to prepare for the ferry. It was one of those open jobs, held about ten or twelve vehicles and very, very, pleasant, I only wish I had a better camera because sailing across a lake in Switzerland watching the mountains glide past is magical. Back on the other side we set off still heading south for Lugano and then Milan. I came across a hotel, the Hotel Des Alpes. As my map was not very useful for showing villages, or even roads for that matter, we decided that it looked a safe option.
We managed to book two double rooms one with a bath and one with a shower. The girls decided to make good use of the bath while Chidge and myself repaired to the bar. There was some sort of football match on so Chidge and I sat at the bar and ordered two beers. The barman produced two small bottles of beer with glasses and we enquired if he didn’t have any man sized beers. There was a little language barrier but nothing we couldn’t get around. He explained that he did have big bottles of beer but they were very, very, strong, most people could not drink any more than two.
Well; we were able to recognise a challenge, even when one hadn’t been offered. Chidge and I set about wrecking the myth surrounding these large bottles of beer and, probably through politeness, had to wait until the following morning before asking how many we had actually consumed. Breakfast was another spread of cooked meats and fresh bread with coffee and I shall not name the person who was asking, ‘Where’s the Alpine?’ (a breakfast cereal in the UK.) They say ‘You can take the girl out of Liverpool, but you can’t….’
By now we were deep in the mountains and I was loving every moment of it. I remember we began to climb up the side of a mountain. The road zig zagged quite tightly, the bends were ridiculous. There was a sort of tapping noise coming from one of the rear wheels but even after a couple of visual inspections we couldn’t see anything wrong with the wheel, so continued. It actually was a hair raising experience and I didn’t use the mountain rescue method of travelling along narrow mountain roads, which was foot to the floor, but carefully chugged our way to the top of the mountain.
We were surprised to get to the top and see snow, so we did as any young people do when finding a snow field in June, we had a snowball fight. Back in the car we trundled along to find a barrier stretched across the road guarded by two armed soldiers. Strange, we thought, and were then informed that there had been an avalanche further along the road, which was now blocked, and we would have to go back down the mountain. There had been no turn offs along the way or any other road joining the one we had travelled along so I wondered why they hadn’t put the barrier at the bottom of the mountain and save people the trouble of having to go back. I thought the Swiss were supposed to be efficient.
With no option we headed back down, with the wheel clunking even more, but as we couldn’t see anything wrong we ignored it. It really only clunked on the turns. The soldiers had said something about getting the train at the bottom which was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard. I mean we were in a car. However we followed the signs and sure enough came to a train siding where we queued up. It would have been nice if there had been some information or some person to explain what was about to happen but no. The queue eventually moved forward, on to the train and we parked up, on open carriages. I say open but there was a sort of metal frame around them holding a roof.
Next thing you know is that we set off and travelled through the mountain. By the way, car radios don’t work very well inside mountains so next time you are travelling through a mountain, in a car, on a train, make sure you have a cassette or a cd player. Look at me, giving out even more advice, where will it all end? It was a good experience and slightly claustrophobic but once we hit daylight it was obvious that we were on the Italian side of the Alps. Switzerland was precision perfect while the closer we got to Italy the more dusty, and dirty, and ramshackle the buildings became. Milan was about eighty miles away; I pointed the car south, stepped on the accelerator and hoped it was ready for me.