Upwards over the mountains

Trip Start Feb 02, 2010
Trip End Feb 02, 2011

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Flag of Switzerland  , Swiss Alps,
Sunday, May 30, 2010

We have made it to Switzerland! The land of chocolate, cheese and very big hills.

Back in Cremona we were treated like royalty. A wonderful, kind young mechanic who seemed to know Urals like the back of his hand spent over an hour tinkering with Nina to make her better and wanted nothing for his work. And again Illaria was our translator and magic worker. I was dumbfounded by the kindness and generosity of her and the mechanic. By mid-day we were on our way to Switzerland, Nina again running happily and fitted with brand new tyres.

We stoped for dinner at the beginning of the Alps. We were looking for a place to camp when we came across a big flat open area in a valley. It was a massive and fascinating archaeological site where a community had buried their dead for a long time and the items they were buried with documented the expansion of the early Roman empire and its cultural impact here. There were also three shepherds camped there with their flock of sheep, goats, cows, donkeys, a horse and some dogs.

Felix asked then if they minded us sleeping near them. Even though it said no camping there, if we were with them we probably wouldn't have trouble from authorities. They were very friendly and seemed happy for us to set up for one night under the trees. They even invited us for coffee in there little caravan.

So we spent the evening sitting round a little table in their old, but clean and well kept little caravan drinking coffee and making the best conversation we could through the language differences. Two of them were Italian and could speak no English but the other who was Romanian spoke very good English. He was a really nice guy and did his best to keep everyone understanding each other. It was a really interesting thing to see these young men choosing a life of living in a van, sleeping and working twenty-four hours a day out in the mountains with the animals. I like to think I could do that job. For the one part, being with animals all the time and in nature I would love it, but the other part, missing a social life and the regular things like a settled home I would find really hard.

Meeting the shepherds and spending a night with them was one of those priceless things that just happen. You can’t plan to be sitting round a candle at the bottom of the Alps with some Shepherds, the sound of a hundred bells on goats, sheep and cows rings all around.

All night the sound of the bells was in our ears and dreams. At one point I woke up and only one animal was moving around, one bell tinkering. I imagine it was an annoying young little goat that couldn’t sleep so he was keeping everyone awake. Another time somehow a few were moving around with bells that were ringing in perfect harmony, it was so surreal, strange and amazing it seemed like a dream but Felix heard it too so it must have been real.

In the morning we had slugs crawling everywhere, in our shoes, under our sleeping mats, everywhere on the bottom of our sleeping bags and they loved my used snotty tissues. They are one of my most detested living things, pretty close up there to mozzies. Also we were sleeping right in the middle of a big wild strawberry patch, they were so pretty hiding everywhere but I was extremely disappointed at their very unpleasant taste. How good would it have been to wake up and from bed have a feast of wild strawberries.

The two Italians had left and the Romanian was minding the animals. He and Felix got on quite well so we spent an hour or so with him meeting the animals and talking. The donkeys were so friendly and came wandering past to check us out and say hello, their cutest little Arab/Palomino pony shyly came to look as did the cows that pretended they wanted the grass we were near but I think really just wanted a better look at us. The goats, which had the coolest long curly horns, were not interested at all.

It took us five hours to travel twenty kilometres up to the Simplon Pass. Nina just isn’t cut out for carrying all our junk up such long, long steep stretches of road in Summer. Every five minuets [anyone know how many minuets in an hour? Bach or Mozart? Floss regularly uses this measure of time] we had to stop for half an hour. For lunch we stopped for over an hour to let her cool. We were by a mountain stream under some trees, it was sunny, the huge snow capped mountains towered above us on every side, Felix had a little nap and I cooked up a delicious mustard potato salad with fresh rocket and the wild herbs we gathered in Pian Di Sco’.

Riding through the Alps was fantastic; I’m very close to saying the best scenery so far. I’m fascinated by things that are massive and disproportional to the rest of the world – Blue Whales, the underside of a cargo ship’s hull, mountains, deep wells, the inside of cathedrals, Pamela Anderson’s boobs before she had then deflated… The Swiss Alps are massive enough to impress me, there are pointy enough peaks and big enough cliffs. I really loved riding through them. The wild flowers were so beautiful and colourful. Ah, it was exactly like a post card, exactly. Very nice.

We finally made it over Simplon Pass and Nina rolled us down into Brig without a single problem. I have been taking these antihistamines for my hay-fever and they work a little bit but also make me really drowsy at times. In Brig, Felix stopped to get some money and I was knocked out in the side car, he tried to show me the Swiss Francs and I wanted to look so badly but I couldn’t move, all I could do was grunt and keep sleeping, I was paralysed by sleepiness.

As we headed out of Brig up to the Furka Pass, which, for the facts book is the second highest Pass in Switzerland, the highest is only thirty meters higher, Felix worked out the optimum speed for Nina to still be moving forward (if only just) and not overheat was twenty six kilometres an hour. So we were making slow progress but definitely getting somewhere. It was quite fun actually chugging along like that, we really got a good chance to look around.

Just before the last stretch, the last and steepest, most twisted part up to the Furka Pass, we stopped for a little break. A couple on a Harley stopped to talk to us. They were so nice, Christian and Madeline, Felix and Christian were like old friends chatting away about bikes and mountains. They told us the Pass had only opened for Summer four days ago. Crazy stuff. If we hadn’t been delayed by the tyres and the breakdown we would have been stuck up there. We stood talking in the cold for a while and then they offered to buy us a coffee in the restaurant we were parked in front of so we sat down with them for a while and had a very pleasant afternoon tea. They were local and shared with us a wealth of facts and news on the Alps and it’s roads. It was another encounter of such friendliness and kindness from complete strangers, really heart warming – as was my hot chocolate.

When we came outside again it was drizzling. Felix convinced me to go to the effort of putting on my hated wet weather super suit also suitable for space travel and I’m so glad. By the time we made it up to the Pass it was raining very steadily. What a spectacular place! So amazing, it’s another world.

One the other side it was fully raining. I can’t believe what we were doing. It was pouring rain, there were massive lumps of snow cut to let cars have some road, everywhere was practically snow covered and it’s summer. Streams had turned to gushing rivers torrenting down the cliffs and it was so cold. It’s so cold and frozen all the time there are no trees, we were way above the tree line at 2,432m. The Furka Pass is the second highest road mountain pass in Switzerland, by only 30m. What the hell is this place, it’s wild! And we’re on a sidecar, prone to packing up anytime. Nina was happy with the rain and cold, it cooled her engine making the climb much easier on her and the new tyres were a lifesaver, literally.

It was starting to get dark, we were very wet and no slightly sheltered camping anywhere (we were still over 2,100m altitude, well clear of the tree line and in solid Summer snow) so we reminded ourselves there was no rulebook and went into a hotel dripping wet to inquire about a stay. The first offer was too much but the second offer when I think they felt sorry for two young 'uns soaking wet and poor on a motorbike was well worth every cent.

We had a really cosy little room with two single beds, (naturally we slept in one), Nina got a place in the warm garage, they let us hang our wet gear in the hot drying room, wonderful hot showers and a buffet breakfast this morning. I had such a good sleep, it was just perfect, I couldn’t have been more content as I fell asleep.

This morning after a great breakfast, something I have really been missing on the road, a little check of the email and a chat on Skype to back home, it was so, so wonderful to climb into warm dry suits and have dry gear and bike before heading out into the rain and cold again. I would have been dangerously sour had I slept badly, been cold, had no breakfast and then had to get into a cold wet suit I hate so much. Well actually after it has keep me as dry on the inside as it has I’ve warmed a little to it, (no pun intended).

So now we are in Jan’s house in the mountains. Jan is the cousin of Felix’s father, same relation to Felix as Harald and Herbert to me. Jan and his son Mani welcomed us excitedly and warmly. Jan was very animated and eagerly showed us around the house, which is still quite new to him. It is such a perfect old house – a neatly packed up stack of rooms, with a lovely history. It has fallen to pieces due to being left unoccupied for several years but with some work (lots actually) it will be a perfect place, a real treasure.

And speaking of treasure, as it was practically left as it was when the last old lady lived here, every room has shown old relics of the last life here, there is a whole museum of wonderful old things. Shoes, bags, medical instruments, (The last lady was a midwife who was very famous in this area, practicing here for over fifty years), hundreds of pickling jars and bottles, pictures, furniture, tools, instruments, everything; it’s absolutely amazing, a dream find, a treasure trove. So off to bed now, I’m still not one hundred percent back to good health and Felix is saying he is not so good either, gosh I’m looking forward to a nice sleep-in…
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Julie on

Wow! What an amazing adventure!!! Thanks once again for such beautiful writing ;o)

I've been thinking about you and been looking forward to your blogs. I have a few I need to catch up on still...I was naughty and jumped ahead.

We are about to have a working-bee at 5 Blackwood tomorrow. And we are hoping to move in beginning of July. Very exciting!

All the best to you three (incl. Nina)!

Love from Uje

Hibi Corp. on

thanks guys, maria's asleep now and we are off to bed. keep it up!

Virgil on

A Breathtaking report, absolutely amazing. Really looking forward to more more more! And any photos of Jan and Mani and their house? Where is their house? What part of Switzerland?

Maria (awake this time) on

Hi guys,

Just settling in to a big catch-up on the latest blogs. I'd found it hard to work out where I'd got up to - and laughed to myself to read Eddie's comment from 'Hibi Corp.' saying I'd gone to sleep. Such is early pregnancy - incredible endless exhaustion! So I've started with this entry and although lots is familiar from Edwin reading it out to me some time ago, it was worth every second: gosh, I love your writing!!

Some of my favourite bits were: the shepherds, the bells at night, the slugs (so funny!!), how much you loved the scenery in the alps, the fortuitousness of you being delayed to fix Nina meaning that you've now got to the Furka Pass on time (rather than too early), the cosy nest you found to stay in after being soaked, and the description of Jan's house.

Now to look at the pictures...

Lots of love and thinking of you both!!

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