Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Across the Alps (morning moo in the loo).

We expected a rainy day in the mountains. It turned out considerably worse than anticipated. The day started well enough. We survived the Milan tangentiale without incident, then turned north towards Chiasso and Switzerland. It had been drizzly all morning, now it began to pour. As we climbed towards the mountains we drove into a thunderstorm. The rain became torrential, cars pulled off onto the hard shoulder, squeezed together, sheltering beneath flyovers.

Some of us soldiered on, particularly the trucks and other commercial vehicles, but the speed of the traffic slowed to under 50kph. At first I thought the intensity of the rain had affected the engine, but it was simply the combination of the steady gradient upwards and driving into the wall of water slowed us up. It's in these circumstances that you realise that a 2.3 diesel engine is only just powerful enough to power a 7m motorhome, especially one loaded to capacity like ours.

The storm remained intense for half on hour. As we passed Como and neared the Swiss border the sky brightened a little and the rained eased into a steady downpour. At Chiasso we pulled into the customs bay, handed the unsmiling official €40; she gave us a Swiss annual motorway pass in return. The instructions for attaching it to the windscreen are very precise and include specific instructions not to affix it using lip balm. Is this something people do?

Our plan had been to stay at an Asci site at Cugnasco near Locarno, but it was still raining steadily as we approached the junction. We decided to push on through the San Gottardo tunnel as the weather forecast for the northern side of the Alps was better. Indeed this turned out to be the case, when we arrived at Altdorf at the foot of Lake Lucerne it was merely drizzling.

We checked out one site on the outskirts of Altdorf but rejected it as it looked to be mainly statics and was located in an industrial area. Instead we headed for a farm site near Meierskappel. It is difficult to know how to describe Campingplatz Gerbe.

Let's try listing a few positives first. It was indeed located on a working dairy farm as the blurb promised. The farm buildings themselves were traditional. In fact so traditional that I became convinced that the barn was the very one featured on on the jacket of my sister's copy of 'Heidi grows up' published in about 1956. The place had everything, an enormous chalet style barn, languorous cud chewing brown cows, perky inquisitive goats. All this would have been delightful but for the fact that the entire farm seemed to have been little improved since then, and the few subsequent developments were distinctly idiosyncratic

Some I photographed: 

Heidi style barn

Pigeon loft camping bungalows

Trojan Horse climbing frame

Shared space sanitary facilities

The latter feature did not involve gender neutral facilities like many campsites today; it was more radical than that, seemingly designed to please only the most committed animal rights activist. The toilets and showers were situated in the big wooden barn sectioned off by a breeze block walk about 2.5 metres high. It sounded as if the cow shed was immediately behind it. Not only were morning ablutions accompanied by alarmingly nearby mooing, but the sanitary block smelled distinctly of manure and was fly infested as you might expect if you unexpectedly found yourself showering in a cow shed.

The whole business of farm camping is a bit strange when you think of it. Agriculture is an industry, and like many others is a smelly, noisy business. We don't hanker after staying overnight in an oil refinery, biscuit works or fish finger factory. What's different about a farm?

We have driven across Switzerland on many occasions. When it is fine and sunny it is a delghtful place. When the mountains are hidden in mist and cloud you notice how industrialised most of the valleys are. The motorways are busy and narrow and constantly under repair. In bad weather you just want to get out of the place; sadly, most times we have visited it has rained. Today was exceptional only to the extent the downpour was unusually torrential.

We followed our usual route north, towards Basel, across the frontier into Germany, a few miles up the autobahn, then over the Rhine across into France heading towards Colmar. It stopped raining, the clouds lifted enough to see the Black Forest on one side of the river and the Vosges on the other. In less than a week we will be home. Endishness is setting in, we began to talk about the trip's highlights rather than anticipating places ahead, a surefire sign of impending journey's end.