Tour de Suisse…

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(>Pictures at the bottom!)

….once around our country!
At the beginning of May, the time had finally come again; we set off once more. No, not on the big tour around the world. Due to the pandemic, we were still only allowed to take small leaps. But after five and a half months in the asylum, every little tour was a relief from the standstill. Especially since we wanted to test all the new parts we had installed and find out where we could add a small improvement.

The fact that we needed a whole three weeks for this small country also immediately shows that Switzerland has many corners and endless valleys where you can literally get lost and linger. Actually, we wanted to be home in a fortnight, where we would have planned our South American tour in more detail during a video conference. Due to various reasons and considerations, we would have joined a group tour this November to travel north via the “Panamericana” and reach the USA again in half a year via Central America. Due to the worldwide pandemic, such a tour can neither be done by a group nor by individual tourists; the new virus variants make such travel plans difficult and we are not the only ones who keep hoping for better times. So we shifted down a gear and enjoyed the local freedoms. And to our amazement; we were not the only ones meandering through our country from the same greens.

Once again, we didn’t choose the fastest route, but we headed criss-cross towards the Doubs on access roads from Aesch. Although we were always sure that we knew the area of northwestern Switzerland very well, so many things surprised us. Full of impressions, we settled down at a farmer’s in Soubey, where we were able to spend our first night on his freshly mown meadow for a few francs. This, in our beloved motorhome, was like being on the road for the first time. We behaved almost like camping beginners and somehow the familiar hand movements didn’t sit so well any more. The tasks were no longer really clear and we asked each other questions about where to find this or that. The new petrol cooker also demanded attention and the new fuel required an adjustment in handling.

All’s well that ends well; while the heavy raindrops pattered on the tent canvas and the lightning discharged, we enjoyed our first delicious dinner and chatted long into the evening. The view of the Doubs passing below us, the rugged slopes and countless elevations of the Jura made us dream of the wide world. We didn’t yet know about the cancellation of the South American trip, but we were already tinkering around with other alternatives when the weather situation calmed down again. With many ideas and imaginations, we soon lay down under the pop-up roof and enjoyed the generous view through the new window openings out into the dark night.

As on the first day, we continued to follow the access roads and were often forced to turn back. The round signs with the red ring forced us again and again to take longer detours, or to do things that were not quite permitted. Maybe we should finally put a “Forest Service” or “Agriculture” sign on our jeep. It could simplify our journey if a round sign was overlooked 😉

The view from the Chasseral was slightly cloudy and the mountain peaks were hard to make out. On the other hand, the cream mountain on my plate was absolutely clear and the meringue – not to be confused with the type of music from the Dominican Republic – but a fine delicacy from the world of dairy country.

We also used our little country trip for short visits to relatives and friends we haven’t seen for a long time or those visits that were denied to us due to the pandemic. In any case, these “hellos” and reunions were wonderful encounters and we would have liked to stay a little longer everywhere. Perhaps this is also a typical Swiss way of life: you don’t want to be a burden on anyone and prefer to move on too early rather than too late.

Despite the leisurely pace, we reached the Valais too early and so I had the spontaneous idea of the additional lap around Mont Blanc. The travel information – how could it be otherwise – from France as well as Italy was again very different as well as confusing. We might be sent right back to Switzerland by return of post, but experience also taught us that soup is never eaten as hot as it is cooked.

Surprisingly, nothing happened, neither a “border guard” nor anyone else was interested in our presence across the border. For us again, everything was very quiet in this pre-season period and the situation was somewhat ambiguous. Despite the season being quiet, Chamonix was definitely too quiet for me. Perhaps it was the aftermath of the long and mutual isolation, where almost nothing was allowed; our neighbouring countries were much more restrictive than we experienced here in Switzerland.

From Cluses we climbed back up into the mountains, where we could enjoy lonely landscapes, followed by generously developed areas for winter sports and holiday home settlements in the middle of the alpine meadows. It’s crazy what they build here and what they develop for one or two seasonal highlights.

We went up to Bourg-St-Maurice and down again into the next valley; we had to cross some well-known passes and many of them are well known from the big cycling tour, but we didn’t have to suffer like the cyclists in the “peloton”. Instead, we were able to stop again and again on the right and let our eyes roam over the endless mountain landscape, which those in the “peloton” would hardly do; we don’t have stopwatches running.

After the Petit St. Bernard, we scrambled in drizzle towards the Great St. Bernard and had to turn around again at this pass. On the northern side, the road had not yet been cleared and the cold April with its many snowfalls put the clearing teams well behind schedule. So we had to grudgingly choose the way through the mountain and were checked by border officials before entering the tunnel. Well, the Swiss do it thoroughly and deny the “Corons” access to the south of the country.

Because we didn’t like the St. Bernards high up in the mountains, we visited the St. Bernard kennel down in Martigny and… unfortunately we couldn’t take any of these dogs with us, our jeep is simply too small. As we all know, such a tiny puppy grows very fast and would push someone of us out of the car.

High above the main valley of the Valais, we steered from one well-known ski resort to the next and we always tried to drive the highest possible and permitted road. But even in the wild Valais, not everything was feasible and we often had to make our way back. On the other hand, there were again many discoveries away from the big tourist hustle and bustle and scenic highlights; below, the wide Rhone valley and in the south-facing valley cuts, we could always catch sight of mountains covered in deep snow that make every mountaineer’s heart beat faster.

After a few stops in the central part of the Valais, where visits were again on the agenda, early summer returned; bright skies accompanied us up through the Goms towards the next Alpine pass. But in Gletsch the journey was over; while the snow blowers were clearing the last kilometre of snow on the Furka Pass, we queued up at the loading station in Oberwald; instead of going over the top, we now went through the bottom. (Car loading)

In Andermatt we had to interrupt our journey again. This time it was neither snow nor a landslide, but the Tour de Suisse! The large-scale “Velofest” stopped our speedy ride up to the Oberalp Pass. So we returned to the eastern slopes of the Furka Pass road, where we spent the coming quiet night far above Realp on an alternative site among ski tourers.

On Sunday, we were on the Oberalp Pass as well as on the Lukmanier Pass shortly before the big tour group and for once we were in a hurry. We didn’t want to be overtaken by the racers. The many spectators lining the road at various interesting sections of the route also put a certain pressure on us to go faster. After the pass, we rode quickly towards the south and below Olivone we were able to retreat to low-traffic side roads.

Down in the valley the heat finally caught up with us and after the many fresh days it was almost too hot for us. The further we drove down into the Magadino plain, the more oppressive and hot it became. It was hardly surprising that outside Locarno the Maggia (river) was full of people and we couldn’t find a quiet spot above Ponte Brolla for the next few hours; the road was parked up on both sides and there was bath towel after bath towel on the Maggia. For us, all the hustle and bustle was a bit too much and so we soon turned into the Valle di Onsernone. But until we reached Spruga, we couldn’t find a suitable spot for a short break or for the next night. The space in this valley is very tight, used for agriculture or with buildings. Somehow we got lost late in the afternoon and finally found ourselves in the Valle di Vergeletto, where we finally found what we had been looking for for a long time for the coming night. Next to the rushing ribo (stream) our fire was soon flickering for cooking and a quiet evening – apart from the rushing stream – it really was a little Garden of Eden.

If you don’t like hiking or just want to relax, you are in the wrong place in these remote valleys. Apart from a lot of nature and peace, there is hardly anything else. So we soon headed out of the narrow valley again and – how could it be otherwise – we reached Ascona via the back door. The contrast could not have been stronger. After complete seclusion, in a few hours we were catapulted into the hustle and bustle of modern man and oppressive heat. Soon we left the low-lying plains and curved up the old road to San Bernardino. The wonderful weather not only drew us up into the wonderful alpine world. The car park at the top of the pass was completely parked up with motorbikes and cars and everyone wanted to indulge themselves in the freshly opened restaurant. We, on the other hand, had a different idea and wanted to spend the coming night in the highest village that is inhabited all year round.

Unfortunately, we found nothing in the whole Avers (valley) where we could have stayed. Everything is somehow forbidden here; there were just too many prohibition signs in this free Switzerland. Somewhat disappointed, we drove back from the back of the valley to the end of the valley, where there was a campsite on the side of the road with a tarred area for campers. But before that, we went up to Lago di Lei, a reservoir on Italian soil. To build the wall, Italy bought a piece of land and reset the boundary stones so that the dam was on Swiss soil.

It was our “daytime discovery” and we were probably not the first to spend the night up here at almost 2000 m and, a few metres after the dam wall, Italian law applies. By chance, two young men in a jeep showed up late in the evening, who had come up here especially for the stars. Mirco and his colleague were hunting for the Milky Way, which should be seen very clearly up here on the coming clear night. After an animated conversation about stars and jeeps, we soon lay down under the warm blanket; it got very nippy after sunset. But we also set the alarm clock and looked out for the stars and the Milky Way over Pizzo Stella after midnight, but we were probably so sleepy that we hardly saw what we wanted clearly. Also, our camera didn’t manage to take the corresponding long exposure properly, so we soon retreated under the warm blanket again. Mirco provided me with a corresponding shot so that we could admire what we had missed on the screen 😉

From the lonely Lago di Lei we meandered to the highest town in Switzerland and looked in vain for a place to stay. But campers are apparently not very welcome in Davos. Apart from the many prohibition signs, there was no reasonable campsite where we would have liked to stay. Camping on a tarred site, or would it rather have been parking, was not exactly our fondest wish and even our most basic human needs would have been almost impossible.

In the PrÀttigau it was summery warm and everywhere the farmers were clambering over the steep fields with their machines. The hay harvest set everything in motion and a bustling activity could be discerned everywhere in the valley. We, on the other hand, headed beyond Conters into the high forest, hoping that we would find a quiet spot up there for the coming night. For travellers who voluntarily pursue a gypsy life, there is no reasonable place to stay in PrÀttigau either. After we had finally understood the payment machine for the driving permit, nothing stood in the way of our journey up to the alp, and quite legally at that.

Since we were in south-eastern Switzerland, we couldn’t miss the Kunkel fun and another visit to the Tamina valley. So a pleasant time passed in no time at all; the conversation was almost inexhaustible, the beautiful landscape or the contemporary art in Bad Ragaz gave us another little piece of Switzerland. Yes, it was almost like being on holiday.

We couldn’t resist strolling through the biggest outlet shop in Switzerland, but we resisted all temptations. Proud of our renunciation, we then roamed the vast wine regions of the Rhine Valley. Here, too, we looked away from all the open wine cellar doors and resisted any tasting!

Instead, after Oberschan, up on an alp in the sunshine, we enjoyed an excellent snack platter. Despite the hustle and bustle and the cattle transports, we had no idea that we were on the wrong day; instead of Thursday, it was already Friday and everything was getting ready for the weekend. A long thunderstorm accompanied us into the evening and the nightly weather glow in the direction of Zurich was as if a large-scale festival was being held down there.

The next morning we were roused from our sleep by the tinkling of bells; it was alpine parade time and herds of cows and cattle kept passing our jeep. Apparently the whole valley was on its way to the alps. In addition to the animals, entire households were also led to the summer residence. Summer life returned to the Alps below the Alvier (mountain peak of the Churfirsten), and the familiar cowbells reminded us once again that we were on a Swiss holiday.

In the meantime, we also knew that the booked South American trip had definitely been cancelled, and we were already planning intensively on our plan “B”. Instead of Eastern Europe, it should be something out of the ordinary. Also, the financial possibilities allowed us to make a special jump to an island in the North Atlantic due to the discontinuation of the car shipping to southern America. Surprisingly, we were able to book a crossing to SeyĂ°isfjörĂ°ur at short notice, which would probably hardly be possible in a normal year. In any case, we still get to our cruise and thanks to our two “picks” everything should be possible without any restrictions.

Through the Appenzellerland with its thousand and one hills, small villages and pretty farms followed our next and last stop through the “SchweizerlĂ€ndli”. Almost a year ago, we started from there on a joint trip with our son and his partner. It was a first sigh of relief after the first lockdown and no one knew at that time what was still to come on this earth; not even we and were full of confidence that it would finally go on without restrictions. Unfortunately, everything turned out differently and now we were sitting in St. Gallen again, telling each other our dreams and hopes.

What others cover in a good two hours, we needed almost a day for; the way from St. Gallen to Aesch! But even such distances can be travelled on breathtaking paths and roads where no one else would think of going through. But, as we all know, the beauty is in the detail and even in the heavily built-up and cultivated landscape of the Mittelland, there are wonderful pearls that simply have to be discovered.

Crossing the Jura, we reached our domicile in Aesch late in the evening and an offshoot of a powerful thunderstorm accompanied us once again. We still have a lot to do before we can continue. Many things still have to be prepared, or a few small things on the jeep should be fixed.

We are happy like little children that we can finally go a little further.
In a few days we will be leaving for Iceland.

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