Well we’re back from an eventful short stay in Italy but more of that later. I just wanted to write about the journey because
a) I always do and
b) I need to share all the little mishaps that always seem to happen to us on the trek to pasta land.
There’s an inevitability about this, a bit like groundhog giorno, and I can’t help but wonder if the Gods of Wicked Fun have now run out of other poor saps and just get their entertainment throwing curve balls our way. Ah well, it keeps me topped up with things to write about.
And so to the journey down. We decided on a change of strategy for the outbound leg – we were going to catch an early train (6.30am) for the Channel tunnel. Although it was going to be a long slog we aimed to get to get to Central Switzerland by around 6pm and stay at a nice hotel overlooking Lake Luzern, where we’d go for a walk, take in the stunning scenery, have dinner and enjoy the Swiss experience for once. Let’s just hope the 4.15am alarm call would be worth it!
We were packed up and on the road by 5am. The M25 was clear for once and we bombed down to the Chunnel, getting there almost 25 mins before departure time. We then got asked to pull over for a security check, had swabs taken of the steering wheel (can they do this without my permission?) and invited (!) to wait until they’d carried out checks. Some 10 minutes later (and still 15 minutes before boarding time) we rolled up to the pre-ordered ticket booth only to be informed that we were too late for boarding – we needed to be there 30 minutes beforehand. For Pete’s sake it’s as bad as not-so-Easyjet, plus we’d paid nearly twice as much as the ferry. It was entirely my fault apparently that I hadn’t anticipated the extra security check. So instead of setting off at 6.30 we eventually got off at 8.20am, arriving at Calais at 10 local time. I’d planned to be half-way through Belgium by then. That’s the last time I’m going to use the Channel Tunnel. Officious bastards.
Faced with having to make up the time, we bombed through France, Belgium, Luxembourg, down through the Saar valley and back into France as we headed down to Strasbourg. It was around 4pm. We were a little jaded after a 6 hour driving stint but the sun was shining and I was feeling pleased at making up a lot of the time. I reckoned we’d be on the terrace taking in the last of the rays and sipping some lovely chilled wine before 7pm. And then we got diverted off the motorway….. what the f ? There were emergency vehicles all over the place – was it a major accident? We were being directed in completely the wrong direction to the west of the city. I wanted to be across the Rhine to the east of Strasbourg to pick up the German autobahn down to Basel. So we turned tail and made our way through the outskirts back towards the Kehl bridge until we came up against a phalanx of gendarmes blocking our way. I couldn’t believe it. I parked up and asked one of the guys what was happening. We’d only hit Strasbourg on the day of the Nato summit immediately following the G20 and diminutive host Sarkozy had decided that the best way to forestall any disruptive action from protestors similar to that which had marked the London event, was to close all routes into, through and around the city. As my fully tooled-up gendarme reminded me, this also included the Kehl bridge because they were anticipating lots of protesters trying to come over from Germany. I was going to ask some smart alec question like were the reformed Baader-Meinhof gang intent on reclaiming Strasbourg for the Fatherland? but you never know how the French riot police react to our impish sense of humour do you? So I rather meekly just asked him how I was supposed to get to Basel if I couldn’t use the French motorway nor cross over the Rhine to pick up the autobahn? Didn’t he realise that I had an appointment with a bottle of cool Sauvignon blanc? There have a way of sneering which can be endearing but when he said I’d have to wait until they open all the roads again at 8pm (assuming no major riots are still raging) with a little smile on his face, I just wanted to gob him. I didn’t of course.
I returned to the car to give C the good news from Johnny gendarme. I think it must have been a Kelly’s Heroes moment which came over me but I decided that I’d find a bridge over the river that was still open and headed northwards out of the city in the direction of Karlsruhe, which was completely counter intuitive given that we were aiming for Basel some 120km south. I’m not sure C viewed me that heroically at the time but there was method in my madness and sure enough within 10km I’d found an open and unpoliced bridge and we stormed across the Rhine. We’d just lost another hour and a half, sigh, but we were at last headed on down the autobahn to Basel and the Swiss border.
I could almost taste that lovely wine – surely nothing could spoil the moment now. Well this is the Swiss border we are talking about. Regular readers will know that when we headed back to the UK in January I somehow, and with great personal joy, managed to avoid paying the pernicious annual motorway toll to the miserable grim-faced tax collector, sorry, Swiss border control guard. Well the bastard got me this time. Welcome to Switzerland. And so 40Fr lighter we headed through Basel and into the cantons. It was getting on for 7pm but the early evening weather was still lovely and it was less than an hour to the less-than-idyllic sounding Horw and our very nice hotel. By then we’d been on the road for 14 hours and I was beginning to salivate over that glass of wine.
The Sternen Seehotel was all that we were looking for. The bedroom was brilliant – a huge comfy bed, large bathroom and private balcony. We checked out the terrace and the stunning views – just beautiful and had a little walk round just to stretch the legs. But we’d been advised to head for the restaurant soonish because well this is Switzerland and it was getting close to 8pm. I was just thinking to myself that it was almost like the war was still on but of course they don’t do wars in Switzerland do they? They’ve always gone to bed at 9pm. Such an exciting nation.
Never mind, we were famished and not a little thirsty. At the door to the restaurant we were met by the maitre d’ – lets call him Hans. Hans was tall and suited up and greeted us with a smile that was just a little too insincere. I caught him looking at my less than elegant attire. But I looked around quickly and noted that the restaurant was only half full and everyone was dressed quite casually. So I didn’t feel awkward but I had taken a dislike to Hans. He was going to be a fussy one, I could sense it. And so it proved. He showed us to our table with an extravagant flourish – I swear he bowed as he helped us to our seats – and he produced the rather large menu cards with an enormous gesture, as if he were producing a certificate conferring freedom of the city of Horw upon us. ‘And a wine list please’ I asked rather snippily. He flounced off to get one and returned minutes later but before handing it over, he regaled me with a variety of suggestions for some of the locally-produced stuff.
Now I’m not on expert on wines but I do know my way around most wine lists. I’ve also rarely had a Swiss wine that’s any bloody good (at least to my taste). So I thanked him for his advice and looked through the selection. I think he sort of stormed off, obviously peeved that I hadn’t jumped at his Schloss Crapp recommendation. But browsing through it I couldn’t believe the prices, even pretty bog standard Pinot Grigios sourced an hour or so away were being charged at 50-60Fr. And fairly decent wines at least twice that. Bugger that I thought. So when happy Hans returned I asked if we could have two glasses of his house wine. He gave me a sommelier sneer that Johnny gendarme would have be proud of. And then as he was about to run off for it I said ‘oh and some ice too please’. He nearly choked on his toblerone. ‘Sir would like ice with his wine? he asked condescendingly. ‘Yes he would’ I replied with a huge smile. C knew I was having some jousting fun and told me to behave but he was so pompous I just couldn’t ignore his off-hand manner. If this had been Le Gavroche it would be understandable. But this was the Uranus restaurant – I rest my case..
He returned after a huge wait with a bottle of Schloss Crapp and two cubes of ice. Now most waiters would simply pour a small amount into the glass for us to try it but he had to go and produce one of those measuring schooners with another huge flourish like some camp magician and proceeded to measure out two precise glasses of wine for C and I. I was seriously tempted to taste it and tell him it was corked but it was fine and I’d been waiting a long time for that slurp. We then ordered our food – I fancied the fish which was battered perch (I’d never had fresh water fish done in that way before) and C ordered what she wanted and off he toddled.
I have to tell you that we waited 40 minutes for the meal to be served. They should have called the place L’Escargot. I was so thirsty I asked him for a beer whilst we waited – he nearly had apoplexy again to discover that Sir was mixing wine and beer and clearly exasperated he sent out a waitress to serve us after that who was friendly and poured wine straight from the bottle into the glass. The little minx. Hans was amusing himself gossiping with two frumpy frauleins on the next table. I took great pleasure in imaging him being straddled by the two hefty heidis later on. Ah simple things.
We took some wine on our balcony later that evening – I was tempted to say to C ‘Look no Hans’ – and the world seemed good.
The next day we had a great and uneventful drive down through Italy to our home in Marche. We’d only be there a week but we were looking forward to the stay. Would it be blissful and peaceful? Well if you’ve been reading this blog for a while now you’ll know our life is a roller coaster so I’ll save the Italy stuff until the next posting.