Swiss Alps Round 2

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Today we had a new adventure to conquer- to find the Europcar location in Lecco.  For some reason the rental car locations over here tend to move often, be difficult to find, and sometimes be poorly marked, so we weren’t exactly sure how tracking down our rental car reservation was going to work out.

We hit the road with our unloaded bikes more than an hour before our scheduled pick-up time, hoping that things would go smoothly and that they would let us take the car a bit early as well.  The ride went great for about a kilometer when we suddenly realized why our GPS was determined to add nearly a hundred kilometers to our route.  The road went through a long bout of tunnels and then met up with a busy freeway exit with positively no shoulder.  Although the tunnels were fairly well lit, we were no match for the busy traffic and my unloaded bike felt wobbly beneath me as enormous trucks whizzed by at speeds only the Italians can manage.

I was more than grateful when we were able to get off onto a side road that led us through the bustling town of Lecco where the city traffic suddenly felt like a walk in the park. I hoped an prayed everything would go well with the rental because I did not want to have to ride back on that scary road!

Gratefully, the rental car location was exactly where it was supposed to be and the guy inside was all ready for us.  In just a few short minutes the paperwork was ready to go and he had pulled around the Fiat Panda that we were to drive.  After reserving said Panda, we had been noticing these strange cars everywhere we went for the last week or so and I had been a bit worried about fitting two bikes and all our gear inside.  They are tiny!

Gratefully, our bicycles are outfitted with the S&S coupler system that allows them to break in half to fit in small spaces.  With the bikes coupled and the front wheel removed, we got the bikes in without too much fanfare.  Then, we headed back to the campground to figure out where to squeeze everything else in.

After getting all of our gear into the Panda which we have named Po, we realized just how glad we are for our couplers.  There is no way our bikes would have fit in otherwise, given that the Po is pretty much a smart car with a back seat.  Regardless, I am happy to get to drive a clutch once again – even if for only a week.

With our gear crammed tightly into the little car, we were off to begin our road trip.  It is amazing what kind of ground we can cover when we aren’t limited to 20 – 25 kph.  We drove around the rest of Lake Como and toward Milan, where we were reminded by the suburban and industrial sprawl why we had a rough adjustment by starting our tour in that area.  We also caught glimpses of Lake Maggiore, where we spent our first night, as we headed north toward Switzerland.

For this entire trip, I have really, really wanted to like Switzerland.  Of all of the countries that I wished to visit on our cycle tour, Switzerland was it.  Last time we were in Switzerland, when we were frozen and rained out, I was quite disappointed.  I had not had a good experience in the shiny little country, but we were determined to give it another chance.  They didn’t help their cause, either, by requiring us to buy more than a year’s worth of Vignette, even though we would only be in the country 2 or 3 days.

In preparation for the high prices and the difficulty of finding easy camping food, we made a final stop in Italy in order to load up on groceries.  It is amazing how much food a car can hold instead of our little panniers!  With our final stop complete, we said ciao to Italy and headed for the border.

Crossing the border of Switzerland, we encountered two guards.  This was fine, as Italy had the same thing.  Upon exiting Italy, the armed and stern officers closely examined our passports, asked a few questions, and then gave us the go-ahead.  Expecting the same from the super-efficient yet protocol loving and rule following Swiss, we pulled up with passports in hand.  The guards took one look at our ready passports quizzically before smiling with a “hello” and let us go on.  I’m not sure what their purpose actually is, but it sure didn’t seem to be to secure the border!

As we drove through the mountains of Switzerland, we were pleasantly surprised by how green and lush the mountains were.  One of the first towns we passed through had these interesting wooden structures sprawled through the green hills.  We saw nobody, adding a sort of mysterious air to this place.  We also found a WWI memorial.  Realizing that Switzerland has never been part of a world war, we can only assume that there must have been a boundary change which was expanded to encompass this memorial.  Yet another thing we do not understand..

After about 3 hours of driving, we finally entered the canyon that we had been at not 2 months before.  Only this time, instead of rainy, cold, and a visibility of practically 0, we were given some spectacular views of the cities and towns that crawl their way up the valley.  It was not much farther when we reached Tasch, where we created yet another spectacle of ourselves by parking in the multilevel parking garage, pulling out our bike halves (since they were uncoupled), and enough panniers to get through a night.  We assembled our bikes, loaded up, and set off the 5 km stretch up to the car-free resort.

The ride up to the resort was somewhat agitating.  For being a resort you can only reach by train, there sure was a lot of traffic heading up and down the narrow roads that twisted through some not-so-glamorous parts of the canyon.  It seemed a lot of construction was taking place, and after a few tunnels, I was not pleased.  I don’t know how being on this trip has lowered my tolerance for traffic, but I feel some serious angst – especially to drivers who give no respect to cyclists!  We finally reached the lively town of Zermatt in one piece, though.  The many Asians who seem to be drawn like magnets to Zermatt in order to see the site where many of their movies are filmed even gave us thumbs ups out the train window as we felt our legs burn.  It seems that our legs have tried to go into “rest mode”, and needed some serious help waking up.

The campsite is not listed in our GPS, and proved somewhat difficult to find.  In our search, we encountered a group of old men playing their alphorns, a big pasta banquet hosting many runners who plan to race tomorrow in the Zermatt Marathon, and many crammed streets bustling with tourists.

Bree:We had to ask for directions not once but twice, but eventually reached the strange little campground.  The place is nothing more than a big field tucked next to the train station which is full of tents.  The bathroom blocks were a tiny, well worn affair, and the entire place was crammed with true nature nuts who had brought all their camping gear up on the train.  Usually people in Europe bring pretty much everything but the kitchen sink on their camping trips, complete with tables, chairs, full sets of dishes, and other niceties,so it was funny to see everyone milling about and cooking on the ground, just like we have for the last three months.

Reception at the campground was closed so we made ourselves at home and figured we’d pay in the morning.  Seconds after we’d set up camp, we headed back into town to see what we could see.  Rain was coming in, so there wasn’t much to see by way of mountains, but the town was overflowing with tourists and plenty of “trash and trinkets” that made for an amusing evening walk through town.  We checked out the old church and located where the Matterhorn would be showing if not for the clouds, and then headed back to camp for then night hoping for clear weather in the morning for a cable car ride.


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