She'll Be Coming (round the mountain)
Whilst not an arrow straight road, the E31 takes a fairly direct route south east tracking but several kilometres from the Rhein to Bingen, where the river flows around a loop past Mainz. The autobahn cuts the corner to Worms where it takes a more southerly direction towards Karlsruhe. Our first pit stop was at Frankental services after a couple of hours driving and something like 200 Km of tarmac.
“Fifteen minutes folks!” Caro announced.
“Where's the lavs?” Claire demanded as we headed across the parking lot.
“They're usually just inside, you got some change?”
“Change?” Sal queried.
“To use the lavs, it's usually about a euro in these places.”
Paying to use toilets was one of the things I found strange when we moved here but you only get caught once or twice; everyone has a fistful of small coins for toilet money. There are free toilets – if you know where to go but you won't find them at motorway services like the Carotel here. The problem here and now wasn't lack of funds but rather that the allowance Caro had distributed on the way down was in the form of a twenty euro note.
“So we'll have to buy something to get change,” Mand observed.
“I've probably got enough kleine geld for now.” I allowed fishing my wallet out to check that was true.
Josh seemed to be having a similar conversation with the lads by the bits of their exchanges I could hear. Of course there are advantages to the system, it's not often you'll come across anything less than pristine lav's, it keeps the drunks and druggies out and instead of being a financial burden, mostly pay for themselves. The bonus at Carotel is that you get a voucher for the same value you pay to use in the services; I've already got a couple in my wallet.
“Bit different to Watford Gap.” Laura mentioned as we waited for the others in the entrance area.
“Yeah, the food's generally pretty good.”
The fact that there's no burger joint, coffee shop, amusement arcade, M&S or Smiths helps, there is a small ‘travel' shop and the Dinea style restaurant offers enough variety for most tastes. If you want a big M, there are plenty about – off the motorway.
When we got back to the bus Steve, Chris and Dad were chatting, yeah it's cool Dad's with us.
“I've spoken to Darren on the way down, they're about an hour away from the hotel and the weather is glorious,” Steve reported.
“I can work on my tan then,” Geth chuckled.
“If everyone's ready, we'll get on,” Dad advised.
We mounted up and were soon rejoining the southbound autobahn to continue our journey.
The Rheinland Pfalz is not the most visually exciting region, I guess the mixture of low hills and almost level farmland is a bit like north Nottinghamshire / Lincolnshire. Wherever you are it's not that exciting and once you've giggled at signs to Worms there's not a lot outside the bus of interest. Traffic was building up a bit by the time we crossed the Rhein at Karlsruhe but once the dark hills of the Schwarzwald appeared a lot of that traffic started to turn off leaving the autobahn to the hardcore travellers like ourselves.
Baden Baden, Strasbourg - the destinations rolled past as we followed the Rhein valley southwards. By this time I was expecting us to stop for lunch at the Freiburg services but we ploughed on, now picking up signs for Basel and Mulhouse. The crossing into Switzerland was a bit of a non event, as a Schengen country it's effectively an open border so we were past the city on the Zurich bound motorway before we even realised we'd entered our sixth country in under a day.
When a few minutes later we turned off and into Pratteln services my stomach wasn't the only one having a bit of a rumble. Unlike the German places, Pratteln is more like places in the UK, the restaurant straddling the busy motorway to make best use of the limited space available.
"Lunch," Steve announced.
"I could eat a horse." Jamie allowed as he eased himself out of his seat.
"You're not in Belgium now." Mark supplied with a grin.
"They don't, do they?" Sal asked.
"Let's just say the red meat isn't all cow based." Mark disclosed.
"Come on guys, time's a wasting," Jemma prompted.
We made our way up to the Autogrill Schweiz where Dad's language skills – he can get by in German, were already being put to use at the checkout. As we waited I surveyed the menu boards, everything from ‘American Burger' to ‘Rösti' – something for everyone by the looks of it.
“Okay everyone, get what you want to eat – nothing too extravagant please, the girl on the checkout will put it on a tab for me to pay once you're all done.” Chris informed us.
“No caviar then?” Laura sighed.
“Have to settle for the T-bone I guess.” I added as we headed to the tray pickup.
“You are kidding, I hope?” Jemma enquired.
“Might be a bit heavy for lunch I guess,” I deadpanned.
“What's in Tagessuppe Drew?” Mand asked peering into the tureen.
I was tempted to run her a line but it wouldn't be fair would it?
“That's soup of the day which looks like cabbage soup with sliced sausage, Bauernesuppe in German. Actually I think I'll partake of that.” I decided.
“Cabbage soup?” Jemma confirmed.
“Tastes better than it sounds, see?” I proffered the bowl I had just filled.
“Think I'll give it a miss today.”
“They've got Gulashsuppe.” I noted.
“Ooo I really like goulash.” Sal enthused.
You don't really want to hear the full conversation, suffice to say that even in these cosmopolitan days some of my teammates were less than enthusiastic about what I now consider standard fare, the Leberknödel looked especially tasty. Still, by the time we got to the checkout everyone had something on their tray, I got a bowl of fries to top up the soup. They had bottles of Radler on offer, so the curious selected that, others had cups of the assorted soft drinks available from the dispensers.
“You eat this stuff all the time?” Claire asked, poking at her Schnitzel.
“Course, you want to squeeze the lemon over it, gives it a bit more interesting taste.”
My soup, by now not so hot, was still pretty good, it seems like months since I had Bauernesuppe – it's probably five or six weeks. Of course our chaperones gathered together on one table leaving us mere riders to our own devices. Somehow that meant I was sat with the girls whilst the rest of the male team members shared another table a few metres away.
When we set off again Chris was at the wheel of the minibus and somehow Caro and Jemma wheedled their way into Dad's Mercedes, huh! Despite the oh so brief visit to Switzerland on the way to the bike show, I've never really seen anything of the country and almost as soon as we turned off onto the A2, the motorway that'll take us nearly all the way to our destination, the road started to climb. When we entered the maw of the Arisdorf tunnel I felt robbed, at a little less than three km it's long by most people's standards but to the Swiss, well this is just a tiddler.
We emerged into the Aare valley where we got our first glimpse of the still distant, like 100km distant, high Alps. I spotted one of the famous yellow Post buses as the motorway descended steeply towards the valley below. We were swallowed by another tunnel, which spat us out almost on the valley floor.
Over the River Aare then a steady climb before dropping to our first Swiss lake, Sursee. The traffic was fairly busy but with commercial traffic restricted at the weekends our bus was one of the slower vehicles heading Alp ward. Exit signs soon suggested our approach to Luzern but the motorway utilises a series of subterranean roadways to transit the city, our first glimpse of Vierwaldstattersee was several K beyond.
“Wow!” Mand allowed.
“What she said.” Laura agreed.
The sun was out and the elevated position of the motorway gave us a great view out over the azure waters below. The English Lakes it's not, they have their own charm I guess, no things here are on a different scale. We plunged into the next tunnel, emerging close to Stans and the exit to Engelberg and Titlis – yes we are teenagers and yes that did cause some exchange of humorous remarks, a bit raw for polite company.
More lake views followed as we headed east along the southern shore of the lake before entering the longest tunnel so far, the ten kilometres plus Seelisberg tunnel. By the time we emerged into sunlight again we were almost past the lake, the open farmland replaced by a steep sided valley.
“We'll stop for toilets at the next services,” Steve called back.
According to the sign that'd be a handful of kilometres before the Gotthard tunnel. The motorway twisted its way ever upward through seemingly endless tunnels and snow galleries, allowing us just brief glances of the scenery through which we were passing. By the time we did get to the services I wasn't the only one crossing their legs.
“Hope they take euros,” I noted as we scuttled to the facilities.
Whilst at the heart of Europe, Switzerland is not in the EU, they take euros some places but not all. However this is one of the main north/south alpine crossings so there's a good chance they'll take them. Euros they took – but not for the lavs as there wasn't a charge here, just as well, my Klein geld is pretty much used up after lunch at Pratteln.
“Alright, kiddo?” Dad enquired as I squinted back into the late afternoon sun.
“I guess, getting a bit stiff sat on the bus so long.”
“It looks like it'll be a bit longer than planned too.”
“According to the chap at the fuel pumps the Gotthard is shut, they're directing passenger traffic over the pass.”
“It's gonna add a good hour to the journey,” Dad pointed out.
“Erm, maybe not so cool then, there's no other way?”
“This isn't the Eifel, the tunnel goes under that big lump of rock up there.” He pointed at the wall of rock closing the end of the valley off. “It's either through or over, going around isn't on the radar.”
The news was distributed, the options were limited, wait perhaps hours for the tunnel to re-open or go over the top. It was a no brainer really; when we got to the tunnel toll it was clear most of the other traffic thought the same as we joined a necessarily slower stream of traffic taking the old route 2.
As we climbed, the scenery and road became evermore dramatic, hairpin bends, spectacular bridges, not just for the road but also for the railway that shares the climb of the gorge to Andermatt. The bus wasn't too keen about the climb, not helped by the amount of traffic on the road, which caused us to end up much closer to Dad's rear bumper than you'd like more than once.
Inside the bus we were all agog, the trip to Wales earlier in the week seemed flat by comparison to this.
“My legs ache just looking at it.” Claire observed.
I could only agree with that sentiment.
“If it goes up, there has to be a down,” Darren reasoned.
“Hope there's nothing like this next week.” Laura stated.
The silence from the front seat was rather ominous.
The stream of traffic broke onto what I think is an actual Alp, the feature the range is named for. Some made the turn into Andermatt; we however passed by on the erm bypass to Hospental where our choices were the Furka Pass or the Gotthard Pass. Compared to the drive up to Andermatt, the Gotthard road was almost a motorway.
“Wow!” Sal exclaimed, “There's snow up there.”
“Can't be, it's August,” Geth argued.
to be continued....
© Maddy Bell 13.06.13