If it wasn't snow it was something doing a great impression of snow.
“And?” Mand demanded.
“Gi up man, there'll be nay beating o ‘er.” Jamie stated.
“There are places you can ski in summer.” I supplied.
“If you say so.” Clearly unconvinced Geth replied.
The north side of the Gotthard actually only climbs about 600m from Hospental to the 2100m summit and that on a fast straight road only disrupted by a single pair of hairpins. The bus complained a little on the bends but managed to pickup a bit of speed as we approached the summit with its tourist facilities. I thought we'd be going straight through but Dad had pulled in so we followed.
“What's up?” Chris enquired when Caroline reached us a moment or two later.
“You were burning a bit of oil coming up, it's a wonder the cars behind weren't hooting.”
“I wondered what that guy that passed us was pointing at,” Chris mentioned.
“Damn,“ Steve opined, “we'll have to let her cool down for a bit before we can top up.”
By now Dad and Jemma had arrived.
“What do you reckon, Dave?” Chris asked.
“I think Steve's right, give it fifteen minutes, you got some oil?”
“Five litre can. I hope it's not anything serious, it was only serviced a fortnight ago,” Steve advised.
“Okay then, people, looks like you get to do the tourist thing for a bit, back here in thirty minutes.” Chris told us.
It was fairly warm considering our altitude, the thermometer outside of the restaurant claimed 25c, of course the almost cloudless sky helped. The signage was dual language, German and Italian; the pass marks the point where you enter Ticino and Italian speaking Switzerland.
“Hey, we should get a picture of everyone by the summit sign.” Laura suggested.
“Great idea,” Darren agreed.
“I've got my camera on the bus,” I supplied.
By the time I'd recovered my David Bailey kit I had to run to catch the others who were nearly at the much-photographed sign.
“You coulda waited.”
“And miss watching you chase us,” Gethin grinned.
We conned a leather-clad biker into taking the pictures then headed back towards the building complex.
“I'm getting an ice cream.”
“Sounds like a plan, man.” Josh agreed.
“Better hurry, looks like they're shutting up.” Mark observed.
“It's not that late.”
“‘S after five.” Claire noted.
I didn't need much urging and I found myself as quartermaster, my German trumping everyone's Italian for ordering. They weren't closing just yet but probably before six comes around. Our euros were good to buy but we got our change in Swiss francs – I guess they'll be useful when we come back for the racing.
“You think we should take boss man and the others some?” Mand suggested.
“I know Dad'll go for it.”
“Might score a few brownie points.” Sal smirked.
“We got ice cream.” I announced when we got back to the Team GB vehicles.
“Ooh you darling!” Jemma exclaimed.
“Thanks kiddo.” Dad allowed when I passed him his tub.
“We got vanilla coz we weren't sure what flavours you all like.” Claire offered.
“Thanks guys, vanilla's fine.” Caro told us.
“How's the bus doing like?” Josh enquired.
“It should be alright,” Steve told us around his ice cream, “it doesn't seem to have used too much oil, we have been thrashing it a bit after all.”
“It's mostly downhill to Italy now.” Chris added.
“We're that close?” Jamie asked.
“We've got about eighty kilometres to the road border but I think it's only about twenty as the crow flies.” Steve supplied.
“Talking of which we should get moving,” Chris observed.
The descent back to the motorway at Airola is completely different to our ascent, a tunnel and half a dozen big lazy hairpins dropped us a full kilometer of height into the Val Ticino. We rejoined the motorway to find the tunnel now reopened – sod's law but we did get to go over a real alpine pass. As the road flowed down the valley the shadows started to deepen although the opposite wall was still in bright sunlight.
At Bellinzona we picked up more traffic from the San Bernadino road but with the time now well after six most traffic was fairly local. Another tunnel took us away from the Ticino and soon we were leaving the A2, our route since Basel across Switzerland and heading into Lugano. Much like the English Riviera enjoys a milder climate than much of the rest of the country, the Swiss Riviera boasts a similar advantage to the rest of that country.
The palm trees and idyllic lakeside setting of Lugano really were a surprise, not least after our Gotthard experience of bare rock and scrubby grass. Dad led us through the town and we were soon following the lakeside towards the Italian border. The sun on the waters below the road was mesmerizing, we crossed into our third country today with no fanfare, just a change in the road signs.
Through Porlezza then an interesting drop to Mennagio and our first views of Lago di Como. When we followed the Mercedes down to the lakeside and what looked like some sort of ferry terminal I wasn't the only one surprised.
“Wait on the bus please.” Chris instructed before heading to the office with Dad.
“Looks like another boat ride.” Laura mentioned.”
“No kidding.” Geth observed.
“Guess we're staying over there somewhere.” Sal guessed.
“Yeah.” Claire agreed.
“I think there's two ferries, one goes to Verreno and the other one to Bellagio.”
“How'd you work that out?” Josh asked.
“It's not difficult, Chiatta Verreno and Chiatta Bellagio on the signs over there, the sign when we turned in said something like Su Chiatta with Verreno and Bellagio underneath.”
“Proper Poyrot* aren't we.” Mand stated.
“Hey look, there's a ferry coming in.” Laura pointed across the glittering waters.
Chris returned just then and climbed back into the bus.
“Our ferry should be here in a couple of minutes.”
“That one's gonna take at least ten minutes.” Jamie suggested.
“That one might but not the one over there.” I observed watching the fast approaching vessel come in from a completely different direction.
We weren't the only vehicles waiting to cross the waters, several had now arrived behind us and there were a couple in front of our Mercedes. Engines were started bringing with the sound an air of expectation. The ferry, a fair sized beast which reminded me of the Bodensee ferry we used with Gran to get to Friedrichshafen, eased up to the loading quay. Within moments a stream of cars and even a coach banged and clanged ashore before speeding away from the shore.
Steve started the bus and we moved forward to board. The signs indicated this service was bound for Bellagio and if I've got it right it takes thirty minutes to make the crossing. We were soon afloat and by the time we were climbing up to the passenger deck we were moving out onto the waters of Lake Como.
“Not exactly Home Counties.” I allowed.
“Beats Glesga, too.” Jamie added.
We were stood looking out towards the lower but still significant peaks rising from the lakeside.
“My legs are already aching.” Mand sighed.
“What do you reckon dinner'll be,” Mark enquired, “my money's on spaghetti.”
“Lasagna.” Sal suggested.
“Just because it's Italy doesn't mean it has to be pasta.” Laura observed.
“Like?” Geth asked.
“I dunno.” She admitted.
“We're not going across, looks like were heading towards the big lump stuck out over there.” I pointed past the prow of the ferry.
“You might be right, I bet that's that Bellagio place.” Josh told us.
A scratchy announcement in Italian apparently requested that passengers return to their cars – it was a guess but everyone else headed back down the steep stairways to the car deck so we followed.
“Not far now, guys,” Steve mentioned as we waited to disembark.
Good job too, I mean, you can get tired of traveling like this, it's not that we've been cramped up too much but just being sat so long is just bleh! Off the ferry and out of Bellagio along a narrow and twisty road following the lakeshore towards Lezzeno. We lost Dad the first time a car came the other direction, it wasn't so much the size of our bus, rather Steve was sat the wrong side to see what was happening. Not that the Hotel Como was difficult to find, the bike truck and the family Mercedes both advertised arrival at our destination.
I'm not sure what I was expecting but whatever it was, this wasn't it. Faded and flaking yellow paint covered walls laden with wide windows and wooden shutters. It was pretty much on the lake, a narrow road cum walkway separating the building from the waterside. You could I suppose call it ‘rustic' or maybe ‘lived in' would be more appropriate.
Caroline had clearly made use of their extra minute or two here and was already heading towards the bus with a tall blond bloke.
“Welcome, welcome, bon giorno!” he enthused, “Welcome to Hotel Como, we hope you will enjoy your stay in Lezzeno.”
His English though accented was far better than my Italian.
“Come, come, we have food prepared, you musta all be tired from the journey, it was so long, no?”
Food – sounds good to me.
“You don't need your bags just yet, Giovanni has dinner waiting so we'll eat before sorting out your rooms,” Caro instructed.
“What're you waiting for?” Chris prompted.
We didn't need a second prompt, we poured out of the bus and followed ‘Giovanni' and Caroline into the building. Inside it was very much like the place I stayed in with Dad when we went to see the Tour a few weeks ago.
“Bella, Bella – lay-dees, please, please come through.”
Our host stood aside and ushered us past into the dining room.
Hang on I'm at the front, ahead of Laura and Mand, he did say ladies didn't he?
“Come on, Drew, it's not like you to waste trough time.” Caro admonished.
“Er yeah, sorry.”
That's all I need, the girl business already.
* Intentional mis pronunciation of Poirot, the fictional Belgian detective
to be continued....
© Maddy Bell 15.06.13