We pass out of Austria in a blizzard, the hot weather of two days ago forgotten as we climb the mountain to a freezing -4 degrees. We get closer to the top and the kids beg to play in the snow, a request we decline as we are worried our pathetically tired car will even make it over the pass. We make it through one pass, a second, the third… pass closed! Shit! we think. Well, the GPS had been telling us all morning that we were going to take a ferry, and we puzzled as to where this “ferry” would be as there were no bodies of water we could see on the map. Turns out this ferry is not the nautical variety, it is a train that you drive your car on and it ferries you through the mountain. After paying a fee that would rival that of BC Ferries, we munch on dried goat and meringues and wait for the ferry as the snow swirls around us. T goes insane in the tunnel with camera in hand and takes tons of “painting with light” shots. I feel slightly claustrophobic as the train sways along in the total darkness, only broken by the taillights of the car in front of us.
We leave the train and approach an industrial filled valley. The km’s to the campsite tick downwards and we realize in dismay, that while we thought the campsite was close to some stuff we wanted to see, it was in fact a valley over. A valley, isolated by closed mountain passes that cost a fortune to get through by ferry. Damn. Oh well, some downtime after Austria will be welcome, we think, as we arrive to a very empty looking campsite. The front desk is closed, with a sign to call; we don’t have a working Swiss sim card for our phone. Derek heads to the restaurant where they call the manager and a lovely maintenance man leads us to a patch of grass. “Um, we booked a tent…” “There is no tents, too cold”. Shit. He calls the manager back who offers us free drinks in the bar while we wait for her to arrive. When she does, she upgrades us to a trailer, no charge. 4 nights for 80 euros… awesome! The rest of Switzerland costs a fortune, but this is the cheapest accommodation on our trip. The maintenance man asks us why we are visiting Switzerland. He says he comes back only to make money and leaves for Australia and South America. He pantomimes, rubbing the fingers of one hand together “The Swiss, they are greeeedy!”
Most of our time here in Switzerland was spent relaxing and decompressing from Austria; however, one day we wished to head over the St Bernard Pass into Italy. Derek was dying for some authentic Italian food, and I was starting to get a bit stir crazy. Coming over the pass into Italy is like walking through a magic door, instantly it all changes. Roof’s, which have been clay tiled, become covered in large slices of slate. Scooters careen in and out of traffic and horns honk, while people sit and drink cappuccinos on the plazas. It feels both fast and slow at the same time, a frenzied energy that instantly slows as you step out of the car and walk through the narrow cobbled streets.
We drive up the Aosta valley to the base of the Matterhorn, winding through the narrow mountain roads as I try not to vomit. We arrive at the base of this spectacular mountain and I finally understand why Europeans come to the Rockies, even though the Alps look the same. The base of the mountain is littered with ugly concrete buildings, chairlifts, garbage. The Alps are populated, on all sides villages rise upwards marring the hillside. There is no remote, there are people, everywhere.
Aosta is an old Roman town, Augusta Pretoria, and Z is thrilled that the town shares one of her middle names. We eat lunch in a fancy Italian restaurant that costs next to nothing and has a multileveled ball pit type playground in the restaurant, presumably so that adults can sit and sip their wine while the kids play. We share a bottle, while the kids are entertained and then have the most amazing Italian I have ever eaten.
We are in a Roman town! We must explore! The waiter tells us that all the Roman sites are free in Aosta and he brings us a map and points out where to go. We wander the streets stopping at the various Roman sites. The porto cryptico is unbelievable, a Roman basement, fully intact that we walk through while listening to piped in classical music. We are the only ones there, and it feels like magic is in the air, whispers from 2000 years past echoing through the stones. An old theatre rises from the grassy earth nearby, it’s backdrop a mountain range, and we imagine watching plays beneath the deep blue sky as the sun sets behind us. The people are friendly, and funny. T has a massive tantrum and a woman turns to us and says “Just like Italian girl!” A woman in a bakery has no English and us no Italian and we pantomime all of us laughing and the hilarity of our hand movements. We fall in love with Aosta and spend the day, before heading back to Industrial Switzerland over the pass.
I am far behind on the blogging side of things, but the kids distance learning just ended for the year. I hope to be able to devote more time to this, now that I don’t have several hours of school reporting to do a week! Up next is a mouse infested French experience, Hiking in the French Alps, and a car break in in Spain! Stay tuned 🙂