In a surprising twist, here’s the next part of my adventure log.
So we left behind the camp site at Monza, with its squat toilets and ravenous mosquitoes, and set a course northward to Switzerland.
Annoyingly, to use the motorway system in Switzerland, drivers have to pay a toll and display a sticker. And even more annoyingly, the annual sticker is the only option, so that’s 40 Francs (£35 or so) gone for two days in the country. Still, the Swiss motorways are a bit of a wonder. Given it’s a mountainous country, most of the network consists of either bridges or tunnels, and some pretty impressive ones at that. At one point we went through a tunnel that came to 17km in length, and naturally, we didn’t have any clue that it was going to be that long until we were already in the tunnel and saw the sign. So much darkness for so far. The Swiss delved too greedily and too deep.
But hell is Switzerland pretty. Even when stuck in a traffic jam, the scenery is breathtaking. But that was nothing to the view from the campsite.
We actually stayed at this site for two nights, and it was an absolute delight. The owner is a delightful eccentric bloke who doesn’t speak a word of English, but is always happy to help out. At one point we were struggling to get our barbecue lit, as we’d run out of firelighters. The owner walked into the house, and returned moments later with a huge industrial brazing torch, and helped us light the thing with that.
The area we stayed in was between Interlaken and Grindelwald. Both phenomenally pretty places, but only one of them is named after a Harry Potter character (yes, the place was definitely named after the character and not the other way around. Definitely). This was the one that we chose to hike in. And when I say “hike”, I mean “hike to a pub 1300m above sea level, then have a pint.”
By pure coincidence, they day we were there turned out to be Swiss National Day. Exactly how we managed to do that first in Belgium, and then in Switzerland, I have absolutely no idea. But we managed it.
I have to say though, Swiss National Day is much more interesting than Belgian National Day. Firstly, there are shops open, and the entire country hasn’t come to a standstill. Most importantly though, because it seems to mostly involve drunk Swiss people throwing fireworks around.
We spent the evening watching the fireworks displays in Interlaken. For someone from England, used to an impenetrable wire fence and hordes of security guards every November 5th, the Swiss approach is oddly relaxed. I just wasn’t prepared for crowds of drunk people casually lighting and throwing in their own fireworks, and this being a perfectly acceptable, normal occurrence with no need to involve the authorities. Basically, Swiss folk are mental.
The next day, we packed up and left early. Another drive through the Swiss mountains, and eventually stopped for a few hours in Bern. As a city, Bern does a great job of combining the traditional with the modern – though I can’t say I think the collection of plastic dog statues dotted around the city quite chime with the centuries-old cathedrals and medieval clock towers. Though the Swiss national obsession with fountains was very welcome on such a very hot day.
After Bern, we made for Geneva. And as it happened, we had a friend of a friend working at CERN. Which meant that we went to visit the world’s largest and most expensive particle accelerator, and they let us mooch around the goddamn control room, mere centimetres from the computers that control billions of pounds worth of scientific equipment (and the ridiculous number of empty champagne bottles lining the walls).
From there… into France!