Today we’ve said goodbye to the others and left Guillestre for part 3 of our trip. We’ve moved from France to Switzerland via Italy, ready to meet 4 friends who fly out on Sunday for Tour du Mont Blanc, an 11-day trek around Western Europe’s highest mountain.
We packed the washing line, table and chairs, awning, mats and washing lines away, and unplugged the hook up. Then we filled the fresh water tank, and emptied the waste water tank, chemical toilet and bins, before paying our campsite bill and setting off.
Tonight we’re spending the night on the Grand St Bernard Pass, 2469 metres high between Italy and Switzerland. The drive has been uneventful, apart from the tolls. These were fine in France this year because we now have a toll tag but, in Italy, we were back to the toll dramas that we’ve had on previous trips.
At the first toll plaza, I inserted the credit card into the machine. It snatched it and nearly had my finger too, then spat the card out again. However, the barrier didn’t open. I tried again… nothing. What about a different card? I tried John’s Visa debit card. Still nothing and, by now, there was a queue of impatient people behind us. Then the machine spoke to me… ‘Bonjour’… I don’t know why it spoke French when we were in Italy. Anyway, I said I was English and voice from the machine told me to insert a credit card. I have! 3 times! All of a sudden the barrier lifted and John drove through. Hopefully, we had a freebie and don’t pay 3 times!
At the next toll plaza, we decided to head to the manned booth and pay cash. This worked ok, even though I muddled up speaking French and Italian! We tried the same tactic at the third toll but, unfortunately this one wasn’t actually manned. I scrabbled together the required change from a pot in the van and John’s wallet, chucked it in the basket and crossed my fingers. Thankfully, the barrier opened. That wasn’t so bad and we didn’t hold anyone up for too long! Must be getting the hang of it… or maybe not! At the next toll, we couldn’t work out where to pay. Then I realised this booth was different. I had to press a button for a ticket, rather than paying up front!
On the 4-hour journey, we’ve driven up and down mountain passes, though numerous long tunnels, over deep gorges and along turquoise rivers. We’ve seen villages with wooden chalets, villages with terracotta or stone tiled roofs, pretty churches, and castles perched on outcrops high above the valleys. The scenery is beautiful.
We forgot to stop at a bakery before we left France and don’t have much for breakfast or to make sandwiches if we go hiking tomorrow. Once we got into Italy, we were either on motorways or in small towns where the shops were closed. We almost got lost in one village searching for a shop, and ended up bushwhacking up a steep hill in flip flops! We did get to see a lovely church and ancient castle though!
Now we’re at the Grand St Bernard Pass. Bertie and John did well to get up here, with a lot of the ascent needing first gear! We’ve had a wander to the viewpoints, and around the small lake. John sat with one buttock in Italy and one in Switzerland!
The pass is a very picturesque spot, but very busy because it’s so accessible. The drive up was beautiful, with zig-zag hairpins as far ahead as the eye could see, and fields of beautiful pink flowers, Unfortunately there was nowhere to stop for me to take photos on the way up. There have been plenty of photo opportunities now we’re at the top though. I love the cross covered in colourful lichen.
We’ve booked a table in a restaurant to eat in for tonight’s tea. For tomorrow we’re trying to decide whether to walk here or whether to move on to Champex in Switzerland and walk there. Watch this space!