Photo by 96dpiNow I am not talking about Mini Coopers, gold heists and blowing the bladdy doors off. I am talking about a short, 2100KM, drive from Frankfurt to Alassio and back.
Ah yes..a journey starting with amazing autobahns and ending in the land of Ferarri and Lamborghini. The problem, though, was that a good portion of the journey was through the land of cuckoo clocks and toblerone…
Let me begin, as they say, at the beginning. As I have written about before, it is not unknown to me to be the driver of a series of white vans from old abode to new abode for various people. In this, at least, I find some consistency…at some point every few months, someone will pop up and ask me to help them move. Like some kind of drug addict, I swear that each time will be the last…in reality I am just giving up until the next time. Anyway, I digress. Some time ago, GB asked if I would be willing to help him move from Frankfurt to Alassio in Italy..doing this would give me a couple of days chillaxing in Italy.
I was asked to drive a 7.5 tonner (4M tall…we will get to this later) and was happy to do so as, let’s face it, 90% of the journey would be motorway…and that’s pretty easy to do. The plan was simple, we would get started at 06:30 on the Monday morning..be away by 11:00, head through the Gottard Tunnel in Switzerland, and be in Alassio by 22:00. Nuff said.
As has often been recited “The best laid plans of mice and men ‘aft gan aglen”. CW and I were intent on going to bed early on the Sunday night, to allow me the slumber that the journey would undoubtedly require. Washing was washed, tumbles were dried and everything was on track for a 21:00 sack hitting…until I realised that we needed towels…and the towels (of course) needed washing. Cue getting to bed for 02:00 after waiting for the washing machine and tumble dryer to complete one cycle. The plan to get up at 05:00 to get ready…well…failed. We managed to get out of bed at 06:20, just before GB arrived to collect us.
A rapid wash and dress later and we were on our way to collect the van. The rest of the morning went pretty much to plan, and we got on the road at around 11:15. So far, so ordinary. Not long before we set off, GB informs me that there has been a small plan change. A train from Goppenstein (I shit ye not) in Switzerland has been discovered that will save us around 300KM, and therefore GB a load of cash on the rental. Fine with me, says I and we begin to wend our merry way to Italy.
GB and ‘er indoors start the wonderful process of cleaning the old apartment, with the intention of catching us up later. They do indeed catch us up and our mini-convoy heads to the Germany/Switzerland border. ‘er indoors (who speaks German and understands Swiss) goes to the various offices to get the paperwork sorted, GB gets shouted at by the Swiss border patrol woman for parking in the wrong place and I try and play chicken with trucks considerably larger than mine by going the wrong way along a one way system. Eventually we get parked, and ‘er indoors is still running between the German and Swiss authorities. Each time being told that she needs a slightly different form. Over 2 hours later, we believe that everything is in order and drive to the gate that gives us our entry to Switzerland. At this point, the gate monkey (possibly gate Silverback Gorilla) tells us that we, in fact, don’t have the correct paperwork..and that we better hurry as the offices close in 5 minutes. After a minor meltdown that followed the suggestion of “Why don’t you go through France”, a kindly soul (on his way home) tells her to just let us through as, and I quote, “The Italians will turn them back, so they will be back”.
Still, we head into Switzerland and head for the train…the motorways start getting narrower by the minute and eventually we arrive at the serpentine mountain roads of Switzerland. I am immediately struck by the beauty of nightmare that is; getting a 7.5 tonne truck up the side of a mountain around bends that would cause slalom skiers to head off the to lodge for a shot of something strong and numbing. Still, CW was getting an amazing view of the scenery as I wrestle the truck up and around the (seemingly) never ending twists and turns. She was ooing and aahing all over the place, exclaiming “Isn’t it amazing…Dave, have a look at that view”….my response was “Yup, the tarmac is bloody lovely….trying not to kill us all dear”..Had I chosen to look at this wonderful view, I am pretty sure that it would have ended up with a rapid descent and a rather close up and personal “view” of the mountains.
Eventually though, I see a sign that tells us we are around 5KM from the train. Unfortunately, a few hundred meters beyond said sign, another sign appears…this one says “Low Bridge – Max 3.7M”..those of you paying attention will remember that the truck is 4M tall….letting the tires down is not going to help…I rapidly take another road and pull over. GB and ‘er indoors head off to see if there is another route to the train and I am able to take in the beauty of the area for a short while.
Around 15 minutes later, GB arrives back carrying a sheet of paper from the train…that says the maximum height is 3.5M…so taking the bloody wheels off wouldn’t help us at this point. Left with no other choice, we go back down the frickin’ serpentine roads and head off on the very long journey back to the route that we originally said we would follow. Imagine our collective joy, as we pull into the Swiss/Italian border at 03:00…to discover that we need to go through customs….which doesn’t open until 05:00. No cafes, no comfort…no real chance of sleep, but we try. CW basically gives up sleep to make sure I get some sleep…a very sweet gesture and in no way suggestive that I may actually kill us all if I don’t rest..honest :-P
We get through Swiss customs relatively easily and are then met by Italian customs. Now, ‘er indoors is actually Italian, so we theorise that she will definitely be able to get us through. The Italian customs guys look suitably imposing and authoritarian..’er indoors is explaining the nightmare we had at Swiss customs and for a little while it looks like we might get turned back. They look in the back of the truck and proceed to inform us that the problem is that they can’t see inside the boxes….who knew that everything was transported in clear PVC boxes these days…not us, that’s for sure (/sarcasm). Their point made about how unorthodox this is, and how we should have done it differently etc etc…they let us through. GB and I do a Smokey and the Bandit and “Put the pedal to the metal” to get the hell outta there, before someone changed their mind.
This brings us to Italy and, to be honest, we were all feeling rather good. We stopped at the motorway services that the 60’s forgot and carried on. The mountain tunnels in Italy were mucho fun though…3 lanes where no other country would put more than 2…narrow tunnels that the truck could barely get under and lunatic truck drivers vying for “King of the Tunnel” bragging rights. We came out of them just about unscathed, except for Luca requiring a change of underwear when a weaving (and possibly drunk) Italian truck moved just enough into my lane to cause the wing mirror to hit the side of our truck like a frickin’ bomb going off.
We arrived in Alassio at 11:15..a mere 24 hours after we set off and a mere 29 hours awake. Fortunately, GB had arranged for people to unload the van and get everything in the apartment…so CW and I went to the cabin on the mountainside and promptly collapsed until around 19:00.
We spent an evening and a day in Alassio. What a place, absolutely idyllic…in the evening we went for a meal and then wandered around the town. As we were heading for the cabin, the strains of music could be heard around the corner and we went to check it out. What we discovered was an Italian choir singing When The Saints Go Marching In…although what they were actually singing was “Oh whhen tha sayns go marching eeeen”..which was nice.
The journey home was fairly uneventful, but I have to say that the German motorways are by far the best in Europe…I have never been so happy to cross a border in my whole life.
So there you have it, my latest White Van Man experience. I will definitely be visiting GB and ‘er indoors in Alassio again, but I won’t be driving a 7.5 tonner to do it…Easyjet anyone?