20 April 2010

French fancy part 3

We were a little apprehensive as we approached Annecy as we’d never actually used a French campsite before. And being very British we were a bit worried about..er, you know…the ‘facilities’….I’ve simply never got to grips with the stand-up hole in the floor variety (scarred by my first encounter where I faced the wrong way and flushed while still standing in the pan) and while much less common than they used to be, I didn’t fancy a week of hovering . Yes, yes, I know we have a Thetford in the van but sometimes a girl likes to take her ease in more refined surroundings…But we needn’t have worried, there were Brit bogs aplenty. Indeed, the site in Sevrier couldn’t have been more perfect – it was like a smaller, more relaxed, slightly scruffier version of a club site here but with the added advantage of gorgeous weather and a lakeside position. And Lake Annecy is something to behold really….preternaturally blue, amazingly clean (like it was sacrilege to throw anything into it) and just incredibly enchanting. Every morning and evening I’d walk down onto the jetty simply to drink in the view – not a bad way to bookend the working day, I can tell you.

On arrival, we got the warmest of welcomes from madame and found that there was plenty of availability. Through a combination of my halting French and her hesitant English, we sorted out everything we needed to – our booking, our wi-fi connection, the location of a vet who could sort out our pet passport requirements and a recommendation on where we could get a good meal – well, we felt like celebrating our safe arrival after a somewhat taxing weekend…

It had all started off promisingly enough. A dealt with our minor exhaust issue and we pointed the mobile dog kennel in a rough east-by-south-east direction with the intention of going into the mountains and stopping short of the French/Italian border. Then on Sunday we’d have a little taradiddle into Italy, go up the side of Lake Maggiore and into Switzerland. The original plan had then been to cut across Switzerland back into France but I’m afraid that it all went a bit tits up. Which was a shame as we were on a real high on Saturday – probably something to do with the fact that the air throughout the Rhone valley was about 40% proof. But it was a lovely trip, in glorious weather and as evening drew in, we successfully negotiated our way up the mountain bends, only worrying when the oxygen masks dropped down from the ceiling.

I’d identified a huge aire de services in Montgenevre as our overnight stop, and because it wasn’t the ski season, the whole place was a ghost town – which suited us just fine. The aire, which can take about 280 vans, had precisely 8 in residence so we weren’t exactly struggling for a spot. Why A had to park under a cable car I don’t know but he’d driven so well that I didn’t want to question his choice of parking spot…We were tired but mildly euphoric too (or possibly just pissed as those vinous Rhone vapours were heady stuff). Today’s jaunt had been everything we love about motorhoming – being together and seeing new places, going at your own pace, stopping for a coffee and sandwich whenever you fancy and the sense of satisfaction and contentment you get when you arrive safely, pull up the handbrake and kick back and relax. So we were on a literal and metaphorical high and so looking forward to Sunday and even more new adventures….

Well, what a load of old stinky pants. I’m not going to bore you with the detail but just let me say this – don’t ever go to Italy with just a European atlas, make sure you have a detailed Italian specific one. Why? Well, they have the most fatuous road signs in the whole of Christendom, the worst being on the motorways. We spent most of the morning on the autostrada from Milan to Turin…and then back the other way…and back again in the original direction in desperate search of a sign that either tallied with something in our atlas or better, actually pointed to somewhere we recognized. I mean, is it that unreasonable to expect a motorway to have signs for, say, the airport or the lakes? I mean, the lakes are one of northern Italy’s leading features….not something you’d ever know if you were relying purely on the motorway signs. So up and down we went, in search of the required but elusive turn-off and you could feel yesterday’s euphoria being inexorably replaced by pursed-lip frustration. After about six weeks, we finally managed to identify an appropriate turn-off and, much later in the day than we had anticipated, drove on up the side of Lake Maggiore.

Now I can hear some of you…don’t you know the lake roads are notorious for their narrowness and sharp bends? No-one in their right mind would take a 4 tonne motorhome on them. Well I didn’t know and in fact I’d reasoned that if buses and coaches could get along, so could we. And I was right…but you were right too, as the fact is, you can drive a motorhome alongside the lake but would anyone sane really want to? This was an hour of unmitigated, bum-wiggly purgatory as walls loomed near and lorries came the other way and gaps narrowed in front of our very eyes….heaven knows what my blood pressure was like that afternoon but I had renewed – in fact, total and utter – respect for A’s driving skills. If I’d been at the wheel, I would have wet myself.

It was therefore a huge relief to reach the Italian/Swiss border and to know that normal roads were just a few miles away. And in fact, we were just recovering our spirits when two things happened to dampen them down again. The first was discovering that the Swiss border office, where we needed to get a toll tag for our van, was shut on Sunday. So all criminals looking to get into Switzerland, you know when to go. Now the Swiss are a bit hot on these toll thingies and we didn’t fancy being slapped with a big fine so we were keen to get one and get ourselves legit. So we parked up outside this restaurant and I did a quick ask at the garage opposite who said that they didn’t have any, but we might be able to get one further up the road. Now I was just about to open the van door to relay this message to A when some German harpy appeared from inside the restaurant shrieking ‘Privaat’, ‘Privaat’ at me. When I looked blank, she just repeated it but in an octave higher. I mean, picture the scene. You’re tired, you’ve had an absolutely gutful of Italian motorways and teeny tiny roads, you’ve had to endure miniscule sized cappuccinos from the services, the Swiss border office you need to get into is shut, and you are then faced with this voluble harridan speaking in tongues. Obviously she was indicating that we were on private land but as we were moving off imminently I wasn’t going to upbraid her for her very unique take on tourism relations. ‘Welcome to Switzerland’ ? Bollocks to you.

And then to make things worse, just as we’d set off north, rather aimlessly really but with an idea of finding a toll tag further up the road, A got a call that one of the systems he looks after had gone bandy and could he fix it. Now. So we pull over again, having first scouted around for any old crones, and I take advantage of the time-out to walk the dogs. Now it was only because I was in such a foul mood by that point that I took inexpressible delight in the boys whizzing up the walls and gates of all the millionaires’ lakeside palazzos that we trotted past. You might have your marble pools and your Corinthian columns but you’ve still got dog wee on your drive….pathetic really.

We thought before the collective mood deteriorated any further that we should make some positive decisions. It seems ridiculous now but back then we couldn’t wait to get out of Switzerland fast enough. We spent the night at an aire in Locarno and had a bit of a walk around as you do, and we just found the whole atmosphere….soulless. The people were cheerless and humourless – if this is what chocolate does for you, I’d better give it up quick. The best thing I say about them? They do a nice line in free pink poo bags. Obviously looking back, we weren’t in the mood to find any good in anything so it’s not like we’ve struck Switzerland off our touring list- but back then, on Monday as we sailed back through the border into Italy, we couldn’t have been happier with our new plan. Order four cappuccinos at the first services, put the pedal to the metal for the Mont Blanc tunnel, and then onwards, onwards to Annecy!

That plan, I'm happy to report, actually came together perfectly and we were back on a high that evening as we headed out to madame’s recommended resto. The high went higher when we realized it was an ‘all you could eat’ establishment…but treachery lay inside…The basic concept was…well…perhaps a ‘Swiss/French medieval melange’ would be a good way of describing it. Cheeses and meats that you put on a skewer or on the end of a fork to cook yourself…either over the huge open range barbecue fire or on the charcoal grill pans. So not so much an ‘all you can eat’ but more of an ‘all you can successfully cook’ sort of thing. So we both through ourselves into it – the concept, not the barbecue, but I soon became aware that all was not well in A land. I could feel bad harrumphing vibes emanating from him…oh not, please not a hissy fit in here, not when he's got a huge 3 pronged fork in his hand…on asking him what was wrong, it transpired that ‘I don’t know how long to cook this for…if you don’t get chicken right, you know, you can get food-poisoning….it’s very irresponsible to let people do their own cooking, Health and Safety would never allow this back home..’ ‘It’s not difficult really’ said I. ‘No, I’m just not sure, I’ve never really done this, I don’t want to eat undercooked food’, said he. ‘Do you want me to do it for you?’ I offered. ‘Yes please’ he said, and off he went merrily to drink his pression leaving me as cook/waitress feeling as though I’d been had... I lost count of how many plates I cooked up but by the end I was sorely tempted to take a skewer, stick it in the barbie and shove it where Health & Safety would never find it… Mind you, three trips to the puds section ensured that my equilibrium was duly restored and the evening ended back on a Mont Blanc sized high. Much like my calorie intake...


Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you're back - how did I ever live without your wit (though I know it's me that's laughing not you!).

Sue, Indigo Dream

Hymer B534 said...

Oh, how I've missed you, your travels and travails. Thank goodness you're back!

Dogsontour by Greygal said...

Hi Hymer B534 - Give the old Bessie a wave won't you?