Week 1 – Home to Munster, Switzerland


For the first time we left home in the dry with only the slight hint of rain – hopefully this is a sign of things to come. Getting to Dover was the usual bore, but at Dover we got pulled in for a “random” security search. Now I was worried – what if they found my secret reserve stash of Tesco Value Chocolate Digestives!? We had to drive into a small warehouse where one of the staff came and said hello, and pretty much that was it. Clearly we don’t look as rough as we do when we come home, and after just poking her head in the door we were sent on our way.

Whilst waiting for the ferry we found a free Aire in Belgium around 2.5 hours away which seemed to fit in nicely. We pitched there for the night and decided to cycle into Brussels – around 15 mile round trip. We’ve been to Brussels before and weren’t overly keen, and even on this trip we saw some new impressive sites (Atomium – a massive structure representing the iron molecule; and Parc du Cinquantenaire where we visited the car museum) but the city didn’t warm to us. Very German in places; Dutch in others; and a bit of French thrown in; but overall didn’t really woo us. A few Belgium beers and another night in the free Aire was decided upon before continuing South towards Strasburg.

With TomTom programmed we set off through Belgium and Luxemburg, and only when we were expecting to arrive in Strasburg did we realise we were actually heading to Metz. User error unfortunately but as it was almost lunchtime we thought we would stop in Metz and see if fate routed us here! The camping spot was a small free area next to the river and a short walk in to town. Though only half full when we arrived, it filled up quickly and then enough vans to double fill it arrived over the next couple of hours! These overflowed into a normal car park without issue.

Metz was much bigger than we expected, with a large cathedral and other buildings in orangey stone but in a similar vein to Bath. The old centre is well worth a visit with some interesting and niche shops. We madly opted to go running and we found some paths along the river, into a basin and around a marina and canal with a lovely skyline of Metz old buildings along the way reminding us a little of Dresden. After a good hot shower and big meal we settled down to some more “24” and a beer!

We decided to head straight to Switzerland in the morning – even though it was quite a hike. As usual we avoided toll roads which meant TomTom deviated from the route suggested as our route avoided Swiss motorways and their “tax” for it. The route we took was rather interesting with some mountainous bits with deep snow either side of the road – though it has to be said the roads were perfectly clear throughout. We stopped in a small town (Saignelégier) for lunch and though the snow was deep the weather was very warm indeed – a bit of a paradox as the snow didn’t seem to melt! This route is okay in our van but we’d not recommend it for large vans as some of the roads were quite tight with rocky overhangs.

Switzerland (we thought) isn’t very camper-van friendly and has very few free camping spots so we knew we’d have to use some campsites along the way. We were equipped with ACSI discount and also some camping cheques which we bought cheap from someone on the Internet. Our first site was just outside Bern where we opted to stay a couple of days to allow us to explore and visit the city of Bern just a short bike ride away.

Bern is a very pleasant city – pretty in places and worth a visit. Our first thoughts were “blimey its a bit of a mess” due to the amount of rubbish, confetti, smell of wee, and beer bottles laying around. Then, annoyingly, we found out the previous night it had one of its biggest festivals (freeing the Bear) which would have been marvellous to have seen. Had we known. Bugger. The famous clock-tower which draws a crowd every hour for a clockwork performance was a bit of a let down. Clever for an old clock perhaps, but we left thinking “is that it?”. The rest of the old town with vaulted coverings to the shops were rather nice and we can imagine it to be bustling in the summer months.

The following days turned out to be a bit of a disaster. We had planned going for a long run in Bern, but the weather was pretty grim so we decided against it and instead pop down to Lake Geneva. So we planned a scenic route down – well – we say that, but it wasn’t as after about 10 miles the fog came in and we saw pretty much nothing. On arriving at the lake we saw very little and thought it would be nice to stay there and give it a chance in the morning. Unfortunately everywhere had “no camping” and “no overnight parking” signs. There was a formal site nearby, so we went there but the place was like a mud bath. So we gave up and planned a route out…

This turned out to be a mistake too – and lesson learned by making changes to the provided advice of Russell! We drove down past the Rhone and camped in a lovely site there for the night, and decided to go for a long run. After 5 reasonable miles we had enough so turned round to go back only to face a hellish headwind all the way back which almost killed us. On returning to the van I had to fix the demister air vent as it wasn’t working. The ford workshop manual I had with me didn’t give many clues, so by the time I worked it out and fixed it I broke off a retaining clip. Gaffa tape worked wonders and will last till we return. We also heard from our neighbour that some teenage scroats kicked one of our fence panels in at home. Little s*****s.

 In the morning we then headed via a lovely scenic route through Saillon and explored their mounted castle, and along through to Sion where we had lunch. A lovely old town centre with a castle and really old buildings. After Sion we continued the scenic route up into the Alps, with snow getting deeper, till we got to Munster. We spoke to a lovely lady in the tourist information who explained they’d just had recent snow and the roads were closed due to several meters of snow! Damn! This is pretty much the only way we can get back on track into Italy! The kind lady gave us an alternative route over the mountains back the way we came – so we decided to wild camp in the snow (and REALLY test the van and our winterisation modifications away from hookup!) and make our way in the morning.
 

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