Italy, Switzerland and France -
6-24th July 2007
Arriving for a visit just weeks before Ali leaves for India, Arvind was brilliant at answering all our questions about Trichy, where Ali will be teaching this summer, and about Indian life and philosophy. He cooked a fantastic aubergine curry for us with homemade chipatis (with flour all over the kitchen!) and he and Nick stayed up late discussing academia, climate change and generally sharing stories. Billy and I only got to spend a day with Arvind before our channel tunnel departure to drive to the Italian Dolomites.
Why the socks? Well, Billy still has not let me drive the relatively new campervan... I'm a bit of a menace parking. So I had a good bit of free time on the French motorways, and finally finished these socks that I started with my Mom in Seattle three years ago! But they were cosy and appreciated at night before climbing up to into bed.
We made our way through France, first camping "wild" (not in a commercial campsite) beside this lighthouse at Cap Gris Nez and then at a campsite next to a lake, Lac de Marcenay, south of Troyes. I really enjoyed the run along the coastal path the first day and then an early jog around the lake on the second - but the shower afterwards was icy!
We took a detour to see stunning Lake Garda, but we were way too scruffy to fit in with the designer set. The first night in Italy, Billy was successful in broken French/Italian (with hand signals) to convince the hotel owner where we had dinner to let us stay the night in their car park after a walk up to a mountain lake.
The Italian Dolomites are spectacular, and we were able to take a gondola up 500m to start our first walk from Possa de Fasse ...cheating, I know, but breathtaking. After a long descent into the valley, we stopped at a tiny cafe and Billy made the mistake of having a nice cool huge beer, which he regretted in the 200m climb back up to the gondola.
After a day exploring the mountain passes, (with lunatics driving racing motorcycles!) we moved on to Campitello, and feeling a bit sheepish about taking the cable-car down on the previous walk, we decided to walk the whole way down. The descent along the mountain ridge was beautiful but clomping down the last of the 13 miles on a hot road in heavy boots was exhausting! Looking for more level terrain, the next day we started from the top of the Valparola pass and walked around the dramatic Settsas platform with 400m-thick Triassic carbonate sediments which were identified by Baron Von Richthofen as a reef in 1860, but I didn't find any coral or fossil evidence. And as we baked in the brutal heat of the day in this desert-like environment, I gave up looking. Nelly was miserable without any streams to drink from and I felt sorry for her carrying around a fur coat in the sweltering heat!
We hid in the shade in the heat of the day the next day, and Nelly even overheated when I took her for a run along the river at 8am. Later that afternoon Nick called to say that Ali's bag with her passport, money, mobile phone, and Billy's camera had been stolen in Serbia. We wired money to Nick to send her and tried to stay within mobile phone range so we could find out if she could get a replacement passport in time to make her flight home. Tired of the heat, we decided to head for Switzerland and higher elevations.
Driving through Liechtenstein we made a lucky back-roads detour around a nasty accident that could have meant a day in a traffic jam, and arrived late into a delightfully shady campsite in Lauterbrunnen where a awesome thunderstorm with hail cleared the air that night.
Walking down from Murren to the campsite the next day was beautiful, past swiss chalets with tidy gardens and woodpiles, waterfalls and cascades in the river- it was cool, green and peaceful.
Every town had fantastic watch shops so Billy shopped for watch to replace the one he lost (how lucky is that that?) and then we moved on to explore Grindlewald with a spectacular backdrop of the Eiger and other peaks. Expensive place - the cablecar up and the bus ride back 20k to town fom the end of our walk was 100 swiss francs (£20 or $40!). After more time in internet cafes talking to Nick and wiring more money home, we found a beautiful campsite overlooking the valley and perfect sauerbraten at the Hotel Aspen that night.
Making our way back to the English Channel was a bit of a chore - with a long drive and a busy municipal campsite in Chalons-en-Champagne, but it was fine compared with the horrible place we ended up in the next night in Rang du Fliers. The campsite we were assigned looked perfect on the little artist's rendition map they handed out at the office, but once we got inside we discovered how tight all the campsites were, and every one was full of what I can only describe as "white trash", with unsupervised kids and scary packs of teenagers prowling about. We tried to convince ourselves it would be OK for a night but when we discovered at 11pm that they had to keep two security guards on duty at the toilet block to break up fights and stop abuse we decided to make a run for it.... but they wouldn't open the gates! Finally Billy found a manager who would let us out. Sleeping in the car park of a nearby grocery store felt so much better!
We booked into a hotel in Wimereux the next night for the village fete des moules (Mussel festival and parade!) and enjoyed the fluffy towels and restaurant - a huge luxury after the nasty feeling of that campsite. After seeing the local vet for Nelly's pet passport, we explored the huge deserted beach at the Bay d'Authie and visited a WWII museum to wait out the rain. Scouting wild camping locations along the coast, we finally we found a perfect, isolated trailhead at Le Bois d'Harringzelles near Audingham and enjoyed a glorious walk on the beach the next day before heading home - and Ali had made it home, too! (Just in time to leave for India).