Dave the motorhome is in the land of the multi-purpose knife, fine chocolate, dubious bank accounts and looming mountains. We’re in a tiny motorhome car park (N47.66830 E8.98453) in the sleeping village of Steckborn, on the southern bank of Lake Constance in Switzerland. At 12 Swiss Francs (CHF) for 24 hours, it’s about £8, which includes an unmetered supply of electricity, explaining why Dave’s exceeding sauna temperatures.
Sue and Bob took the 10 second walk from their motorhome to ours last night, bringing something we’ve hardly ever seen with them: partly-empty bottles of wine. Somehow our wine containers never attain this state for long, unless they’re of the 5 litre variety. With two and half years of full timing under their belts, they’re veterans and we had a great time chatting with them about everything from satellite internet to money-saving tips to the philosophy of travel. With a few glasses of white, rose and red wines sloshing around, the night went quickly and we found ourselves waving goodbye this morning with stuffy heads. They’re off to a spa for a few days, before heading to France for a motorhome service (about 30% the cost of a service in the UK) and then to southern Spain for a warm, sunny winter. They love their life of travelling retirement, which they’ve well and truly earned after building up and selling their business.
Switzerland called us, as we head south into Italy for winter. The Lonely Planet Guide hardly gets past the first page before issuing a stern warning: ‘Look, Switzerland is expensive by any standard, get used to it’. Sounds ominous. Our database of overnight parking spaces is sparse to say the least. To use the motorways, you have to buy a 14-month long 40CHF vignette at the border. Even before we got to our first stop I was wincing, not helped by the total lack of anything more scenic than concrete and glass buildings alongside the road, and a bored-looking monotone grey sky. Good job we nipped into a German Lidl on our way and stocked up on, well, everything, including some Nuremburg sausages, which are the closest thing to English sausages we have found here. No beer was bought though; although cheap at 39c for 0.5l, we’d never be able to get back the deposit (the dreaded pfand) of 25c a bottle.
The Rhine Falls at Schaffhausen became our first stop in Switzerland, a thunderous collapse of water as the Rhine drops a few meters over a series of hardy rocks. Even as the biggest waterfall in Europe, Charlie remained unimpressed, his fear of water and loud noises causing much whimpering and concerned glances from on-lookers. Most of said on-lookers were carrying walking sticks resembling ski poles, something we’re seeing more and more of amongst the retirees we spend our days amongst. To our amusement they’re placed to one side or carried half the time; we’re not sure what purpose they fulfil other than to beat English dog mistreaters with?
As we wanted to get somewhere and get our bearings we skipped Schaffhausen which we’d heard had been accidentally-on-purpose bombed during WW2 as a warning to stop selling arms to the German forces. I never knew that Switzerland had a huge army at one time too; a million men could be assembled within two days. Naively I thought they maintained neutrality through diplomacy; nope, they were armed to the teeth.
Our lack of planning has reached an all-time high/low at the moment, and we’d no idea which direction to head in from the falls. The map, list of parking places and Lonely Planet came out. Decision made: we’ll head for Lake Constance, hole up for a day or two there, and do some decent planning. Mountain passes to the south threaten to submerge us in early season snow or cost the earth in tunnel tolls. An ill-thought out route might also mean we miss out on something wondrous We had to get some planning in. The trip started badly though, as our Satnav refused to recognise that the town of Constance, or Kostanz, exists. Ah, helps if you choose Germany as the country, the town’s just over the border into our previous hosts to the north.
As we drove the complex of concrete roads and tunnels receded and we headed into rolling green country, flashes of lake off to our left indicating we’d made the lake. As we entered the small town of Steckborn, a blue roadsign with the universal symbol of a motorhome pointed us to car park 4. Our plan to travel further evaporated, as we’re both bushed, and in here we pulled. Since then we’ve taken a walk around the town which looks pretty enough, but appears to have hibernated for the winter but for a fireman pottering about in a bus full of breathing apparatus and ropes (maybe he’d heard of our plan to torch the caravan next to us?). Lonely Planet has been thumbed too, with a rough route emerging to take in St Moritz and Interlaken before depositing us into Italy via the benign-sounding Simplon Pass. It’s now all of 8:16pm and the fight to remain awake commences!