My grandfather always said, ‘Never leave the house without money’. (I frequently do but almost never without a book and some warm clothes). There must be a lot of Swiss grandfathers out there telling their families, ‘Never go out without an umbrella’. Every time it rains, even on what begins as a fine day, the Swiss whip out their umbrellas.
They’re like a European car I saw recently in Australia. It had a holder in the door especially for umbrellas. Are the Swiss born with a special pocket or clasp or reflex that enables or requires them to slip an umbrella unobtrusively onto their person whenever they approach their front door?
In the struggle between Zurich and me for a workable definition of summer, I thought I was starting to get the upper hand but on the morning we left I was dampened once again by light rain. By the time we reached the San Gotthard Tunnel (dedicated to the Bavarian, Saint Gotthard of Hildesheim in 1236) leading to Italy it was raining properly. The Big Bloke and I had decided ahead of time that we would by-pass the tunnel. Our fellow travellers had waited half an hour to enter the tunnel the previous week, besides, we wanted to see the views over the pass.
After a 2001 collision between two trucks that killed 11 people, entry to and passage through the Gotthard is strictly regulated. Controlled by traffic lights that let only a certain number of cars through at a time and allow trucks in at intervals, it requires a certain distance be maintained between vehicles once inside. The massive vents are now independently operated to provide improved air control in the event of a fire.
We peeled away from the tunnel queue and headed upwards into the rain. We had some lovely scenery before cloud reduced visibility to several car lengths. We passed the horse drawn mail coach with its five horses. Presumably the people on top of the coach were not the paying passengers.
The pass tops out at 2106m and on a fine day provides pleasing, if cold, views of the alps and the small lake. I don’t know if we were faster than those who took the tunnel but that seemed beside the point as we wound down the mountain through switchbacks to the queue, many kilometres long, at a standstill on the other side of the tunnel.
So we left the land of construction (Switzerland is beset by road upgrades) and arrived in Italy, which is a little more relaxed about the state of its roads and which was basking in sun. Olive groves practically begged me to stroll through them – perhaps with a hamper of local cheese, some panini, fresh berries and wine – and flowering oleander lined the urban roads.
Our cottage in San Felice on Lake Garda (Lago de Garda) is clean but smells of damp. Upon arrival we flung the windows open and they’ve stayed like that since. There are no flyscreens, probably because there are very few mosquitoes and flies. However, we did discover a couple of missing items we would have liked: sheets, pillowcases and towels. That’s self-catering you can really call self-catering. Apparently it is the norm to carry linen with you when you go on holiday in Italy. We quickly checked the cupboards to see whether we were supposed to have brought our own cutlery and crockery as well. All fine there. And all fine in the end as the woman at reception provided linen free of charge. Perhaps she’s used to overseas visitors leaving their bedding at home.
It remains sunny and maybe, just maybe, I will be tempted to join the hordes of other visitors and local frolicking in the waters of Lago de Garda. If only I hadn’t left home without my bathers.