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Friday, 4 January 2013

“I get all the news I need from the weather report”
(Paul Simon)
Tracy’s Road Trip to Switzerland
Motorhoming in Winter

We planned our December 2012 road trip to visit Emily (daughter) and partner Tim in Zurich to take in Oberried in the Black Forest and picturesque Gruyeres in French-speaking Switzerland. Our journey began, or rather didn’t, with the Arran ferry cancelled due to high winds, but in a camper van you can always sit and read a good book until the weather improves. When we got to the mainland in the dark we met deep puddles in every dip of the road. Two weeks later, on the return journey through Belgium, conditions were exactly the same- so it clearly wasn’t just Britain disappearing underwater this winter.

Poor Tracy the camper van suffered from travelling many extremely wet roads. However, she never actually let us down and trundled back to Lochranza dutifully in time for us to celebrate Hogmanay in the Lochranza Hotel as usual. (Our camper van’s called Tracy by the way, because it’s easier to say Tracy than camper van and because we were told by her previous owner that the number plate in fact spells Tracy: T27CYA !?)

December 2011 gave us an easy breaking in to winter motor-homing- I remember we had to rip off our thermal underwear on a Swiss mountainside to avoid passing out with heat exhaustion! This year the weather challenges continued. We arrived at the gate of Kirnermartes Campsite in the Black Forest on a dark, snowy evening when we were relieved to find that we were following the snow plough uphill. A heavy fall of fresh, deep snow had obscured all tracks, boundaries and definitions and we were not prepared to experiment with seeing if Tracy could get through knee-deep snow. The most sensible solution seemed to be to go to bed where we were and we slept very soundly and cosily indeed. Next morning I awoke to messages from my nose telling me that it was unusually cold. Minus eleven in fact. We soon discovered that our shoes were iced to the floor, everything liquid had frozen including the water heater, my flannel was stuck to the sink…… and Tracy’s engine was dead.

Scraping Jack Frost off the windows we looked out at a beautiful scene of snowy mountains, wooden chalets and a bright blue sky. Like Lochranza in winter though, it would be some time before the sun would peep above the mountains to defrost us. Fortunately, before long, the farmer who runs the campsite came along with his tractor to clear a space for us near to a hook up. If he was thinking, “Typical Brits- brought to a standstill by a bit of snow” he was too polite to show it.

In the village cafĂ© we warmed up with a huge, home-made waffle with a hot baked apple sitting on it that was stuffed with raisins, cinnamon and marzipan and drenched with vanilla icecream. Then back at Kirnermartes Campsite we enjoyed a sauna in the brand new wellness suite which has been created in the farm basement. Smells of schapps brewing (if that’s the right word) wafted out from one of the farm buildings.

Next day, serendipitously, a thaw began and Tracy’s engine rumbled into life, though the water heater would remain frozen throughout our tour and journeys were punctuated by Nigel trying to wring water out of the air filter.

We had a lovely time despite the engine problems, and feel that camper-vanning is an ideal winter holiday option for us.  If you’re looking for Christmas atmosphere, the Grimm’s fairytale scenery and medieval villages, with their traditional Christmas markets, make this part of Europe- Switzerland, the Black Forest and Alsace- hard to beat. If you do head for these parts, do research driving regulations for the different countries carefully- for example, in Germany winter tyres are compulsory in winter but not snow chains; in Switzerland it’s compulsory to carry snow chains and it’s also compulsory to buy a vignette for 40 Swiss francs to travel on Swiss motorways (which are hard to avoid). If you get these things wrong and have to be rescued, you will be fined. On the other hand, and maybe because it’s a quiet time of year for travel, we never experienced anything other than courteous, considerate behaviour in all our continental driving.

 This is a reconstruction of a prehistoric village near Lake Neuchatel. Our ancestors had sensible building designs for wet times!