To Switzerland And Back
This was the first trip in Alfie for the Mk.1 camper conversion and was basically the shakedown trip. Yeah, we don't do things by halves!
I blame myself, as Eddie's shakedown was to drive to Russia and I may have used the phrase “nothing concentrates the mind like an expensive ferry booking” when talking about it. I didn't expect Helen would take it as advice
Day 0: Basinsgstoke to Dunkerque
As you may imagine, this was uneventful & we didn't take any photos.
Day 1: Dunkerque to Saint-Avold
We rocked up in camping municipal "Le Felsberg", which was absolutely fine, as most of them tend to be. Nothing much to write home about, but fine.
It was toasty hot, it took ages for the bonnet to cool down enough that I could open it to check everything was where I left it - this being the shakedown for the engine conversion too.
A problem that was already making itself apparent was the caravan fridge couldn't cope, and worse than that it had totally flattened the leisure battery during the period of the ferry crossing. This made things worse for the rest of the trip as the battery was now below capacity. Unfortunately we'd had a last-minute rush to get stuff finished so I didn't have a mains hookup lead.
Fridge aside, we managed to cook some food and have a pleasant evening in the shade, make the Mk1 bed without falling out, and put up the lovingly made window screens.
Day 2: Saint-Avold to Schaffhausen
- Via Rheinfall
We paused at the Rhine Falls which are pretty impressive, alternatively they're both pretty and impressive.
Day 3: Schaffhausen to Vaduz
For those playing Ticket To Ride at home, yes we're ticking off a lot of locations.
We stopped for a quick walk round in Schaffhausen in the rain.
We stopped at St Gallen too, for a trudge round in the rain. There's a cathedral, a very old library (which costs a lot to get in and you may not take photos) and many chocolate-box old buildings. The library was actually really impressive, like something out of Harry Potter, except full of tourists shuffling round with shower caps on their shoes. Still, even by Swiss standards it was a pricey entrance ticket to walk round a room full of books.
We drove on through Liechtenstein to reach Camping Mittagsspitze where the young girl behind reception was very excited by Alfie and proceeded to take several photos to send to her boyfriend. As usual, she asked if Alfie had served in World War 2.
Day 4: Vaduz to Lucerne
We started off with a wander round Vaduz, the “capital town” of Liechtenstein. Being a capital, but tiny, gives the place a very odd feel. There's a small row of very expensive boutiques selling all the “airport brands” of perfume, booze, and fashion, presumably because they feel they ought to be in the capital of any given country, no matter how small.
There's a very smart and modern parliament building of compact proportions, some sculptures (when we were there, a travelling sculpture exhibition had dotted extras around the town), a moderately sized co-op, and not a lot else really. Overlooking the town, from the mountainside above, is Vaduz Castle where the Prince lives (and, in my head at least, Princess Theresa and King Maximilian).
I'd say if you're passing through it's worth a stop just to experience a capital city in miniature, but you'd struggle to fill a day there unless you really wanted to get stuck into the Kunstmuseum or National Museum for some serious chin-stroking art or historical appreciation.
Having exhausted an entire morning on Vaduz (and its co-op) we headed off for Lucerne, and the Camping International Lido which was by far the swankiest campsite we'd been to so far. The facilities were modern and spotless.
Lucerne is a very pretty town, with a very pretty historic (pretty and historic)
bridge Kapellbrücke over the river Reuss. The bridge was under renovation when we visited so we were denied the thrill of a reciprocal ambulatory circuit, you could only walk as far the hallowed and ancient gift-shop tower half way along.
We had a wander around, saw the famous lion of Lucerne, walked along the bridge, and then had a pizza and a beer at a restaurant by the river, which cost about a million pounds.
Day 5: Lucerne
In the morning, Helen headed off for a run around the lake while I tackled a few jobs.
First off, I adjusted the left rear wheel bearing which appeared to be leaking oil from the hub. This caught the interest of our elderly German neighbour, and quickly found the limits of the 4 or 5 German words I know - which do not include any of the words from the phrase “adjusting the wheel bearing”.
I then attacked the problem of the struggling fridge. It was clear that the 100Ah leisure battery didn't have the capacity to keep it going when parked up for any length of time, and having been flattened like Judge Doom under that steamroller it was no longer a 100Ah battery, but more of a “probably 75Ah ish” battery, if you crossed your fingers.
The solution was mains power. The fridge can run on mains power, but we had no hookup. We bought a ~25m mains extension reel from a local supermarket at great expense (seriously, there was an extension reel on the shelf which was chf99, near as dammit to 100 quid!), and I remembered the ambulance had a redundant mains hookup dangling beneath the rear bumper in a metal box, giving us a 3-pin blue commando plug and the best chance of getting some electrons at any given campsite around Europe.
I chopped the only-in-Switzerland mains plug off one end and used that length to wire from the fridge, underneath the back bumper and into the mains hookup box, where it could dangle relatively protected from the elements. I wired the 3-pin commando plug onto the end of the extension, giving us a removable extension lead we could reel out and plug the ambulance into.
It worked OK, we could run the fridge when stationary although (as my later tests showed) it takes so long for one of those fridge to stabilise & get down to temperature that we were onto a losing battle.
In the afternoon, we walked along the city walls, including taking in the clock tower which houses a collection of clock mechanisms from various ages and towers around the town, including the huge mechanism Rathaus-Uhr (Town Hall Clock).
We had a beer by the bridge (the other side, just to mix it up) at great expense, and watched Chinese tourists interacting with the swans.
Day 6: Lucerne to Lauterbrunnen
We went via the Sustenpass, which is very picturesque and is on the list of the highest paved roads in Europe. We pulled over briefly to check the map and were passed by a convoy of Morgan 3-wheelers. Unfortunately we couldn't catch them up for a photo - there's limits, even with the new V8 under the bonnet.
Anyway, the Sustenpass provided some great scenery and very pleasant driving.
We ended up at Camping Jungfrau. We arrived back from check-in with a small forest of tourist leaflets. This was a fantastically well sorted campsite, clearly popular with the backpacking / youth hostelling crowd, skiing and running events, as well as regular family camping. It had its own bar, restaurant, and shop. The real highlight was the fact it's at the feet of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains and was almost underneath the Staubbach waterfalls, which are the highest in Switzerland. We had to drive all the way to Norway to find a campsite to rival it for scenery.
Day 7: Lauterbrunnen - Trummelbach Falls
We headed up the valley to the Trümmelbach Falls, which are mighty impressive, and we joined the other tourists in spending far too long taking artistic photos of moving water in a cave, very few of which succeeded.
We also walked up the path from just outside the campsite that takes you behind the Staubbach Falls, which gives a good view of the valley and gets you quite wet.
Day 8: Lauterbrunnen - Schynige Platte
The railway is impressively steep, and the rolling stock in all beautiful vintage stuff - although, being Switzerland, it's all pristine and feels like it was made yesterday, and possibly licked clean this morning just to be sure.
The ride up the mountain takes you through some impressive scenery, depositing you at the top with some even more impressive scenery - the aforementioned Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains are in the distance, and Schynige Platte itself is a popular walking & hiking location with views down to Interlaken and lakes Thun and Brienz.
After being transported back down the mountain, we drove up to Grindelwald, which was mostly touristy and skiing centric, so we turned round and headed back to camp where the scenery was better!
Day 9: Lauterbrunnen to Bern
Via Thun which is yet another very pretty town.
We stopped at Camping Eicholtz, which was fine although the showers required tokens, a pet hate of mine.
We saw a couple of other Land Rovers camping, both very smart 110's (presumably in Switzerland it's a rich man's toy due to taxes etc.). Got chatting to one guy who worked in Bern and basically camped in his (very smartly converted) 110 rather than rent a flat or stay in a hotel - both of which I'm sure would be hellishly expensive.
We walked into Bern along the river, and paid a visit to the Altes Tramdepot brewery next to Bern's famous bear pit, which was being refurbished and a swanky new riverside enclosure for the bears was being built. Although that meant the bears were away “on holiday” at the zoo, I'm quite glad we didn't see them as the old bear pit was not a great place to keep a bear, let alone several bears.
Day 10: Bern
Bern is very pretty and has an awesome clock. Every hour, on the hour, hordes of tourists stand in the middle of the road & tram way to watch it do its thing. I don't know how many survive.
We also did the Paul Klee museum1) which is a big swoopy architectural thing by the side of the dual carriageway. It had a few interesting bits and bobs, including the history of Klee and how his work developed over time, but I suppose you've got to be a huge Paul Klee fan to get the most out of it.
Day 11: Bern to Epernay
We arrived at the frenzied peak of grape picking season, grabbing the last space in the municipal camping. The place was heaving with migrant workers living out of their cars & small popup tents, and the electrics were constantly being unplugged so that someone could plug in a different combination of 7 different international adaptors to convert 16A commando socket to iPhone charger by way of Bulgarian hairdryer. The facilities were taking a battering, but as 90% of the campsite was up at dawn and loaded onto tractors to go picking, we were instructed that if we allowed a strategic pause for the cleaners to do their thing, we could get in & have the place to ourselves before the tea-time rush threw everything into disarray again.
Day 12: Epernay - Champagne Mercier
We wandered round Épernay, which is basically wall-to-wall champagne houses (many impressive Châteaus and gates). We did a tour and tasting at Champagne Mercier, which includes a miniature train ride through their vast cellars (Dr Evil would be proud, all it needs is a monorail and some qasi-futuristic laser weapons). You've never seen so many bottles in a hole in the ground in your life. We had a tasting of the various offerings, with notes from their sommelier who reminded me of some amusing French character from a film I can't quite put my finger on.
Day 13: Epernay to Bollezeele (Nr. St.Omer)
A very charming camp site, which seemed more geared to people living in static caravans than to visiting tourists. The Madame who ran it was very friendly, but spoke no English. That didn't stop her from chatting away 19 to the dozen with us. In the evening she seemed to have all her mates round to sit in the campsite reception/shop/bar/terrace and drink, when I went up for an extra shower token she handed one over gratis, and I'm pretty sure she under-charged us for the camping too!
Day 14: Bollezeele - La Coupole
From our base in Bollezeele, we decided on a day trip out to La Coupole. It's a massive reinforced concrete dome / bunker built near the end of WW2 for the production of V2 rockets. Now it's a pretty amazing place and very interesting museum.
The ground floor, if that's the right term for a complex of tunnels, contains all the tunnels (many incomplete) where the V2's and their components were to be assembled. When we visited, there were long displays detailing much of the terrible history of WW2 in relation to the site's construction, slave labour etc. After a long and solemn period of reading we wandered through the tunnels toward an unassuming lift, which I assumed would deposit us in a gift shop. Wrong! On the upper floor, under the massive dome, is a huge area containing a brilliant exhibition worthy of something you'd find at the Science Museum in London. There's a section which goes even further into the terrible slave labour (the “Deportation and Genocide” section), but by that time we felt we'd pretty much got the message on that one. The rest of the exhibition, however, takes you through the “science bit”, chronicling the development of rockets and blowing stuff up, including the V1 and V2 and leading into the space race and atomic bomb. They've got some great stuff, most interesting were the bits describing which of the top scientists were poached by the victorious sides after WW2 to go on to be pivotal in the space race. Not just Wernher von Braun, but dozens of others who were whisked off by the Americans, Russians, and others to play rockets after the war.
That evening, on the recommendation of mademoiselle at the campsite, we walked the short distance into Bollezeele to the Bar “Au Tour Du Monde”, which turns out to be something of a meeting place for classic car & motorbike clubs. The proprietor, a sort of French version of Dick Strawbridge, gave us an impromptu tour of his back room which contains his collection of lovingly restored classic bikes. Unfortunately neither of us had brought a camera with us, and I'm not a bike nut so I couldn't tell you what he had other than they were clearly properly vintage and really excellently restored, but that's enough to be impressive and well worth a look. The food was good too, as was the beer.
Day 15: Bollezeele to Basingstoke
This was supposed to be a simple day - get up, get to the ferry, get home. Of course, just as we were about to leave I noticed we had gained a flat tyre overnight! Being in a hurry I squirted some tyre gunk in it and pumped it up, resolving to keep an eye on it. It got us to the ferry and home OK, but did lead to wolf rims being fitted before the next trip.
Things We Learned
As this was the shakedown trip for the Mk.1 camper conversion we came back with a huge list of ideas, improvements, and a to-do list as long as Aphex Twin's Limo.