To make our way south to Italy, we would have to pull a Hannabal and cross The Alps. Fresh out of war elephants, we would be using our little rented Citroën we called Benny.
Benny was perhaps the perfect vehicle for an alpine crossing because he had the biggest windshield of any car we’d ever seen. It extended all the way up to the middle of the roof. Kind of a sunroof / windshield combo. Perfect for viewing the mountainous majesty.
Our route would take us through the smallest German-speaking country in the world, Liechtenstein, and then, not as much over The Alps as through them, via The San Bernardino tunnel. But before leaving the Germanic region of Europe, we needed one last food fix.
At a little roadside cafe we dined al fresco on a farewell schnitzel and a Deutsch treat we were unfamiliar with, Flädlesuppe. Our waitress called this “pancake soup.” It didn’t really sound so good to us, soggy flapjacks in a soup, but it was the only suppe offering for the day so, two bowls bitte.
Luckily, we were wrong. The pancakes were quite different from The International House of variety. These were what are known as Palatschinken in these parts, more like a crêpe. They are heavier on the eggs in the dough, so they didn’t turn to mush in the broth. No syrup needed and two thumbs up.
And the schnitzel was fantastic!
Onward and upward. The Principality of Liechtenstein is perched up in the mountains, surrounded by Switzerland on three sides and Austria on the other. For centuries the Liechtenstein dynasty longed for some land to call its own so they could join in with the other monarchies in Europe. Finally, in 1712 they bought up this little plot and officially joined The Holy Roman Empire a few years later. When the empire collapsed, Liechtenstein managed to maintain its sovereignty.
The Prince still lives in the Vaduz Castle overlooking the capital city of the same name. City might be a stretch, Vaduz is home to only about five thousand Liechtensteinians, including the prince and both of his castle guards. Yup, there are only two guys guarding the royal residence. Considering that this is the second wealthiest country (per capita) in the world, they don’t seem too concerned with security. Hardly heist proof, we’d think.
From the tiny principality we started to do some serious climbing, up toward San Bernardino Pass. This pass is one of the handful of possible paths over The Alps. Though it’s not likely that any elephants came this way, they were probably farther to the west, records indicate that people have been using this route for over five hundred years. For the last forty or so of those years, a tunnel has saved those travelers from facing the last fifteen hundred feet of the climb.
The San Bernardino tunnel opened in 1967 and cut miles, and hours, off of the trip over the mountains. This ginormous hole also made the trip possible in the winter. At just over four miles long, it’s hard to believe that this is nowhere near the longest of the tunnels through the Alps, the St. Gottard between Zurich and Milan is more than twice as long, over ten miles. And under that same route the Swiss are finishing up the longest tunnel in the world, a railway link between the two cities that’s over thirty five miles long. Those zany Swiss are some tunnel diggin’ buffoons!
Before we entered the giant tube, we pulled off for a coffee and pee stop and stumbled upon perhaps the world’s highest, and strangest rest area. The setting was somewhat surreal, a beautiful alpine meadow, herds of Swiss cows, complete with clanging cowbells around their necks, grazing among the chalets, and the weirdest toilets we have ever encountered.
We have experienced many types of potties in our travels, but nothing like this. A row of very high tech looking stainless, and we mean stainless, port-a- potties were out behind a little snack bar. It took a little studying of the situation just to figure out how things might work. The toilet seat was attached to the wall, behind the bowl, in a vertical position. Not a problem for the male of the species, as long as number one was all we were attempting. I just left well enough alone and wizzed away. I couldn’t figure out how to flush the bugger though. I knew it would flush, since I could hear Veronica’s unit flushing like an avalanche repeatedly next door.
Back outside, we compared our water closet experiences. Veronica’s was certainly the more action packed. Faced with the desire to actually sit on the seat, she grabbed some tissue to shield her hand and pulled the sucker down from the wall. Unfortunately, as soon as she let go to turn around and cop a squat, the damn thing flew right back up against the wall and violently flushed the bowl.
The crazy seat was spring loaded! It folded down off the wall like a trundle bed, then snapped back up, unless forcibly held in place, causing the loudest rush of a flush she’d ever heard. After several attempts she managed to get up on the thing before it catapulted back against the wall. It was the first time she’d been scared of a bathroom since potty training.
Bladders emptied and coffee cups filled, we were ready to burrow Benny under the mountains. Four miles may not sound so long, but it’s enough of a distance to bring on a bit of a creepy feeling once we started thinking about just how much rock was overhead. But we were comforted by the knowledge that the Swiss would never build anything less than the best in the world. They are seriously serious about doing things right, no matter how odd their porta johns might be.
Relieved to finally come out of the tunnel, we found ourselves in a different world. Due to another oddity of Switzerland – with its four official languages – all the road signs had morphed from German to Italian.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com