July 6, 2013: After a hearty breakfast and a much needed dose of caffeine, we were ready to hit the road once again. There was only one untraveled pass left out of Andermatt, the Oberalp. But instead of taking it, we decided on a repeat performance of the St. Gotthard Pass, hoping this time to find the old, old road. We’d heard so much about it, that it would be a shame to miss out on driving it when we were oh so close.
But finding it was turning out to be a real mystery. We managed to drive a short section of the old, cobblestoned road up near the summit of the newer road, but the trail quickly went cold. Rather than stopping and asking for directions, we decided to drive back down the newer highway and try and pick up the old road at the southern end. We picked the most likely looking side road a little to the north of the town of Airolo, and as luck would have it, it was the right choice. It wasn’t marked by any road signs, probably to keep tourists like us down to a trickle.
It was definitely worth the extra effort to find this route over the Alps that has been in use since the 13th Century. The road itself, which dates back to 1830, is another amazing feat of engineering with switchbacks climbing the steep valley to the summit. Not a road for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. Somewhat surprisingly, there were only a very few motorcycles on it. Possibly a combination of the tight turns, cobblestone surface, slow speeds and lack of signage conspired to keep the riders at bay. Besides, the newer road is much smoother with faster corners.
Hard to believe that the newest road, the tunnel that cuts under the pass and bypasses the pass altogether, was right beneath us. It’s the route used by the vast majority of drivers in a hurry to get to their final destination. What a pity to miss out on the views.
Satisfied by our latest conquest, we returned to Andermatt and found the start of the Oberalp Pass. More incredible alpine vistas, much more traffic and a surprising number of motorcycles that we didn’t expect to see. Like Harley Davidsons, big touring Honda Goldwings and speedy Japanese imports. In the land of BMWs, Ducati’s and Moto Guzzi’s, we were perplexed wondering why anyone would want to ride anything else and we were itching to get back on two wheels.
A stop at the Oberalp summit for coffee leads to my only real complaint on this whole vacation. We hadn’t changed any Euros into Swiss Francs because Euros are widely accepted in Switzerland. The exchange rates might not be quite as good as you would get at a bank, but they’re generally fair. But not here. Our waitress took ten Euros for a five Franc bill. And a Euro is actually worth more than a Franc. When I tried to ask her about it, all of a sudden she forgot how to speak English. Not happy with the Restaurant Piz Calmot!
Back in the car, we quickly discovered that our camera battery was done. Not surprising. Although it was fully charged when we set off for our drive before breakfast this morning, we’d already taken somewhere between 300 and 400 pictures today. (That’s only 50-60 per hour, or roughly one per minute.)
We stopped for a leisurely lunch of grilled bratwurst and potato salad at a roadside resto, where the couple who ran it kindly let us charge up and restored my faith in Alpine hospitality.
We still had several hours before we were to meet some friends that evening in Frauenfeld, located about halfway between Zurich and Konstanz. The distances weren’t long, so we consulted the map on the lookout for interesting possible routes (aka twisty). After lunch, we made our way to the town of Chur and then headed towards Walensee, one of the larger lakes in Switzerland.
Try as we might, we could not find the road we wanted (and the alternative was a boring highway), so we made an impromptu change in our plans and zipped through the Rhein River valley before turning off into the Appenzeller Alps. Not as imposing as their southern counterparts, they were beautiful nonetheless. Through the winter resorts of Wildhaus, St. Johann and Passhöhe, the rolling countryside around Wil (where all the surrounding towns are also Wils, like Flawil and Uzwil), eventually making our way to Speckborn, a small town on the Untersee.
Here we actually parked the car, got out and went for a walk along the lakeshore, watching newby divers finish their training dives and radio operators race their remote controlled sailboats. Lucky for us, the parking meter took our Euro coins or we would have been hooped. We dined in a little garden courtyard overlooking the lake and across to the far shore in Germany before hopping back in the car and driving a short distance to Frauenfeld, our stop for the night.
Our friends Lukas and Martina, who we met a couple of years ago in Indonesia, welcomed us into their home and we ended spent a very fun evening catching up, eating swiss cheeses and other nibblies and drinking red wine. Swiss miss Selina, their young daughter, wasn’t too sure about us though. I guess we spoke funny. Thank you for inviting us in and making us feel right at home!!!