Warmed Up Wanderers Hit Sudden Sun
29 March 2000
Written by Lowanna
Subject: Netherlands - Switzerland

We are staying in a beautiful Mediterranean style Youth Hostel in Figino in southern Switzerland. The plan was to leave the hostel first thing this morning and cycle across the border into Italy but the torrential rain outside (and the fact that it is Sunday) was enough to convince us to take the day off and chill out here instead.

It has taken us a lot less time to cycle through Northern Europe than we imagined. I can't believe that we have already cycled through Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, France and Switzerland (almost).

We were feeling really chuffed with our speedy progress until we looked at our world atlas and discovered that the length of Italy alone is the equivalent to the total distance we have done altogether since we left Oxfordshire. We thought the mountains were well and truly behind us but it looks like they have only just begun - 35% of Italy is over 2300ft!!! .

Climbing over the Swiss Alps was one of the biggest mental and physical challenges of my life. Because it was winter the The Gottard Pass (2100m) was closed so we could only go as far the train station at Göschenen (1100m).

After an entire afternoon of continual climbing I was really emotional when we got to the top. The last stretch was quite scary as the sun had fallen behind the ridges, the temperature was dropping rapidly and by now we had actually reached the snow line that had seemed high up in the heavens when we saw it from Luzern. I was quite shaky as I struggled up that last steep stretch towards the station. Exhaustedly blissed out we waited for our train, staring at the dark looming shapes that still surrounded us, feeling totally humbled by the sheer size of their blue silhouettes.

Waking up the next morning in Airolo we felt really spaced out and even a little nauseous as though we were hang over. We were wondering if it was to do with the altitude so quickly pulled on all three layers of gloves ready for the big descent. You wouldn't believe now cold your fingers get going 49km an hour downhill!

The moment we left the European side of the Alps and arrived on the southern side we were quite shocked by how different everything was. The land was really dry, the houses were mediterranean and everyone was saying "Bon journo" instead of "Grurtzi". We had to keep reminding ourselves that we were still in Switzerland because it looked and felt like we were in Italy already.

But we were still completely surrounded by mountains. At first we found them totally breathtaking, especially the snow-covered peaks around Luzern, but after four days we started to feel closed-in and were longing to see the horizon again.

Yesterday we climbed over the last of the Alps (only 550m) and it was so hot I exposed my bare arms to the sun for the first time in what seems like eternity. Can't tell you how good it feels to finally feel warm again after all those frosty nights camping out in Netherlands and Belgium…