Sunday 20 May 2012

Turtmann Valley, Switzerland - White van man

White van drivers can drive you crazy. I had one right up my tail as I cycled through a long tunnel on the Simplon Pass, my route from Italy to Switzerland. But I didn’t mind this time … the white van driver was Bart in his camper!

Those of you following my bicycle blog will be expecting tales of the hardships of tent life and the challenges of the long road home but be prepared to be surprised … even shocked! As, for a short time only, I have swapped the tent and the bicycle for boots and a campervan. One week ago, on a cold, grey day, up in the late winter snows, I pulled up onto the 2005m Simplon Pass, one of the few Alpine passes open at this time of year, and found what I’d been looking for … a large white van, with two high windows, a satellite dish and a good-looking Belgian man!

Three weeks after parting in Italy, Bart and I are back together for a spot of walking in the Alps. Our base is Bart’s campervan … it’s a bit of luxury compared to my tent with kitchen, a bathroom complete with a hot shower, lounge/dining area and satellite TV so we can snuggle up and watch movies on the cold evenings. There is a part of the van that Bart calls the “garage” where all the play things are stored – several bikes, skis, snowshoes and sledges. Above 2000m it’s still winter in the Alps and on our first day in this valley we sat at the door of the van and watched as a north wind brought fresh snow to our little camp spot and the mountains and glaciers that rise sheer above us. But where the snow has receded colourful Alpine flowers poke up through the ground, as do the frisky little marmots that we see everywhere. The van has wifi for internet access, no matter that we are currently parked up in an empty dead-end valley. Don’t ask me exactly how it works! And yes … there are aluminium chairs … though it’s been a bit chilly for sitting outside.

Before we tucked ourselves away in the Turtmann Valley for a few days with the cupboards well-stocked with food, we took a short detour and cycled up to the swanky tourist resort of Zermatt. The bikes were chained up and we hiked high into the woods through gorgeous villages of wooden chalets before putting on our snowshoes and trekking through the snow to get a spectacular view of one of the most famous mountains in the world, the Matterhorn. It’s sheer rock walls rose above us into a blue sky as a cold wind whipped across the little top that we had climbed for a good view. We took the express route back down on our plastic sledges. Here in the Turtmann Valley, the van is parked up beside the river where we take our water and each day we walk up into the snow-covered mountains above us. Sometimes we are hiking through the forests alive with cuckoos, deer and squirrels and above the forests we strap on our snowshoes to get higher up into Alpine peaks, passes and cirques for sweeping panoramas that take in another famous mountain, Mont Blanc. On the way back we are always looking for a good slope and some hard snow to sledge down.

And at the end of each hiking day, I can come back and enjoy a relaxing coffee in the white van with my white van man!

Photos and words on Flickr.


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