Genoa calling - or how we survived Switzerland

This is the report you have all been waiting for – how we survived Swiss floods and conquered the Alps, so read on…

After a leisurely time in Zug we head West on a roundabout route towards Luzern. We encounter manic Swiss lawn mowers at the campsite who are so keen they mow off one of our tent pegs. Ian buys waterproof trousers in the nick of time before we go past the town of Rain – which lives up to its name. We have a busy road into Luzern to visit more relations, Ians Uncle and Aunt, David and Kirsti. More deserved rest and relaxation. The downside is we get to hear the weather forecast which is rain for the next 2 days. David trys to persuade us to stay but we have a schedule to keep (meeting my parents in Italy). So we leave Luzern as it starts to rain for the whole day to Interlaken. Climbing the hills people toot and wave or just point and laugh hysterically at the 2 soggy English cyclists. Apart from making us very wet the rain is stopping us see some stunning scenery. The mountains are shrouded in mist mainly – we could be in Slough, almost. We stay in a hostel at Interlaken next to the bridge which the water is just going under by about 30cm. By morning the water is even higher.

Our most exciting day yet follows. As we go around the Thunersee (in rain) the road goes under rocky outcrops which have water pouring from them. Ian avoids most of the water, but then a car approaches from the other direction forcing us back onto our side of the road. Woosh. We are soaked immediately. We wander around the castle at Thun and head West for REAL excitment. We view the river Simme which is very full of gushing, muddy water and push on. The policeman is stopping cars to tell them the road is closed but is not interested in us so we keep going. At our lunch stop we are told to go back, but that would add days to our ride and more mountain passes as roads are few and far between around here. So we sneak on while no-one is looking. Our first encounter is a minor muddy road with water still flowing across it. The sadistic fireman waves us across and we almost make it, putting our feet down in the last minute in 5cm water. Then we notice that the surrounding mountainsides have muddy gashes where the land has slipped. I suggest we can always take the train until we see the train line at the bottom of the valley is covered with water. People are being airlifted from one village to the next. We keep going……….

Less than a mile on the road is totally blocked by mud. We find out afterwards that it took more than 20 truckloads to clear and 1 man had been waiting since 9am to get across. We wait for 1hr watching digger and trucks at work. When nearly clear we (OK then I) decide to go for it and we wade through 30cm of mud. The Swiss watching can not believe our stupidity and neither can we as it takes 20mins to clean us and bike, but only 5 mins to finally clear the road. A Swiss/Aussie takes pity on us and feeds us hot food and lets us sleep in his hay barn. From the door I look up and ponder how stable the mountain above is. We have heard that Luzern and Interlaken are flooded.

We make it through the night and head off despite more warnings of closed roads. We stop once for trees to be chopped and cleared from the road and then we are off to more touristy towns again. We climb the Col de Pillon (1546m) and are back in French speaking land which makes Ian happy. Due to years of brainwashing by Ian I agree to climb another col for the fun of it rather than taking the downhill route to the next town. We shoot down from 1778m to 422m through vineyards and thin hairpin roads.

My brainwashing of Ian kicks in and we enjoy the Pierre Giannada Foundation in Martigny, a mix of art, photography, sculptures, Roman remains and vintage car museum. We also get to hear Cecilia Bertoli practising for a concert while we mooch. Highly recommended. We head to Sembacher towards the Grand St Bernard pass to try and make the day going over the top a bit shorter. Of the 3 campsites on the map 2 are residential only and one is non existent. We grumpily turn around back to Martigny to the campsite we were at the night before.

The day of the Grand St Bernard pass dawns. We start climbing back to Sembacher and then the road keeps going up, for ever. After lunch we feel a bit stronger again. I watch a lone touring cyclist go past hardly moving it seems. We jump on our bike again to try and keep up with him, but he slowly pulls away ! There is 6km of open tunnel before most of the traffic heads through the proper tunnel over the top. Cyclists have no choice and have to climb another 7km to the real top. The road does not seem really steep but if you make the mistake of looking up you can see the cars above, where the road must be. It makes it seem impossible, but if you keep pedalling you look down a few minutes later and have a glow of achievement when you can see where you have been. The number of stops we take are increasing, mainly due to sweat in our eyes. The road keepsgoing up, twisting backwards and forth. The effect on our bodies is strange. We are not out of breath, we can speak normally, our legs do not feel totally knackered but we just are suffering from overall exhaustion. And then we are at the top among coaches and surprised Japanese tourists. We have done it. It has taken 6hrs (with lunch and various stops) to cover 45km of road and an increase of 2km in height. Phew. At the top you can buy any size St Bernard dog you like. We just get more food.

On the way down I experience a different kind of pain – gritted teeth, despite Ian being very careful at descending. As we stop for a campsite Ian decides to touch the drag brake to see if it is hot. The burn only takes a few days to heal. We collapse for the night well pleased.

The next day is mainly downhill fortunately as it takes at least a day for us to recover. We head South East and leave the mountains and enter rice field country. Its fairly hot with very little shade. Many of the houses are in need of TLC and work from Ian. He has a wistful glint in his eyes. We stop in a dingy hotel in Vercelli as there are no campsites. This towns claim to fame is that it is where we both got bitten to death by mossies. However I had an extreme reaction on my feet of huge watery blisters and much swelling, making walking difficult. Its now 5 days later and my feet are still swollen. This has not been fun.

Due to the heat we take up siestas of a midday beer and snooze in a cafe. Alessandria is a fair sized city with interesting architecture and an amazing star shaped citadel. In any other country this citadel would be a tourist attraction, but after walking to it we discover it is still in use as an army base and is out of bounds. We head further south and it gets a bit cooler in the mountains near the coast. We have 2 frustrating days trying to find campsites that are very poorly signposted. And then we can see the sea. Ian immediately gets changed and jumps in for a swim (I am hobbled by swollen yucky feet). We go along the coast towards Genoa and have more relaxation with my cousin Ruth and her husband Neil. We arrive 2hrs before my parents fly in from England. Hows that for timing ?

We have spent 2 days relaxing near Genoa before we go to my cousins country residence in the mountains further East. Genoa is a very hilly city with very small little shopping lanes. We enjoy a walk up the tower in the cathedral to see views around the city and Ian is disappointed when my parents refuse to courier various tools back from an interesting DIY store.

I will try and nag Ian into downloading some pictures of our latest exciting exploits but it is time consuming and he has a short concentration span when it comes to using computers. We are still having a great time but the heat is getting to me – I know I was complaining about too much water earlier, I’m just never satisfied.



Hi Penny & Ian,
Belgium seems a long time ago now but I’m glad you enjoyed it. Hope the weather has improved by now. People think we are brave, when the worst thing we suffered from was a bit of numb bum after 300 miles on the first day, but you are heroes. Looking forward to more exploits.

Be safe

Diane & Tony

Good to see you

Hi there Ian and Penny.
Was nice to see you here in Lucerne.
Just heard you are in Lucca at the moment and it is raining… again… (or still?)
Interesting to read how you managed to escape central Switzerland in quite a crazy manner…

Hope you’ll still experience a couple of sunny days.


You should have gone cycling in Portugal, they wold have loved the rain. smile

Nice tale

I’m really enjoying your tale of Adventure!
Hope the waether has improved since Switzerland.


Good Riding!

Hi Penny & Ian,

I hope you found my last comments. I really enjoyed reading about your muddy exploits. Reading Ian touching the drag brake had me rolling about. You’ve got a very good writing style. I look fwd to further exploits.

Good riding!


“Ian decides to touch the drag brake to see if it is hot”

You only do that once!