Friday, 29 July 2011

I'm looking at the big sky

We’re in a really cool 1950s motel in a town called Lugano in Switzerland. It’s one of those proper American-style places with garages underneath the rooms. There's a great big concrete curve of rooms which screams Route 66! We’re on a terrace, about to eat a plate of pasta, which will be pretty much the first decent food we’ve had today. A table of pissed Germans are giggling inanely behind us, and for some reason they’re really beginning to annoy me! I’m probably just over-tired.

Our incredibly long car journey, started, in Catford, at 4am this morning. My travel companion is Julie, whose house in Italy we’re going to be staying in from tomorrow night. The journey down was gruelling but wonderful. For starters, I’d never been in the euro tunnel before, and the experience was utterly surreal. You just sit there in your car, which obviously remains static whilst the world flickers past through the train windows. It’s like being on an elaborate conveyer belt. I felt like a fancy prize in the Generation Game!

We were driving in Northern France by 6am, which felt particularly bizarre. The sun had only just risen, and the world was bathed in a beautiful yellow impressionist light. Misty cornfields becoming banks of smudgy clouds in pastel colours. Julie pointed out that this was the part of France which had been a mecca for impressionist painters in the 19th Century. Maybe they were simply painting what they regularly saw. We had an interesting discussion about how different areas can have very specific light; those wide skies in Canada, the murky grey light of the Norfolk fens...

The journey through France was extremely tiring and my back now aches. We took it in turns to drive through mile after mile of bland countryside, twisting around a long list of First World War battle sites. Vimy Ridge, Verdun. It was my first experience of driving on the right hand side of the road, and my first attempt at driving an automatic car. I kept going for the clutch and therefore ending up with my foot firmly on the break. We listened to music and various pod casts. Julie slept a bit. We stopped at a succession of ghastly service stations; some no more than a few dirty porta-loos sitting forlornly next to broken coffee machines. Many of the male loos were filled with women, which was somewhat off-putting.

Somewhere near the comically named town of Nancy, we took a wrong turning, and then had a tire burst on us. I was driving at the time. It wasn’t as frightening as it perhaps should have been. There was a convenient lay-by and we immediately set about trying to change the wheel. Unfortunately, the car came with what can only be described as a “Fisher Price” jack, which buckled under the weight of the vehicle. Our only option was to flag someone down, and within about 3 minutes of frantically waving our arms at passing motorists, an angel arrived, in the shape of a motorway maintenance man. He had a jack – a nice stainless steel thing – but it didn’t have a handle, which meant we were forced to crank it up with a pair of pliers. Our angel sat in the cab of his van, and looked rather amused at the antics of the funny English people.

It was a great relief to enter Switzerland, not only because it meant we were nearer to our destination, but also because neither of us are that fond of France. I’ve never been here before, and it feels like a very wealthy, clean, perhaps clinical sort of place. The service stations are like shiny airport departure lounges; Toblerones and camp cuckoo clocks everywhere. They’re certainly proud of the clichés they’ve donated to the world. Entering the country was like opening an enormous box of posh chocolates. Within seconds, we were driving through the most spectacular countryside with mountains as tall as I’d ever seen, bathed in sunlight and reaching into the clouds. Waterfalls were hurtling down shingle cliffs. There were lime green pastures rolling into metallic blue lakes and wisps of smoky mist rising from dark forests. Tiny log cabins were clinging almost comically to hillsides. It’s everything you’d expect, but somehow neater!

Monday July 29th, 1661, and it seemed most of Pepys’ relatives were suddenly ill. His Aunt Fenner was properly poorly and his cousin Charles, though ill himself, had gone into the country to see his other cousin, John, who was “a-dying” there.

Pepys spent much of the day doing business before calling in on his mother to instruct her to go easy on the spending, particularly as Uncle Robert’s will seemed no closer to being sorted out.

1 comment:

  1. Morning the day after. Breakfast on the terrace, ambrosial coffee and divine cherry jam. Now back to the car, but shortly we'll be in Italy - Hurray! Julie xxx