Early morning on the Rhine
Sunday dawned a bit murky. It wasnâ€™t necessarily cold, but it wasnâ€™t really warm either. And the distinctly grey skies only enhanced the lazy mood I awoke with. Derik fried some frozen potato sticks we had and scrambled some eggs. The potatoes were definitely nothing to write about, so I wonâ€™t. The eggs however were GREAT! As my luck would have it, since heâ€™d done the cooking I was pleasured with doing the dishes. Those potato things really scaled the bottom of our frying pan, but eventually everything came clean.
I was out taking pictures of the Rhine when I was stunned to see a trumpeter swan, slowing paddling its way upstream toward me.
Just as he got to me, he turned and came directly towards me until he was less than 10 ft away. Moments later a kingfisher of some sort flitted onto a nearby railing and then dashed off to join its mate. For some reason that woke me from my fowl trance and I decided we should get going.
My trumpeter friend
Our plan was rather simple. Find some fuel and then head for Switzerland, which was about 2 blocks away from us. Actually, the Rhine is the border, so we were on the edge of it looking into Switzerland. But the bridge we could use to cross was only two blocks away. So after filling the tank we drove across the bridge and met a very nice border patrol officer who asked for our passports and then told us to pull over and park, which we did.
After looking at Arvieâ€™s paperwork, he left for a few moments and then quickly returned with our passports. We asked if our German freeway access sticker was OK in Switzerland and he answered affirmatively. It was only after weâ€™d driven away and I picked up the passports to look at, did I realize he hadnâ€™t stamped them. Being part of the EU, they donâ€™t bother I guess.
It was quite a rush to realize I was finally in Switzerland. Iâ€™ve flown through Zurich a couple times, but thatâ€™s clearly not the same as driving through a section of the country. Derik had outlined a route that would take us across the width of Switzerland and then through a piece of Lichtenstein (which is really all there is to the country in the first place) and then on into Austria.
I have no idea if every road you drive over here offers the same sights, but this route was gorgeous. It was still grey out, and that didnâ€™t necessarily enhance the view, but it also didnâ€™t distract from it. Switzerland is a small place to begin with and we certainly werenâ€™t in it for a real long time. We mostly stayed at the base of some tall mountains, but they were skirted with adorable homes that were by now all your typical Swiss chalet style. As we wandered around and across the Rhine from place to place, I was surprised at how frequently I saw more swans too. The water was already something that caught your eye because of its distinct blue-green color, but then to see a trumpeter swan just floating stately by - it was really neat.
Before we realized what had happened or how we got there, we were in Lichtenstein.
In fact I didnâ€™t realize it until Derik had stopped at a gas station so I could buy a soda and get us some swiss francs. When I went in I saw a few things that made me wonder where we were. Then I realized we were in Lichtenstein, as they took both francs and euros and there were postcards about Lichtenstein. I told Derik and he figured out that the river we had just crossed and could still see, was the border and just ahead of us on the road we were on, was the border patrol hut for Austria. Yes, itâ€™s THAT small!
Room with a view
Weâ€™d read in one of our books that Austria is a toll-road system and we would need to purchase a special tag and place in our windshield to show we had paid taxes to be on the roads. So we considered getting it at the station we were at, but we were confused because we already had a tag in our window from Germany and the guy at the Swiss border had told us we were fine, so we forded on ahead.
When we got to the border Derik flashed our passports and we were waved on through. Not wanting to miss the opportunity for another passport stamp, we asked if he would mind stamping them. He looked at us with that, â€śStupid Americansâ€ť look and took them inside. He brought them out a few minutes later and as we drove away I confirmed the stamps did indeed exist. Very non-exciting, as they are the same as every other EU country, just with the code letter for the country in the top left. So, I already have several like it. And then it occurred to us - he really would have been the perfect person to ask about our tags (which are called vignettes over here). But we hadnâ€™t and by now we were well on down the road.
Church in Schnaan, Austria
Derik started to get nervous when he observed some sort of structure built over the roads that he thought perhaps was designed to zap your tag and make sure youâ€™d paid.
So in due time we stopped and asked at another station and learned that indeed we did need a tag. Weâ€™re not sure why, but compared to the first station weâ€™d seen them, it was about half price at this station. So, I guess everything really does work out in the end.
Interior of church in Schnaan, Austria.
But the real drama of the day was the Alps. Clear through Austria it was one stunning view after another. Wherever we looked, we were in awe and subsequently in danger of driving off the road. As the day went on the sun had come out so that everything was just unbelievable. It couldnâ€™t have been more perfect.
If there was one thing about the drive that was a letdown, it was that the road we were on.
We frequently went through tunnels - some of them were quite long. One of them was at least 11km long and we had to pay a toll at the other end. Somewhere around there, we decided to get off this road that, as I put it, kept taking us through the bowels of the Alps.
Pew carvings in Schnaan Church
We pulled off into the little town of Schnaan and after finding parking hoofed it around the streets. Not by any means a tourist town, we elicited a few looks as we walked around taking pictures everywhere. And it was all gorgeous. But probably the thing I enjoyed the most was a little chapel we stumbled into. Actually, the steeple was what got us to stop in the first place. We wanted photos with it and the mountains. But as long as we were there, it seemed only right to go in.
And it was beautiful - right down to the benches that were very ornately carved.
After weâ€™d exhausted the photo-worthy spots in Schnaan we headed out of town on some side roads to avoid the tunnels. And it worked for a while until we made a wrong turn and headed for what looked like a long tunnel to the south of Austria somewhere. We really had no choice but to see where it took us as we couldn't just stop in the road and cross a media in Arvie. And so we headed across this bridge towards it when all of the sudden just before the bridge there opened up a spot on the shoulder wide enough we could turn around and avoid our previous destiny. Derik managed to get Arvie stopped in time and turning around we were once more headed in the right direction, much to our relief.
By now it was getting to be late afternoon and the sun was turning colors on the Alps.
Again, there really arenâ€™t words to describe it all. We stopped a number of times in a very short distance so we could take more pictures at different angles of more mountains. For a bit there we literally stopped every half km. But it was all worth it as the scenery was truly breathtaking.
As evening became night, we pulled into a small campground near the town of Tirol. Rather than push on to Germany, we decided to stop here for the night so we could see what dawn was like in the Alps.