Pisa to Sierre

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Our plan for the day had been to rise a bit earlier than we had been and hit the road before parking needed to be paid for at 8:00 am. Majella and I were up reasonably early and we managed to get Joel moving and down to breakfast by about 7:30 am.

Just before 8:00 am I left breakfast to feed the parking machine (€1 for 40 minutes to be safe), intending to meet Majella and Joel back in the room. They were still in the lift waiting to go up when I went to do the same. Back in the room we made our final preparations and then decided to use some of our remaining free Internet access and my Skype-out credit to call Jane. This time she was home, Skype worked as it should, and Joel was able to talk with her for several minutes with a good connection. For good measure we called Hannah and spoke with her for several minutes too.

By the time we checked out and packed the car we had used most of the 40 minutes of parking time. I pointed TomTom toward Grand St Bernard, our intermediate destination, and off we went. We needed to buy fuel but were not excited by the prices we found along the short track that TomTom plotted to the autostrada entry near the airport. We knew we could get better prices than the €1.55 or so that we were seeing and headed off to look for them. After a couple of unsuccessful forays into the near neighbourhood, we found ourselves driving through the city, across the river and into another unfamiliar part of the city. I had hoped to find a way to the road we had followed to Viareggio on Tuesday, remembering that we had seen cheaper fuel out that way. Instead we found a fuel station in the eastern part of Pisa selling fuel at €1.48. We filled the tank at that bargain price and then let TomTom lead us around the eastern outskirts of Pisa, back past the airport, and onto the autostrada bound for Genova and points north. By that time it was close to 9:20 am and we were a bit behind our target time.

We made good time along the autostrada, travelling at 120 kph or better, but the ETA provided by TomTom continued to slip a little later. Evidently TomTom expected us to drive at the 130 kph limit or close as we did occasionally but not often enough to keep pace. Once we were well clear of the city, I hooked up the iPod and we listened to a few of the Coffee Break French podcasts I had brought along. Majella found them useful for tuning her ears to French. Joel and I picked up a few words for greetings and basic manners.

Somewhere north of Genova we changed drivers. An hour or so later we stopped at a servizio past the Torino junction for lunch which I ordered from the cafeteria in my best Italian. Joel had a buffalino. Majella and I each had a caprese – bread roll with mozzarella, tomato, basil and oregano. I washed mine down with the chino that Majella had not drunk the previous day. From there we pressed on to Aosta where we left the autostrada, paid our toll charge – €30.80 – and headed toward Grand St Bernard. Remembering the twists and turns of the drive down from the pass with Emily in 2006, I had decided that we should take the tunnel this time and backtrack the short distance up the Swiss side to the pass. That was the route recommended by Google Maps. So, despite the continuing advice from TomTom to take the road up the pass, I headed for the tunnel entrance. That was a challenging drive, though easier than either side of the pass as I recalled it. What we had not reckoned on was the toll for the tunnel – €22.40 – but we put that down to the experience and figured we would not need to do it again.

Joel enjoyed visiting the dogs at Grand Saint Bernard when we stopped at the pass on our way from Italy to Switzerland.

We cleared customs at the Italian end of the tunnel, before paying the toll, and the 6 km through the mountain was otherwise uneventful. Once on the other side I drove up the 4 km or so to the pass where we stopped for Joel to check out the remnant snow and the St Bernard dogs. Majella took us back down the pass and on to Sierre where we arrived at the Cure sometime after 4:30 pm, having detoured round roadworks on the direct route and seen some interesting side tracks through the vineyards on the hill above the Cure.

Marie Francoise, Roland and Michel greeted us warmly. After a drink at the Cure, they led us up the hill to Serafino where we were to stay during our visit. They showered us with gifts and hospitality, including dinner, until past sundown when they left us to rest. Serafino, the house they are preparing for their retirement, was stocked with everything we might need during our stay – food for breakfast, fruit, chocolate, and more – and we were instructed that we must not buy anything to replace what we used.