Some people laugh at the fact that we take our cats skiing. But the cats love it! They chill on the motor home while we are out and then go out for a walk in the snow for a while when we return. The small space in the van means they are always close and so we have found they love their holidays. Obviously they can’t ski, without thumbs they would struggle to hold the poles and after the trouble with Maria’s ski boots and can’t imagine how we would get Bonnie fitted. But of course they could snowboard!?! Maybe like their ginger friend…..
Last year for our ski holiday we travelled to St Anton and stayed at a beautiful campsite with a plush adjacent bathroom. This worked really well as a bathroom, toilet, washing area and drying room. It also meant that we didn’t have an issue with damp on the van since this was all done in the en-suite. This was a stroke of luck actually because we had found the tanks had frozen after a few days so the only source of water we had was from our heated outhouse. This was a little disappointing that the water system froze since we had bought the winter pack for the van, with tank heaters to stop freezing, but these had been reset when the power had gone off for a short period and we hadn’t noticed. The water supply in our bathroom was fine and it therefore wasn’t too inconvenient.
The costs in St Anton were quite reasonable too, with the two weeks costing about €600 for the rental. We did make the mistake of using electricity for our heating though. This is less efficient than the gas and our electricity bill for the two weeks was about the same again – still a lesson learned. St Anton was great with a short bus ride to the skiing area but while there a couple suggested that we look into Fieberbrunn which is now linked to the Saalbach Hinterglemm ski area. Maria had set about sorting this out and had found a great camp site which is a short ski down from the runs and approximately 50 metres from the lifts. Like St Anton this one had a heated outhouse but maybe not quite so plush. However, the other facilities were excellent with a heated indoor/outdoor pool and a spa. We knew Maria would want to spend some time in there.
Our traditional route south when we go to Italy takes us mostly through France and we pay a lot in tolls to get there at a good pace. The suggested routing followed a similar route but cut through to Switzerland and then Austria but for a few minutes longer we could travel through Belgium and Germany avoiding the French tolls. We decided to give this route a go and it looked like it would take about twelve hours at our normal cruising speed. It would also mean no tolls until we got to Austria.
Maria likes to start the holiday early and it also helps if you can cut out the two hours on the UK side before checking into the tunnel for the train across the channel. We have found it takes four hours from home to get to Calais and so we break up the journey with an overnight in the UK and another half way to Austria.
So the day before our holiday, we drive down to the Eurotunnel or more precisely the Drum Inn which is a few minutes away from the entrance. We are both due to be working from home the next day and this allows us to do our jobs, pack up and be on the train nice and early. The Drum Inn is a pub with camping facilities in one of its gardens. This includes power, toilet and shower facilities and it isn’t too expensive. Although Maria and I have been successfully dieting for the last few months, we decide to eat in the restaurant. There is a reasonable selection and good quality without being amazing or too expensive, so good pub food.
The next day we are up early and both working away, the traditional rush before you go on holiday. I have prepared a handover document but unfortunately we have had some problems with a supplier at work and it looks like I will be doing a few calls and meetings while I am away, not ideal but the price you pay if you want to do a good job I guess. The day goes quickly and it is soon time to leave to catch our train. We are hoping that we can catch an earlier train but that isn’t possible as although we have arrived early, I still have some calls to do. We therefore have some time to consider where we will stay overnight. Maria has always been really good at finding places to stay on holiday, even if some of the motor home destinations have meant us visiting three or four different sites before she is happy. We decide to stop at Cologne in Germany and Maria finds a large hard standing area right on the river that isn’t too far away from the major roads. We will be arriving quite late especially with the extra hour of the time difference but it will leave us a seven hour drive the next day and so Suicide Sam the SatNav is programmed and we are ready to go.
The journey through France is uneventful with limited traffic and good conditions. It seems no time at all before we are in Belgium and approaching Brussels. Now Brussels has a by-pass but I had made the mistake of not checking the map at this point so I was not too suspicious when Sam suggested that the ring road went the wrong way and we should come off and take a short cut that he knew – go into Brussels, its gorgeous! I was a little dubious but we gave it a go…..into the centre of Brussels! I imagine this route is 100 metres shorter than the by-pass but of course with evening rush hour well underway the is a lot of traffic. We are making progress though and so maybe we will just chalk it up to one of Sam’s idiosyncrasies. As you approach the centre of Brussels there is a beautiful building in front of you, the Basilique Nationale de Sacre-Cœur à Koekelberg, which looks magnificent. It guards the entrance to the Tunnel Leopoldo II. It is very pretty, thank you Sam for showing us this……. and then we have a 2.2metre height restriction on the tunnel! Sharp turn left, since that height would take off our heads as well as a lot of the van, and turn around. We had not come too far so we probably only lost 15-20 minutes with the detour before we are back on the by-pass and safely on our way to Cologne.
We arrive in Köln (Cologne) in the dark and find a very full motor home park with excellent facilities right on the River Rhine. It’s a very nice quiet spot near the bustling city. It is quiet enough, and late enough, to let the cats have a little bit of time outside the van and they go off and have an explore. To be fair they have been great for the entire journey with Clyde spending a lot of time on Mum’s lap and Bonnie sitting up high keeping an eye on things. Obviously except when she also wants some mummy lap time – they really are awfully big cats to have on your lap for a long time. They are incredible really and never bother the driver, although Maria doesn’t get any rest!
At the site, we’re hooked up for power and even though we will only be there for a few hours we have to pay the price of €12 for 24 price. A quick dinner and early to bed, we have seven hours driving tomorrow to get to Fieberbrunn and it would be good to arrive mid-afternoon.
We are up, fed and ready to go by 6:30 the next morning and excited for the last part of the drive. Our route from Cologne will take us close to Munich and into Austria but we will have to stop for fuel towards the end and also sort out the tolls for Austria.
Generally a day’s driving in the motor home equates to a need to fill up with fuel and as we leave Cologne, we need to stop and get some fuel having not done it the night before because it was late. We fill up for £1 a litre which is a refreshing change. Sam has a partner in crime on the motor home, Roger the range man, who tells us how many miles of fuel we have left. After filling up Roger is incredibly optimistic “I can take you to the moon and back….”, however after a hundred miles or so he starts to realise that its hard work pulling a motor home and maybe 450 miles is a better guess! When he then gets down to about 30 miles left, he sulks and refuses to give you any more information! It seems to be if you are going to run the fuel down that low then I can’t be bothered to tell you how close you are to running out. Anyway between the two of them, we are kept on our toes.
We are making good progress, despite a few delays, as I drive and Maria either sleeps or keeps up with what is going on in the world, that’ll be a combination of Facebook and the news then. We are closing on Regensburg which I am reliably informed has family connections on my Aunt’s side, shame we didn’t know earlier, we may have stopped off to say hi. It’s getting close to lunchtime and we still have several hours left to go. That is when Sam tells us there is a major problem at Munich, with nearly an hour and a half delay! But it’s ok, he has a plan to get around it that he wants to share….ok…… Sam once more we will trust you as we come off the motorway to find another route South. Sam’s route takes us across country to another motorway heading towards Munich, I guess to get around the roadblock. We join the new motorway and it is all looking good, we’ve only lost twenty minutes or so. However, ten minutes later, Sam hits us with the news of a 101 minute delay on this road…. thanks! More suggested detours but we are getting concerned at the circuitous routes that Sam is now choosing. We have lost two hours though so how bad can it be, especially when this motorway joins up with the last one we were on. We are three hours away and have been that far away for a long time despite covering a number of miles, we agree to give him one more chance. Sam successfully finds another route with no nasty surprises but we have still lost time.
As we approach Austria our original 2pm arrival has turned into 6:30pm and we have lost any chance of arriving in the light. I also have to buy a go box which is how you pay for tolls in Austria when the van weights more than 3.5T. Last year we were stung by this, you pay by the kilometre and due to Sam getting us a little confused we had to go up and down the motorway a couple of times with the box pinging as the credit disappears. It meant that when we left Austria and handed back the box, we got very little money back. This year we stop at the services and I show our certificate of conformance that shows the engine category. I get the go box with a five euro charge and the minimum seventy euro credit, let’s hope that is enough since we have no idea how many motorways we will use to get to Fieberbrunn.
Actually it is surprisingly little as we are soon off the motorway and driving up the very clear mountain roads towards the resort. We’re driving through villages and small mountain towns, you can almost taste how close you are. It is snowy but the roads are very clear and although we have snow chains, there is no need.
After 800 Miles from home, we finally arrive at the Tyrol camp and discover that we have about 45 minutes until the office closes for the night at which time the gates are locked and you can’t get on site. So we had inadvertently cut it quite fine. I turn up the hill followed by a car although the road isn’t as clear of snow as we have found so far. Turning a hairpin corner, the car behind stops and waits, ah that’s kind… we start to head up the last 100 metres to the entrance and stop, spinning wheels on the ice. We’re going sideways on the ice, not good. There is an entrance down on the outside of the hairpin so I gently roll us back down to there, now we know why the car waited! A kindly driver coming down the hill stops to explain that the camp have a tractor since they are used to this and they will tow us in if I pop up to the office. I get the papers and start to head up the hill leaving Maria mostly blocking the entrance and the road but at least there is a way round if people are careful. Let’s hope they are!
I arrive in the office and check us in, getting the keys to our bathroom etc. I ask about the tractor to help us get up the hill and am informed that they use a 4×4 to tow in caravans and no chance that they will try and pull in a 4.25T motorhome! “Do you have snow chains”, “yes”, “well you have 40 minutes to get them on then! ”. I trudge down the hill and explain to Maria that we have to get our new snow chains out and fit them quickly, and this will be our first time. Fortunately I have a large old cardboard box that I can lay out flat on the floor to provide me some protection against the snow. We have them out of the box and I vaguely recall how it works from the time we test fitted them onto the land cruiser a few years ago, the instructions are the same but it will take some time. At this point a very kind Austrian gentleman came down the road we were blocking and seeing our predicament and our confused faces, took control. He had clearly done this many times before. He had them fitted in minutes and we did some roll forward and back tests before tightening up and we were ready to go. Maria tried to ply him with a very nice bottle of red wine as a thank you but he would not have it and left us with only our gratitude – aren’t the Austrians nice!
We gently drive the last 100 metres and have 20 minutes before the gate closes. Even with the snow chains on, we’re struggling for grip, I wonder if I would have had more luck if I had reversed up the hill. Obviously with Maria walking ahead of the van…. may be that isn’t such a great idea after all. Anyway we’re in! Now to negotiate the even thinner, snow-covered roads within the site to get to the far corner where our posh pitch is located. I am just about to turn into the very tight blind corner after reception when I see the lights of an oncoming vehicle. It is a four wheel drive BMW with no snow chains on but with winter tyres and he brakes ten metres away, locks up and drifts gently towards us….I think he misses us by inches with nowhere for me to go but it reminds me that the potential for disaster on this trip is far from over even without Sam’s help. A couple more cars drift by with a subset of wheels locked up before we can start to head up the hill. We find our pitch which is on the edge of the site facing the lifts and slopes, what a perfect spot.
We have parked up and are starting to get ourselves sorted out when the man in the 4×4 pops by. He is clearly very happy that he didn’t have to tow us in but sets about giving us access to electricity and then looking at how he can plumb in the on-site gas supply into our van. This is amazing. We can’t store enough gas for two weeks solid use in the snow and so being able to be “mains-supplied” is brilliant. We are assured that cost wise it is cheaper than buying the gas canisters, which of course we can’t get in Austria anyway since the UK vans by default have a UK canister.
It isn’t long before we are all settled down, our dinner is cooking away, Clyde is out exploring, Bonnie is refusing to go out because it is too cold and the holiday can begin in earnest! That is another story for another day…. but one thing I will say is in the next 24 hours we had two feet of snow and I genuinely don’t know how we would have got there then!