It was a dull and cloudy day the day we arrived in Lörrach. The train stopped just outside a Milka factory (chocolate producer – among the largest in Europe) so that at least brought a hint of purple to the grey morning. We got on the road and took off south. We had a small break in Emmetten before continuing towards Italy.
Husband asked whether we going through one of the longest tunnels in Switzerland that day. I had no idea, but we hadn’t travelled more than a few more minutes before traffic slowed down to narrow the two lanes down to one and allow plenty of space between each vehicle. Suddenly we were inside the 17km long Gotthard tunnel, indeed the longest tunnel in Switzerland.
The Gotthard pass and tunnel really functioned as a border between Southern and Northern Europe. The weather cleared, the temperature rose and signs were all of a sudden in Italian. Houses looked more Italian, the number of Ferraris on the road increased. Driving without a map, trusting Garmin to take us where we wanted to go, we found ourselves a little confused: had we entered Italy, or were we in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland. Our plan was to have a proper break in Switzerland, but that was now too late. So we decided to instead have our first break in Italy and enjoy the summer’s very first Italian gelato. We stopped in Bellinzona.
Bellinzona was gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous. There was a castle smack down in the middle of the town with town walls stretching out on both sides of the castles dividing the town. The castle had wine ranks growing along the outer wall, like all castles should have. And it was sunny, the grass was green, we were surrounded by huge mountains and the town itself was old, charismatic and charming. I loved it. It screamed: welcome to Italy. Except, it didn’t!
We found our gelato. I had limone, Son had cioccolato. Daughter tasted her very first and loved it! We ordered in Italian, payed with euros, thanked them in Italian, and talked over and over about finally having reached Italy: except, we hadn’t!
We went to buy a postcard. I had received a few coins after paying for the gelato with a note and took them out of my pocket to see if I had enough for the postcard and a stamp. That’s when I noticed. The coins weren’t cents, they were centesimi, or Rappen, the denomination of the Swiss franc! And that’s when I noticed the red flags with the white crosses. A few minutes earlier they had been banners waving overhead, along with plenty other banners, now they were Swiss flags. God we felt stupid! I announced to the children (or, well the child who understood anything of it) that we weren’t in Italy yet, we were still in Switzerland. Then we laughed. Walked hand in hand through the gorgeous streets of the Swiss town of Bellinzona. Then we left, and drove towards Italy.