We had a 5:50 am start today, far too early for breakfast even in a German hotel, so we finished up our packing and got ourselves out of the hotel by 6:20am ready for the short walk over to the Hauptbahnhof where our bus would be waiting for us.
We were due to leave at 7 am, so we had a bit of time available to buy sandwiches and other provisions for the journey and for me to grab a few more Euros cash.
We initially headed off west along the A96, which leads towards the very far western tip of Austria. Our overall plan was to grab quick caches in Austria, Liechtenstein and Switzerland before hitting the “hard miles” up through France and back home. That was the plan, anyway.
We stopped somewhere on the A96 to fill the bus with diesel, and somehow managed to find the only motorway service station on the planet that doesn’t have a cache at it. Hmmm!
Onwards and upwards. We crossed the Austrian border to the south of Lindau and made our way towards Dornbirn for our first appointment with a cache. The cache in question was Easy Drive In, which we expected to be, well, an easy drive-by cache. It wasn’t. The bus parked up in a bus stop outside some local shops and we all piled off the bus to do a spot of tupperware hunting. In the immediate vicinity (i.e. in places where GZ might feasibly be) there was a small space of scrubland with a big woodpile, someone’s hedge, and the entrance to a driving school. We tried all of them, much to the amusement and bewilderment of several locals. Eventually, just as we were contemplating moving on before someone called the police, one of our number had the bright idea of going into the driving school to ask. After all, it was called the “Easy Driving School”, so the name was a bit of a giveaway. Inside there was apparently a flicker of recognition and understanding, and then several of our party came out of the school and began to dismantle the nice coffee table on the forecourt. It consisted of a dark glass sheet resting on top of a couple of old tyres. Inside one of the old tyres was a small plastic box…….
Our next target was to find one cache, any old cache, in the tiny country of Liechtenstein. It is such a small country though that whoever was up front doing the navigating had quite a job finding the place. I was watching on my GPS with despair as we passed the motorway junction, and then turned around, came back and nearly missed it again. Eventually though, someone up front spotted a sign with Vaduz written on it in sufficient time for the bus driver to react. For one of only two occasions on the whole trip there was a proper border crossing, with customs officers and armed guards and everything. They didn’t stop us.
Liechtenstein has quite a few caches for such a small place, a fact which turned rapidly into comedy as we drove past three or four perfectly good lay-bys that had caches before arriving at our chosen location, which seemed to be in the middle of a major set of roadworks. There wasn’t really anywhere to park a bus and the GZ seemed to be coming up right where the heavy equipment was working, even though the cache in question had been found only the previous day. After a brief bit of being shouted at and gestured at by an irate workman, we got back on the bus and jacked it in. This isn’t good. We’re tight for time and we need a cache here. So it’s just as well that a couple of us had our phones out and had downloaded most of the local ones before leaving home. We noticed there was a bus station about 3km down the road which appeared to have a cache nearby. Result. A bus-based drive-by. You don’t get many of those to the pound.
Bunter Bushof Schaan was indeed right in the bus station, a quirky and really rather wonderful little bus station. It was also quite easy to find the cache, thankfully.
From here we crossed over into Switzerland and someone had the bright idea of putting The Sound of Music into the DVD player, so we were driving through some fantastic alpine scenery whilst listening to Julie Andrews and the rest of them yodelling on about lonely goatherds, edelweiss and brown paper packages. It was some kind of surreal torture for me. It was most definitely not one of my favourite things.
What made it more of a torture was a short section of off-motorway just west of Zurich that the bus drivers chose because it lead more directly to our next caching stop. The section in question runs around and through the small town of Hinwil, which is the home of the Sauber F1 Team. It was also the home of far too many roadworks. We came to a crossroads and after exhausting all three options (and seeing most of the town on the way) we eventually managed to escape the town by driving back the way we’d come. We must have wasted 30 minutes there, 30 minutes that we really didn’t have, if we’re being honest.
Our next caching target was Hagenholx 491, a very rare beast indeed. It is the oldest cache in Switzerland and one of only a few left in Europe that were placed in March 2001. From where we parked it was most of a kilometre of trekking through a fairly pretty little forest, but rather noisy because of its proximity to Zürich Airport. Still, it was a welcome leg stretch and a good opportunity to check the football scores for us chaps.
This left us with the proverbial Mother of All Long Bus Journeys to get back home again. It was just before 2 pm local time when we left here, and we’d got something like 750km of driving left just to reach Calais. I think it was at this point that we had that “moment”, much as we did on the way down, where we realised there was a long way to go.
Our route took us on a motorway based route across to Basel and then up through Alsace before heading towards Metz and Reims and then along the Autoroute des Anglais back to Calais. That makes it sound frighteningly easy, doesn’t it?
We stopped at some motorway services for a quick wee break and were able to find AutoStop: A4 Ouest – Verdun Saint Nicolas Nord while we were there. Then we drove for a little over an hour before a few complaints were raised about lack of food stops (and the fact that the toilet on the bus was full, and hence unusable). So we stopped at some more services for food and to find AutoStop: A4 Est + A4 Ouest Reims Champagne. The food was most welcome, but I’m not sure the service station quite knew what hit them when we all piled in. We also had a total communication failure here as no one had any idea whether we were stopping to eat in the service station or whether we were supposed to be getting a takeaway. Given the length of the queues at every desk I doubt it would have affected the time for the stop anyway, to be honest.
After this we thought we were home and dry until the bus drivers needed to make an unscheduled stop at a garage to top up with the “blue stuff” that has to be put in the fuel tank to keep it below European emissions targets.
It seemed a very, very long way through France before we eventually made it back to the Eurotunnel Terminal at Calais. It was a long time – 10 hours since we left the cache at Zürich. Once we got there though, we were straight through passport control and up into the queue to get onto standby on a train leaving at 1:22 am. We didn’t get on that one. We missed by the length of one bus. We were the only vehicle waiting that didn’t get onto it.
And then began the worst part of the trip, for me. Just as we were missing the 1:22 train all the train times disappeared from the information board, and we were left with no idea what was going on. There was supposed to have been another train at 3:42 am, but that time came and went. Eventually at about 4 am we found out that there was a broken rail in one of the tunnels which needed to be fixed and, basically, no one was going anywhere until they’d done it. Eventually, they’d done it at 5 am. So at this time Ami and me had already been out of bed for 23 hours and we were still in France. In fact it had taken as long to get to here as it took us to get all the way down. Boooo! And Hiss!
And because we’d been going so long, when we did eventually make it back into England we immediately had to pull off into a car park and change drivers. Don’t get me wrong, the drivers did a sterling job for the whole weekend, but it was a bit annoying to be so far behind schedule and for them to be obliged to stop right here rather than continuing another 10 miles to where we were going to have to stop anyway to drop people off.
The remainder of the trip was as uneventful as we could have wanted though, and we eventually got back to MK Coachways just before 8 am UK time (which would be 26 hours after we got on the bus in Munich and 27 hours since either of us had seen a bed or a shower). Becky of Dave’s Piglings fame very kindly gave us a lift back home, whereupon Ami went to bed and stayed there most of the day, while I had a shower and a very large coffee and started my day of work. It was, after all, a Tuesday morning.
It certainly had been a bit of an adventure.