Having been fortunate enough to be in Switzerland for a few days ( we were in Le Bouveret, Port Valais on Lake Geneva) we were quite “close” to the Italian border. Apparently there is a famous fossil museum in the Lugano region at Monte San Giorgio and seeing as I had never visited the Italian Lakes it sounded like a perfect chance to do that and visit the museum (the whole of Monte San Giorgio is actually a Unesco World Heritage Site because of its amazing fossils).

The weather was fine, and it was our anniversary, so we decided to have a day out, estimating the trip would take about three hours each way – well talk about optimistic ! It was Swiss bank holiday and therefore, unbeknown to us, a perfect time for repairs and road works. Just like the UK really; exactly when one might want to use the roads or public transport to get out and about extensive “works” preclude many destinations.

Saurichthys Curionii from Monte San GiorgioThus the tunnels up and over and down the Simplon Pass were riddled with roadworks with sections of one way traffic manned by men with red/green lolipop sticks allowing traffic to go through at approximately fifteen minute intervals in each direction.  There were, to my recollection about three of these major tunnel repairs just on the way up, but I stopped counting.  Mind you the original road was built by Napoleon.

Well we eventually got as far as Ascona, on Lago Maggiore, after four and a half hours in the car and realised we didn’t have time to make it as far as Monte San Giorgio and the museum.  We had, though, traversed some amazing scenery and “intestinal” roads with vertiginous drops at terrifying levels of altitude (I was not driving so seriously sweaty palms and white knuckles!). We enjoyed light bite in Ascona sitting by the lake and wondering at the beauty of the view.

Archaeosemionotus sp. from Monte San GiorgioWhen the time came to head back we had noted that there was a car train through a tunnel.  Exhausted, we decided to take that back regardless of cost to shave an hour off our journey to Aigle and indeed avoid tunnel repairs. Surprisingly, it was not too expensive being 22 CHF (£15) per car for up to seven passengers BUT the train was open sided – no problem there being a tad claustrophobic myself.

BUT the tunnel was incredibly narrow and the journey was fifteen minutes in total darkness – this I had not known before embarkation – so struggled to avoid panic not least because the tunnel was so narrow that even if anything went awry there was not enough room on either side to walk to the other end. My husband tried to distract me with his mobile phone offering a game of Solitaire and other diversions, kind thoughts as they were, it was all I could do to concentrate on breathing.

Simplon Pass circa 1890

As an aside, seeing as we do rocks as well as fossils, there continue to be a whole range of amazing minerals found in and around the tunnels, both when they were dug and since – the Simplon Railway Tunnel is in fact two tunnels built between 1898 and 1921, indeed they were (until 1982) the longest railway tunnels in the world !

Eventually twelve hours after setting off we arrived back — a long trip for just a pizza and a salad, but perhaps the adrenalin rush did me good. I do want to see the wonderful Monte San Giorgio, but next time I shall not do the route by road or on a Bank Holiday !

Monte San Giorgio on Lago Lugano