On our recent holiday to Austria, I thought it would be a tremendous idea to nip over the border into Italy and have a pizza.
My wife could have coffee, Sophie could have ice cream, Harry could have…er…bread(?) and everyone would be happy.
After all, it was only about 50km to the border. Simple.
Little did I know what I was letting myself in for…
The Austrian Alps are spectacular and the map is littered with cul-de-sac valley roads that stretch for miles before coming to an abrupt end at the foot of a mountain.
One such road, the 186, ascends sharply to 2600m (two and a half Snowdons) before dropping equally swiftly down into Italy.
It’s known as the Timmelsjoch pass, it’s only open between June and October – even then only between 7am and 8pm – and I’ve subsequently found out it’s featured here at www.dangerousroads.org.
And that was the road I decided to take my young family on in search of pizza.
Weather-wise it wasn’t the world’s greatest day. A bit murky down in the valley but with the odd spot of sunshine threatening to break through. Seemed ideal for a long drive.
We packed ourselves into the car and drove down the valley, the occasional raindrop splashing against the windscreen.
When we reached the bottom of the pass, we wound our way up the mountain, getting some breathtaking views of Austria and really enjoying it. Sure, I had to drive most of it in first gear but the thrill of driving at such heights swiftly overruled that.
High snow banks flanked the road and lofty peaks surrounded us. It was stunning.
Upon reaching the border crossing, we had to pay a toll and then we released to climb another 300m or so to the top. That was when it happened. The cloud descended. Fast.
So fast in fact that visibility plummetted down to about 5m in front and no more. It was terrifying.
It’s hard to overstate the danger we were in. Highly limited visibility, unknown road with a host of twists and turns, descending steeply down a mountain from a height of about 8500 feet. On the wrong side of the road. With two very young children in the back.
But we were stuck on it and there was to be no turning back.
Harry and Sophie were utterly oblivious of course. The former was fast asleep – I wish I’d been – while Sophie was merrily listening to her Sing n Sign CD. It’s only about 20 minutes long but the nature of our crossing meant we heard it play through about four times. I was steadily going insane listening to “If You’re Happy and You Know It” as my veins bulged out with stress at the driving I was doing.
Occasionally, there were tunnels to break up the cloud and provide a moment’s respite. Just to complicate it further though, reckless motorcyclists were zooming up behind us and passing at every available opportunity. I was going at about 10mph and leaning forward for maximum visibility – it was pretty tempting for them.
Our saving grace was the Sat Nav we had borrowed. It clearly showed the impending hairpin bends we were approaching. Without it, we’d have been on them before we realised and more than likely heading off some unseen cliffs.
If you’ll pardon the phrase, it truly was hairy.
The crossing took about an hour and a half but finally we made it down to our planned destination – an Italian hamlet called Moos where we could get pizza.
It was raining but we didn’t care. We had an explore after lunch but, believe it or not, Italy was closed between 1pm and 3pm. We couldn’t even get into Spa!
Guess everyone was siesta-ing.
So, with nothing else to do, we set off back home again, praying frantically that it wouldn’t be like it was on the way down.
Which, of course, it absolutely was….
…but we made it home to tell the tale. Phew.