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ODT – Visiting Sasso San Gottardo

Sleeping at 1600m is always relaxing – fresh air, cow bells in the distance and crickets all merge into the typical Swiss soundscape I find deeply relaxing. (Maybe the bottle or two of very drinkable Rhine valley reds we had the evening before also helped a little 😉 )

Today, whilst my daughter is competing in a Show Jumping competition, I, together with a fellow neo-Swiss, will be visiting one of Switzerland’s greatest wartime relics: the Gran Sasso fortified bunkers atop of the Gotthard pass.

There is so much interesting to learn about how Switzerland prepared to defend against being overrun in WW2 and how these decisions reverberate until today in building codes that mandate nuclear bunkers available to every citizen … typically in their own house! If you have a little bit of time when crossing Switzerland, I strongly encourage you to take a small detour off the motorway and drive over the pass and visit the museum.

This trip is part of my first few long-distance test drives after completely destroying TW560 in an accident beginning of this year and its subsequent 6-month rebuild.
 
After my drive from Berne to Flond yesterday, I head back to Andermatt via the Oberalppass. From there, I head up the Gotthard pass taking the older of the roads available. Cobble stones aren’t the best surface for my TWIKE but it is reminiscent of my 2012 drive across the Swiss Alps and back on my LiFe03 pack.

Old road up the Gotthard

Old road up the Gotthard


 
TW560 makes it up the pass without any problems – actually it’s a pleasure to be back on the road and feeling the balanced handling around the hairpin bends. This is one of the things that make TWIKEing like gliding…on asphalt.

St. Gotthard pass

St. Gotthard pass


 
As my friend is arriving by public transport, I wait at the Post Bus stop and marvel at the beauty of the landscape around me with 200+km visibility. No sharpening filters required 🙂

What a day!

What a day!


 
Depending on how interested you are and how much time you have, the museum offers you either a free visit without a guide or various types of guided visits.

We’re taking the longest tour at 4 hours we not only get to see the usual parts of the bunker, but get to see the cordoned-off parts, too. You get a typical Swiss snack bag to sustain yourself whilst climbing hundreds of steps and climbing metal ladders in the pitch dark wearing a hard hat. This tour is called the “Festungswächter Tour” and translates to ‘The tour of the one in charge of up-keeping’ and per definition gets you to every single room of the place and is the reason that the tour is advertised only to be only for people able to walk at least 5km and able to climb up and down said stairs and ladders.

A very interesting place - take the Festungswächter-Tour (FW)

A very interesting place – take the Festungswächter-Tour (FW)


 
There is a military vibe to everything – even outside. Our guide is dressed in military fatigues and addresses us in short precisely spoken sentences. A sigh goes through the group of about 25 people as it turns out that one person isn’t able to understand Swiss German and that the tour will be in High German. That’s how narrowly Switzerland-focussed this tour is.

At exactly 1330 hours our guide raises his voice and says ‘people, let’s go! follow me for issuing of materials required to be able to safely visit any part of the bunker’ and then walks off at a 7km/h pace.

We follow him toward the main entrance.

Until 2008 this was a top-secret entrance

Until 2008 this was a top-secret entrance


 
After seeing the following sign, I had to ask if there were parts of the place I couldn’t take pictures of… but since its declassification, pictures are allowed anywhere within.

Can I take some pictures?

Can I take some pictures?


 
I’m not much of a military buff myself but I always find the sheer scale and ingenuity around megastructures such as this one impressive.

Even more impressive is the history and reasons behind a place like this one. Italy’s closest border is just 14 km away from the Gotthard pass, one of the most important Alpine passes in Europe. Controlling this pass means to control the flow of goods to southern Italy and the sea.

This is why Mussolini showed how easy it was to get really close by placing a lone railway waggon on top of the close-by San Giacomo pass. As a result, the Swiss built a massive defence system designed to keep the Italians at bay. (That the Swiss were appeasing the Germans and Italians into not attacking by letting trains cross the country with a no-questions-asked attitude is another story altogether and certainly not what this blog is about…)

We get to the first of many cannons overlooking the valley below and aimed at the mountain ridges some 10km away.

150mm artillery cannon

150mm artillery cannon


 
Finally, we get to something relevant to this blog: Plugs!

There are many very old electric appliances on display. They document the various plug styles Switzerland had in the past – 1-3 phases at low and high throughput. The one below is a 3phase neutral-less 16.5kW plug. (Type T8)

If you’re interested seeing the crazy selection of currently valid plug types in Switzerland (some cross-compatible with European plugs, some not, some compatible with each other, some not) you can find a comprehensive list here and my own plug selection for international long distance TWIKE travel here.

Old-style Swiss 3-Phase connectors

Old-style Swiss 3-Phase connectors


 
After many damp, cold and dark caverns, each with it’s own story, we head to some outposts. Here a group of soldiers was stationed for weeks and had to be completely autonomous whilst ensuring that they would make advancing as slow as possible.

Even today, these small and cramped quarters seem inadequate for the crew and I’m happy not to have had to be here.

Cold and not very healthy...

Cold and not very healthy…


 
Around midday we sit outside on one of these outposts and eat our snack which was handed out under the assumption that you’re carrying a Swiss Army knife – large chunk of bread, dried meat sausage, military biscuits, military chocolate and an apple. As we sit outside a strange feeling of camaraderie emerges between the visitors – it feels like we’ve made a special bond.

The video below which shows a very small part of the tour and should give you an idea if this is something for you.

 
With the tour over, I drive my friend to Andermatt train station before climbing the Oberalp pass again back down to Flond.

Below is a video showing how my drive from Ilanz at 700m up to cuolm sura – our place for the night – at 1600m looked like.

 
This was a day well spent – super interesting and set in a very nice part of Switzerland! Tomorrow will be the last day of my multi-day TWIKE test. The weather forecast looks very good … plugging in my TWIKE to be ready for another brilliant day travelling in Switzerland!