I had just spent the weekend trail hiking in Charmonix- Mont Blanc on the Switzerland side and was trying to head home. So I put in our address in the GPS and the option for what type of route I wanted to take came up. Toll roads? Ok, check. Fastest route? Check. Ferries ok? Well, I didn’t see how I’d need to take a ferry and I didn’t want some inconvenient route to be mapped, so I left the ferry option unchecked. The GPS plots me a route and I go. I had been driving about four hours and still had about four hours left when I saw something coming up in my headlights. It was pitch black by this time and I had been coming through a little town, but I didn’t recognize what was blocking the road in the front of me. I got closer and saw a metal bar, like a gate, blocking off the road with a crossed circle telling me I was not allowed to keep driving. I pulled over and got on the GPS to get an alternate route. Fastest route, check. No, I don’t want to take a ferry. There were only two lakes in the area, but neither was close and I didn’t see how I would need to cross them to get back to my mamacita in Deutchland, so I left it unchecked.
New route, tried a different direction but only 20 minutes down the road I came across another one of these gate blocks. What was going on? I got out my map and checked any road leading back into Germany in my area, but the only route was the first one I had tried. I started driving and ended up finding a climbing gym that was just closing. I rushed the climbers leaving the gym, like a half-crazed American, asking “Hilfe, bitte! Wo ist Deutchland?!” They told me, “Autozug! Go to the autozug! Wait, sorry, you missed it! I can hear it going by right now!” I was thinking, “Autozug? What the flip is that? I hear a train going by… wait, I was supposed to take a train?!” They direct me to the train station and when I get there, there’s a family looking around just as frustrated as me. The train station is deserted, it’s pretty late at night by this time, so the dad gets on his phone to see when the next train is going by. I’m still a little lost as to how the fact we have cars fits in with the train, but I forget to ask when he says “No train until morning! But wait, we can drive to the next train stop. It looks like… it’s an hour and half away.” I’m too far in this by this point to give up, so I ask the dad if I can follow them. While I wait at a light behind them when we’ve started driving, I recheck the GPS. Fastest route to Germany? Check. Tolls? Sure, who cares. Ferry? FINE. YES. I’LL TAKE A FERRY. And when the route plots, I see that it’s taking me to the same train station that the family is leading me to. Of course. I had passed this two hours ago.
I learned later that when the weather is bad, they close the roads that cross the mountains to make sure no one gets stuck out there. Instead, you drive your car onto a platform car on a train that looks kind of like the semi-trucks carrying cars on the highway. When the train goes, you’re whizzing by the country on an open-air platform so make sure to lock the doors! And that’s when I learned what a ferry means in Switzerland.