Good Fortune Combined with Swiss Precision Equals Successful Outcomes
It was only a matter of time before the Swiss motor vehicle department caught up with me for a safety inspection. I expected a notification precisely two years after the September 2018 purchase date of my van, but it did not come until a few months later. Evidently, legendary Swiss precision was impacted by Covid.
When it did arrive, several EU nations were back in lockdown and travel restrictions reimposed. My friend Astrid, the titular owner of “Kiira”, deferred it until February. As the relentless Covid winter kept us homebound, we postponed twice more. The final date was April 28, 2021.
Rolling into April, travel remained restricted. I was living in Genoa, Italy, and Liguria region was an orange zone. The Swiss government had it on the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) watchlist. To enter the Confederation, I would need a negative PCR test, must report to the Basel cantonal authority, and quarantine 14 days.
My friend Sabine kindly offered her new home for the mandatory quarantine.
“It’s under construction, but you are the only person I know who would not complain about that.”
The Fickle Finger of Fate
Liguria announces its levels every second Sunday, Switzerland, every second Wednesday. I kept my anxious eyes on both and booked a PCR test at a Genoa lab for April 24.
Liguria was downgraded to yellow April 18 – the first glimmer of hope and I held my breath for the Swiss update Wednesday. The fickle finger of fate wagged in my favour this time and Liguria was removed from the FOPH list. No test (saved 50 Euros)! No need to register! And no quarantine! A last minute reprieve.
The First Road Trip in Months
The French government announced a one-month lockdown November 2020. Having spent the spring lockdown in Nice, close to but unable to visit my daughter, I was not interested in a second. Friends in Genoa offered a flat to live in and finish a renovation long stalled by Covid. I kissed Calypso goodbye and exited France as the border closed behind me.
My van had not moved for 4 months, so I booked an oil change and general going-over prior to departure. Loaded with supplies at Italian prices to save a bundle compared to Swiss prices, I hit the road.
Behind the wheel, the I was engulfed in a groundswell of mixed emotions. After so many months in isolation, I felt like an escaped convict – a feeling of freedom that could be removed in a flash. The familiar, now unfamiliar, was bittersweet.
The scenery between Genoa and Switzerland is full of contrasts. North of Genoa, the winding highway is punctuated by ageless villages that dot the hilltops and straddle the rivers below. The flat rice fields of Pavia pass quickly and the industrial cluster sprawling out of the west side of Milan soon dominates. Near the border, the mountains tower above as the deep blue waters of Lake Como shimmer below the peaks.
I was curious about crossing the Swiss border, but they only wanted to see my carnet to drive on the highway. I was directed to the conveniently located office to buy it. As an afterthought, a customs officer asked if I had anything to declare. My puzzled look followed by “No” was good enough for him. He smiled and waved me on.
Swiss efficiency starts at the border. The 40 CHF carnet buys me a place me on some of the best road surfaces in the EU. And why have great roads without great roadsides? The horticultural section of the road department ensures nothing but glorious flowers, manicured grasses, and precisely placed trees for your driving pleasure. Everything is in order. Everything.
Prepping for MFK
In Basel, my friend Beni is savvy with the Swiss motor vehicle safety checks – the MFK. Basel is known to have the strictest testing standards in a country that has some of the strictest testing standards.
He let me empty the van contents into his atelier. Just when I thought everything was ready, he asked where the cargo protector was.
“Your van is classed as a delivery van. To pass the MFK, you must load 50% of its max weight, secure it safely, and drive it to the test center. But you must have protection, so the cargo does not go through the seats.”
“Are you fucking joking?”
“No. Good news is I have a piece precut from my van’s last test and I think it will fit.”
Two holes redrilled was all it took. Now I was spinning the 1900kg of ballast I needed to find and secure for the test.
“We’re going to my friend’s garden plot for patio stones.”
A couple of pallets on the floor and 50 patio stones later, we strapped it down and covered it with a tarp – “so they don’t get to look to closely.”
“He only wants to drive it, hit the brakes hard a few times to make sure the cargo doesn’t move. It will be fine. Put some of these blankets across the back so he can’t see anything. He won’t touch anything inside unless the cargo moves.”
Motorfahrzeugkontrollen – the Swiss German for Vehicle Safety Inspection
We arrived 15 minutes ahead of the 1:30pm appointment, as specified, queuing in front of the designated door. Astrid explained to the examiner that I was driving because she had hurt her ankle and could not. He nodded in acceptance.
At the first station, he tested everything, including the rear fog lights I didn’t know existed. We advanced to what I call “the rack”, where Kiira was severely shaken, bounced and contorted to check bearings, shocks, and emergency brake. At the third station, he went below with a powerful light, tapping a special tool to detect rust while examining all cables and lines.
“Your engine is not clean enough on the bottom,” he said in accented English.
“I apologize,” I said. “Yesterday at the car wash, I started to clean the underside and the man came out shouting a me, so I had to stop.”
“It’s okay this time. Next time, make it more clean.”
The final step was two laps around the racetrack, with three hard braking attempts and tight corners at speed. He pulled up to the waiting area and exited the vehicle. I held my breath.
“The front right orange indicator light is not orange enough. You must replace it. The white lights above license plate are not white enough. Replace them. You do not need to come back.”
Major gasp of relief before he added: “The colour is listed as “bundt”, (meaning colourful: it was covered in graffiti when I bought it … but that’s another story) but it is blue.”
“What else to do in Covid lockdown,” I smiled. “Just finished last week.”
“Ok. I will change it to blue. You will have your official paperwork Friday in Swiss post but here is a temporary paperwork.”
We thanked him profusely and drove away whoop-whooping!
After unloading, cleaning, and reloading the original load – my home - I felt renewed. Kiira is good for 2 more years.
Friday morning, the paperwork arrived in Astrid’s mailbox with Swiss precision. Tucked inside was a bill for 30 CHF, to change the colour.
Kiira is officially “dunkelblau”. We are free to continue our adventures.