After high school I continued to work as a Safeway cashier. Hours were flexible and money was good. Within a couple of years I got itchy feet and decided to take time off and bus around Europe. I was nervous to travel alone; luckily, Sylvia, a girl at work accompanied me and we took off for four months.
London: Using London as our home base, we got comfortable with our surroundings by sight-seeing: visiting the British Museum and Picadilly Circus. Soon, we were off on an 8-week Contiki camping tour that introduced us to several countries – all the way to Turkey – and fellow travelers from many different countries. We had so many adventures, and it was so long ago, that I’m only going to tell you about some of the highlights.
Paris: We camped near the Bois de Bologne which was teeming with illicit activity. We caught glimpses of ‘transactions’ as we drove by the park in the bus in the evenings. For some reason the Eiffel Tower was closed so I wasn’t able to ascend for a view from the top. We saw a show at the Moulin Rouge. And, young girls that we were, Sylvia and I were more interested in walking the streets and checking out the shops than going to the Louvre. I regret not seeing its treasures but all the more reason to return – which I intend to.
Madrid: Racing across the grass at one of the city’s big museums, provoked the guards to instinctively pull their rifles to the ready – and point them at Sylvia and me. That slowed us down.
Barcelona: Our group had dinner in a Spanish grotto-type restaurant and passed the porrón – filled with red wine. The Campground was on the beach, the bathrooms were ‘open-air’, and the showers were frigid. It was September, the zipper broke on my sleeping bag so I bought a blanket that I still have in my car to this day – almost 40 year later!
Florence: Stayed in an old castle turned into a pension in an olive farm. It was virtually empty except for our group. I loved the Ponte Vecchio bridge and all the classical statues: Michelangelo’s is smaller than you would imagine – but exquisite!
Rome: The ancient ruins of Rome were overrun by wild cats. I hurried across the street at the end of our tour to get a photo of the Colosseum from a distance and my bus took off without me. Sylvia didn’t notice me gone? The director didn’t do an accurate head-count? I was stranded in a huge foreign city and didn’t speak a word of Italian. But, I wasn’t going to wait around – better to be proactive – so I got in a cab and hoped for the best. Angels on my side, I managed to make the driver understand something about a ‘campground’ and he happened to know where it was. The group had gone back to find me … gone. So, they were quite happy that arrived back unscathed – as was I.
Athens: The capital city of Greece was less than inspiring except for the ruins. The Parthenon Temple on top of the Acropolis and all the surrounding ruins made Athens worthwhile.
Mykonos: This tiny Greek island was spectacular! We enjoyed several days of rest from traveling. It was apparently one of the preferred destination for gays and there was a parade and festival while we were there. Walking down a narrow cobble-stoned street, we peered through an open door to what looked like a small gallery. Venturing inside, we found that the curator was from Vancouver.
Turkey: Istanbul was fascinating: the Blue Mosque, the markets. We took a cruise up the Bosphorus River, landed in Asia and I had my first real mint tea – delicious!
Yugoslavia: Traveling up the Adriatic coastline was like returning to Canada: verdant hills, rocks and blue-green water. My favorite part of the journey so far. And, Dubrovnik had the best ice cream of the whole trip.
Germany: We attended Oktoberfest in Munich. Oompapa!
Austria: I first saw the film The Sound of Music when I was about six. We visited the Villa Von Trapp family – setting for the film in Salzburg.
Switzerland: The vistas of Switzerland are stunning. I went up the Jungfrau and had my picture taken on top of the world. It was my first stay in a hostel where all the girls slept side by side in one big bunk. The restaurant that we had our fondue dinner at was owned by a couple from Edmonton, my home town.
Netherlands: The canals of Amsterdam are lovely, the home of Anne Frank: not so much. We visited the Van Gogh Museum, and I bought my first loose diamond – a gift for my fiancé. We enjoyed a group bike tour and in the evening, were rather intrigued by the red light district.
Returning to London, we spent a week or so planning our next move. This time, we decided to go south for six weeks with a Sundowners bus and camping tour. We stopped again in France and Spain, but then visited Portugal for the first time and our third continent: Africa.
Morocco: We had to hike down the cliff to our campground in Todra Gorge. It was … an interesting experience. The ‘toilets’ were holes in the floor – at least they were in private cubicles. But, there were no lights so, it seems, many people just went anywhere they wanted – hopefully off-site in the bush – but not always … disgusting.
We saw goats climbing trees and children quickly ran up to the bus to collect money before we could take pictures. We also climbed trees to snatch fresh dates.
We arrived in Fez on Hallowe’en. Which, I learned, is only a North American celebration. Sylvia and I thought it was a prank when we woke up one morning in our tent and a bunch of our stuff was gone. We’d been robbed. But that’s another story for another time … We spent our morning at the police station while the rest of the group got to enjoy the colors of the famous dye vats. Since those were days before digital photography I had only selectively filmed my journey. The things I regret losing most were the photos inside the camera that was stolen.
We bus travelers were in close quarters over long periods of time. Many friends were made; none kept in touch. Those were days long before the internet and social media. Even Sylvia and I stopped communicating once we parted from our jobs at Safeway. But, traveling throughout Europe by bus has got to be one of the most fun and educational trips a young person can have! I loved it – and I loved reliving it by sharing it with you in this post.