Back into the free world again … and finishing our bus trip in London

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Europe » Germany
June 6th 1974
Published: September 21st 2021
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We were away from the campsite at Warsaw by 7am and reached the German border (500km) some 9 hours later after a short lunch stop. The countryside was still devoted to farming, but much less intensive than in Russia with greater variety and a nice contrast of greens. Most of the farmhouses were two-storeyed stone houses, with characters all of their own.

The joint border took less than 2 hours, and fortunately there were no hassles on the Polish side with our money declarations or our purchases. The final leg into West Berlin was along the E8 autobahn, travelling 100kph the whole way, and with no time change we reached camp by 7.30pm. There was not a lot to see off the road, with trees sheltering fields most of the way, but notable were the sudden presence of super, smooth, fast-speeding Porsches, Mercedes, BMWs etc. There were minimum hassles at the West Berlin ‘gate’. We tracked along the wall for some period – a strip of sandy ‘no man’s land’, with frequent sentry boxes of DDR guards.

The campsite provided a hot shower and a great meal of schnitzel, chips, ‘unt salat’, with a litre of beer to wash it down. We dined and drank with a rather boisterous Pacesetters crowd, with boat races, brown eyes and all. It seemed like plenty of good times could be had by backpackers in these European campsites.

There was no breakfast at the campsite, so we made it into town early to change money. We had a short bus tour of West Berlin, taking in the Victory Monument, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, and the Allies side of the Wall, including of course the famed Brandenburg Gate.

I teamed up with a couple of the girls to go through Checkpoint Charlie onto the East side. We ambled down the Unter den Unden, taking in the Brandenburg Gate from the East side, the University, War Memorial (complete with goose-stepping guards), Marcenkirke, and a number of bombed out churches. We took in a cheap lunch of soup and fruit cake, before taking the lift up to the top of the Television Tower for a panoramic view of the two cities, showing clearly the magnitude of the famed Wall and its ‘no man’s land’ buffer. On the way back, we checked out the rubble lying totally untouched inside one bombed out church, which was quite some sight. We just made it back to the bus in time after a rushed customs check. The weather for the day was bleak, windy and cold – just the environment recommended for the tour by our guidebook, although I thought they were a little harsh in some of their criticisms of East Berlin.

Back in the free world again, a few of us went off for dinner, preceded by some window shopping. There were some pretty impressive shops, especially in the very modern Europa Centre, with arrays of chess sets, colour TVs and even an ice-skating exhibition. But the absolute highlight was stumbling upon, quite by accident, a packet of cigarettes with the brand name ‘Collie’, for which I obviously bought a packet despite being a non-smoker! We hit Huhner Hugo’s English pub for a dinner comprising a rump steak and several ales.

It was a very cold arising next morning at 5am to cook our final camp brekkie at the West Berlin campsite, with the only shelter coming from the mighty wall. We got away around 7am and through the East German border about an hour later, without any hassles. We took the autobahn through to the West Germany border, which we reached around 10.30am. At least there was a bit of a change of scenery, with the farming country showing a delightful contrast of colours and being dotted with two-storey houses of brown and red brick.

We made it through to the Netherlands border by 4pm that day and went straight through without changing any money. The rain had really set in after lunch, and as such, very little could be seen out of the fog-bound windows. We settled in for some late afternoon ‘social’ drinks in the back of the bus, as a prelude to farewelling four of our departing passengers, who had decided to get off the bus in Amsterdam instead of going all the way to London. A couple of hours later, and my two bottles of Polish cherry liqueur later, my ‘social’ skills were pretty non-existent, and the rest of the day was a complete mystery for me. I heard some pretty interesting stories about my behaviour (naturally, none of which I believed!), but only seem to have one permanent scar – I lost my ‘Collie’ cigarettes!

I understand that I spent the night sleeping in a campsite in Amsterdam, but I certainly arose feeling much the worse for wear around 7am, after apparently some 10 hours sleep. I spent most of the morning napping, moping and throwing up, and generally trying to get rid of a king-sized hangover. I did manage to at least fit in a good hot shower and a final packing of my suitcase.

Early afternoon, Bob and I set off to Schiphol, the airport, to check out duty-free car options. Unfortunately, Shipside was closed, but we did at least get their brochure. We then made it back into town where we met up with the crowd at Dam Square, which is the general meeting point for all tourists in Amsterdam. There was a mix-up in understanding how to pay the bus fare, but the driver with his microphone was a good sport and had some fun and games with us. We wandered around the canals and the red-light area, with its multitude of sex shops. The central part of Amsterdam is very appealing, but monstrously touristy and expensive. I finally made it back to camp early by train for a light meal, a night of relaxation and the chance to bring up to date my travel diary, having missed the last couple of days and with a move into Belgium the next day.

We had a wet weather start next day as we packed up all our tents and mess gear at the Amsterdam campsite for the final time on this trip. We got away by 8.30am and made it into Brussels via Antwerp just after midday. The weather cleared and we got a good view on the way of the Dutch countryside with its canals and windmills. The Netherlands-Belgium border was just a set of traffic lights, which fortunately for us were on green. The countryside in Belgium was not dissimilar to Holland, without the canals and windmills, and the most memorable aspect of Antwerp was its number of old church spires.

In Brussels, we checked out the Atomium, which was set up for the World Fair; the Grand Place, including the Town Hall; and the famed Mannekin Pis. We also briefly shot up to the British Embassy but couldn’t get entry certificates. Then followed a comfortable 2-hour drive to Brugge for dinner, relaxing and shopwalking, prior to our setting off for the ferry to the UK at 10pm. It was a pity we didn’t have more time in Brugge as it looked a very attractive city with heaps of interconnecting canals and fabulous old buildings. There were no hassles in boarding, and after a snack and a change of money, we were ready to sail for Dover at midnight.

We were fortunate to have a smooth Channel crossing, which reached the “white cliffs of Dover” around 4.30am. We spent most of the trip playing cards and chatting to try and stay awake. After a lightning run through Customs (despite having no entry visas), we were away again around 5.30am. It was a tiring final trip into London, and while we reached the outskirts by 7am, we in fact didn’t reach the Sundowners office until 8.30am. On the road, we passed Dover Castle, Canterbury Cathedral, and many really beautiful Olde Englishe houses. And so, after 80 days on the road, visiting 15 different countries, and travelling a total 17,630kms, we had finally arrived in one piece at the ‘Old Dart'.

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21st September 2021

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21st September 2021

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21st September 2021

Wow!! What an itinerary...
I wonder if such a trip is possible today. I'm sue you have been back to your favorite countries many times since this epic journey.
22nd September 2021

Early Travels
You're right, Bob. Many things have changed since the '70s (sadly, including us!) and the overland Asia to London bus trip that was almost the 'right of passage' for young Aussies has been one of the casualties. They really stopped in 1980 when the Ayatollahs made it hard for Westerners to visit Iran but I think the final straw was when the tour companies were unable to secure travel insurance any more. I'm not sure Afghanistan would be high on my visit list right now, but it was a great experience at that time. I have indeed been back to many of those countries since then, including a business visit back to Iran in 2004. As you will note from my recent blogs, I favour travel in remote and/or developing countries as they have much more character, and also where possible, I enjoy travelling alone. I like to make my own itinerary and sleep, eat and commute as far as possible in local fashion to get the real feel of that location, although my lodgings have probably moved up from 1 to 2 star, or if I want some luxury to 3 star! However, when Joan and I make our annual visits (ie pre-covid) to your part of the world to see our grandkids in Virginia, we go up-market as Joan likes her comforts these days and that's her treat. I think if you and I ever got the chance to catch up Bob, and I'd love that to happen some day, I think we would bore the hell out of each other with our travel stories!
22nd September 2021

Early travels...
We also go a bit more upscale as we get older. We learned that much of what we enjoy about a location is our ability to get a good nights sleep! We would love to cross paths with you someday as we have with a couple other travel bloggers from Australia and around the world. We didn't know you had grand kids in Virginia! Our grand kids live in Connecticut and soon in New Jersey, which isn't too far away for us to extend our visit to Virginia where we used to live and have many friends.
23rd September 2021

Catch up
Just for the record, our eldest son married a delightful American lass and they now live with their two kids, 10 and 8, in Annandale, Virginia. Pre-Covid, Joan and I were regular June/July visitors but unfortunately have missed the last two cycles. We are targetting at this stage the kids' Spring break next March as our likely first opportunity to get over there. When we get something fixed, I let you know with plenty of time and you never know what we might be able to tee up.
28th September 2021
Brandenberg Gate

The Gate
It is an amazing piece of architecture that has stood the test of time.
29th September 2021
Brandenberg Gate

By pure chance, I was in Berlin 2 weeks after the wall came down to speak at an international sugar conference. I remember vividly the advice of a local taxi driver, who warned it could be dangerous to visit the old East Berlin as he suggested that the physical wall that separated East and West had been instead replaced by an invisible wall separating the 'haves' and the 'have nots'. He claimed all those from the East with 'get up and go' had moved over to the West side, and all the deadbeats and crooks from the West had been pushed onto the East side. I'm sure it was grossly exaggerated, but an interesting observation!

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