Further solo travels heading back into mainland Europe

September 9th 1974
Published: October 2nd 2021
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The 3.5 hour ferry trip from Dieppe in France to Newhaven in England travelled over remarkably calm seas for the English Channel. We disembarked in England with no hassles, and the comfortable train trip into Victoria arrived around 6.30pm. I left Christine at this point, but not before receiving an invite to visit her up at her student pad at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. I had no joy in contacting my cousin Peter, so I ended up taking a room at O’Callaghans, next to the Earls Court tube, where I got a shared room for GBP1.40. It was a pretty relaxing night just chatting to a group from NAT.

First job next day was a visit to the laundromat for a comprehensive clothes wash, which took over an hour. Then it was down to Sundowners to check out my mail – found a good collection there, included two posted to me in Iran. Then I almost got run over in the street by Ilga and Jane (a couple we had spent time with in Bali), and was invited over for drinks that night. Other business included enquiries about student flights to LA, banking and Amex traveller’s cheques, and AA re International Drivers Licence. I took in a couple of travel centres for info on the Middle East before a late lunch. At 4pm, I checked out the movie “The Exorcist” (front stalls 70p), which was pretty horrifying but held everyone’s attention. Then it was back to Earl’s Court for a meal at the Hot Pot, before adjourning to the girls’ flat for a few grogs, a lot of travel talk, and the offer of a free cot for tomorrow night. I also gave a call to Barry Herbert, one of the guys on our Sundowners overland trip, and got an invite to stay at his place at Hastings for a couple of days.

I checked out of O’Callaghans early next day and took my gear over to the girls’ flat. I chatted to Ilga for a while and also plotted my future travels, including a potential flight home via Los Angeles. I then got a lift into town in Ilga’s VW – quite an experience in itself, with Ilga showing her true talents (and colourful language!) when a car broke down in front of us. I did a general round of the city, once again taking in all the touristy sights, as well as visiting some more agents re Middle East options. I spent a while in Trafalgar Square, just watching the world go by, before making it down to Sundowners at Earls Court and buying a rucksack off Sally for GBP7. I was back at the flat by 6pm before taking off for dinner with Jane. We later caught up with Ilga and 3 guys after they finished work and adjourned to the Richmond Pub for many beers and a fascinating drag show until we were kicked out at 11pm.

This was a good night’s kip for me, but not so I fear for the girls who were kind enough to share the other bed. Ilga left early but Jane and I yakked until she left for work at 9am. I stayed around the flat until around 11am, then took off for Charing Cross before I was on my merry way again. I picked up the midday train for St Leonards and reached there 90 minutes later. While it rained for most of the trip, it had cleared on arrival. I caught up with Barry and Paul again after the former had slept most of the afternoon after working the previous night shift. We watched looked through around 600 Sundowners slides before dinner (a great 'toad in the hole', followed by bread and butter pudding) and then watched Barry’s movies of the trip. It was off to bed around 11pm when poor old Barry had to go back to work.

September Black Friday started harmlessly enough, with my leaving the Herberts at 8am and catching the bus up to Dover. I reached there in good time for the ferry to Calais, which took just under 2 hours. The early morning rain cleared, but the day remained overcast. I had good company of the boat from Sandy, a nurse from Milwaukee, Wisconson, who then accompanied me on the train, ostensibly to Lille, but both of us missed the stop (no, not because of that!), and the conductor wanted to double charge me and fine me. I resisted both of his kind offers, so for my troubles I was heaved off the train at the next stop called le Quesnoy, where we wasted over an hour fighting with authorities and gendarmes before being put on another train back. We were joined by Steve from LA for the trip to Aulnoye and later up over the Belgian border into Mons. There I found a totally scungy room at the Hotel de la Bouvene at a ripoff 180 BFr, but by 10pm I was thankful for anything.

I got away from the hotel next morning around 9am after a great hot bath – I had to get something for my money! I started hitching and was picked up within half an hour by ex-Brit Stuart and his wife Karen, who not only took me all the way through to Tournai, but gave me a tour of the city, bought me breakfast, and chased down where Garry and Barb (old friends from Sydney) were staying. I finally caught up with them around 1pm after a good stroll around the town, taking in the points of interest. We spent the afternoon in nostalgic and travel conversation and drinking heaps of beer, first at their flat and then down the local pub. We arrived home around 6.30pm just as Stuart was bringing back my pack. Garry invited them in and they ended up staying for a great knock-up dinner until 11pm. Stuart told us the story of his life and everybody picked up more French than they knew before.

Next morning, a Sunday, we had a late breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon before departing for a southern Belgium tour. The day was overcast with heavy haze, and the countryside was just as you would imagine the Flanders field of old. We reached Brugge, via Courtrai, just before midday after an interesting transition from French to Flemish Belgium. We took in the Belfry and Grand Palace, Basilica of the Holy Blood, Church of our Lady, and the Groeninge Museum with its collection of great van Eyvk paintings. We drove home via Zeebruge and Oostende making it back just after 6pm.

Next day was a holiday Monday for Tournai to celebrate the annual Carnival and jumble sale. The place was full of stalls selling everything under the sun, from furniture to clothes to paintings to turtles. We just wandered around most of the morning, taking in also the 5-spired Romanesque/Gothic Cathedral, the Belfry, the ramparts, Pont des Trous, and the Museum of Fine Arts, which housed another great collection of paintings. We took various breaks during the day at outside bars for a few jars and to watch the passing parade, who in general were an incredibly conservative and simple-looking lot of people for Europeans. The fashionable thing to do here is to drop into one of the cafes (of which there are hundreds) for a beer at any time of the day, and we have been no exception. We were home by about 6pm for dinner and light entertainment in front of the French television before hitting the sack early.

Next morning, I decided to take off for Amsterdam and got a lift from Garry as far as the autobahn at Courtrai and was on the road by 8am. A number of short but quick lifts got me to Antwerp by 10am, including lifts in a Volvo, a Mercedes and an MG. I finally scored a lift for the remainder of the journey with 2 French students, where we crossed into Holland before midday and travelled to Amsterdam, via Breda, arriving around 2pm. In general, it was very flat country, with excellent autobahns, but scenery was restricted to around 100 metres due to the very heavy haze all day. I spent the balance of the afternoon wandering around the city, enquiring about trips to Munich and looking for digs, finally settling on the Bedstay Youth Hostel in Singel. I must have an innocent face as I was assigned to a girls’ dormitory with 9 lucky young ladies (but none of them got lucky that night!). I teamed up for the rest of the day with a spunky little blond from Minnesota named Margie. We did considerable rounds of the city, had numerous beers at a bar a fair way out from the centre, and got horribly lost at midnight finding our way back to the hostel.

It ended up a lousy night’s sleep, typical for a dormitory, with people and alarm clocks seeming to be coming and going all through the night, resulting in a late rising around 10am. I spent the morning lazing around the hostel, chatting with Margie and Shirley, an Aussie girl currently studying in Israel on a kibbutz, over a yoghurt breakfast. The three of us headed out around midday and strolled down to the museum area. We first checked out the Van Gogh museum, where I enjoyed his earlier paintings but his ‘impressionists’ failed to impress! We then strolled down to the canals in the afternoon sun and took in an hour long cruise to take in the sights of the city – the warehouses, the terraced houses, harbour, bridges etc, and of course the red-light area. On the way back to the hostel, Shirley and I bought train tickets to Stuttgart from the student centre. A scungy snack-bar meal of pork chops and chips preceded an early night.

The dormitory girls all behaved themselves much better the second night, so I got a decent night’s sleep. I hung around the hostel early morning chatting with the others, and giving the very eccentric ‘Josephine’ a hard time, what with her coat of many colours and her screwball thoughts on life. Canadian Lucille joined Margie, Shirley and myself for a trip down to Anne Frank’s House, which filled in an interesting couple of hours and halted any thoughts I had of going to The Hague. We took in a great lunch at the Dutch Kitchen (slops, but very cheap) before I accompanied Shirley to a number of airline offices to hassle about her onwards ticket. Back to the hotel by mid-afternoon, we just lazed around till about 6pm, at which time we adjourned to dinner at the same place we had lunch. Shirley had decided to accompany me to Oktoberfest at Munich (not sure how impressed her Jewish parents would have been!), so we caught the 7pm train for Brussels – a fairly uneventful trip via The Hague and Rotterdam but it was too dark outside to see much. We chatted to a highly strung Yank at Brussels station for a while before strolling around the northern end of the city (seemingly the sinful end of town!) to help pass a couple of hours. We then changed to a German train around 11pm and sped off into the night…

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8th October 2021
White Cliffs of Dover

Nice view
This is a lovely photo.

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