Eurailpassing through Europe with Linda

May 1st 1974
Published: June 7th 2011
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European Vacation from Thailand in 1974

After a year in Bangkok and a third of year in Chiang Mai we were ready for a long vacation. My parents and sister Carol were due for furlough, so we thought it would be great to spend some time with them in Europe on their way to the States. We flew separately from them, as Aeroflot gave us the best airfare. What follows is from my notes in my Frommer’s “Europe on $5 and $10 A Day, The 1973-74 Edition” guidebook (note the inflation since my 1968 trip which was recounted in Eurailpass trip following high school graduation), and the memories the notes triggered.

1 May 1974 Wednesday. We flew out of Bangkok in the evening on an Aeroflot overnight flight via New Delhi, India (the airport crowded with indigent people confirmed my vow never to visit India again) and Moscow, Russia; arriving in the morning in Paris. The flight was very interesting. One problem with taking the cheapest flight is that countries expelling undesirables, in this case indigent backpackers, Western criminals who had completed their prison sentences, etc. were all on our plane. Aeroflot was not known for having the safest flying record; and their service staff, all of whom were very overweight babushka women with a belligerent attitude; and food, every meal was chicken, left much to be desired. This was an early lesson in never taking the cheapest of anything...always pay a bit more.

2 May 1974 Thursday. So it was with great relief that we landed in Paris. We found a hotel recommended by Frommer near the Arc De Triomphe, and collapsed in bed for an early siesta. By noon we were hungry so walked down the Champs Elysee and ate at McDonalds. We met another American couple there. He was in the Navy stationed at Sigonella. They were just getting over the “Siggies” as the called it, from something they had eaten; not at McDonalds. We were wondering when our own case of Bangkok Belly would hit after the food on the plane. We joined them for a walking tour that included the Eiffel Tower and that end of town, before headed back to our hotel, and dinner at the corner restaurant. We found Coke to be outrageously expensive, but I guess we were paying for the sidewalk café ambiance.

3 May 1974 Friday. Our first stop was to the Gare de l’Est to check in our suitcases as we were catching the overnight train to Zurich, and had to check out of our room by noon. Next was the Louvre, where I insisted on showing Linda everything. After a couple hours her feet were killing her and she settled down appropriately on a seat in front of Mantegna’s “The Martyrdom of St Sebastian,” and wouldn’t budge. I told her that we had only seen a fraction of the museum, but she had enough. She did agree to take the scenic route out of the museum, which I used to my full advantage. By then it was time for lunch at the food court of one of the department stores. We spent the afternoon shopping there and window shopping at the elegant stores. We then went to the waiting room at Gare de l’Est to wait for our midnight train to depart. As I write this, I note that the European train schedules have eliminated most overnight trains, much to the dismay of Eurailpassers who could count on having a good night sleep in an underutilized first class compartment.

4 May 1974 Saturday. So the day began with us activating our 21 Day First Class Eurailpass and settling into a compartment that was just the two of us. We pulled the seats together which formed a 6 x 8 foot bed. We slept until our early arrival in Zurich, and then changed to a local train to Sargans, just south of Lichtenstein. There we caught the post bus to Weisstannen, where we met up with my parents, sister Carol Jean, Aunt Marge, and our dear friends Darryl and Marilyn, who were now living in Heidelberg. We stayed at a hotel owned by the family of missionaries we knew in Laos. As it was still early in the season, the high meadows were still snow covered, but having just come from Thailand, this was something we wanted. We hiked through snow to the barns and fields where the farmers took their cows in the summer.

5 – 8 May 1974 Sunday through Wednesday. As Darryl had his Volvo station wagon, we could get around the area easily. Over the next four days we visited most of eastern Switzerland and Lichtenstein, and pretty much got castled out. This is Heidi country, so there are many quaint villages mostly off the tourist trail. My favorite castle was in Buchs, on the Swiss side of the border with Lichtenstein. Of course the one in Vaduz, Lichtenstein was probably great too, but is currently occupied by the Grand Duke.

9 May 1974 Thursday. My parents headed directly to Luxemburg, where we would meet them the following day. Linda and I took the train to Heidelberg to spend the night there at Darryl and Marilyn’s home in the small town of Ketsch. We had an enjoyable evening sharing with them their trips around Europe.

10 May 1974 Friday. We took the train from Heidelberg to Luxembourg, via the Rhgine River valley, where we rejoined my family and aunt for the day. I had been here in 1968, so acted as guide to show them around town. We particularly like the gardens under the large bridge spanning the valley. We spent the night at the same hotel as them sharing sandwiches in our room.

11 May 1974 Saturday. My family departed for the States, and my aunt to Canada, and Linda and I took the train to Amsterdam. We spent the afternoon just outside Amsterdam in the villages of Marken and Volendam, and then took the Northwest Express train departing Amsterdam at 7:58 pm to Copenhagen, sleeping in the first class compartment as we had done before from Paris to Zurich.

12 May 1974 Sunday. We arrived at 8:21 am and spent the day touring Copenhagen; visiting Tivoli, the Changing of the Guard at the Amelienbourg Palace, and the Little Mermaid. We took the overnight train to Oslo, departing in the afternoon allowing us to stop to see Fredericksborg Castle before crossing to Sweden. It was supposed to be first class all the way. It was first class to Helsingor, but after we caught the ferry over to Helsingborg, Sweden, the train didn’t have first class anymore. Furthermore, all the second class seats were already taken. I should have remembered my experience with Scandinavian trains in 1968.

All the first class passengers had to stand at the ends of the rail cars next to the toilets until people got off at the various stations along the way. I remember one first class passenger was a newspaper editor who was going to write a scathing editorial in his paper the next day about the poor conditions of rail travel. We had an interesting time talking to the other passengers. As this was the height of Watergate, they didn’t understand all the fuss. Why was everyone so upset with Nixon? He hadn’t done anything that European politicians did all the time. Anyway, we got a seat by the time the train arrived at Goteborg, but didn’t get much sleep the rest of the night.

13 May 1974 Monday. We arrived early, and spend the morning touring Oslo. I wanted Linda to see some of Norway, where my ancestors came from, which meant that the rest of our itinerary was going to be quite rushed. Anyway, rather than spend the night in Oslo, we decided to take the train to Bergen and spend the night there. The scenery from Oslo to Bergen is some of the most fantastic in Europe, with snowfields and waterfalls plunging into the deep fjords. We arrived in Bergen at supper time, but the sun was still high in the sky. After checking into the home of someone recommended at the tourist information office, we walked all around the downtown waterfront. Bergen is a delightful town, and we lost track of time. We thought we would have a bite to eat but discovered that it was 10:30 pm and still daylight. We did find a place to have a sandwich. We had a good nights sleep in a real bed.

14 May to 17 May 1974 Tuesday through Friday. Thus begins a non-stop trip where we didn’t sleep in a hotel until we reached Rome. We took the day train from Bergen to Oslo, then the night train from Oslo to Copenhagen. For some reason this train had first class so we were able to get some sleep.

15 May 1974 Wednesday. We arrived early in Copenhagen and had the day to see any sights we hadn’t on the way through on the 12th. We departed Copenhagen at 4 pm on the Alpen-Express; again being able to sleep in the first class compartment.

16 May 1974 Thursday. We arrived in Munich at 7:22 am. We spent the morning touring Munich, and caught the afternoon train to Innsbruck. By then, Linda was in full rebellion mode. She hadn’t had a shower since our night in Bergen, and she didn’t look forward to another night on the train. I didn’t blame her, but we had to get to Rome on Friday, while the Soviet Union Embassy was still open so that we could obtain a visa for the one day we were going to be in Moscow on our way back to Bangkok. So we departed Innsbruck on the Italicus at 9:20 pm.

17-18 May 1974 Friday and Saturday. We arrived at 9:45 am and immediately found a room at the Hotel Concordia near the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain. After a quick shower it was off to the Soviet Union Embassy. There we were told to go to the Soviet Union Consulate at the other end of town. At the Consulate we were told to go to Aeroflot as that is who we had our tickets with. By then it was siesta time in Rome and offices would be closed until late afternoon. In that we only had that day in Rome, we decided to get our visa in Madrid where we would be staying with my college roommate Bill and his wife Cindy, who were stationed at Torrejon Air Base. So we had some pizza and started touring Rome. We joined an afternoon tour to Vatican City. On the tour we met another American couple. It was their anniversary. He had surprised his wife with the trip to Rome. She thought they were going to New York, but upon arrival in New York they caught another plane to Rome. Anyway we decided to rent a car for the next day and were able to see the Romand Forum and Colusseum and the Catacombs on the Appian Way.

19 May 1974 Sunday. We took the train to Naples and connected to the local train to Pompeii, where we spent the day, and finally got to see the villas that were off limits to me when I was there in 1958. While walking through the ruins, a bee climbed up Linda’s pants leg and started to sting her. She luckily found a restroom and managed to get her pants off and the bee out, but it left a string of bites up her leg. We caught the evening train back to Rome, in time to catch the 11:20 pm train to Nice.

20 May 1974 Monday. We got to Nice at 9 am, and had a few hours to walk around town and down to the beach before catching the train to Barcelona. The ride along the Mediterranean coast was very scenic. We got to Barcelona in the evening in time to catch the night train to Madrid. The train was supposed to get to Madrid at 9 am, but there were long delays due to track problems during the night so we didn’t get to Madrid until about 2 pm. Bill and Cindy were waiting for us. We drove to their apartment in Alcala de Henares, the hometown of Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote. We had a good time getting reacquainted, and seeing some of their small town.

21 to 23 May 1974 Tuesday through Thursday. We learned that Spain did not have diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union; something to do with Franco and the 1939 Spanish Civil War that the communist-backed forces lost. This meant we wouldn’t be able to get a visa for our 24 hour stopover in Moscow, and if we weren’t able to get a later flight on Aeroflot, we would be stuck in the transit lounge for all that time. We called Aeroflot and flound out that there was a charter flight scheduled for a day later that we could get on. We could change our tickets when we got to Paris. So we spent the day touring Madrid, and the Prado Museum. We had a relaxing three days with Bill and Cindy touring Madrid and the surrounding area. Thursday night we caught the train to Paris.

24 May 1974 Friday. We arrived early in Paris and went to the Aeroflot office where we changed out tickets to depart a day later. We then checked into a hotel and spent the day touring a bit and relaxing in preparation for our long flight home.

25 May 1974 Saturday. Our charter flight began in Manitoba, Canada. Everyone else on board were Ukrainian immigrants to Canada that were returning to Kiev to visit relatives. Not only were the Aeroflot stewardesses babushka women, but half the passengers were. The flight to Kiev was non eventful, the arrival sure was. It turns out that the onward flight to Moscow was a domestic flight. Linda and I had to check through customs and immigration without a passport. That didn’t seem to faze the officials. We barely had time to catch the onward flight to Moscow.

Upon arrival in Moscow, everyone started to get out of their seats. A bunch of police officers came on board and told everyone to sit down. Then they called out our names which we barely understood. They escorted us off the plane into an awaiting police car and took us to the terminal. This was the height of the Cold War, so we thought we were really in for it. Instead they took us to the departure lounge, on the in country side, not the transit side, where they assigned an Aeroflot stewardess and a plain clothes officer to watch us for the five hours until our flight to Bangkok was scheduled to depart. Then our escorts took us through immigration without stopping for anything to be stamped, over the protests of the immigration officials. We finally got on the plane and were very relieved when we finally exited Soviet airspace. During the night we landed in New Delhi where they fumigated the plane before anyone was allowed to exit. I can’t imagine what germs we could bring into India that they didn’t already have.

26 May Sunday. We arrived back in Bangkok and caught an afternoon plane to Chiang Mai. It was great to be home! While we were away, we discovered we had been robbed of all Linda's jewelry, including my college class ring! The next time we went to Bangkok for our commissary run, we went to the weekend market to get a watchdog, Taffy, our cocker spaniel. This also solved another problem. Linda would often wake up from her afternoon siesta to find little old ladies with red beetlejuice teeth staring at her in her bed. The problem ended with Taffy!

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