Trip Start Jan 01, 1974
19Trip End Dec 30, 1974
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Where I stayed
At 11 pm we were allowed to board our ferry named "Hibernia"and for four pound 25p each we got very comfortable second class seats. At 3:15 am we departed for the 3.5 hour trip to Dunleary, the port of Dublin. Arriving at 7 am and without much sleep we were stuffed but still had a 12 km train trip north to Dublin. We found out that the Youth Hostel in the suburb called Donnybrooke did not open until 5 pm so we decided that we would walk off our tiredness. We checked our bags into the station lockers and toured around central Dublin. The most interesting place we saw was Dublin Castle. Not really a castle in the classical sense but merely the residence of past British Viceroys. It had ample antiques and paintings and a new carpet made in Ireland that had pile at least 5 cm deep. The fascinating thing about the carpets was that each room's carpet was woven in the design of its ceiling. That was really a good example of lateral Irish thinking. We met an American studying at Trinity College in Dublin and he invited us to a cheap meal at the college canteen. Trinity also had a lot of history being one of the oldest universities in Europe. It was hard to grasp the commonly held attitude in Australia that the Irish were somehow stupid when they had such a long history of academia and when Australia's oldest universities were started less than a hundred years ago. The anti-Irish feeling I feel was purely another hangover from the English colonial education system Australia inherited. Trinity College was the home to a famous library which in turn housed the famous Book of Kells. This book was revered because it was one of the oldest complete tomes and it contained the four Christian gospels in a beautifully illuminated manuscript. It was written around 800 AD and was given to Trinity College in the 17th century. Still hours to fill in we bussed to Phoenix Park home to Dublin's Zoo. This was fairly pathetic so we headed for the nearest pub and our first pint of authentic Guinness Stout. Free with the stout was humourous entertainment put on by the barman. What a day but the Guinness helped us to not care about the poor standard of the hostel we chose for the night.
Again because of self imposed schedules we were planning to leave a town that just started to look interesting. I felt very comfortable here, something that I had not felt since I left Asia. Unlike the average Englishmen I had never grown up with any fear of the Irish and maybe that was fanciful of me. Somehow not feeling threatened by the Irish gave me a sense of wanting to know more about the place and the people. But where was I going to find the time when I had so far yet to travel to complete my planned trip. I had to look at this trip as a recce for some future trip when I would visit only the places that interested me enough. Penny's father had some Irish blood but not enough to enthuse Penny to look for her 'home' village. She found the people enjoyable, even entertaining so our spirits were high the next morning when we decided to attempt hitching west to Limerick. Because the 'official' Summer period had not started which was a euphamism for the 'tourist season' there were fewer buses running which made hitching a more attractive option than waiting at bus stations. The weather was lousy with a bitterly cold wind so after what seemed like an hour of not attracting any lifts we relented and found a rare bus to take us the 5.5 hours to the western coast of Eire. We saw some beautiful countryside along the way with a lot of what looked like under utilised farm paddocks. There were stone walls and bridges and hedgerows separating the small acreage farms from each other with their quaint stone and plaster farmhouses. We arrived late at Limerick and found the run down youth hostel. The warden was about 60 years old and wore granny glasses. Nothing out of the ordinary but he continually mumbled to himself in what we guess was Gallic language. Limerick was originally built on an island called Kings Island and was a favourite stop off point for Vikings in 9th century. The English took the city in 12th century and King John ordered the construction of a castle. The Irish traders and the English merchants lived here in relative peace. The appeal for both foreign merchants and locals alike was the Shannon River and it had become an important asset, as it was one of the few safe harbours on the Atlantic coastline. The next day in Limerick we found a much needed coin laundry. We were prepared to wash our clothes when the attendant, a middle aged lady insisted on doing it for us. She would not take no for an answer and for an extra 10 pence in labour cost we weren't in the arguing mood. We filled in the time by visiting the local People's Park and the museum. The only thing memorable was a five foot tall harp built in 1170. Eleven miles south of Limerick was the village of Adare. We travelled there by bus and really enjoyed one of the picturesque preserved working historic villages in Ireland. Nearby there was the estate of an Earl complete with 100 acres of wooded land and a manor house. The house was open to tourists but we could see most of the contents from the ornate windows thereby avoiding the entrance fee of 15 pence each. Cheap bastards! Across the small river on the property we could see the remnants of a Roman Catholic abbey that was destroyed under orders from Henry VIII in his attempt to introduce Protestant religion to Great Britain. All of this indulgence caused us to miss the 5pm bus back to Limerick. The weather was turning lousy so rather than wait 3 hours for the next bus we decided to try hitching again. To our surprise we landed a lift with the most interesting fellow. He was around 60 years old and a retired English Army colonel. He lived in Ireland was not a Catholic and said he never had any animosity from the locals. He had served in Africa, Malaya and Korea and admired Australian soldiers. On arrival in Limerick he insisted on going for a drink and we obliged him. We did not realise until he alighted from the car and started to walk to the pub just how drunk he was. We were relieved that we were not travelling any further with him. We were bouyed by our hitching luck so the next day we tried again in the direction of Killarney. A salesman took us to Killorglin and also insisted on us having a drink. Who were we to say no but I wondered how many offers I would have gotten if I had been travelling alone. As we left the pub the weather turned bad as it does in Ireland and fortunately after only 30 minutes we were picked up by four New Zealand girls in a campervan. That experience really made Penny crave for that type of travel especially after they told us how they worked in London to save their money for the trip. As we arrived in Killarney it was still raining. We found out that the youth hostel was another 4 miles out of town and I began to agree with Penny that there had to be a better way to see the world.
We were doing a lot of travelling and not much relaxing and on reflection this was because we did not have transport of our own. Sounds a bit ironic but depending on public transport was a necessity for us and even approached an addiction. We were getting into the habit of hopping on the next train anytime we met a hitch in our plans. There was a type of logic to this activity as the trains were comfortable, we weren't walking and by definition they were taking to someplace new. Even if we did not get to see much of the place we were leaving. I consoled myself with the thought that this was just a recce to see the places I would return to someday.
Again we made the decision to take a train to Cork rather than travel to the Killarney hostel and risk finding it closed or unlikely full. We knew from gathered information that the trip should be two hours to Cork and when we had not arrived at Cork in that time frame our enquiries learned that we should have changed trains at a town called Mallow. The friendly rail staff were the only reason we did not go crazy with all the disappointment that day. At Thurbs they let us off the train where we waited for another train to Cork. It was 11 pm when we arrived which was the witching hour for youth hostels. We asked a couple of young policemen the direction to the hostel and one agreed to drive us on his way home. He was very friendly but had had quite a bit to drink and should have been at home in bed.
Feeling refreshed and the Cork weather looked very nice the next day so we decided to walk the five miles to Blarney Castle. That exuberance wore off when the first bus approached so we hailed it to carry us the rest of the way. I was very impressed by the castle. It was built before 1446 and had not been restored. However it still was in reasonable condition with its walls 18 foot thick, miriad of rooms and dungeons and spiral staircases in between. The top floor was about 70 feet from the ground and this was the location of the famous Blarney Stone. Queen Elizabeth I coined this word as the English translation of the Irish word 'plamas'which meant soft talking flattery. The kisser of the stone was granted the gift of talkativeness or so the legend went. A couple of bus loads of American tourists had made it to the top floor before us. Even in pre hepatitis times the thought of kissing the Blarney Stone after 100 Yanks was not something we cherished. We were satisified just to watch as the tourists one at a time had to lay on their backs and lean out past the battlement wall to reach the kissing stone. One had to question though why that nationality in particular needed to top up their talkativeness. Cork 200 years ago was a canal city like Venice however all but four of the canals had since been filled in to make roads. Prior to that though Cork's history was a bit of a mystery. There was some evidence of it being the site of a monastry called St Finn Barre built around 606. There were reportedly three visits (attacks), the first in 820, by Norse raiders over the centuries but also evidence that the Norse built a trading settlement near to Cork. The best archeological evidence of early Cork was from the Anglo-Norman period from 1171. This period saw the development of Cork as a thriving medieval city. The city's decline was certain after the Black Death Plague struck in 1349. This flea borne disease was carried by traders from Europe and halved the population of Cork.
For us the next day in Cork was sunny and free of fleas so we planned to visit Kinsale a fishing village south of Cork. We were plesantly surprised to get a lift within 30 minutes of hitching. The generous Irishman named Barry Murphy, was 30ish and planning to turn off the Kinsale Road to Baltimore. This was also a coastal village but almost on the most south-west corner of the island. He was going to paint his father's boat for the day and could give us lift back to Cork that night. How could we turn down such an offer? Barry was very good company and I could tell that Penny enjoyed his charm and accent a little more than I did. This was such a welcome break after the last few days and weeks of seemingly continuous travel that I could not blame Penny for enjoying a bit of normalcy for a change. I also could have stayed longer even weeks in a place like County Cork but I knew that time spent there was time I would not have at what I considered more unusual places ahead of us. We had a fantastic day looking in quaint shops and chatting to locals. A couple of beers at the local pub and lunch at a small restaurant filled in our morning. We spent some time giving moral support to Barry while he painted and then did some of the cliff walks that he had recommended. He got us back to the hostel at midnight and the easy going warder did not seem to mind. What a day!
Fully recovered the next day we took a train to Cobh Island. It had a Victorian rail station but its other history was very interesting. This was a major port in the days of ocean travel. During the British rule Irish left here as convicts to an uncertain prison term in Australia and during the Irish Potato Famine thousands headed for promise of a better life in America. Cobh was also the last port of call for the RMS Titanic before its fateful sinking in the Atlantic. This fact was history we chose not to dwell on, as our next plan was to cross the Irish Sea to Wales by ferry.
In Ireland we had travelled to the most western point of the European leg of our trip. Now we were heading east and even though I was enjoying Ireland's Eire it put a skip in my step to think that I was now heading in the direction that my heart had wanted me to go. The firming up of this travel plan was completed when we wrote to friends telling them that our next mail address would be c/- American Express, Plaza de las Cortes, Madrid, Spain. I did not make a public display of my joy as Penny's mood was harder to read. Meeting the Kiwi girls in the campervan I think made her long for that type of travelling. The independence from public transport was appealing to her but also the girls were independent of men and my own insecurities made me wonder if that too appealed to her.
Other travellers advised us to visit Youghal 30 miles from Cork so we did this on our way to the ferry. It had some very old buildings and was the location for the filming of the original version of Moby Dick with Gregory Peck. Even if it had been filmed in colour this town would still look black and white. One of the old buildings was called the "Almshouses" and built in 1610 as free accommodation for old soldiers. It had never been restored properly and one old timer we spoke to said that he lived there rent free as there was no landlord. In Australia he would have been moved on and the area made into a shopping mall. From here we tried hitching and got to Waterford, a distance of 49 miles in two lifts. There we learned that a ferry would leave Rosslare in two hours for Fishguard in Wales. While we waited we took a last look around Ireland. Waterford harbour had an old tower called Reginald, the Dane's Tower built in 1006. Its walls were 10 foot thick and it was definitely there for the long haul. To me this last attraction symbolised the sort of salt of the earth character of the Irish and Eire. This place was high on my list of 'must visit again' destinations and it was with mixed emotions that I was leaving so soon. Europe and beyond beckoned but that meant passing through Wales and London to get there. Part of me wanted to stay where it was comfortable and the people were friendly, away from busyness and big soulless cities.
The ferry from Rosslare to Fishguard was part of the Sealink group and took 3 hours to travel the night sea to Wales. Sealink had a link with British Rail and there was a convenient rail station at the ferry port. Arriving at 11:30 pm meant we did not have many options about finding accommodation so we spent the time until morning dozing on the padded seats of the comfortable warm rail station waiting room. It was 6:00 am when the cleaning lady arrived and we decided to move along. Having grown up with the Queensland habit of bathing in the morning it always seemed odd to not feel like a bath in the cool of the European mornings. During our European trip it was a regular occurrence to forego our morning ablutions. This was sometimes due to the cool weather but sometimes to the facilities not being available or the access to hot water being so complex as to put one off trying. We had been told about a good hostel about 4.5 miles from the harbour so we teamed up to walk there with an Australian named Ewan. As the weather was cool the walk started well but the heavy packs and lack of sleep took their toll and after 2.5 hours we were all buggered. As the hostel was on ridge overlooking the coast the weather was unpredictable and as such turned very windy. No sooner had we checked into the hostel we were turned out by the standard policy of shuting up during the day. The other visitors checked the weather and headed for the nearest pub about 40-50 minutes walk away. We did not feel like another long walk and wanted to see the advertised resident colony of seals in the local bay. We took the brisk wind head on. The seals were too clever to leave the water on a day like this and a lot more clever than the two adventerous and stubborn Aussies. I knew when I was defeated and recommended we find the pub. Here we did have a problem as we did not have a map and the weather was getting colder. The wind literally blew straight through our warmest clothes. After trying to hide behind numerous stone walls and hedgerows around the Welsh countryside we found a small gully which offered small protection against the full force of the westerlies. We huddled there for what seemed like a few hours. That result really was bad planning by both of us but of course each of us tried to justify our decisions and we had ample time in which to do it. In the early afternoon the weather started to get worse and risking pneumonia we headed back to the hostel. Arriving there still too early for 5:00 pm opening time we skulked around the hostel looking its warmest protected side. We did not find it. Early evening the other travellers arrived back from the pub wonderfully warm from ale and too carefree to be interested in how our day went. We did not care about the hostel comfort or lack of it that night and got some much needed sleep.
The weather was not going to improve so next morning we attempted hitching back to the Fishguard harbour and ended up walking more than half of the way. We both were debating the success of hitching when a truck stopped. The driver was heading for Swansea and the fact that he was going somewhere far from Fishguard suited us. Getting dropped off at a large intersection on the highway to Cardiff we did not like our chances of finding any transport willing to stop. Proving the fickleness of fate within a minute a lorry stopped and this one was going to Cardiff. I think souless describes what we saw of southern Wales. I am reliably informed that parts of that region of Wales were attractive but we did not get to see them between Fishguard and Cardiff. The driver was doing his deliveries so we relaxed and enjoyed being out of the weather for a while. I had no doubt that Penny was the reason anyone ever stopped. Even wrapped in layers of thick clothing and woollen beanie she still looked attractive with long black hair and of course the safety of the whole exercise often crossed my mind. By now the rain had started and the driver had to concentrate to see the road ahead through the virtually opaque windscreen. After 3 hours of deliveries our 'Irish' luck ran out and the lorry broke down. The driver thought that it might be the battery so guess who had to brave the rain and try to push start the lorry. I got half soaked in cold rain which went to match my dampened spirit. My mamma never told me there would be days like this. To his credit the driver hailed another truck to give us alift. This one took us to Llanelli rail station. This turned out to be a few miles from Swansea where we had been hours before. We got to see more of Wales than we had bargained on. Any ticket price seemed reasonable that day so we took the train to Bath. This meant changing trains at Swansea, Cardiff and Bristol. Again we were too late for a hostel so we slept at Bristol station. It was too nice to pass up, clean and warm and what else is a waiting room for? Next morning we got on a train to Bath.
Before we headed out of town to the Youth Hostel we decided to ring them. Fortuitous move as the hostel was closed for one week and the next closest hostel was at Salisbury. While we had the phone nearby we rang the Salisbury hostel. It too was unavailable as it was full, so we had to look to the area outside Bath. Before heading there we took a look at the Roman Baths that make Bath famous. There was archeological evidence that the area near the warm springs of Bath was inhabited by Celts 8000 years BC. Coins dating from that time supposedly had been found in digs near Bath but I really was sceptical that Celts of that time even had coins let alone spare coins to dispose of. The baths had been through many occupations over centuries with the Romans being responsible for the current architecture around the main bath house. One story about the healing properties of the warm springs, written in 1136, told of the cure of leprosy contracted by a regal son of the time. In need of a bath and a cure for tiredness we tried the local municipal council dressing rooms with some success. For 12 p we got our own individual leprosy cure and the invigoration to move on. We found a hostel on a hill at a small town called Street. It overlooked a valley and was very pretty. The hostel warden kept a menagerie of animals including a cow and chooks. Next morning we feasted on museli, bananas, eggs, beans and tomato and fresh wholemeal bread. The best meal we have had for some time.
Choosing Street was not an accidental choice. It was 3.5 miles from Glastonbury which was the home of the Tor. The Tor was the surviving church tower of an earthquake in 1300. It was situated conspicuously on a grassy hill in a flat plain. Now this sounded rather ordinary but the Tor was said by some to be at the geographic eye of Aquarius, the star constellation. Apparantly if the twelve constellations were superimposed onto the surface of the earth certain 'geographical' sites fell at coincidentally convenient spots. The Tor being at the eye of Aquarius was very auspicious particularly at the height of the hippy era. Glastonbury attracted hippies from around the world wanting to absorb some Aquarian good spirit from the place. So much so that numerous shops in the town displayed signs saying "We dont serve Hippies" or "Hippies not Welcome". We saw for the first time the dirty type of hippy. The ones down on their luck even at the 'Eye of Aquarius'. I guess the hot bath in Bath did the trick as we did not have any problems with the shopkeepers in the town. We walked to the Tor to take a look at the centre of attraction to find a number of other travellers or 'hippies' resting on the green grassy slopes of the Tor. I always found hippies to be interesting case studies and even some of them good company until they repeated that common mantra about the world needing to change. My view was that I had worked a lot of years to get the money to see the Tor and they seemingly having no permanent ambition appeared to float in to town without funds and without effort. Maybe I was selfish but it seemed to me that it was my world that needed a change, theirs was already very comfortable. A fable that probably had more truth in its conception than that of the 'Eye of Aquarius' was that the home of the mysterious and legendary King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table was nearby Glastonbury. One story from history suggests that in 1192 monks moved the remains of Arthur and Guinevere from a secret location to be buried in an Abbey now a ruin near Glastonbury and that Cadbury Castle, the home of King Arthur was located 14 miles outside Glastonbury. The Tor on its isolated hill was said to have appeared like an island during floods and was given the name of Isle of Avelon. So much of this story is based on hearsay but some people suggest that there was a link between the pre-Christian zodiac beliefs and the Aurthurian legends and as a result many Anglo Saxons use the zodiac concepts as feel good anecdotes. While the Round Table story and the Isle of Avelon were the stuff of boy's dreams we had more earthly objectives. A work collegue of mine had given me the address of a relative who lived at Yeovil near Glastonbury. We rang the lady, Pat and she told us to get to Yeovil and she would meet us for lunch. Luck was on our side as the following day after walking about 2 miles we got a lift right to Yeovil Hospital where Pat worked. Pat was very friendly and took us 20 miles to a country pub that mirrored all her friendly charm. The monoculed barman kept us entertained over lunch so much so that we did not notice the rain outside. Pat decided that it was too wet for us to venture far and insisted that we spend the night on her lounge floor. An offer we could not refuse. In the afternoon we returned to the hospital and met some of the young interns and doctors at the canteen and then at night Pat took us to a local folk club where the combination of drink and talented musicians made for a very nice evening. By the end of the night I could not tell if the floor was comfortable or not. This sort of lifestyle was very attractive and Penny once again had every reason to question the mode of travelling we had been undertaking up to this point. Being located in one place and not living out of a backpack certainly was appealing but my ambition to travel East was set in my mind and I was not going to let this be any more than an engaging distraction from the main game. Penny was her own person and although it was unsaid, I could tell her preference was for less travelling. I always had been able to compromise when my opinion differed from others but I was finding it hard to find middle ground on this issue. The next phase of our trip was mainland Europe and we had relatively expensive Eurail tickets to bring some stability to our mode of travel. I hoped that this would be different enough from the rough travel we had undertaken to this point to let Penny and myself get more pleasure out of the essential task of moving from place to place. We were arriving at the end of my list of things to see in England. Last but not least on the list was Stonehenge. We had heard so much about this structure throughout our lives that it really was a must. We got to Salisbury by bus to find the hostel still fully booked. This was a common problem at popular tourist spots so it was not unexpected. Salisbury was famous for its cathedral built in 1220 as it had a spire 404 foot tall. That was some achievement in its time and probably a labour of love. The spire could be seen for quite a distance around the basically flat terrain. In our travels to find a bed and breakfast place we visited a much needed coin laundry. With that chore out of the way we decided to take in the Salisbury Museum. Glad we did as they had a good display on Stonehenge. The stone phase of Stonehenge took place after a wooden stage and was started somewhere around 3000BC by Neolithic stonemasons who took seventy generations to complete the shape we see today. What drove them to make such a statement is not known but the effort (another labour of love?) of bringing the stone pillars from far away Wales by land and sea would not be attempted today even using our modern technology. There was evidence in the form of wood remnants that the whole stone structure had a heavy wooden fence which was used to physically guide worshippers or to partly conceal the holy centre of the stone ring. I wanted to see this for myself. Next morning was a return to fine weather so we asked directions to Stonehenge at the bus station. A lady at the bus station told us to take the bus number 208 to Amesbury and walk from there to Stonehenge. We hoped on bus 208 and after about half a mile the conductor informed us that this was a school bus and not going to Amesbury. Maybe they were 'taking the mickey' but I suspect they were a bit slow in them parts. I would have thought that we did not look like school kids so why did they let us on the bus in the first place. A walk back to the bus station and closer interregation of the next bus driver this time. We drove through beautiful countryside of green fields, really a picture. From Amesbury we walked 2 miles to mount a small hill. On the other side was a green valley dotted with fields of a yellow flowering crop that could have been mustard. In the middle of the valley there was the unmistakable Stonehenge. Smaller than I expected but still not small. We attached ourselves to a tour group only to hear the guide tell the mostly Americans how there were too many hippies joining the Druids religious order these days. One of those some time Druid followers was Beatle, and student of religion, George Harrison who had been known to turn up at the annual Druid festival or gathering held at Stonehenge. This was the England I had come to see. The England whose history I had learned rote like at primary school. As tedious as school was at times, this day at Stonehenge and the visits to historic places like the Tower of London seemed to bring a purpose and balance to the school learning process. It was a belated mix of the theoretical learning and the practical experience of seeing solid examples of history. All the other tourist attractions like red London buses and pubs with warm beer seemed a bit contrived and circus like in comparison.
With all its failings London did have its uses. One of them was a place to pick up our mail from home and also the banks linked with Australian institutions where we could buy travellers cheques for the travel ahead to mainland Europe. A visit to the Australian High Commission mail service rewarded us with the best cache yet of mail from home. While we were there we also investigated the possibility of casting an absentee vote for the upcoming federal election. Could Gough Whitlam's Labour Party do it again or would a return to the Liberal Party mean a return to conscription? These questions were only anecodotal to us and did not require an answer. We did get mail from my 'old friend' from Manchester, Roger. He was in England and heading to visit realtives in his home town of Manchester. Penny never really liked him because he was from that period before she and I met but funnily I was very reluctant to visit him for a number of reasons. It was out of our way and money was not plentiful, he would bore everyone with tales from the past, and mostly he probably would try to borrow money from me. That may have sounded improbable to some, that while he was amongst relatives in his home town that he would need to do such a thing. My response to those doubters would be that 'you did not know Roger like I did'. My sister and her boyfriend left a letter for us to say that they also were in London but did not bother to leave their address on the letter. Maybe there was some type of message there also but I was not going to let anything to do with news from Australia bother me as I was planning for the two of us to head for Dover and the ferry to France.
Although it was Summer season in England the weather was not what a Queenslander would call warm. Maybe I was reading too much into our relationship but just maybe this was part of the reason that Penny and I were not as close as we were in the warmer climes such as Indonesia. I did not want to think about it too much but Penny was starting to show signs of a type of travel stress. She was comfortable in an Anglo nation and I think she had reservations about what was in store as we moved eastward. It was our last day in London and we had done all the travel arrangements that we needed. The day turned warm for a change and it was weird to see again how the English responded. The parks were full of lily white men and women with shirts off and trousers rolled up. Lying on towelling mats or sitting in striped canvas deck chairs with their dresses hitched high revealing almost sickly pale thighs to the sun's fleeting rays. I must admit that we also felt the heat after weeks of wet and cool weather. We were also a bit relieved about leaving the London hostel as it was overrun by German students. They were loud and had no knowledge or respect for the hostel rules. Two girls were found in the mens showers one morning which offended the English and their sense of decorum. Mind you I think that most things Germans did offended the English for obvious historical reasons. It was fortunate that the weather was good that day as I mistakenly dropped a letter for Australia in a large red letterbox and then realised that I had forgotten to add any stamps. Worried that my literary masterpiece would never be returned to sender because we were about to move on and had no forwarding address, we waited for the postman to arrive. Luckily the letterbox had the expected pickup times posted on the box. The postman was friendly enough and allowed us to hurriedly stick some stamps on the naked letter but made us listen to his standard lecture and a common English theme on the perils of letting too many coloureds into one's country. All the mail issues settled we were free to head for Dover. With my new lighter backpack in tow travelling seemed a breeze compared to my difficulties on arrival in England. Thinking back on that experience I came to empathise with the hippies who travelled with just a sleeping bag.
Two buses got us to Blackheath. This place was so named as it was the burial site of thousands of Englishmen during the period of the Black Plague. Back to hitching and four lifts from Blackheath took us through some more beautiful countryside. Canterbury, with its fortified walls and its cathedral were glimpsed very briefly in passing and looked like an area that deserved much more investigation. However it would have to be another time as our momentum was once again in forward motion. After 60-70 miles we reached Dover and I was surprised to find a nice castle perched high and overseeing the white cliffs. These limestone sheer walls were more an off white but one could imaging how their chalky mass acted as a beacon to returning Englishmen at sea. With four hours to kill before the ferry departed we took our last English meal at the British Sailors Club. Penny had sausage, egg and chips and I settled for egg, tomato and baked beans. If nothing else the meal was economical and our way of paying our last respect to the 'Ol' Dart'. The ferry was due to arrive in Calais, France at 6:45 pm. Half way across the English channel we could still see the White Cliffs of Dover from our starboard side. We were a little bewildered why the Germans with their military might could not conquer an island so close to the European mainland during WW2. Around 43 AD the Romans traversed the channel with ease to control Britain until 367AD.
What have they done to my song Ma
Ils ont change ma chanson, Ma
Ils ont change ma chanson
Look what they done to my song Ma
Look what they done to my song Ma
Well they tied it up in a plastic bag
And turned it upside down Ma
Look what they done to my song
C'est la seule chose que je peux faire
Et se n'est pas bon' Ma
Ils ont change ma chason.
Calais rail station was a new test for us. Almost no English language on any of the signs so we had to delve into our guide books for some tips. After changing our remaining pounds into francs (1 pound=11.45 francs) it seemed we had missed our planned train to Paris so we took the next available train to Boulogne 30 kms south of Calais. It was 15 August 1974 and the first day of our three month Eurailpass. For the next 12 weeks we needed to be aware of the time so as to not waste our ability to travel almost anywhere in western Europe by train. However we were to find that the Eurailpass also gave us enormous freedoms while travelling we had not yet enjoyed. Boulogne was another ancient European city that was now France's leading fish producing port. Being a port city it had the essential citadel for protection and 13th century ramparts. We stayed at the Boulogne Youth Hostel where we met a Chinese boy from Hong Kong. He was fascinated by the breakfast style of the German travellers at the hostel. They poured hot milk and coffee into a soup bowl and proceeded to dunk white French bread into it. Wanting to experience this he followed their style using their jugs of warm milk and coffee only to find out that their breakfast had been prepaid and that he was not part of their group. The hostel warder made him pay 3 francs for his misdemeanour. One improvement at the hostel over the English equivalent was that the showers had hot water. This was very easy to take after weeks of cold washes or running out of coins for the 'pay as you shower' gas heaters. One thing I had been warned about by other travellers was the fact that France commonly had squat toilets like in Indonesia. These would have been introduced to Indonesia by the occupying Dutch and they did not concern us a great deal as we quickly remembered the technique required, 'just like riding a bike... you never really forget how'. After breakfast and packing up we headed back to the station and took a train to Paris. As our Eurailpass was a first class level we found that the train compartments were often more comfortable than the hostels we stayed in. Also the rail system was so organised in France there were good facilities at the stations like waiting rooms with bathrooms and a plentiful supply of shops and bars nearby. We quickly found out that by getting on the train first we could get a compartment to ourselves. These often consisted of two padded bench seats. This meant we could then stretch out with our sleeping bag roll as a pillow and sleep until an inspector came along. Also the compartments had a small table which we used for playing cards and for preparing our cheese sandwiches at lunch time, but who could wait until lunch time? It surprised us in a country of more than 50 million people how we often got a compartment to ourselves. Maybe the socialist mood sweeping France prevented the majority from travelling first class. Mind you when we did have to share with a French person travelling first class they tended to be a bit snooty. But as they generally refused to speak English they never seemed to complain about our scruffy presence.
We knew that in Spain it was cheap to survive so we wanted to head in that general direction and see what we could of France on the way through. There were a few tourist attractions in Paris but there were also 10 million Frenchmen, most of whom would not speak English and this made the thought of venturing into the capital city a bit daunting.
Paris had around six major rail stations with interchange to other parts of France and international rail lines. We arrived at Gare de Nord from Boulogne but this station did not have a line south to Spain. We needed to find our way to Gare de Orlenes. The most direct way was by Metro underground train. The underground trains were not covered under the Eurailpass and a trip on an old fashioned tram-looking Metro train cost us 1 Franc 30 each. Our lack of French language took its toll again. We ended up at Port du Orlenes and had to return to Odeon station and change again for Gare de Orlenes. When we arrived we found we had 4 hours to wait until our train to Spain so we booked our still heavy packs into rail station lockers in the lower floors and took a look above ground. We found ourselves on the "Left Bank" of the Seine River in old Paris. This was apparently an arty place and there were a number of people selling paintings on the river bank grassy areas. Our guide book said this was the place to find cheap food so we decided to try a local cafe. A number of nice looking cafes were obvious with their tables and chairs on the footpaths but we a little discouraged by the amount of traffic passing by. Cars beeping horns and noisy motorised bicycles were a bit of a daunting challenge so we ventured into a side street for some slower pace. The cafe meal we chose consisted of a tomato omelette, dry bread and a thimble full of sweet black coffee. This drink was called cafe petite and it sure was all that. Still with time to fill in we walked to University of Paris. There we found students selling nice looking salad rolls and tubs of yoghurt. We bought some of these for our rail trip. The university was the first place I ever saw major grafitti. The walls were covered with it and any other spare space had posters plastered over it. While we understood that the students had been a bit restless recently in that year of student revolt, this omnipresent graffitti was the side of student art we could not fully comprehend and the lack of French language was not the issue this time.
The first class French train travelled via Bordeau on the coast of France and stopped at the border town of Hendaye. We changed trains at the Spanish town of Irun. This was a midnight crossing and we pictured a long drawnout immigration process but the Spanish Immigration officers at that time of night were about as enthusiastic as we were and did not seem to want any difficulties. They passed us through with the most superficial of inspections.