Waxing philosophical will play a role in this blog, but at other times posts will be more mundane. Where we went, what we ate, who we saw. You get the drill. This one will begin to explore the history of our travels to Europe and why it is the first big destination for us as we start the new phase.
I (Jerry) was the first to go, starting in 1977. I left Los Angeles in early June and rode a Continental Trailways bus to Ohio for a few nights with my maternal grandmother Cuba and her husband Harold. Then down to West Virginia for the same with my maternal grandfather Charlie and his wife Evelyn. It would be the last time I would see either Charlie and Harold and it was a good experience, seen not through the eyes of the child I had been, but as an adult trying to find his way. I took an overnight trip with Charlie and Evelyn to my Mom’s hometown of Belle Valley and it provoked this bit of thought that I wrote not long after:
The old man’s dry hacking cough brought the group out of their scenery-induced meditation with an abrupt start. “Charlie just hasn’t been the same since his operation” intoned his wife, for the fifteenth time that day from the back seat of a little used 71 Impala. “He’s just so feeble, and he just won’t admit it.”
At the wheel, a young man of rapidly expanding awareness nodded his head in silent affirmation; a still shot of the last two days echoing across his line of sight. A grand old man, desperately in need of cloning and unaware of the meaning of the word. An old man, a survivor, going down.
That second paragraph reflected that I was reading either Robert Heinlein or Tom Robbins. More on Robbins later.
I took an overnight bus up to New York City for the flight to Germany out of Kennedy International. Those were long days on the bus, full of vast stretches of empty time. My Uncle Chuck, stationed in the Air Force near Birkenfeld, Germany, picked me up in Frankfurt and I spent a week with he, his wife Chong and daughter Lonnie.
My budget for the trip was based on about $700 total, which would work out to about $3 a day. I used a chunk of it to take the train down to Florence, Italy to meet up with an acquaintance I knew from the states. I then hitched down to Rome, back up to Florence, to Bologna (spent a week with a Canadian couple housesitting a villa), Venice and then, suffering from a foot injury, the train back to my Uncle’s place from Innsbruck.
After a week recuperating, I hitched to Paris with one night on the road, then up to Calais with a long weekend camping on a farm in Normandy, courtesy of one of my rides. In Calais I met two American Air Force fellows, who would play a central role later in the trip. We landed in Dover and I later hitched up to London where I was introduced to Tent City. There I met a German chap who had a motorcycle and we took off for about a week to tour the southwestern part of Britain. I returned to Tent City awaiting the arrival of my good friend Rendy Richards, who was to join me for the balance of the trip.
When he arrived on August 15th, accompanying him was our other good friend Evan Temkin. We spent a few days in London, and then got a ride to Brussels, where we tried our hand at hitchhiking. We discovered that what works for one or two won’t work for three when it comes to hitchhiking, so after finishing off a water bottle full of Johnny Walker Red (a mistake or just a good time?) while standing roadside, we hustled back into town and took the next train to Amsterdam.
We set up camp at Camping Vliegenbos (the beauty of travel in Europe is that campgrounds are often located inside the big cities) and the next day made our way to the main American Express Office on the Damrak, where later in the afternoon we would purchase a 1967 (or so) VW camper van from an American couple heading home for roughly $350. It came with a three-burner stove, full tank of cooking gas, dish ware, a little bit of food and a full box of books in English.
Let me explain about the books. When you are hitchhiking, you are living out of a backpack. You might carry just one or two books. By the time I was hitching out of Venice north towards Innsbruck, I’d finished up Tom Robbins Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and was eager to read some of his other work. I also had a copy of Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America, which I couldn’t quite get started on. It was early morning (I’d wild camped near a toll booth in the foothills of Northern Italy) and struck up a conversation with another American who happened to be trying to get a ride as well. I mentioned the Brautigan, he expressed an interest and agreed to trade me two books for it, one I can’t remember and the other was Robbins Another Roadside Attraction, his very first book. It was a great way to start the day.
We drove the van to Giessen, Germany to spend a couple of nights with the sister of Rendy’s ex-girlfriend, Kathy. Then down to Spangdahlem Air Force Base (near Bitburg) for a number of days, living in the barracks with the two air force fellows I’d met in Calais. A wild, wild time was had, reflective of the free wheeling 1970’s. They would introduce us to a German diet suppressant of the time, Antiadipositum X-112 that would facilitate much excessive behavior. From there we lit out for Paris and Evan’s flight back to the states.
Rendy and I would then travel south to Barcelona, across Southern France into Italy and over the Alps back to Germany to finish up our journey at Oktoberfest in Munich. We spent four nights there amidst a haze of X-112 and mass quantities of fest beer. We would run into folks we’d met in Bitburg, the wonder of travel and how small a world it can be at times.
Exhausted and almost out of money, we drove the van back up to Amsterdam and in one crazy encounter, sold it for $150. We took an overnight train to London, Rendy stayed on for a few more days and I jumped on one of the inaugural flights of Laker Airways, standby only, for $99 one way to New York City. Upon landing I again climbed aboard a Greyhound Bus (which crashed outside of Chicago) and for $50 spent four very, very long days crossing the U.S. for Seattle, where I would spend a month decompressing with Tom and Kathy Carlisle, a warm and welcoming environment for which I have always been very grateful.
My first real time away from home, I returned ready to go back, thinking I’d learned a great deal about travel that I wanted to apply in further adventures. It would take two years, but Rendy and I would indeed return in 1979. More about that will follow in a later post.