As we begin to return to traveling at the rate we managed since I started this blog back in 2013, there will still be some gaps between trips that I will need to fill from time to time. So, much like I did with the Why Do We Love Yosemite series I recently posted, I’ll do an occasional one on the other place we return to time and time again, that is Europe for a total of thirteen visits so far.
My first trip there in 1977, as envisioned that day in Yosemite when I dreamed of being a tent camping vagabond, was a defining moment in my life, one that changed me in many small ways, almost all of them for the better. Starting with a paper route in Middle School followed by almost two years making donuts at the Big Donut Drive-In in Culver City while in high school, I worked without pause until that first trip across the ocean.
Fast forward to stepping on a Continental Trailways bus in 1977 for a $50 one-way journey across the states it seemed like I was closing out a chapter of my life, after a first marriage and divorce, an undergraduate degree in business and what had been a remarkably good full-time job at an insurance company. I was ready to break away from it all and start that adventure, one’s whose outcome would not be clear to me for years to come. I covered the itinerary and some details from that trip in this post from December 2013:
There’s no need for me to re-write it as it is a pretty succinct recap of that journey. My objective with this post will be to highlight some of the key moments, those that I look back on as Robert Frost once wrote in The Road Not Taken, “two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all difference.
The first road, or decision to make/take, came not long after my arrival in Germany while staying at my Uncle Chuck’s, who was living with his wife and daughter (Chong and Lonnie) in the small town of Birkenfeld, Germany while serving there in the Air Force. Although my mode of transportation was to be hitchhiking, when one has not relied on it before, the thought of doing it in a foreign country can be intimidating. Thus, my first decision was to take a train down to Florence, Italy to meet up with an acquaintance. Sabra, I knew from the states.
This would take a large chunk out of my minuscule travel funds, a total of $700 for three plus months, about $3 dollars a day. I would pay for this later by running out of money many days before I was ready to return to the States. At the end of my stay in Florence, I sucked it up and hit the road for Rome with my thumb out and would hitchhike for the next two months or more, finding moderate success in doing so. My first month of it was rough as I wrote in one of my sporadic attempts at journaling:
“Hitchhiking in Italy is rough. No shade, little water, hot, hot sun”.
Plus, I was still running in driver mode, that is, used to getting in my car and going where and when I wanted. It would not be until I left my Uncle Chuck’s for a second time a few weeks later after recovering from a nasty in-grown toenail that I would give myself up to the real secret to hitching, that is don’t plan for a destination at the end of the day, but instead take each ride at face value and let it go where it will go, as I would later write:
“Hitchhiking, when finally tied into is timeless thought, a never-ending series of random events all strung together along a single line of consciousness. At times a true art form, it can never be seriously approached as a method of travelling. Its forte is experiences, rarely controlled intellectually, but instead life force directed towards some unknown goal.”
Pretty cosmic, huh?
The next decision point would come a couple of weeks later, hitching out of a farm on the Normandy coast. I’d spent a few idyllic days there at the invite of a Frenchman named Francois (not the Francois I would meet in Greece in 1979), who’d picked me up as I was hitching out of Paris. We got to talking and he invited me to camp at the farm his wife’s family owned. It would be the second time a ride had invited me home (the first was with George and Susan in Bologna) and it would happen again on this leg of the journey as I was heading towards London.
Francois took me some miles up the coast and it not long after he dropped me off, my next ride came along, a VW van with five young Germans, two men and three women. A friendly group we talked as we made our way north, listening to a cassette I’d brought with me of the Fleetwood Mac LP, Rumours. I felt a promising connection with the group and noted the uneven ratio of women to men which appeared to work in my favor.
Thus, when we were not far out from Calais, the port I was planning on taking the ferry to England from, they asked if I would like to continue on with them to Amsterdam, their eventual destination. This presented the decision point as I was just three plus weeks out from meeting Rendy in London, which had been my destination all along. And at that time, the pull of England was a bit stronger than that of Amsterdam and the Netherlands. But, then again, as the Beach Boys once sung, “two girls for every boy”. What’s a young Cisco to do?
In the end, it was the lure of London and my originally conceived plan for a route that won out. And as with all forks in the road, this one led me to meeting two guys in Calais that would later propel the journey in a direction I would have never anticipated. We’ll follow up on that in the next post.