Interestingly or not, (it was interesting to me), when I picked up my 1980s diaries from London a few days ago I didn’t take any time to read them. I just brought the box back with me to St Leonards, found the diary that covered my European trip, packed the rest away and took them back to London a week later. I had fully expected to spend some reminiscing time flicking through them and looking for youthful highlights, much as I have always done when I dig them out for whatever weird reason, (usually looking up a concert date) which is then forgotten while I reminisce . Maybe I have finally moved on from the 80s?
The notebook that has my European trip starts in September 1987 and runs through to the birth of my daughter in May 1988, covering time spent in London, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. The handwriting is often terrible, in places it is verging on unreadable, and the content is not Pulitzer winning either. I definitely did not babble as much as I do in this blog. What it provided was dates, place names and sometimes context to go with the photos I took. There was very little sentimentality, though I have only read half the story so far.
The trip started, as do so many of the things I do, with me being bored and disliking work. Though to be fair, I have fond memories of van driving for DHL in the 80s, at least I wasn’t driving a desk like I have been doing since. My memory, supported by the sketchy notes in the diary, was that we were both sick of living in London, working dead endish jobs and not having any money. Deana, my Australian wife, had been living there significantly longer than me and wanted to head back south to somewhere less manic and a lot warmer.
Trudi (I stayed with Trudi when I was in Sri Lanka in 2013) and Sam, are two of three sisters of an Aussie friend of Deana, were staying with us in our one bedroom flat while they were waited for the third sister, Mandy, to arrive in London. The three sisters had bought a green VW Combi van and were off to travel Europe for as long as they could until the cash ran out. Somehow we contrived to get ourselves invited along and all of a sudden we were quitting jobs, organising our affairs, buying a tent and packing to go travelling. I had never done anything like this before, though Deana had previousy back-packed around Europe, with Tracy, the fourth of the sisters.
On 14 September 1987 we were up at 4:00 to drive from our flat in Richmond to Dover for the 6:30 am ferry to Calais. My first experience of driving the left-hand drive van was driving off the ferry and into France, something I fortunately did not screw up. I am not sure what, plan we had that day, I don’t think we had any plan for the trip, apart from picking up a friend of the sisters in Munich on 9 October who was joining us for a couple of weeks. Six people in a van sounds about right. As well as not having a plan I am also not sure what we had in the way of maps, I know we had a big Europe road atlas, and have convinced myself that was probably it; obviously no GPS or Google Maps in those days. Not having a plan meant not having a map was less of a worry; and unlike hitching or bussing around at least in a van you can doss pretty much anywhere and getting lost is less of a concern.
We hit France and turned left, ending up in Bruges in Belgium. It was the last I saw of France until visiting Paris in 2012. I loved Bruges, I mean I just totally and utterly fell in love with it, a similar experience to when Eleanor and I stayed there in 2015. I shot almost two rolls of film on the Canon AE-1 just in Bruges, out of a total of 12 for the whole 10 weeks. I pretty much loved all the ancient towns we passed through; the centuries of history in the streets and roads of Europe. Yes, New Zealand has a millennia of history, but there is not much that you can walk around, look at, touch or even climb on, and that is what I want.
We spent two days in Bruges before heading east to Antwerp and then into Holland. I had my birthday breakfast in Arnhem National Park, one of the few places I clearly remember from the trip.it stuck in my mind for two reasons; one, they had bicycles that you could just pick up for free and then ride them from destination to destination inside the park, I had never seen that before, or since. Secondly, there was an art museum in the park and the gallery had proper famous artists; Picasso, Van Gogh etc etc. I had never seen original work by famous artists before, it was thrilling and it was in a park!
September 17 was my 25 birthday and we had cake in the van in a campground outside of Amsterdam. I look thrilled in the photo, though this is my default photo face and I am probably smiling. I remember leaving my only pair of lightweight shoes on the roof of the van, but that memory only occurred when I was looking for them a few hundred miles later on. I was left with a pair of Doc Marten boots and a pair of jandals/flip flops.
The next few days were spent driving northwest up through Holland and into Germany, following the coast some of the way. For most of the next few weeks, when outside of the big cities we slept in roadside lay-bys, Deana and I pitching the tent on any patch of grass we could find. Free camping where possible and using public toilets (usually clean) as bathrooms. I noted at one stage in Switzerland, we had gone 9 days without a shower; the things you do when you are young, relatively free and short of money. My diary notes that just outside Hamburg one of the windscreen wipers fell off. I also noted that I bought a replacement a few days later but did not fit it until we were in Switzerland, it can’t have been on the drivers side.
A lake outside Bremen, Germany.
I noted that though it was getting cold, we headed north into Denmark, I suspect to get some Scandi experience before it got to cold, I also noted it cost too much to take the ferry over to Copenhagen so we went to Odense on 23 September, where we broke a brake line, which I replaced. I had wisely packed some tools.
I have no recollection of why we drove down to Ristinge, but we did get to cross one of those amazing Danish bridges, in this case the Rudkobing Bridge.
We camped for one night on the beach near Ristinge, found it too cold, so back-tracked all the way back to Germany. looking for some last vestiges of summer.
I have no recollection of why we chose to go to the places we visited, Ristinge ? there is nothing there, I hadn’t heard of it before we went, and until I read my diary I hadn’t heard of it since. I wonder if we had some sort of guide book, but don’t remember anything, I guess we must have. We passed though Hamlyn, Hannover, Rothenberg and Wurzburg on the way to Munich. I noted on the 27th that Deana thought she might be pregnant, so a letter was written to Andrea, the woman who was meeting us in Munich in a couple of weeks time to bring a pregnancy test kit.
Munich. End of September, early October. A right of passage for all antipodeans who happen to be in this part of the world at that time. Oktoberfest. We were not planning on going, it is a massive money trap, but hey, we were in the neighbourhood, and we ended up staying in a campground for three nights while we looked around Munich, and partook in the various beer related activities. We didn’t drink too much, it is really expensive! We talked to a number of Kiwis/Aussies in the campground who had blow their travelling money on a week in Munich. The allure of those large steins was obviously too much for them. Me, I was more interested in seeing things than beer drinking.
Leaving Munich on the 2 October we drove round, possibly via a few circles; the Bavarian Alps, which I loved; into Austria, Lichtenstein and Switzerland, breaking down and getting towed to a garage for repairs in Lucerne. We visited some absolutely amazing, beautiful places and this area was one of the highlights of my trip. I noted at the end that Germany and Turkey were my favourite countries.
Lucerne. While we were hanging out by the side of the lake, two Swiss girls came down and invited all five of us up to their flat for dinner which was massively appreciated.
Konstanz. A number of the older buildings in this part of Germany have murals, often religious, painted on the outside, I had never seen this before and thought it was just stunning. One of the many reasons I loved Bavaria.
Hohenschwangau Castle from the fabulous Neuschwanstein (Disneyland) Castle. What a location, I would love to go back here and spend a few days exploring the mountains, the lakes and these amazing buildings.
We picked up the final member of our touring party, Andrea, at Munich airport on 9 October and drove back out of town; aiming for a straight run to Berlin. Our first overnight stop was in a roadside rest area just outside Nuremberg. The following morning Deana used the pregnancy test kit which Andrea had remembered to bring. After waiting the required time wrapped in a sleeping bag next to a rubbish bin by the side of an Autobahn she confirmed she was pregnant. Boom, life changer. It was fortunate that we had already booked flights to Australia for November, at least we had some sort of plan.
To celebrate we drove for most of the day then illegally camped right near the border with East Germany.
Part two coming once it has been written.