Europe 1987 – Part three.

The plan to do a two-part post seems to have been completely blown out of the water, though this will be the final in the Europe 1987 series. My diary suggests the journey was more action packed the further south we travelled, or maybe I just wrote more. The diary is certainly a lot more verbose in the latter entries, perhaps this was due to me spending more time on my own? Sadly, it appears that the more I wrote the fewer photos I took; most of the photos I have left were taken early in the trip.

We take up the journey on 28 October 1987, soon after crossing the border into Greece from Yugoslavia, after what seems to have been a couple of miserable days; with poor weather, a lack of places to camp and hard driving on busy and winding mountain roads not making us the happiest of campers.

It turned out Northern Greece was a continuation of the Southern Yugoslavia experience. It was cold, it was wet, it was very deprived and there were few places to camp. I note that one night we slept in the van in a field and were surrounded by feral dogs in the morning. I have no photos from that period. I noted in my diary that we were almost killed on the road somewhere between the border and Thessalonica. I was driving and barrelling along about 50 miles an hour when someone pulled out of a side road in front of me, forcing me to swerve off the road into the dirt and back onto the road again. It was very scary and the closest we came to dying. I can still visualise the car coming out of nowhere, me wrenching the wheel to the right, hitting the dusty bank, then wrenching left and back on the road again. I cannot visualise the swearing, though I suspect some bad bad things were said.

Thessalonica was effectively closed as a senior government official was visiting, there were armed police and soldiers everywhere, including tanks on the main roads. We didn’t stay, but found a campground somewhere between the city and the Turkish border, and blessed relief, there were hot showers. It had been a long time between showers and sometimes it is the little things that make all the difference.

After two days driving across Greece we entered Turkey. I noted in my diary that there was loud cannon fire near the border and a lot of soldiers on manoeuvres on the Turkish side, though the border crossing was straightforward. Turkey was my second favourite country after Germany; and the polar opposite of tidy, clean and organised West Germany. I seem to enjoy the really tidy and strict countries like Singapore AND the mad, loose and scruffy countries like Cambodia and Laos. It is the in between I dislike more than anything.

I only saw a fraction of Turkey, just Istanbul and down to Bodrum on the coast, and it was the country I wanted to return to the most when I got back to New Zealand. In the main it was very friendly, the people were open and generous, the food cheap, tasty and plentiful and I liked it very much.

We arrived in Istanbul during rush hour on a Friday night. The roads were complete madness, five lanes of cars on a three lane road, honking and yelling, cars all over the shop. I noted that I loved it, the Kiwi driver in me looking for a challenge. We had no maps or guidebooks for Istanbul and Turkey so just drove toward the centre of town looking for signs pointing to campgrounds or hostels. Driving down a one way street we saw the ‘True Blue Souvenir’ shop with a small Aussie flag painted on the front. I stopped the van so Sam and Trudy could run back to the shop to ask for advice on places to stay, they came back with Simon and Typhun from the shop (No idea of the spelling of his name). They told us we could park and camp outside of their shop for a small fee, it had 24 hour security (armed policeman outside the station two doors up) and we could nip into a nearby hotel to use the loo and sinks. It sounded perfect to us, so much better than fields and wild dogs.

Simon said he would direct us to the shop, and jumped in the van. We drove round the corner onto a rammed three lane highway, approaching a roundabout Simon jumped out of the car, walked into the middle of the road and stopped all the traffic so I could cross the three lanes. He then move the barrier blocking the road entrance to the Blue Mosque, and we drove through its car park, across the front of this glorious building and out the other side. To cap it off we drove up the one way street the wrong way, past the police station, parking outside the shop. I wasn’t sure whether to laughing my head off at the madness of it all, or be fearful of spending 10 years in a Turkish prison. Once parked and not arrested, I chose the first option. Welcome to Istanbul!

Nov 1987 Istanbul Campsite

We spent three days in Istanbul, parked up outside the shop, other vans joined us and it was largely a lot of fun. I loved Istanbul, the old town, the mosques and the market were all highlights, as was being shown around by our hosts, eating in local cafes and drinking copious quantities of apple tea and brutally strong coffee. I am surprised I have so few photos.

Nov 1987 Blue Mosque Istanbul

Typhun and Simon.

Nov 1987 Soluman and Typhun Istanbul

Hubbly Bubbly cafe.

Nov 1987 Istanbul with Typhun

I noted in my diary that there was a bus strike in Turkey, and I could not get back to London for a few days, so after a short, interrupted phone call I agreed with Deana that I would carry on to the coast and then get a ferry to Athens and bus it from there. I could not afford to fly. So, on 2 November we carried on south, taking two days to get to Selcuk.

My diary says ‘I liked Selcuk’. We spent the best part of four days here, the most we spent in any small town. The first night was spent sleeping in the van outside the public toilets with a bunch of other van tourists. The second night we stayed in a guest house as it had been six days again without a shower. I noted it was nice to sleep in a proper bed. I also noted that I lost my wallet, but didn’t think it had been stolen and thankfully it didn’t have all my cards in it, and only a small amount of cash.

Nov 1987 Selcuk Turkey

We hung out with quite a bunch of people, including a Kiwi hitch hiker Pete who stayed with us to Bodrum. The main reason for coming to Selcuk was to visit the ancient Roman ruins of Ephesus, made famous in the book, ‘The Bible’. We arrived in town too late to visit on the first day, and the second day it rained for the first time in eight months (the Phil holiday curse). We finally made it there on day three. Pete had a guide book which was really handy.

Nov 1987 Ephesus

These were my first proper ancient ruins, none of this 1000 year old stuff like you get in the UK, these were 2000 years old. Proper ancient, and what I had been really wanting to see, the legacy from my childhood neighbours. I really liked exploring Ephesus, I liked the fact that nothing was fenced off and I could roam all over. I liked it that I didn’t accidently destroy something which I almost did when visiting the Roluos Group of temples in Cambodia. I liked that I could sit on the old toilet and read my book. I would love a pair of Doc Marten boot that look that worn in now!

Nov 1987 Ephesus Turkey

The next day we carried on south stopping at some even older ruins, the Greek ruins of the Temple to Athena in Priene, these ruins are from 1000BC. Wow, 3000 years old! Fabulous. There was no one there except us and while not as extensive as Ephesus they were still mighty impressive, and we had a bit of fun with mock sacrifices on the alter. Not that the ancient Greeks did human sacrifices!

Nov 1987 Greek ruins of Priene Turkey

Nov 1987 Priene Turkey

As we were leaving Priene Trudy realised she had been short changed that morning by the bank in Selcuk when changing Japanese Yen for Turkish Lira, by two zeros, a not unsubstantial sum. We shot back to Selcuk just in time, arriving before the bank closed. The bank knew they had made a mistake and there were no issues in getting the extra money. We spent the night parked outside the toilets again and went to our favourite cafe for lamb stuffed peppers and beer. The next morning I almost got busted by the toilet cleaner who arrived while I was still in there after climbing over the wall, I made a rapid exit the same way. He knew and stood there glaring at us until we drove off.

The next morning we drove south again, this time making it to the port town of Bodrum, and my final destination. It was Trudy’s birthday and my last night in the van with the Grieve sisters. We had cake and wine, and most of us were sick, we were all tired. It was not the bestest of nights to say goodbye.

I see a couple of dogs came to farewell me as well. 

Nov 1987 Bodrum Turkey

Goodbye Turkey. kiss kiss.

Nov 1987 Bodrum Fort from the Ferry

Early the following morning I was on the ferry to the Greek Island of Kos, where I stayed for a few hours before getting on another, overnight ferry to Athens. I slept on the hard metal deck with a load of other tourists.  Arriving in Athens I discovered there were still strikes and I had to wait three days for a bus to London.

I was not very excited by this and this was reflected in my negative feelings for Athens and my predicament. I only have a couple of photos from the three days I spent in an ancient and interesting city, and that is of the Acropolis. I didn’t even like that as it was behind a fence, there was construction going on and there were loads of people all around. My diary also says a lot of the museums were closed due to strike action, and the ones that were open were too expensive. I must have been pretty broke by then. I seemed to have spent a lot time hanging around in a youth hostel, talking and eating.

Nov 1987 The Parthenon Athens

Eventually I got a ferry to Brindisi in Italy and then a bus which took three days to get to London. I arrived back on the 14 November 1987. Apparently I smelt and looked terrible after three days on a smoke filled bus.

Not long after I arrived back Deana and I flew to Australia where we stayed for three months with her family on the Gold Coast before flying on to New Zealand in February 1988 where I stayed for the next 23 years. Which loops back to the start of this blog in 2011.

I very much enjoyed that trip, I didn’t see anywhere near as much as I would have liked, but it opened my eyes to the world and the possibilities of travelling and seeing things differently. There is a great world out there and I deplore the views of the narrow minded nationalists that want to shut borders and blindfold our young to the possibilities that should be available to them. I cannot wait to get back on the road again and would love to ‘do Europe’ one more time. Maybe with more showers.

The photos posted in these four blogs are from an album I put together after the trip and are all I have left of the between 250 and 350 I took over the ten weeks. I know I used 12 rolls of film and am sure these would have been a mix of 24 and 36 shot rolls. The other photos would have been tossed out when I sold the house in 2011 and had a massive cull of my possessions.

The diary is going in the bin now. It is time to declutter just a little bit more. As LP Hartley most famously wrote ‘The past is another country’, but it is one I have visited.

Europe 1987. Part one

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. 


The first night, tent up and everything is clean and tidy.

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.

Holland.

A lake outside Bremen, Germany.

Hamburg.

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.

Hamlyn.

Hannover.

Wurzburg.

Rothenberg.

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.

Oberammergau.

Crossing the Alps into Austria.

Bern.

Broken down and towed away.

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.