……continued from last post….Youthful Adventures 1
If you recall in the last blog, we had learned a few lessons about 1970s travel with no funds. The monster packs were downsized. I was no longer walking in sandals and could actually walk. We did not erect our tents in ditches. In fact, we no longer had tents. Little French Citroens, German Volkswagens, and even the miniscule Deux Chevaux began to stop for us with our diminished packs and a big Canada flag displayed for all to see. We were beginning to experience Europe. There were many others trying to travel in the same manner but we were very young looking and, I guess, didn’t appear too menacing. At the end of each day we would try to stop in a larger town as they were generally equipped with a Youth Hostel that were liberally sprinkled throughout Europe. They were great resources where we could meet people, sleep, gather information, receive and send mail, and clean our somewhat odorous bodies. In Amsterdam the youth hostel was a boat on one of the many canals. This was a wonderful city in 1970 with thousands of young people discovering the world, meeting people of different cultures, and experiencing the customs of others.
Amsterdam was also famous for its Red Light District and being healthy young males we had this vision of paying a few dollars and having the time of our lives with a beautiful young woman.
We were in Amsterdam for about a week and met many people from different lands. We could smoke from large hookah pipes in tiny cafes while sipping tea and talking to others of a like inclination. I am sure it was just tea leaves, but you never know in Amsterdam. This was a time of change and we felt a part of it.
Amsterdam was also famous for its Red Light District and being healthy young males we had this vision of paying a few dollars and having the time of our lives with a beautiful young woman. We were very young, however, and, as established previously, a little naive. Although our resources were limited, we learned that such a transaction could be completed for about $15.00. This was about three days of food for us but, what the heck, you only live once. We had seen these ladies from a distance displaying their merchandise in windows along several streets. Although too shy to enquire as to the actual process for such a transaction, we decided it was our turn to try out this ancient practice. We chose a darkened street, not wanting to expose our ill-advised plan to our fellow travellers. As we walked along the street we could see a woman who was obviously providing such a service. My friend was the braver one and approached her, clutching his $15.00 tightly. Later he described the events that occurred:
“As I crossed the street and grew nearer to this woman, she appeared to age before my eyes. She began to look at me while I approached. As I drew near, it became apparent that she was at least 50 years of age. As I had committed to this, I reached her and asked her price. She told me to go home little boy. My face turned crimson, I turned around, and ran for the hostel.”
We never tried to pursue this type of mischief again.
In Basel, Switzerland we were somewhat on the receiving end of this type of activity. We had arrived in the city too late to sleep in the youth hostel so were told where travellers sometimes slept in a central park. We found the park and a quiet spot to lay our bags. It was fairly noisy as we were near a main street and lights were flashing with streetcars clanging. After about an hour with little sleep, we were approached by a man of about 40 years of age who told us this was a dangerous area where we should not remain. He was well-dressed and, appearing harmless, offered his home to us for a night. As we were not sleeping and believed we were fairly safe, considering there were two of us and one of him, we accepted his offer. We loaded our gear into his car and drove a few blocks where we ascended an elevator in a very modern high-rise apartment building. He resided in a penthouse suite and, opening the door to his home, it became apparent he was not a man of poverty. His furniture was fairly minimalist but stylish and mostly involving black leather. He offered us dinner while relating our experiences and he, his. He apparently owned a jewellery store and was single. We chatted for a few hours and shared a bottle or two of good French wine. We were eventually ready for bed. It became apparent, however, that there was only one large bed in the apartment. He offered to share his bed with us. I had no experience in these matters and thought little of the offer, climbing into bed with little consideration. My friend, who must have been as oblivious as I, climbed in the middle but soon found our host rubbing his leg. Without offering a reason, my good buddy decided to sleep on the floor beside the bed. All was quiet again until Mr. Rubdown began his business on my leg. I eventually understood and similarly sought a nice area of the carpet to endure the night. Mr. R. slept alone while we dozed on opposite sides of his bed, like two big cats. In the morning he was less than friendly and quickly ushered us from the apartment without breakfast. What did he expect??
We were eventually ready for bed but it became apparent, however, that there was only one large bed in the apartment. He offered to share his bed with us. I had no experience in these matters and thought little of the offer, climbing into bed with little consideration.
Not everyone had ulterior motives, however. On one leg of our journey we had walked across Turin, Italy and had little success getting a ride in this busy metropolis. Our intent was to go to Nice, France and experience the warm Mediterranean for the first time. We were eventually picked up by a group of Italians. Having no understanding of Italian and they, no comprehension of English or high school French, we attempted to convey our plans of travel to Nice. Quite jovially, we were dropped off on a side road that we understood would take us to our envisioned destination….I think!! We began hitching on this, obviously, very secondary road. A few cars stopped and drove use a few miles but all were going only very short distances. At one point we sat on the side of the road for 4 hours without seeing a single vehicle. We were becoming thirsty, hungry and a little worried that we would be walking to Nice. Eventually a Rolls Royce approached with a very elderly couple in the front seat. We essentially blocked their progress and demanded a ride. They were accommodating and acquiesced to our demands. It turned out they were going to an isolated mountain retreat and generously invited us to accompany them. We expected they would eventually leave us by the road when we reached their destination but, to our surprise, we were invited to join them at their beautiful chateau. They purchased a room for us and invited us for a wonderful French dinner. We had never enjoyed such splendour. In the morning, after breakfast, they walked us to the road and waved a heartfelt goodbye. There are good people in the world!
At another time, during our adventure, we were travelling through Scotland. As usual we were completely drenched from the frequent rain storms we encountered in Great Britain. It appears this country lives under a massive rain cloud and, since we were always subject to the elements, were frequently drenched. On one such evening, while walking along a quiet country road at dusk, we were unable to secure any form of transportation to our destination. Our intent had been to arrive in Edinburgh where a warm bed in the local hostel would greet us. No luck, however, on this night. It was raining as usual and we wanted to find some sort of shelter. We came upon a farm house that appeared to be deserted as no lights were apparent. We knocked and tried the doors but both were locked. The farmhouse had nice covered stoops at the front and back of the residence. As this appeared to be the only shelter we were going to enjoy this night my comrade took the front stoop while I laid out my gear on the back steps. We settled in for a nice sleep out of the rain.
When sleeping rough, such as this, one generally rises with the sun and I guess farmers are similarly inclined. A few minutes before the sun peaked over the horizon, an annoying sharp object was slamming into my sleeping bag. It was the back door being pushed open with the farmer’s wife trying to exit her home to, presumably, begin her daily chores. We were both equally surprised to greet each other but she did not seem alarmed. She simply asked what was the manner of my business. Upon my explanation she invited me into her home for a hearty breakfast. I pointed out that my friend was on the front steps so both of us experienced their hospitality. This generous and trusting farmer operated a chicken farm of which she toured us with much friendliness and good wishes before we continued our journey. I am not sure if it was our youth or the times, but we seldom felt threatened and were not, seemingly, feared by others.
With funds low and our time almost expired, we sought a return trip on the Canadian jets. It seemed, however, when we arrived in Germany to beg for a return trip, they were not taking civilians.
With funds low and our time almost expired, we sought a return trip on the Canadian jets. It seemed, however, when we arrived in Germany to beg for a return trip, they were not taking civilians. Our dishevelled look after several months of sleeping rough could have also had something to do with it. Regardless, here we were in a foreign land, many thousands of miles from home, with no return tickets and only a few hundred dollars in our pockets. There was no asking for help from home as any written communication would have taken several weeks. Etransfers weren’t invented yet. We would have starved to death by the time a care package from our parents arrived. Amazingly, we learned that there was a discount airline flying from London to New York that would accommodate our rapidly diminishing finances. It was called the Freddie Laker Special. We were told that, for $100.00, we could squeeze ourselves into one of these specials and, at least, get to America.
We made our way to London and did find our $100.00 special. We were soon jammed onto a very large jet with hundreds of other persons of a similar visage, winging our way across the Atlantic Ocean. Landing in New York City we discovered that hitch hiking is not allowed in New York State. I had only $50.00 to my name while my good friend felt very bounteous with $100.00. He had a girlfriend awaiting his return so I wished him a fond farewell. He took a bus as far as $100.00 would take him while I boarded a bus for $25.00 to Niagara Falls. This was the closest point I could find in Canada but I had no girlfriend and was in no rush.
I did reach Niagara Falls and started hitching once again with only $25.00 in my pocket. It took me another 6 weeks to find my way across this great country where I, again, met many interesting and generous people along the way. It is hard to believe today, how I managed but I was never without a bed, ate toast and jam for sustenance, and arrived at the BC Ferry in Nanaimo unscathed. I had enough money left to order a steak dinner on the ferry, leaving not one cent to my name when I arrived in Courtenay.
These experiences are only a brief description of a few days we enjoyed of my first travel adventure as a teenager. We enjoyed similar experiences for 5 months visiting numerous countries including France, Italy, Great Britain, Spain, Scotland, Ireland, Switzerland, Germany, Lichtenstein, and even Andorra (I bet you’ve never heard of that country). We met countless travellers and many local residents who offered their generous hospitality many more times than those who sought to take advantage. This initial adventure sparked a lifetime of interest in travel and, in many ways, shaped the way I was to view the world. Young Canadians of my age seemed to be avid travellers during this time and presented very well to the rest of the world. We were always proud of our citizenship with young Americans, at times, borrowing it to receive better treatment. Although this time extended my years of education by a few months, and consequently postponed the start of my working years, it was an experience that I will never forget or regret.