Saturday, 24 November 2007

MY STORY Chapter 9 - Travelling to Spain and Switzerland

Apologies to anyone who might have read the first part of this post in an earlier posting. The second part is new to my blog

About 6 months after arriving back in the UK we were off again travelling but only for pleasure this time. Our first trip in 1961 was to Spain and our second in 1962 was to Switzerland. These journeys took place before mass travel, as we know it today, had really begun. I think it worth recording these journeys at this point, before I get into the realities of everyday life once we were back on land. The first one to Spain could be counted as one of my life’s disastrous journeys. Not disastrous in the general scheme of things, nobody was hurt and we survived, but………..I would not want to do it again.

The photographs were scanned from transparencies taken 45 years ago so are not of the best quality.

Part 1 - Spain

It is July and we are about to embark on a journey from our home in London to the Costa Brava in Spain, about an hour’s drive north of Barcelona. We had chosen this particular spot for our holiday, Callela-de-la-Costa, to meet up with one of my bridesmaids who was holidaying there with friends.

We were unable to find a travel agent in London who could help us. We found out later that this was because Callela was a new resort and the German travel agents had the monopoly. No internet booking in those days! I eventually contacted the Youth Travel Bureau who said they could help us with arrangements to get there. They had a group of young people travelling to Majorca in the Mediterranean, via. Barcelona, and they could arrange for us to travel with them. We readily accepted this offer and they also booked a hotel for us. The youth group were crossing the Channel by boat and we did not want to do that, so instead we chose the option of flying and then meeting up with the group at the train station in Paris on Saturday evening.

Our journey begins when the taxi arrives at our flat at 6.30 am Saturday morning. It is our first time out of the UK since we returned from our life on the ocean the previous year. The taxi driver drops us off at Victoria Coach Station to catch a coach to the airport. At this point we are following an itinerary that has been arranged for us. We board the coach knowing only that we are going to a small airport somewhere near the South coast. On the way to the airport the coach breaks down. Eventually a replacement coach arrives and we continue our journey. We arrive at the airport and board a small prop plane – no jets in those days. I had not flown before but as we taxied away from the airport building I began to realise that we did not have a runway. Alan thought I was mad suggesting this, but several minutes later, bumping up and down like crazy, we took off from a field. We duly crossed the channel assuming that we would soon be in Paris, but not so. After only a fairly short flight we landed at Beauvais another small airport near the coast of France. This airport did at least have a runway!

After immigration and customs checks we were soon boarding another coach and unbelievably half way into this part of the journey this second coach developed a mechanical fault and we had another long wait for a replacement coach. Our train was due to leave Gare D’Austerlitz Station I the South of the City at 8.0 pm and we were really beginning to panic when the coach reached its final destination at Gare Du Nord Station in the North of the City at 7.30 pm. We managed to hail a taxi and drove several miles across Paris arriving on the station platform just as the train was beginning to move away. Fortunately there was a rep. calling out our names. We were hustled onto the moving train (can you imagine that happening in today’s health and safety climate) puffing and panting and literally dragging our luggage.

This was going to be an overnight journey so we were led to a small, narrow carriage containing 6 couchettes, 3 on each side and one above the other. For anyone not knowing what a couchette is, it is a sleeping bunk that pulls out of the wall. Arriving so late we did not have a choice and a top bunk on either side had been left for us. At the time I did not like this choice as we had to climb up over 2 other bunks to get to ours. It was only on the return journey when we had been assigned the 2 bottom bunks that we realised that in effect we had the best deal at the top. The bottom bunks were bouncy, very noisy and far more claustrophobic than those at the top. The movement at the top was more of a swaying sensation which was a little more conducive to resting; I won’t go so far as to say sleeping. My main memory of this part of the journey was the announcements over the loud speaker systems at every stop we made between the North and South Coasts of France.

We had thought that we were travelling to Barcelona by train, but at 6.30 am the following morning we arrived in Perpignon in the South of France where the train terminated. We were then told that we had to be at the Coach Station by 7.30 am – oh! no, not another coach. We had just enough time to sample 2 new experiences, the first being a demi-tasse cup of the thickest and strongest coffee I had ever tasted. It was almost like treacle. The second being French public lavatories at the time, namely a hole in the ground. I had been almost a year at sea, travelled into the interior of rural Mexico, but this was the first time that I had seen a “hole in the ground”.

We were soon waiting in a queue to board our next coach. The reps. collected everyone’s Passport to make it easier when we came to crossing the border from France into Spain in the Pyrenees. We settled onto the coach after finding ourselves the seats of our choice and prepared for a long drive. Just as the coach was about to leave another rep. boarded the bus and called out our names. They had realised that another coach was actually going to be passing through Callela and there were 2 seats left so it was suggested that we change coaches. This we did and took up the only 2 seats at the back of the coach. It soon became evident that we were the only English speaking passengers on this coach, everyone else was French. My husband Alan loves languages and always studies some of the language of the country that we are going to so he had spruced up a little on his rough Spanish but ended up relying on his schoolboy French.

We duly arrived at the Spanish border late morning to find a 3 mile queue of vehicles snaking up the mountains waiting their turn to cross. It took everyone a while to realise that our Passports were still with the rep. on the other bus. What would we do, would we be left behind? As it happens, we had to wait so long that eventually the rep. on our bus was able to contact the other rep. and collect our Passports. A great sigh of relief, we were able to cross the border and once out of the mountains we stopped for lunch in a charming Spanish town.

About 5.0 pm we were told that we would soon be arriving in Callela, Alan and I being the only 2 passengers to be leaving the coach. We alighted from the bus and stood in disbelief as we watched it disappear into the distance. We were standing in a small square with not a person or hotel in sight. Just a few old buildings and a lot of scrubland and a couple of old cars.

I was by this time exhausted and very emotional and even regretting leaving the familiarity of London. I sat down on the ground and cried my eyes out. Eventually a man, seeing me crying, walked across the square and asked if he could help us. We told him our dilemma and gave him the name of our hotel. He knew where it was and offered to take us there in what looked like an abandoned car sitting on the road. We were a little inland at this point and our hotel was on the Coast, almost on the beach. We got into the car, (again would one do this today?) and he very kindly drove us to our hotel. He came in with us fortunately because at the desk we were told that they did not have a reservation for us and added to that the hotel was still being built so was not finished. They insisted that we go to their sister hotel in the centre of town. Up to that point we had not even realised that we were anywhere near a town.

Our very kind driver duly drove us into town. We tried to check in at this town hotel only to be told that it was impossible, they did not have a single room free and said that we must go back to our original hotel. This we did and they very reluctantly gave us a large, unfinished room on the 9th floor. This turned out to our advantage in that it was quiet, and being so high up we did not need shutters or curtains and the stone floor and plastered walls meant that it was nice and cool. We had a large en-suite bathroom, which we had not paid for and was quite rare back in 1961 anyhow, and 2 brand new beds and bedding. Alan gave the chamber maid a large tip and for the rest of the 2 weeks we were there she washed whatever clothes we left in the large bedroom basin.

We soon found out however that this was a German hotel, run by Germans, and every other guest was from Germany. It is worth remembering that 1961 was only 15 years after the end of World War 2 and in some quarters there was still a lot of hard feeling between out countries. It was certainly not a problem for us but the hotel staff made it clear that it was a problem for them. They always served us last in the dining room and often made out that they could not understand us.

Added to this when we went on our first day to meet up with my bridesmaid, it became immediately obvious that in the intervening years our lives had changed and that we had nothing in common. The group that she was holidaying with were wanting to spend a lot of time hanging out in bars and that was not our idea of a holiday. So we parted company and decided to go our own ways. For Alan and I we wanted to travel and see the local sights and spend the rest of our time on the beach. So we decided to make the best of what we had and get on with our holiday. A few days later a single Canadian guy booked into the hotel. He was touring and following in the footsteps of Ernest Hemmingway. He had come to this resort to chill out for a while and we very quickly built up quite a friendship with him and really enjoyed his company and he ours. All in all we had a wonderful holiday and were soon able to put the horrendous 36 hour journey out of our minds. If it had been today, we could have gone to Australia in that time.

There is just one outing that I will relate here and you will soon see why. We took a coach trip into the Hinterland to visit the Monastery at Monseratt. We had a wonderful day and on the return journey, just as we were coming down the lower mountain, the brakes seized up on the coach. The driver managed to control the coach until we came to a straight flat road where he was able to bring the coach to a standstill. Just imagine how it might have been in today’s climate of busy holiday traffic.In the end it all comes down to the wonderful tapestry of the experiences of life.

The 3 mile border crossing queue

The Beach

The town

High in the mountains at the monastry
We were driving from here in the coach whose brakes failed

The first flat road where the driver could skid to a stop

Part 2 – Switzerland

The following year we decided we wanted as simple a journey as possible so decided to fly to Switzerland. Compared to our journey to Spain the previous year it has to be said that this was easy but it was not without it’s mishaps. The first happened when we were in the airport. We had been told there would be a delay so went to a restaurant to eat. While we were doing so the waitress slipped and ended up pouring a large jug of milk over Alan’s suit. Yes, men did travel in suits in those days. What were we to do, the luggage was checked in so nothing to change into. The restaurant staff took him into the kitchen to try and dry him off. Have you ever sat on a plane next to someone covered in stale milk, it is not pleasant. The restaurant suggested that Alan have his suit cleaned in Switzerland and they would foot the bill. All well and good but it meant him being without his suit for a good part of the 2 weeks we were there.

The second mishap put me off flying for many years afterwards. We got into really bad weather over the Alps and this was a fairly small prop plane compared to today’s jet airliners. People were screaming and falling about and others were throwing up. We finally landed and I was shaking and Alan was green. So much for an easy hassle free journey.

We did however enjoy our two weeks in Switzerland very much. Our hotel was on the shores of Lake Lucerne and looking out on our first morning felt like being in fairyland. The balcony was covered in window boxes full of flowers and they were framed by the mist on the lake with the peak of the Rigi mountain opposite just peeping out of the mist. This view was accompanied by the most exquisite perfume from all of the flowers.

Alan had brushed up on his French only to find that we were in a German speaking canton. However this caused him to want to learn to speak German and over the years he has become very fluent in this language. It really helped in subsequent years when we found ourselves making quite a number of visits to Germany.

While the other hotel guests were off on coach trips the first week we hired bikes. They were so heavy and cumbersome but they got us around. The ferry stopped at our hotel and we were able to cross the lake to another town with our bikes and then travel back and forth across the lake from town to town and in that way seeing so much more than we could have seen otherwise. The second week we were more conventional and did tour the rest of Switzerland by what would now be called a people carrier with the 2 other couples that we had made friends with. These friendships lasted for many years afterwards. In ending I have to say that until this day Switzerland remains my favourite country to visit.

In the next chapter I will be moving on to more of the realities of life.
Our Hotel View from our room


A mountain road - see the Pass in the bottom left of the picture
Yes, I was scared

A postcard of another mountain pass we drove through

The Matterhorn

A ferry on Lake Lucerne approaching our hotel

The bikes
We are in a deeply wooded forest
The people who lived higher up the hill used a wooden cart on a pulley system
to get to their house

Inside the Rhone Glacier
Not really - we are on the way out, it was quite dark deep inside

More mountain scenery taken through the car window

On the way up to the glacier seen behind Alan

Typical Swiss village


Michelle-ozark crafter said...

hat a wonderful trip! i love the pictures! I am going to come back in a bit and finish reading it!

Paula said...

The first part of the trip, before you got to Switzerland reminded me of a European version of the movie "Planes, trains & Automobiles" starring Steve Martin & John Candy. I'm sure you can laugh about it now.
The pictures in Switzerland are gorgeous.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad that at least your stay in my country wasn't so full of bad luck as your trip to Spain ;-) !! The picture of the "typical Swiss village" is a somewhat typical village in the mountains (probably Kanton Bern). The villages way of looking (houses, architecture) though, differ from region to region.
Have a nice Sunday!

Linds said...

You know how much a love Switzerland, Barbara! I was first there in 1966 so that must be around the same time. How did you scan the old transparencies? Did you do them, or did you have them done? Tell all!

inspired said...

hello Barbara great pics :}

Bek said...

I found recently your blog and I find your travel stories very interesting. Probably because I was born many, many years later and don't know anyone who actually did "big" travels like that in those days.

Willow said...

At least the beach was beautiful on the Spanish coast. What interesting experiences now to look back on. In The Lord of the Rings, Sam makes the comment that the people going through the adventure don't always recognize it as an adventure, it's just life and scary experiences, and it's only looking back that the adventurers realize they were on an adventure. And what adventurers you two were!
Watch out! You're making me want to go to Switzerland!

Betty said...

Barbara, you lead a charmed life....I am amazed at all you've seen and, I really lead a sheltered, quiet life......keep writing....Betty

Kylee Baumle said...

Ooooh, I loved this! Especially the Switzerland part! We've been to Grindelwald and the Matterhorn. I have a Swiss pen pal that lives in Reichenbach, near Interlaken and we visited them there in 1987. We've been writing each other since we were 11! I really want to go back there; it's such a lovely country.

Vee said...

Those pictures turned out very well for having been scanned. I was surprised.

Had to laugh at your sitting next to Alan and his sour-milk suit. LOL!

Such a lot of adventures and lovely to read!

(Funny how time changes relationships...)

Linda said...

Great reading. My son and his family are moving to Switzerland but the country they will be near to is Italy so they are busy learning Italian.

a woman who is said...

I know I am a little behind on reading this, but I like to save them up and read three at a time.
Can't believe the plane trip you had. Switzerland sounds so romantic for the two of you, back in the day. Nice thing about traveling when you are younger, you can deal a little better with all those bumps in the road.

Teresa said...

Barbara, I will never sit in an airport concourse again waiting on a delayed flight, without thinking of your journey from London, to Callela. How exasperating that must have been. I am intrigued by someone journeying through the steps of Ernest Hemingway. A journey like that would be so exciting and enriching, though I might choose someone else.

My knees got weak just looking at the photo of the return journey from the Monastery at, Monseratt. How scary! You know, God has had His hand on you the whole of your life. I for one am glad.

Switzerland, looks and sounds like it is as beautiful as I have imagined it to be. What a lovely place for you and Alan, to spend time together. Even without the suit. :-)