With the two of us…
David and John
The night before we left Istanbul we sat around our little fold down table and debated the return route. The most direct option was through Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, Holland, Belgium and France – a total of 1830 miles – and we would be home in 37 hours. After so many weeks in a confined environment – and with our finances at a dangerous level – this was an attractive option – but it also mean that we would miss out on so much. We figured that we could afford an extra two weeks without starving to death – and an extra 1100 miles would probably not bother the Old Blue Truck – she was on borrowed time anyway! So we headed for Athens (700 miles and 15 hours away) – Italy and the French Riviera…
It took a lot more than 15 hours… We arrived at Ipsala on the boarder with Greece to meet our first very diligent (read officious) Customs Officers. What aroused their suspicion was a fiberglass patch over a rusted away bit of the rear cabin floor. It was under the linoleum and we had never even seen it before – why would we lift the lino? But they did! They stripped the Old Blue Truck completely – searched our luggage – everything – but found nothing – and left us to put it all back together again!
A full day later they allowed our entry and we drove on towards Thessaloniki. The roads around the coast were winding and treacherous – so we settled down near Alexandroupoli for the night. One day out – and already one day behind schedule!
We finally got to Thessaloniki late the following day – and spent the night there. Early the next morning we left for Athens – a long drive through Larissa and Lamia – but with luck we would make it by nightfall… We didn’t! The winding coastal roads were very scary – and we had to keep our speed down. We were only 80 – 90 miles from Athens (outside a little village called Skala) when our trip almost ended… Our brakes gave way going down a steep hill. We went halfway up the other side – then rolled backwards – then forwards (and so on) until we came to a stop in the dip. Unmarked and unhurt! We just sat there looking at each other – no one said a word. Luckily there had been no other cars during this dangerous episode.
We were on a coast road with a small cliff. We sat there pondering our next move, when we heard a noise below us. Can you believe it? There below us in a shop set into a sort of cave in the cliff was a mechanic – miles from anywhere! He fixed us up – but we stayed there overnight – and arrived in Athens the following day. In one piece!
Athens – on the other hand – was in a state of confusion. We can’t remember the exact date of our arrival – but it must have been just a few days before April 24, 1967 – when five army officers formed a Military Junta – overthrew the Government of George Papandreou – and forced the new King Constantine II into exile. There was a noticeable military presence – but we weren’t prevented from visiting anything on our sightseeing list. We moved the Old Blue Truck every night – to prevent attracting too much attention.
One morning – at a pavement cafe in Syntagma Square – David ran into his ex Managing Director! They had a great reunion!
That night he took us to a Taverna in Plaka – and asked how our money was lasting. David told him that we were fast running out and he very kindly gave us a reasonable amount – which helped greatly. Just 20 years later, David attended his funeral.
With the political situation still tense – we decided against driving back through Greece – and instead headed South – through the fishing port of Pireas – and then West over the Corinth Canal and onto the Island of Patras. We spent a very ‘relaxed’ night in Patra – camping next to a restaurant under huge trees and drinking far too much Hellas beer, Retsina wine and the local Metaxas Brandy which – unlike the other two – was good – and cheap!
Somehow – through the fog of a rare hangover – we managed to find the Ferry from Patra to Antimo (on the mainland) and then drove through Messolongi, Agrinio and Arta to the West coast port of Igoumenitsa. 300 miles in 8 hours – about 24 hours in total.
The ferry from Igoumenitsa in Greece to Brindisi in Italy traveled via the stunning little Island of Corfu – only about 250 miles – but it took around 12 hours. In Brindisi – we camped the night in a wide avenue of trees – overlooking the sea – and found a quiet little family restaurant and our first experience of a wood fired pizza oven. Wonderful!
Next morning we drove up the East Coast through Bari, Barletta and Foggia – before turning inland and climbing through mountains to the beautiful old walled village of Campobasso – 700 m above sea level. We decided to camp for the night – just off the main square. David remembers us going into a shop – to find a very old lady, all in black, obviously concerned – and looking perplexed. Just as we left the shop she exclaimed, “Just the job!” We were astounded – she must have learned this from a British soldier during WWII.
From Campobasso, we wound down through the mountains again – through Bojano, Isernia, Cassino and Frosinone – and then straight up the Via Casilina to Rome. We have no lasting memories of the road into Rome – except that it was long and straight – it must have been a Roman Road?
In Rome, we did all the tourist things – again – and we’ve both revisited most of them since – but the memory of seeing them then (as 20 year olds) is the most vivid.
Neither of us are catholic – nor particularly religious – but we started at the Vatican…
St Peters Basilica was/is awesome – right up to the point that the continual sound of a cash register shattered the atmosphere! – and the Pieta – covered in a shroud – for some obscure reason.
And it got worse… John – always looking for a better camera angle – got himself tossed out of the Sistine Chapel – for lying on the floor! He refused the suggestion that he purchase commercial slides of the ‘Creation of Man’.
We braved the kamikaze motor scooters – and visited the Trevi fountain – where John spent some time wondering how to take coins OUT – he was short of money again.
We climbed down into the Colisseum – down into the holding pens – no longer any lions or Christians – but our young imaginations were running rife…
A few days later we left Rome – and drove North through Orvieto – to Florence – which was still drying out after the floods of the previous year.
The ‘Mud Angles’ – volunteer student art restorers from all over the world – were still hard at work and we got to meet several of them.
We camped on an escarpment above the Arno River and the Ponto Vechio – and set about visiting the three most famous art galleries…
Galleria degli Uffizi – Palazzo Medici Riccardi – and the Galeria dell’Academia – to see Michelangelo’s David. The most memorable, for John (no one asked David!) were the unfinished ‘Prisoners’ standing guard over David and struggling to escape their marble amniotic sacks. No one ever ‘does’ Florence in three days, but we tried, then drove on to Pisa.
In those days it was still possible to enter and climb the Leaning Tower – and we did. It was smaller than expected – but it certainly leaned – and we left it just as we found it!
The following morning we left Pisa early – with the intent of driving through La Specia, Portofino, Genoa, San Remo, crossing the French border at Menton and spending the night in Monte Carlo… only 210 miles – no big deal.
But then we discovered Portofino. It was glorious – we spent the rest of the day and a night there – taking lots of pictures – and trying to capture the 3 colours (only) that they were allowed to paint the buildings.
We arrived in Monaco the following morning – found a campsite in a side street somewhere and headed to the Casino.
What happened next was weird – ‘weird’ was quite common on this trip – but we are now talking about seriously WEIRD! We had got as far as the Casino doorman – who would not allow us in – something about dress standards! It shouldn’t have mattered – we were broke anyway. In fact John was down to his last 3 French Francs! About 0.60p – in those days. He was (already) an accomplished blackjack player – and like most blackjack players – had a total disdain for poker machines! But there we were – at the most famous Casino in the world – and not allowed in… There was (of course) a very big poker machine in the entrance area and… You’ve guessed it? He won 500 FF on his second last coin! We ate meat that night for first time in weeks.
Before leaving Monte Carlo we drove The Old Blue Truck around the Grand Prix race circuit – our time was not recorded! We then traveled through Nice, Cannes, St. Raphael and St. Tropez – we were enchanted by The Riviera – but did not have enough money to enjoy it!
At Toulon we made our last ‘big right turn’ and headed North through Aix en Provence, Avignon, Valence and Lyon to Paris. We have no memories of this 500 mile leg until Roanne – 50 miles North of Lyon – John had always wanted to visit Freres Troisgros Restaurant – then regarded as France’s leading restaurant. The following year it was awarded its 3rd Michelin Star – and the reputation of being the World’s best restaurant. It has held 3 Michelin Stars for 38 consecutive years (3 generations) and is now known as Hotel Restaurant Troisgros. We stopped for a meal but neither of us can remember what we ate (which is a worry) – or how we paid for it… Must have been those magic 3 French Francs!
We entered Paris at Fontainebleau and headed towards the 16th Arondissement to be near the apartment of David’s friends.
As always we parked in the street – and one morning we had a knock on the door. Thinking it was the police, we kept quiet.
It turned out to be a nice French couple who had seen us parked and brought us some food – very kind of them.
We spent the next few days doing predictable things… (we were predictable young men) we climbed the Eiffel Tower…
Spent an entire day in Montmartre – watching the artists at work – explored Les Halles – presumably looking for Irma La Douce – and failed.
Visited Galleries LaFayette and spent a day at the Louvre.
We learned to navigate the Paris Metro – fairly well.
John remembers spending hours waiting for David in a bar – and, when he finally turned up, abusing him in very loud ‘downunder’ English. He then went to the bar to buy drinks – and tried to order in French – struggled – and a Scottish Nurse offered to help. She had heard everything! Luckily – she was more amused than offended – and she and John spent the evening together. Details are hazy (John’s not saying much) but there were rumours – about an apparently secluded spot on the banks of the Seine – and something about the searchlights of a passing river boat full of tourists. David still can’t remember why he was late…
It was time to go home. The drive from Paris to Calais was anti-climatic (isn’t it always?) and – in those pre-tunnel days – the ferry to Dover was cold and miserable. We had no money for duty free – and there were no blue birds over the white cliffs either – but we were nearly there – and that felt good.
From Dover we took the A2 towards Canterbury and then pealed off to drop David at Herne Bay – for some well-earned R&R with his parents. John completed the last 60 miles on his own – through Rochester – past Tower Bridge – through the City of London – down Cromwell Road and back to the Overseas Visitors Club.
The Old Blue Truck had made it – and for a few days she rested – outside 71 Margravine Gardens in Baron’s Court. Once again a For Sale sign was posted on the OVC Notice Board – and she sold (almost immediately) for GBP 20. You could buy an awful lot for GBP 20 – in those days!
Does anybody know what happened to her from there? We really would love to know…
Now go to… Our Separate Ways…