Lookin' Good at 58

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Travelling Around Europe in 1977

In the Fall of 1976 I was failing miserably at John Abbott College in Montreal. I had chosen Business Administration as my course of study probably due to the fact a few other friends didn't know what to take either so we all chose this one.

Seventeen years old at the time my stepfather worked for Air Canada so with that I had at my disposal five airline passes a year where I could go anywhere the airline flew for a meager eight dollars return going standby. One day my friend and I got into a conversation about going to Europe and I started to think what  a waste it would be not to use an air pass to go there before my 21st birthday upon which they would expire.

I talked about our idea to my mom and stepfather and they said it would be fine but I would have to go out and get a job to save up the money. It meant leaving school but then I was wasting my time there anyway. That January of 1977 I found a job as a shipper receiver at Humpty Dumpty where I spent the next 5 months saving up money on my $3.75 an hour afternoon shift. I had a car to get me back and forth from work that I bought for $250. It was a 1965 Ford Galaxy 500 and it had a hole in the trunk so big I actually lost stuff if I put anything in the trunk near that hole.

Finally in June of that year my friend and I embarked on a 45 day trip to Europe that started off in Paris.We had arranged to lease a car there. The jet lag and the partying beforehand with no sleep on the plane to boot left us both pretty tired by the time we picked up our car on  Rue Jean Jaures 25 subway stops later. We were up close to 30 hours straight before we found a place to crash. At the time there were a couple of conventions booked in the City of Light so without having preplanned a place to get over the jet lag our work finding a place was difficult to say the least.

The car we leased was a Renault 5 which with our camping gear was filled to the brim. At the time the most popular way of getting around Europe was then the Volkswagen Wagon  Do you remember those?

I do remember a few things about the Renault 5. First of all we were so tight on money that we didn't take it in like we were supposed to for it's oil change. The time we were supposed to do it and didn't we later on  decided to take it into this dealership in Arnhem Holland and try to talk the guy into just signing off on the form that we got it done. We said the mechanic who gave us the oil change just forgot to sign off on it. After much convincing he relented and we got it signed. We did add oil as we went along though.

Another time we parked in Munich to have a bite to eat. We were gone about a half hour when we came walking back to our car to find it no longer there. We scoured the surrounding streets questioning whether we had mixed up where we had parked it. Finally admitting we had no car we asked a passerby if they had seen a car being towed away. He asked if we had a French license plate and then upon hearing our affirmative reply got on a phone to call the police. We got a ride in the police paddy wagon beside a guy with a machine gun. Talk about feeling like felons!

It cost us $80 US dollars to get our car back which to us and back then was a heck of a lot of money! It set us back in our budget big time.

Another car experience I can recall was driving in Switzerland when on this 2 lane highway this oncoming driver decided to play chicken with us. We ended up off the side of the road while this car sped by us at 120 miles per hour.

Aside from driving around and getting lost a few times and these experiences I just mentioned the car was used as sleeping quarters during the rainy days we couldn't camp. Sometimes the tent we had was so wet when it rained it used to sag. So low in fact if your nose touched it you would get wet. This was a pup tent we borrowed not your luxury tent you see nowadays.

When I think back on how we did this trip it was a very exciting time. A Renault 5 and a pup tent going around Europe! Not the lap of luxury but fun nonetheless. A fantastic memorable experience. More later...

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