All genuine knowledge originates in direct experience. – Mao Zedong.
On September 3rd, 1988, my girlfriend Linda and I set off overseas. We intended to be away for two years. As it turned out, by the time we returned home for the final time, six years had passed by. In that time we had visited 35 countries on five continents, taken thousands of photographs and written home dozens of times. We had also found time to become engaged in Vienna and get married in New Zealand.
These are my diaries from those years. They chronicle our journey from a couple of naive country kids from the South Island of New Zealand to hardened world travellers and adventurers. They also chart my emergence as a writer, beginning with farmer-style notes in a 1988 New Zealand Farmer’s Diary, to long, descriptive entries as our adventures unfolded out in the world.
There will be occasional gaps in the narrative: times when we were settled somewhere and I didn’t keep up with my entries. There will also be letters we wrote home, letters we received on the road, photographs, maps and other bits and pieces.
Where it is necessary, I will add relevant explanations in the form of annotations at the bottom of each entry. And although I will reproduce these diaries as they were written, occasionally, I may omit details that are too personal or sensitive. But rest assured, all swearing and offensive material will be left intact and included for your delectation!
We left the hostel at 6:30 and hiked down to the port. We only had to wait for about half an hour before the call to board came and we set sail at 8AM aboard the ferry Pride of Canterbury.
We cashed in our few remaining French coins and got £2-38 for it which afforded us two cups of tea and a croissant each. About an hour and a half after later we docked and went through customs without a hitch.
Outside the terminal we made a sign that read LONDON and after about 10 minutes of hitching we were picked up by a Spanish truck driver. He spoke no English and we knew no Spanish but after a while we figured out he wanted us to help him find Charlton in East London where his load was bound.
So, by asking directions we got him to his destination then walked over to the BR station and hopped on a train for Waterloo East without buying tickets because we didn’t have any money. There was a ticket collector in the carriage we got into but for some reason he walked straight past us. When the train arrived at Waterloo East we walked straight past the ticket booth but we were bellowed at by an inspector to stop. I launched into a spiel in French about having no money and after about 5 minutes of pretending we couldn’t speak or understand English he let us go in desperation. if he had been a bit bit more switched on he would have noticed that I could understand his questions.
We snickered our way down to Caesars¹ and had a huge feed of English grease then caught a bus out to the nurses’ flat² off Camberwell Road. We spent the rest of the afternoon there and had a barbecue in the evening.
¹Ceasars restaurant was a local Waterloo eatery we had frequented during our time at the Red Lion.
BOULOGNE After a breakfast of bread, jam and hot chocolate we walked down through the town to the ferry terminal and booked tickets on the P&O ferry across the English Channel for tomorrow.
With no money left and not a lot to do in Boulogne, we looked in a few jewellery shops for engagement rings and bought some fresh veggies in the market to cook for tea. We spent a couple of hours in the evening yarning to the wee Scottish girls and watching MTV.
PARIS TO BOULOGNE We caught the train from the Gare du Nord up to Boulogne on the French coast and walked from the station up to the youth hostel. It didn’t open until 5:30 p.m. so we lay on the grass in front of the hostel and soaked up the sun.
The hostel was modern and well-equipped and there were some nice people staying there including two sweet young Scottish girls and a Canadian girl. After we had settled in we went downtown and bought some food and a cheap (64 pence!) bottle of vin rouge. Back at the hostel we cooked tea then sat around talking with other travellers until bedtime.
We caught the first train possible into the city and got off at St. Michel station. Our first stop was Notre Dame: the Church of Our Lady. Surprisingly small, it was nevertheless a wonderful example of Gothic architecture with some beautiful stained glass windows.
We walked along the Seine river – a vile smelling cesspool – and crossed Pont Neuf to the Louvre where we spent a couple of hours. The important thing we saw there was, of course, the Mona Lisa, but there wasn’t much else of interest apart from some early Monet and Renoir paintings. The majority of the works were the familiar biblical scenes of martyred saints and hovering cherubs. The Egyptian wing, however, was very interesting.
Movin on, we walked along the Quai d’Orsay then through the streets of the 7th Arrondissement to the Eiffel Tower. We paid 18F (francs) to climb up to the 2nd level with its impressive view, then another 40 francs to go to the top in the lift. Incredible [pronounced as the French would: “en-cray-arr-ble”]. At nearly 1000 ft the view of the sprawl of Paris stretched off as far as the eye could see in all directions. A sign a fixed to a wall stated that Wellington was 18,392 km away. At that height however, many of the city’s landmarks – Notre Dame, the Arc du Triomphe, etcetera, blended into the uniform grey of the city. Grey squalls coming across the city from the north combined to camouflage them completely.
Back on terra firma, we walked back towards St Michele and went to the Musee d’Orsay. Oh those fabulous impressionist works! Monet, Cezanne and Renior… exquisite colours and moods on canvas. But what grabbed our attention most were the Van Gogh’s. The vibrant colours. The thick, almost violent brush strokes, conveyed the madness of the painter in an almost palpable way. They were mesmerising.
By 5:30 we were sick of trudging around Paris so we caught the train back out to Arpajon and bought some food to cook for dinner. We spent the evening talking to a couple of New Zealanders who were also staying in the hostel.
TO PARIS We broke camp early and walked up to the centre of town, stopping on the way to the station to buy some pastries for petit dejeuner. We caught a train back up to Dijon and then booked tickets to Paris. Because our tickets from Chalon-sur-Sôane hadn’t been punched, we bullshitted that we hadn’t used them and got a refund!
The trip to Paris took about 2 hours and we ended up at Le Gare du Lyon. We decided to go out to the youth hostel at Arpajon instead of trying the expensive and probably full City hostels so we made our way to Le gare d’Austerlitz and waited with a Guatemalan guy who was also going out to Arpajon. There was a railway workers strike in progress that day so it was a long time before a train pulled into the platform but eventually we got out to Arpajon and found the hostel.
We pitched the tent then went round to the town centre with an Aussie girl and a couple of Poms for a beer. We also bought some food to cook up for tea.
We made an early start and walked up to the “centre ville” with the intention of going to the town of Beaune to a cheap wine tasting venue mentioned in Let’s Go¹. But there were no trains or buses until late afternoon so after buggering around trying to hitchhike we hired a couple of bikes and, armed with some bread, wine and cheese, set off to cycle through some of the local vineyards. It took us half an hour to get out of town and into the quiet back roads. We cycled through a small wood then stopped for lunch in a field of buttercups.
After lunch we cycled into the town of Givry and stopped at a tiny grocery shop for cold drinks. When we went to depart I discovered that I had a puncture in my rear tyre which I fixed on the side of the street. We carried on further into the hills through small villages and vineyards then circled back towards Chalon-sur-Sôane.
After we dropped the bikes off we had a look around the streets of the town then wandered back to the camping ground. Dinner that night consisted of leftovers from our picnic supplemented by a can of sardines and some apples.
¹Let’s Go Europe was one of a series of guide books writted by stupid Americans for stupid Americans.
DIJON TO CHALON-SUR-SAÔNE We caught a bus up to the Gare at 9:00 and bought tickets to the town of Chalon-sur-Saone, about 50km south of Dijon: a place we’d picked at random. When we arrived, we hiked in the heat for 3km to the campground and set up camp. We filled in the rest of the day with non-strenuous activities such as lying in the sun and…
In the evening, we had dinner at a nearby Moroccan restaurant called “Les Emirs.”
DIJON We had a very quiet day today as Linda was getting over a cold and I was coming down with one. We spent a couple of hours in the morning at a laundrette in town then spent the rest of the day slobbed out in the sun listening to our Walkmans. In the evening, we caught a bus into town and had dinner.
BERN TO DIJON We left the hostel at 9 a.m. and walked in the rain up to the station. We bought tickets to Dijon in France then settled down to wait for our 11:50 a.m. train. We looked around a few of the shops out on the street but it was so wet and miserable that soon were back in the station and sat in one of the cafes writing postcards.
Our first train took us down to Lausanne where our train to France left from and not long after we got there a couple of policemen in plain clothes stopped me and wanted to see my passport. They must have been looking for a criminal of some sort and perhaps I fitted his description!
At 17:30 we caught the train to France and after about three quarters of an hour, high up in a misty mountain pass, we crossed the border into France. As with most European countries, the border formalities were perfunctory and we didn’t even get a souvenir stamp in our passports. The train arrived in Dijon at 7:30 p.m. and we walked the 1 km to to the camping ground where we pitched our tent for the first time. We have named it Vern after a character in a Far Side cartoon. It is very easy to erect and will be warm and comfy. We finished the day with a short walk along the nearby River.
SALZBURG TO BERN We left the hostel at 9 and walk down to the station where we bought tickets to Zurich Switzerland. While we waited we chatted to a Canadian girl who was hustling rooms at the hospital.
We found a seat in an empty compartment and settled in to munch on our salami rolls and chocolate bars had bought with our remaining Austrian change, commenting on how plush the on Austro/Swiss train was. We left Salzburg dead on time and soon we were speeding through the countryside past green crops and plots of pine and birch. The mountains were spectacular, especially around Innsbruck where the towns was dwarfed by massive towers of sheer rock.
About midday, we were injected from our First Class cabin buy an officious train guard who obviously didn’t believe we were in there by mistake, and we spent the rest of the journey to Zurich slumming it in the second class accommodation which, was none too shabby either. As we crossed the border into Switzerland, the Swiss customs officers came through the cars and only sullenly complied when we asked for our passports to be stamped. The last leg of the journey was alongside Lake Geneva and a violent thunderstorm was raging when we arrived.
We bought onwards tickets for Bern (which stung us £18 each!) and caught the next train which pulled into the station. When we arrived in Bern an hour later, we tracked down the YH which was like a cross between Colditz Castle and a battery hen house run with the precision of a Swiss watch!
After we had settled in I went back to the station in the pouring rain and bought some grub for tea. We spent the evening in the common room of the hostel.