Contiki GE45 Billed as the Grand European Special – Concept tour – 14 Countries – 8 weeks We started out from the Park Hotel which was then, the Concept hotel base. 35 then unknown travelers, comprising partners, friends and solo, boarded a bus that they would share for 60 odd days. It was simply the best of times.
Day 1 to 3 London to Paris Memory fails me but we left on the morning of the 2nd August 1982 and bused down to Dover, across on the ferry and then boarded the Contiki Bus GE45 for our first of three nights in Paris. We are on a Concept Tour which means
Usually we are in pre-erected tents waiting for us when we arrive
A number of special stopovers in Chalets, Castles and boats
Along the way, we prepare our own breakfast and lunch (bread rolls with a meat and salad) and often dinner when not sampling one of the local eating facilities
Paris was our first major European city and we were not disappointed. Over the three days we visited the Georges Pompidou Centre, a tour of the Palace of Versailles and a night tour of the Illuminations. We also visited the Eiffel tower, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and had our first experience of a pedestrian negotiating a large roundabout and trying not to get hit by the cars at the Arc de Triumph. Later we found out there was an under-road tunnel. Our courier Rod House was a funny guy. The climb up the Eiffel Tower was our first exposure to climbing endless stairs and what we later termed “AFS” as elevators had not been retrofitted to the older churches etc. Finally, a tour of Notre Dame. The tour of Versailles was terrific on a somewhat wet and cloudy day as was other highlights, the left bank, Maxims etc At this time, I said we would be back, but it was not until 32 years had passed.
Day 4 and 5 Lyon and surrounds We set off from Paris on a cloudy but bright day and soon were walking on the red granite of the main Lyon Square. In the distance, you could see the church on the hill La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière. We had an interesting encounter when we stopped the bus for lunch. After setting up and getting things underway, we noticed some demonstrators. We later found out they were supporting World Hunger. I was also amazed at the fountain in another square, the Bartholdi Fountain, called the “Char triumphant de la Garonne”, a woman and small child are in a chariot drawn by four water horses. No photos though until I went back in 2016. That night we had the first of 2 nights in a special stopover in the Beaujolais District in the Chateau de Cruix. Linda and I were bunked in one of the old Nuns cells. We also had a wine tasting. The next day we were off to the Ponte de Guarde, a notable Roman Aqueduct. Workplace Health and Safety had not visited this area and we walked along the top without any restraints. Ahh those were the days.
Day 6 to 8 Barcelona We headed off to Barcelona and after setting up in our tents went off for a swim and my first attempt at WindSurfing (point to note, it is impossible when there is no wind). One of thing things they do differently here, is that to combat the midges etc, a guy goes around in his car and fogs the tents etc. We were watching an impending disaster. Along the road a bit, a camper and his family were eating dinner on a table outside their tent. Unawares, the guy came from behind and sprayed the whole family, table and food. Enough said. The next day we saw the Sagrada Familia which in 1982 was still a long way being completed. Then our first sobering encounter, a bull fight. I was determined to keep an open mind and until I saw one was not prepared to comment. But with the Picadors, the Matadors and the Toreadors (on blindfolded horses) the bull never had a chance. If the Matador was ever threatened, the others would distract and wound and wear down the bull until it was finished. I could not see the sport in this. That night we got seriously pissed on Sangria on the beach at Sitges. The next day we went back for the shopping. On the third day we visited the Columbus Monument, the cable car to the Montjuic Castle (an old military fortress dating back to the 1640).
Day 9 and 10 Nice We spent two nights in tents and visited a number of the Riveria highlights – the beaches, a perfume factory in Grasse, a walk around Monte Carlo and of course Juan-les-Pins (Where do you go to my lovely, When you are alone in your bed….) Cannes and Nice
Day 11 to 13 Florence On the way to Florence we stopped off at Pisa. At that stage, you could still climb right to the top of the Leaning tower. After a walk around the surrounding buildings it was off to the first of our three nights in the 13th century Florentine villa, the Torre di Gattaia. It was once owned by the Pitti family. It was a great base to explore Florence which included the Duomo, Michelangelo’s David, the Gold merchants of the Ponte de Vecchio. It was good to spend some time walking through the Renaissance city.
Day 14 to 16 Rome On to Rome and the big tent city. I have not mentioned that our tour was the longest tour that Contiki were offering at that time. But in places like Rome, you joined up with other Contiki tours which all included the main cities such as Rome. One afternoon, we were all relaxing around the pool when our attention was taken by this young fella from another bus. We nicknamed him “New York” as he had that Yank swagger. Anyway he was wearing his dick togs, and preening himself around the pool. He then decided to show us all his prowess with diving. Not sure what he intended. But as he backflipped into the pool he came up short and smashed his nose of the edge of the pool. Not very auspicious. The other thing I remember is that when I left home, I bought a bottle of 40oz Bundy Rum which had been travelling around with me. Well I asked a few if we got some coke and glasses we could have a glass of the famous bundy rum. Well we had a few takers, but our Canadian friend Kevin said he had not had a drop of that wonderful nectar for years and when he last had travelled to Australia. Well what can I say, that evening my suitcase was a lot lighter with the absence of my bottle and its contents. We visited the Trevi Fountain (and we got back there to complete the legend in 2009), the Spanish Steps (where I do believe I inspired the “Where’s Wally” travelling story, the Olympic stadium, St Peters and of course the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel.
The next day was off to the forum, the Colosseum and Magrippa LF Costertivm Fecit – the Pantheon. The third day we did a trip to Monte Casino, one of the main monuments to our fallen soldiers. It was a lovely spot for such a terrible tragedy.
Day 17 to 18 Sorrento We were starting to be in awe about the driving of Terry. He could weave that bus through the tightest places. He would drop us off at the attractions, go and park the bus and return to pick us up. But now we were to experience the cliff driving on the winding coastal roads – hearts in mouth staff when you past another vehicle coming from the other way.
But before we got there, a visit to Pompei. After that we completed our drive down to Sorrento. This was a great spot for visual feasts as you looked from the high cliff across the bay to Naples and the Isle of Capri. It was here that Linda earned her first dummy (an award for doing something stupid) Below the camp was the shower block just off the beach, so it had the first lot of showers behind walls (but not enclosed), I guess mainly to wash off the salt etc. The main showers were inside the building. Not sure what Linda was thinking but she stripped off in the outside showers to the consternation of the campers above. The next day we visited the Blue Grotto on the Isle of Capri. The final shot of Ed, Linda and Andrew was a consolation hug before we boarded the ferry.
Day 19 the Adriatic Ferry The next morning, we set off to Brindisi and the ferry terminal. This ferry would take us overnight to Greece via the sea port at Igoumenitsa. This past between the straights of Greece and Corfu that was to be our base shortly. Being young, we all thought we would stay in the common room and just have a few drinks then sleep in the chairs. It was a long night. Green Ice, starring Omar Shariff, was playing on the Screens in the boat. This movie seemed to dog us since we left home as it played on Qantas and British Airways as well. Those were the days when you flew, you could drink as much as you liked but the movies were all set and they shut down when the plane went “asleep”.
Day 20 to 22 Corfu Once on Corfu, we stayed is a special stopover, the Straw Huts. There was a 6-minute walk to the beach with access to the toilet and shower block and the Contiki “Restaurant”. It was a great three days in glorious hot weather- we did in fact crack 40 degrees. But highlights were paragliding and a 4WD driving tour of the Island. This enabled us to go to the other side of the island and also pass through a village having a wedding and stop in little cafes for a beer or three. We were advised not to ride the bikes as the roads did have a lot of loose gravel. There was this one guy from another bus, who we nicknamed “New York” said that was not a problem, ignored the warnings and took off. Remember back in Rome, he did the backflip into the pool. Later we saw him with some very bad gravel rashes. It hurt just to look at him. We had the little red Suzuki soft-top which was just great for the job at hand. Then came the Ouzo cruise. What a day, hot, clear skies and drinking straight Ouzo. There were a few sore heads in the morning for the trip back to the mainland. A thunderstorm accompanied us on the voyage and when we arrived, good old Terry was waiting with the bus.
The final shot is of our beloved Straw Hut.
Day 23 to 24 Athens Terry was waiting for us when we arrived from the ferry and we headed off for Athens. Along the way we stopped for a break at the Corinth Canal. It was hard to picture ocean going boats navigating this constructed waterway. Once in Athens, we saw the Temple of Diana, the Olympic stadium where the first games were held in 1896. Then on to the Parthenon. One of the photos is looking back to Athens. Try and find where the roads are but Terry got us there and back to the camp. One of the things I noticed as I was digitising my slides. You did not waste shots of food etc. But we were eating well.
Day 25/26 Greek Cruise Day 27 to 29 Poros Day 30 Greek Cruise The next few days were even better than to date. Perfect weather of the motor vessel, MV Contiki. Our first stop off was Hydra. What a great island, where no cars were allowed. All food etc is transferred from the wharf inland by horses and donkeys. One of the photos shows Linda with another good friend, Lucas Ting from Malaysia. Then we spent three nights on Poros. This was magical (as well). One day we visited a lemon grove taverna where we partook of ample retsina. You could walk from the Taverna to a waterfall from the irrigation system. It was cold, refreshing and then you would go back for another drink or a sleep. One of the shots was of Elvia and me just relaxing. The long rambling walk down from the Teverna highlighted a number of ruins that told of a golden age of Greece. I think we also ate some dodgy prawns or was it icecream from a vendor who came to the accommodation. On the advice of Rod, who said there were no sharks in the Mediterranean, we would happily dive off the boat and swim into the smaller islands without a care in the world. This was often further than 100m from the beach. Well at least we did not see any sharks. We then headed back to the mainland and into the setting sun. We later heard a few years later, that the good old MV Contiki broke down, was burnt out and was been replaced with a sail vessel. But my memories of that old boat are just wonderful.
Day 32 to 33 Kavalla Quite a long day in the bus with a stop at Olympia then up through Eloda, Thessaloniki and finally to Kavalla. Often of these long drives and sometimes at night, the weary passengers would sleep except for Linda and I and a few others. We would go up to the front of the bus and talk with Rod and Terry and he would play music through the bus. We introduced to our friends a love of Chris Rea during those times. Rod also was a fountain of knowledge on the various areas, a great courier. Kavalla was a rest and recover spot, with free time on the beach, rescuing a small dog with an infected eye and generally recharging the batteries. We were leaving the next morning but none could find one of the ladies, who had partied with some of the local talent that night. She just made it back to the bus as it was leaving.
Day 34 to 36 Istanbul And then we were off. It is now September and our first month has passed. What an adventure and when I look back it was such great value. The bus trip was $1312 each with an additional $250 food kitty. Even so, you might say but the airfares also cost $1500 return to London each (pretty much what you might pay today)
So as the bus drove through the wheat fields and rolling hills, we made our way to Istanbul. Later tours also added the trip to Gallipoli.
We stayed in Istanbul for three nights and we visited the Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. They were all an inspiration. Our luck held as we had arrived on a Census Day and crowds were small. One afternoon, we partook of a Turkish bath. That was an experience and then some. Our great Mediterranean tans took a big hit with the scrubs and massages and steam. We went in tanned and came out pasty. On that day, we obtained permission to go over the bridge and the Bosphorous and enter into the Asia Side. We visited the home of our local guide and a few hearty souls went for a swim in the famous waters connecting the Mediterranean with the Black Sea. Linda was up for the challenge and goaded me on the land. The family we visited were lovely and we enjoyed this brief, unusual and unexpected excursion. The last and final day, we visited the Pudding Shop which was a must stop along the Grande tour esque, 60’s right of passage spectacular” Hippy Trail”. It is named the Lale restaurant and I hear it is still going strong. The Pudding Shop was also made famous for the cult movie “Midnight Express”. The other visit was to the Grand Bazaar where we sampled (for the first time) true Turkish delight which was nothing like the treat we had back home. This was and is regarded as the first Shopping Mall in the World.
Day 37 Sofia Leaving Istanbul, we headed off for a tour through the old eastern bloc states. Yugoslavia still existed. Sophia was regimented with the obvious presence of armed soldiers and the stark buildings. The church – the cathedral of Saint Aleksander Nevski and gardens was worth the trip. Day 38 Skopje This was our first real shock. The overnight accommodation was some old caravans lined up in a spare block of land. The toilets were terrible and the showers were ice cold and no attached drainage to be seen. But the photos belie the joy we were having on this tour.
Day 39 and 40 Dubrovnik (41? well not quite) The next day we continued our journey, but alas our run of good luck ended. Ahead and around a bend on the winding Carpathian mountain roads, was a multivehicle crash still on the road. As Terry came around the corner, the bus skidded on the oil slick and crashed into the back of the truck. Fortunately, no one was injured, but the bus was undrivable. They organised a bus to take us to the next village, Mojkovac (a ski town in winter). A few of us stayed with the bus to protect all our luggage and the alcohol supplies. The hotel we stayed in was still unopened waiting for the winter. The showers were freezing but we were all glad to be safe. Overnight a new bus had been driven all the way from Head Office in Amsterdam to be at the hotel in the next morning. Our own bus was towed into town and we transferred our belongings. A lot of men at the stops in Mojkovac were just hanging around and showing interest in the girls on the bus. It was all a bit unnerving. This is where it did take a turn for the worse. Terry had to stay and give evidence in the review as the other drivers had banded together to blame us for the whole thing as they were pushing for the better insurance prospects. The new guy Bill (who was nicknamed my girl bill ) took on the driver role. Terry would eventually rejoin us in Vienna some time ahead. So Day 39 was not spent in Dubrovnik, but thanks to the amazing response from Contiki, we were back on track and agreed to still spend the 2 nights here and pass Zadar. The Yellow Brick Road – the polished stones on the old town pathways took on a golden hue as the sun changed. We walked around the walls of the old town and down to the harbour. What a beautiful city. (It broke my heart when in 1991, it was bombed by Yugoslav forces implementing a sea blockage. It was practically undefended by Croation forces. In fact, both Serbian and Montenegro forces wished to seize the city and port from Croatia as well). In the evening though the guys thought to cheer the ladies up we would serve their dinner with a jocks and socks theme by the campfire. It was very romantic
Day 42 Zadar for lunch We headed up to Zadar where we had planned to stay on the seaside town. However, the crash had changed our plans. But we had the most delicious roast pork dinner and then continued through to Venice.
Day 42 to 44 Venice Well Venice at last. The campsite was on the mainland and the mozzies were in plague numbers. The electric zappers were going off like constant firecrackers. But during the day, Venice was great. We had a waterbus ride on the Grand Canal, a gondola ride, a visit to a glass factory and generally around the main square. We even got to climb the clock tower (Yes you could climb it at that time). Oh and a sick Linda who had finally succumbed to the bus lurgy back in Dubrovnik and was still convalescing.
Day 45 to 47 Vienna We are now heading for colder climates. That means big mountains, chocolate and mulled wine. Oh and cow bells….. The trip to Vienna was now greener, manicured, flower boxes, toilets you could easily overnighted (due to their cleanliness) and rest stops where you could now sit down when you do your business. And coming from Australia this was our first view of real mountains (Over our tallest MT Kosciusko at 2,000m. these were 3, 4 and 5,000ms In Vienna we saw the dancing horses, the Schonbrunn Palace and the Hofburg Palace. One night we had a dress up dinner (where you could wear something good from your suitcase) which was lovely. There are a few shots of the great group we were traveling with. And of course we had a waltz.
Day 48 Salzburg On the trip to Salzburg we played leapfrog with another Contiki bus. This was a shorter tour and included some South Africans who we later befriended. They would have liked to do the longer trip but were not allowed into the eastern bloc countries. I tell you that on that bus ride, we certainly got up to some mischief. I was not allowed to post the photos. The mood was happy and carefree, that was until we arrived at Matthausen. This was a main camp of over 100 sub camps from the war in Austria. It was a sobering visit. If you do not believe the atrocities that were made there, just take a walk through the shower block. You can feel/touch the sadness. Back on a lighter note, the WC’s were now a destination in themselves. But you do need to pay the lady. We also visited the Sound of Music house and managed to belt out a few tunes. Finally, a horse drawn carriage if you had the money spare. But the villages we passed through were just lovely. Places like Weiss where we visited a wooden church. All the inside carvings etc were made of wood. Oh and Salzburg, the home of Mozart. The final shot is from the hills over a town resting on the Salzach river.
Day 49 Hopfgarten Off once more. The main attractions was the castle and grounds where the eccentric owner installed sprinklers to catch the unwary visitor. But on this clear, warm day, you could see the wet marks and judiciously avoided them. Then it was off to Brechtsgarten and the salt mines for an unusual slide. Finally, as it was still warm, the Rodal run was still operating. I thought I was flying down until Linda bumped into me from behind in another sled. And then it was overnight in another special stopover, the chalet Gastoff Schonneck in Hopfgarten. It is amazing that after nearly 50 days with the same group in the bus, we were still on great terms and that we were all still friends. If we saw them again today, it would be a fond reunion.
Day 50 to 51 Munich It is definitely getting cooler and the chocolate does not melt in the bus. We have discovered the big blocks of Lindt chocolate. The last of our tanned and fit bodies, is nearly gone. And then the Disney Fantasyland castle – Neuschwanstein. Commissioned by “the mad” King Ludwig II of Bavaria as a retreat and in honour of Richard Wagner. If you thought the Caminos were busy, this place in Summer has as many as 6,000 visitor each day. Fortunately, in 1982, it was relatively uncrowded. There was however, a long uphill walk through the forest to get there though. I did however buy some slides to get the 4 seasons. Then it was off to Munich and the Octoberfest Beer festivals. There were no photos as you needed both hands to hold the steins. And this was well before the travelling with a smart phone and in fact mobile phones of any kind. Did a bit of shopping in the main plaza and to see the town clock.
Day 52 to 53 Lauterbrunnen So we are heading into Switzerland. We visited the Olympic ski jump, where when you set off you could see the Cemetery right behind the landing Passing through Munich and then Lucerne, we visited the lion monument, which commemorates the Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution. Then on to the Chapel bridge, the oldest wooden bridge in Switzerland dating back to the 14th Century. It has survived fires and floods. It is covered and old paintings can be seen on the ceiling under the roof. It was a magical spot – staying 2 nights in the Lofts. We managed to extract a bit of warm gear and managed to go skiing above the snow line on the Jungfrau glacier. The train ride up went past the Eiger. As they say, can it get any better, spectacular mountain views and snow melt rivers. So different to our home in Queensland.
Day 54 Heidelberg On our way to Heidelberg, we visited Bern and their famous bears and then back on the bus. We heard a lot of sniggering from the back and yes, our two Port Boughton boys were at it again. You could never take offence at their behaviour. And then on to our overnight stop and a night to remember(or forget) After visiting the old town, seeing the flag bearers, we had dinner in an old pub. Later, back at the tents we finished off the last of the alcohol purchased so long ago in Barcelona. I should add, as we only had 35 passengers on a 60plus bus, we had plenty of room for the alcohol. So, there was still a good stash left despite dipping into it most special nights and days …… You might say, we all got a bit under the weather and yours truly mistakenly got back into the wrong tent with two of the girls. But I am still alive to tell the story.
Day 55 Cologne I must have been a bit under the weathers as this day is a foggy memory. I cant remember the overnight stop and no photos are there to jog my mind (I do believe we passed a number of Gothic Castles along the river.) We were going to do an overnight river cruise, but the boat had broken down, so we stayed in port and made the best of it
Day 56 to 58 Amsterdam Now it was off to holland and the land of windmills, clogs and hares and whilst in Amsterdam… We did visit some of the local businesses and I am still alive despite some things that I may or may not have done when she took my glasses. Before we steeled in there was still one physical activity left. A bike ride. Now quite a few of the group had not ridden for some time, as we negotiated the roads and then the dirt canal roads. It was a trip without incident, well none to speak off. No one hit the gutters riding on the roads and no one went into the canal and no one’s seat came off and …..(no one was our 36th passenger who got blamed for a lot) On the last day, we visited the flower markets at Vollendam, and a diamond merchant. For my remaining budget, I could have bought Linda a diamond about the size of a grain of sand. But it was a great three nights, full of fun and just a bit of sadness as the trip is nearing the end.
Day 59 Noordgouwe (Zeeland) As we drove in we were amazed that the coastal fields with cattle grazing, was actually under the sea 7 years previously. They know all about reclamation. One last big night.
And then it was all over. An amazing Contiki adventure was complete. In the morning we boarded the ferry for the last time. Said goodbye to Terry and Bill who stayed with the bus and that was it. One last night back at the Park Hotel and a few farewell drinks and exchange of details and GE45 became the official start of our overseas travel history..