I remember my first BIG trip out of the USA… back in September of 1985. I was an impetuous youth and felt invincible. I saw a NATGEO show that was exploring ancient castles of the UK. I remember that every castle and little hamlet they visited I saw young “hippie types” with huge backpacks milling about.
My life at the time was in a bit of unrest. I was looking for something… but wasn’t sure what. I made some trips to the library… no the internet wasn’t as available as it is now… I figured out how to get a passport, sold a few more bracelets and tie-dyes, saved my pennies, and bought a Euro-rail ticket for western Europe. I went to the army surplus store and bought a down sleeping bag, canteen and a few other items, and practiced packing until everything was just right. I bought a Fodders traveler book for Europe, plane ticket and a week later I was off.
I arrived at Heathrow Airport and was welcome with a strip search by immigration agent… welcome to the UK.
Unfortunately my memory of the trip is limited to a few “highlights”. I spent about a week in the UK and wandered through the streets of London, explored Glasgow castles and cathedrals, Aberdeene’s gardens, museums, and castles. The highlight was the hike and hitch hiking to Stonehenge, and the drumming circle I joined one night.
I had to go to France, but unfortunately they didn’t like Americans back then and the visit was brief and I was off to Switzerland by train with the next stop Germany!
I had to see the Berlin Wall of course, and I can tell you the history was everywhere in the old world cities. The people were friendly, the countrysides were gorgeous, it rained a lot and they have a lot of potato farms. I remember getting off the train on late afternoon, heading for a little B&B in a little old world town. There was a path through a potato farm I was told by another backpacker at the station. It was about dusk when I could see the lights from the little town but the fog started rolling in. It blanketed the ground about up to my knees and my mind began to race… American Werewolf in London! I began to pick up the pace and arrived just as it got dark. I was offered a warm, dark beer by the Inn keeper and calmed my frazzled nerves and had a laugh with some other guests about my :close encounter… in my mind and imagination… with the werewolf…
The next day I took stock of my dwindling supplies… including my last $20! I had three days to go and was gonna STARVE!! I spent the morning and most of the afternoon wandering around the countryside, trying to devise a plan to make some money FAST! I knew it wasn’t gonna happen in this little farming town so I hiked to the next train station and headed for Frankfurt.
I arrived in Frankfurt and after some good advice received from a fellow traveler… I proceeded to a popular bar for my last meal of Bangers and Mash. I sat at the bar and asked the bar keep for some advice on getting a short term temporary job. I explained my situation and he said he’d see if he could help. A finely dressed gentleman came up and sat next to me at the bar and ordered me a stein of beer and proceeded to “interview” me. He said he was the manager of a huge, expensive hotel in town and they had a few employees call in sick. He told me he’d give me $500 USD if I would do what ever he needed for 12 hours… the evening and night shift. We shook and I told him he had a deal… short of sex! We laughed and he took me to the hotel, got me a uniform and a shower… I washed dishes, took people luggage to their rooms, room service and more dishes. It was a long 12 hours with a guy who had a thick accent and didn’t speak very good English but could point very well. I finished my shift, thanked the manager and was off to the train station again.
I spent the next two days visiting Belgium and The Netherlands and then back to London.
This was a once in a lifetime trip and it was the one that whet my whistle for travel.