BARONS COURT, LONDON to THESSALONIKI, GREECE
02.07.1966 - 07.07.1966
Today is Saturday, tomorrow Sunday, and on Monday I leave England for home. Two more days - I am starting to get a little excited. All this week we have been wondering whether we would be leaving as planned or not, as we had heard nothing from the people who run the Land Rover which is supposed to be taking us to Greece. We were starting to have suspicions that we had been swindled and that they had absconded with the cash. However, this morning I got a letter saying when and where, so everything is cleared up and we will be off from London late Monday afternoon, all being well. We are having surprisingly warm and sunny weather here at the moment, so I am anticipating even better weather on the Continent, and, as the trip home will take us from the northern to the southern hemisphere, we should have summer for much of the next 9 months.
We set off in the Land Rover on schedule at 5 pm and reached Dover about 9.30. After a couple of hours wait there we crossed the Channel on the 12.30 am ferry to Ostende and disembarked at 4.30 on Tuesday morning. I had about three hours sleep aboard the ferry, during the smoothest crossing yet, and was able to stretch out full length on a seat. I felt little or no emotion whatever in leaving London; I could have been taking a weekend trip out into the country. The nine others in the Rover besides us all seemed OK and as time passed there were only a couple I did not particularly take to. And so we were well on our way, even though I half expected Monday night to be back in my bed at Barons Court.
Having docked in Ostende at 4.30 am, we drove on immediately and passed through Belgium and then right on through Germany, stopping the next night in a town just over the Austrian border. It was soon apparent that at this rate it was going to take us nowhere near 9 days to get to Greece - four countries in the same day! - something of a record for us, though hardly an admirable one. When we finally stopped I was exhausted. It was raining and although about half of the mob decided on a zimmer, some of us found a small cave like space, a walk-through shelter in the corner of a building, and went to sleep there. Austrians kept passing through during the night and almost invariably woke us up with “Gut Nacht!” The police came and went, and all in all I had a rather broken 3 hours sleep. We were up again at 3.45 am Wednesday so as to be away by 4. Then came another 18 hours of almost constant driving - on autobahns all the way.
We drove on through Austria, which was very beautiful in parts, crossed the border and were in Yugoslavia, our first and only communist country. We slept Wednesday night in a field beside the road somewhere between Zagreb and Belgrade. It rained a little in the early hours, so when I awoke my sleeping bag was quite wet. We were back on the road again from 4.30 am and passed through Belgrade and then on and out of Yugoslavia and into Greece. We reached Thessaloniki Thursday night and were dropped off at a small and cheap (30 Drachma) hotel, and for me the long journey home really began there, three days and two thousand miles out of London, in a drab hotel room not unlike the one we had stayed in at the Salvation Army Hostel in Bombay, nearly two years ago.
I was really glad to get out of that Land Rover; I had not enjoyed the journey in it. I could not stand the hell-for-leather way Bill Bradley was running the thing: 10 minutes stop for this, 20 minutes stop for that, must move on, on all the time. Pity the poor bastards who are going to have it for three weeks. Three days were almost too much for me. Four countries in one day - my God! We had to do what we were told, and were treated like a bunch of school kids on an outing - not my idea of travelling. However, I don’t regret coming in the vehicle, as it fulfilled its original purpose: to get us across the Continent as fast and as cheaply as possible. I had a much needed wash on Thursday night in the room and fell asleep very quickly under a single sheet beside the open door. In the few days since leaving London the temperature has really soared, though we have seen rain at times and it was quite cold up in the Austrian Alps.
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