Sunday, June 03, 2012

Olivia reporting from Valencia, 40 years of Inter rail and my journey across Europe in 1973, good news for Suzy, missing the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and other stories.

Olivia reporting from Valencia, 40 years of Inter rail and my journey across Europe in 1973, good news for Suzy, missing the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and other stories.

Being interviewed by TVE1 on Monday at home about my Inter Rail journey in the 70's

Hello again my friends,

The week has been packed with activity and there are lots of things to tell you.  I haven’t been away anywhere, it has been a fairly quiet week but all in all a good week for all.

Last Sunday, Olivia went off to Valencia where she would be reporting every day of the week on local events.  She was part of a team she had great fun with and at one point posted on Facebook that she wouldn’t mind living in that part of the world. 

Olivia and her team having a bit of fun in Valencia.

As most mothers, I am at my happiest when my girls are happy and this week was a good week for both of them, especially for Suzy as you will hear later.

Olivia looking spectacular with the team in Valencia this week

Unfortunately I missed nearly all of Oli’s live reporting because I was either way at the office or in meetings in town.  Determined to see at least one appearance, I saw her on Friday in a place called Paterna where she reported on a unique story of a group of unemployed people who had started from scratch, using old fashioned techniques to make and sell constructions out of rope and clay, originally used to make “barracas”.  That brought me right back to my University classes at Nottingham in the 70’s where Dr. Cardwell would lecture on the Valencian author Blasco Ibañez who wrote the famous novels “La Barraca” and “Cañas y Barro”. 

A typical Valencian "barraca"

On Monday I was taken back again to my past, but this time for another reason.  A friend of Olivia’s and ex colleague, María, was preparing a report for the TVE1 news programme about the 40th anniversary of Inter Rail scheduled to be broadcast on 6th June. María was looking for people who had been on Inter Rail in its early years to share their experiences in the special report.  When Oli asked me if I knew anyone who had done Inter Rail at the beginning I said that of course I had.  And that was how I suddenly found myself being interviewed at home by the TVE1 crew that very afternoon. 

I remember that trip very vividly although I still can’t remember whether it happened in 1973 or 1974.  My Father, who has the most amazing memory, swears it was 1974 so it probably was.  My brother George, went in the inaugural year in 1972 when a month’s trip to visit 21 countries in Europe cost just 25 pounds.  When I went it cost 33 pounds and was the cheapest way to discover Europe, although in those days you couldn’t visit any of the Iron Curtain countries, something I would have loved to have done. There were very few low cost airlines in those days, so most young people travelled by train.  Inter Rail was a real revolution for “back packers”, the ticket being actually cheaper than a return ticket from London to any European destination.  So in the following years when I travelled to Spain in the “Callosa Days”, I would often just buy an inter rail ticket and use it only to travel to Alicante and back to Yorkshire.  Later we would travel by bus to Alicante or in my Aunt’s battered old cars but, that’s another story.

The trip I took in 1973 or 1974 is ingrained in my memory forever as the most adventurous journey I had taken until then.  It was difficult at just 16 to find other friends to come with me.  Most of their parents wouldn’t let them hop around Europe but my parents who were true globe trotters and from whom I had inherited my travel bug, were much more permissive.  I finally found someone to come with me, Tim M, a pupil of my Father’s at Bradford Grammar School.  He was then a first year student of German and Scandinavian languages at Surrey University, so was very keen to travel to Scandinavia which is what we did.  He was not my ideal travel companion, as it later transpired he was rather keen on me and I wasn’t one bit interested.  That would become a problem when we had to share rooms in Lapland, to save money. 

We started off in London at Victoria station, that wonderful old vibrant station which is the gateway to Europe.  From there we made our way to Dover from where we took the ferry to Calais, a journey I made countless times in my youth.  From Calais of course we travelled to Paris on one of the old green SNCF trains past Amiens.  We would arrive at Gare du Nord, the gateway from France to England.  Paris stations were always teeming with North African immigrants and I found myself surrounded by them as if I was a jar of jam and they were flies.  I suppose being blonde and young was the reason.  But I could never get rid of them and yet didn’t realize the danger, although I had heard, of course, of the “white slave trade”.  At Gare du Nord I always remember enjoying a wonderful French breakfast of café au lait with the best croissants in the world, or so I thought.  From Gare du Nord, in order to take a train to the north of Europe, we would take the metro to Gare Austerlitz, in memory, of course of the famous Napoleonic battle.  Just being there brought back memories of my history lessons with my adored Miss. Scorer at St. Joseph’s college.  Here we would board the train to Hamburg, the famous German port where sailors would get off, get drunk and visit the red light district, the Reeperbahn which is exactly what we did when we got there, that is visit the district but not get drunk.  What we did do of course was try out the hamburgers which I suppose originally came from this German town.

To economise, we did not spend much money on accommodation and most nights actually slept on the trains.  I remember getting on the French and later the Spanish trains at the beginning of the journey and often not finding a seat and having to settle for the corridor, something which is probably unthinkable today.  The worst spot was next to the toilets, which was ok at the beginning of the journey but a nightmare at the end, because of the smell.  Needless to say the German and Scandinavian trains were much more civilized.  Today, Spanish trains are probably the best in Europe but at the time were probably the worst and the slowest.  As I told Maria in my interview with TVE, I remember the train journey from Barcelona to Alicante taking most of the night and feeling longer than the journey throughout Scandinavia.  There were no high speed trains at the time in Spain but I do remember trying to board an attractive looking Talgo train at the Barcelona Sants station, only to be pushed off it not very gently as the “better trains” were not included in the Inter Rail pass.  That was a bit of a hard lesson.

France was dirtier in those days than England, although perhaps today, it is the other way round.  However Spain was much dirtier and I vividly remember the difference of the stations at the border.  On the French side the stations were quite pretty with flowers on the platform.  However as soon as you entered the Spanish station on the other side of the border, there would be hundreds of flies and rather nasty smells.  Today both countries are much cleaner. 

I remember taking about 100 pounds with me for the whole trip, money I think I had earned working at a factory in Bradford for a month after school broke up.   There was little money for accommodation which is why we mostly slept on the trains and not much for food either.  Of course we didn’t go to restaurants in those days, the alternative being to eat street food.  So for most of the journey our meals were made up of hamburgers or hot dogs bought at kiosks which were cheap and very tasty.

From Hamburg we made our way to wonderful Copenhagen where we woke up at a very clean station and where I was able to have a shower for an awful amount of kroners for me at the time.  I showed María the photos of the trip which are in a very old album of mine and there is only one single photo of me, the rest being of my companion, scenery, trains and the Scandinavian capitals.  It is of me outside the Tivoli Gardens.  And here it is, taken 39 years ago.

Outside the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen during my Inter Rail trip in the 70's

I loved Scandinavia, as I always have and funnily enough in my professional life I have been very attached to both Finland when I worked for Nokia as I am today to Stockholm because of my job with Yoigo.  Scandinavia, I should mention, holds an even bigger attraction for my Father who actually studied Scandinavian languages at Cambridge University.  Maybe I inherited the love of this area of Europe from him. But actually I think it is more to do with the merit of these countries themselves, so clean, so green, so civilized, so organized and so ahead of the times.  I well remember in my inter rail trip tasting my first McDonalds meal in Stockholm.  Having never been to one, I remember being surprised at the system of ordering and also thought the meal was rather expensive.  I also remember vividly being surprised by finding “sex shops” there which I had never seen in prude England.

We travelled even further north and from Copenhagen made our way to Sweden where we actually travelled right to the north to Lapland.  Here I remember being eaten alive by mosquitos, including both eyes.  So bad were my eyes I had to visit a hospital in Stockholm and the image of that immaculately clean and white hospital where doctors and nurses moved around on skates, has remained in my memory forever.  It was like being in another world.  From Sweden we travelled to Norway and visited the fjords and I think made our way to Bergen.  We were joined by a young American traveler whose name I cannot remember.  Throughout our journey we made new friends and met people from all over the world, but funnily enough no Spaniards. When Maria asked me if I had met Spaniards, I answered truthfully that I hadn’t.  Thinking back, this is probably because young Spaniards in those days had fewer opportunities than their counterparts from the better off countries in Western Europe.  Not to forget either, that under Franco’s regime it was not very easy to travel.  So no, there were no Spaniards at the time, but plenty of Germans, Scandinavians, Brits and Americans of course.

Had it been today, I would not only know the American boy’s name, but we would be in contact forever afterwards on Facebook and whatsapp.  Also we would probably have been updating our statuses on both throughout the journey.  But in 1973 affairs were very different.  There were no mobile phones, no internet and of course no social media, so when you met someone, you would maybe exchange addresses and write for a while but afterwards would lose contact.  In those days we would send letters and post cards and call our parents very occasionally on the phone.  Of course a long distance call would usually be, in my case, by “reversed charges”, not always easy to manage when making a long distance call.  To think we complain today that making phone calls is expensive, when it was much more so in the 70’s. 

From Norway, my only ever visit to that lovely country, we decided to go south and travel all the way to Spain, to Callosa, the village where my parents bought a house in 1973.  That was one long trip, especially from the French boarder all the way to Alicante.  You can read more about our experiences of the beginnings of our Spanish adventure if you look up “Callosa Days” in my blog.  

The experience of being interviewed on Monday is one I will remember for a long time as I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Funnily enough when the report, including my interview, is broadcast on 6th June I will find myself in Copenhagen for an international meeting.  Luckily I will be able to watch it via streaming as these days most TV news is available online, something I would never ever have dreamed of when I first took that inter rail trip back in the 70’s.

On Tuesday, over lunch with my dear friends Julio and Fátima, to celebrate Julio’s birthday, I told them about my TV experience.  Later my friend Sandra commented on my post about the interview on FB that I was slowly getting on the air, to which I replied, it was part of my personal branding.  In a way I suppose it was.

My friends Fátima and Julio at lunch on Tuesday

Friday was this week’s highlight by far.  That was the day Yoigo launched its new revolutionary tariffs in the shops and they have been buzzing ever since.  Friday, was also very important for Suzy.  It was the day her contract with Aramark was extended for another 18 months.  But even more important is that she has been promoted and has become a “front line manager”.  Her boss told her she had worked hard to deserve the promotion.  Well done Suzy, I am very proud of you.  That day, I suppose, to celebrate Suzy went off to spend the weekend at our flat in Santa Pola.  She was joined by Elena and her newfound Russian friends.  I haven’t heard much so far, but imagine they will be spending most of the time at the beach as the weather is marvelous.

On Friday night, Olivia returned, happy from her week’s reporting in Valencia.  I spent most of Saturday with her and we went shopping to nearby shopping centres where I swear, this time, I didn’t buy anything.  Lunch was a family affair and we were joined by Juli.  The afternoon was spent in a relaxed way by the pool, where we tend to spend most afternoons, reading, or in my case working with my computer.

Because it is so hot, our walks now take place after dinner.  I love the evening walks in June when the days are so long.  In fact I took a photo of the view from our room one night last week to show just how light it is at 10 o’clock at night.  When we come back, we sit by the pool where most nights I have taken a bathe to cool off after what we call our “power walk”.  The dogs lie at our feet, generally flat out after the exertion too.

The view from our room one night last week at 10pm at night, amazingly light.

Today, Sunday, will be quiet also.  Today is one of those days I would love to be in England.  You are probably wondering why.  Well, I am missing the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee festivities.  If I lived in England, I would be watching the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant where a flotilla of more than 1000 boats will sail seven miles from Albert Bridge to the majestic Tower Bridge. I would also probably be taking part in one of the many street parties, something I have never ever experienced.  You may be wondering why.  Well I was brought up on the Royalty and whatever my political bending, sometimes left, sometimes in the middle, sometimes to the right, Royal pageantry is something that touches me emotionally and makes me feel more British than I really am.  I can’t help but admiring the Queen.  She has been part of my life ever since I was born.  She came to the throne in 1952 and is a part of a world that is constant although the world has changed so much.  I wouldn’t like to imagine the world without her.

Missing the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in England this weekend

Her first televised Christmas broadcast was in 1957, the year I was born.  You can watch it here.  Her voice is so familiar, I can’t help but love it.  It is also a reminder of my childhood and life in Britain, after so many years.

The Queen's first televised Christmas broadcast was in 1957, the year I was born.

This week with all the fuss of the Jubilee, her son Prince Charles, unveiled many private photos and film, many taken by the Queen herself, as part of a tribute to her in a special programme on the BBC.  I watched it here on You Tube and my favourite photo is one of Prince Charles and his sister, also in 1957, with his sister and one of their corgi dogs, on a beach in Norfolk.  This photo and the others in the programme suddenly made the Queen much more human.  I read later that there is a huge PR effort to restore the image of the monarchy.  Apparently the new Communications Director, who previously ran the PR for Manchester United, is doing a great job with his team.  So maybe, this documentary was thanks to him. 

A great pic of Prince Charles and Princess Anne in 1957

The Queen today, 60 years later, as seen yesterday at the Epsom Derby, was as poised as then but probably much more relaxed.  

The smiling Queen yesterday at the Epsom Derby

These four days of “jubilee” and pomp and celebration, as only the British can do in their special way, are one of the things I miss most about the country I was brought up in. 

One of the most spectacular photos I have seen of the Diamond Jubilee . Buckingham Palace floodlit with the Union Jack, what a sight!

It is no consolation for me to know that today it is raining as it was on her Coronation Day, but also no surprise to find the British online press are using the pun ”Long to rain over us” in their coverage of the event today!  

With these thoughts and some nostalgia, it is time to leave you and prepare lunch as today is Ivanka’s day off.

A happy Diamond Jubilee to all my English friends, at home and abroad and all the best to all of you until next time.


1 comment:

GL said...

Dear Marsha,

I came across your great blog when I did a google search for Inter Rail (following a Radio 3 programme about IR travel in the 1970's). I loved the photo of you in Copenhagen but couldn't resist haveing a go at restoring to its proper colour and exposure.

If you would like me to send you the restored picture you can contact me at

PS I did interRail in 1978.