Contiki Europe Tour – Part 1

In 1980 I was in my second year of work, saving money and accumulating annual leave. Inspired by discussions with my school friend Craig, I decided to book a European holiday.

My travel agent found a 5 week Contiki tour for 18-30 year olds (I was 22 at the time) and booked a Qantas return trip to London. Unfortunately that tour got cancelled so my travel agent found a shorter tour and I decided to use the remaining time to tour England and Scotland. This is the tour I took….

This is the description of the tour from the brochure:

Over the Channel and away to PARIS. Two nights to see the lot. Up the Champs Elysées, round the Arc de Triomphe, lunch at the Eiffel Tower, and still there’s time for the Folies Bergères.

Down to the CHATEAU DE CRUIX. Where? Just our little ol’ chateau surrounded by vineyards in the French countryside. Smarten up for NICE and the French Riviera. Play the tables at the Casino – this could be where you get off.

Slow the pace in FLORENCE. Renaissance art was never meant to be hurried, that’s why you stay in our own Florentine Villa. Next, take in the splendour that is ROME. From our Village a tour by night shows you how much there is to see in your two day stay – from the Colosseum to the Trevi Fountain; it only takes two coins to ensure your return. Take in more beauty from our Village camp in VENICE. See how the famous glass is made, shop for silver-ware, or take a gondola by night. Be prepared for a breathtaking journey through mountains and forests to SALZBURG.

Move on to our Village camp at MUNICH, home of the famous beer festival. (We promised you culture didn’t we?) Through the Alps to our lofts at LAUTERBRUNNEN. Try your hand at the Eiger, if you’re up to it. Camp right by the Neckar River in HEIDELBERG. Try out the local student inns before heading for the Rhine. See the splendid Gothic castles. Stay in our Village at COLOGNE.

A whole day in AMSTERDAM to see the Rembrandts, take an evening canal ride or visit the red light district. Anyone know any good songs? A farewell party at our GROOT HUIS in the Dutch countryside. We always go home on a good note!

I kept a diary of my trip which I typed out in more detail when I got home. I made photocopies for the relatives in Victoria. I was able to OCR-scan this document with the help of Google Translate on my iPhone then publish in this blog.

The Journey Begins

Here I am ready to go the airport. I took a Minolta 35mm SLR camera and 30 rolls of Ektachrome slide film. I still have these slides so I may scan some of them at a later date.

26th August to 15th September 1980

SUNDAY, 24th August. Left Sydney at 4.25pm on a cloudy afternoon. Arrived at Singapore airport about 12.10pm Sydney time it was very warm and steamy (28°C.).As we flew in, it was very exciting seeing lights of a foreign city for the first time, and particularly after landing. After a lengthy bus trip to the terminal, we only had 5 minutes to shop before going back to the plane. At 8 am (Sydney Time) we flew over Abu Dhabi and then the Persian Gulf where you could see oil rigs in the sea with orange flares reflecting in the water. Arrived in Bahrain about 30 minutes later where it was even warmer at 33 degrees. I looked at the Duty Free shop as well as a display of various Bahrain artefacts.

After takeoff, I slept for seven hours and then woke up to see a most colourful sunset over the clouds at about 2pm Sydney time. The most spectacular sight was flying over the Italian and Swiss Alps. I took many photos of the snow-capped mountains.

MONDAY, 25th AUGUST. After arriving at Heathrow, I cashed my first traveller’s cheque [this was before debit cards and global bank networks] and took the tube to Piccadilly which cost £1.40.

I then checked into the Regent Palace Hotel and then went sightseeing in the morning as I didn’t want to rest. I walked up Regent St. and Langham Place where I photographed the All Soul’s Church designed by John Nash. Then I walked down Oxford St. and saw Colgate house! [I was working at Colgate-Palmolive at the time]. Then I visited Soho Square followed by a good walk around the West End including a visit to the National Portrait Gallery. I went as far as Trafalgar Square where nearby I had a pizza and a Coralba mineral water (all for £1.60). The afternoon was spent waiting around for the Contiki office to open in the hotel as well as catching up on some sleep. I met a few other Contiki travellers in the evening and we had a meal together.

TUESDAY, 26th August. I had a very early start to the day at 5.30 with a continental breakfast brought to my room at 6 am. A few of us then took our first London cab ride to the departure point in Percy Street (80p each). A coach from Evans & Evans was then packed with our special Contiki suitcases and we then set off for Dover. It was interesting driving through London and seeing some of the sights, as well as the city outskirts before we got on to the freeway. Out of the city, the countryside is gently sloping with many patches of trees and all types of agriculture from corn to dairying. We went through Canterbury catching a glimpse of the cathedral. Noticed that petrol is 1 pound 32p a gallon. The town itself is quite charming with pretty houses and many trees and gardens.

After arriving at Dover the coach was unpacked and we boarded the ferry for Zeebrugge in Belgium. I saw the white cliffs from the ferry, however they were not as white as I expected them to be. The ferry trip was most relaxing with a great diversity of nationalities onboard. There were some rather strange teenagers racing around – I think they were Dutch or Belgian. Arrived at Zeebrugge about 3pm after a long delay going through immigration as well as waiting for our luggage. It was quite hot and I met two Australians (Steve and Glenn), so we went to the cafe to try the local ales. The beers sampled were BAF Belgian Beer (slightly bitter) and Jupiler 5 Malz Lager Bier (more flavoursome), both priced at 30p a bottle (unchilled).

We then travelled through the Belgian countryside and villages. The land was very green and flat with even a few windmills. Our first stop was just over the border in a small French village called Bailleul where we had supper. I don’t think the locals knew what hit them with a huge coach in the town square. We then travelled on, arriving in Paris at 12.30 where we had to set up tents in the rain. I started my task of carrying water in plastic canteens from the tap to fill the cooking saucepans. Then I had a shower and crawled into my sleeping bag after a very long day.

WEDNESDAY, 27th August. Woke up at 6.40 am to an overcast. day with the prospect of showers. Then we had a huge breakfast and set off for Paris. I noted the address of the camp:

Touring Club-de-France
Camping de Paris-est-le Tremhag
Boulevard de Allies 94500
Champigny sur Marne

We had a rushed tour in the morning, starting off at the Notre-Dame cathedral which was most spectacular, and then to the Musee d’Armee where we saw Napoleon’s tomb, and a spectacularly painted ceiling.

From the museum we walked to the Eiffel tower and climbed to the second level which was quite a hike! The view was spectacular despite the cloudy sky, however I took a few photos of the Paris skyline.

There were a lot of tourists around as well as Africans selling jewellery and souvenirs on the street. We had lunch in the park next to the tower, and then went driving around the city taking many photos from the bus.

Then we went on to the Louvre and had to queue up for tickets which took quite a while. The highlight would have been seeing the “Mona Lisa” on display behind a glass wall. We saw many other paintings and sculpture, including Botticelli and Claude Lorraine. A small group of us then went to a streetside cafe and had a beer (ordered in French of course!).

Our next stop was back to camp for dinner before going on to the Folies Bergeres in the heart of Paris. The show was very stunning at first but lost some its impact after a while as it was quite lengthy. Before the show we had a drink in a small cafe nearby, which was very small and busy. We passed through the Jewish sector of Paris to go to this cafe.

When we got back to camp a few of us sampled a bottle of Beaujolais and a bottle of white wine which was awful!

THURSDAY, 28th August. Broke camp early in the morning and drove south for Chateau-de-Cruix. We went through a lot of countryside and passed many small villages. There seems to be a lot of corn grown out of Paris. Stopped for lunch about 20 miles north of Beaune at a roadside stop. We had the most beautiful drive in the afternoon through the small villages in the Beaujolais area, including Villefranche. Then we had a guided tour of Chateau de Boisfranc, including a tasting of the latest wine. The reaction amongst all the different nationalities was certainly mixed! The hills covered in grapes were a spectacular sight, and the grapes on the vines were small and green.

Dinner was excellent that evening and I shared a bottle of Burgundy I bought earlier in the day. We also tried a chardonnay from the winery visited earlier, and was most enjoyable. After dinner I went for a short walk along the small road to the chateau. The atmosphere was really magic as there was a small breeze and the only sound to be heard was the chirping of crickets. The rest of the evening was spent in the disco where there were a few special cocktails available — some of them having rather strong after-effects.

FRIDAY, 29th August. Left the chateau at 8 am, and soon after we left, I gave a short talk on the bus about French wines. [I was really into wines and had studied a few wine appreciation courses, so I shared my knowledge of wine with my fellow travellers]. As we travelled through Lyon I saw at least two oil refineries — a very industrial city but also the gastronomic capital of France. Then we got on the freeway to Nice. The weather is definitely hotter probably about 26°C.Stopped for lunch at a large service station/restaurant area and had our usual meal of bread-rolls. I took a few photos of the group as it was so sunny. I was most impressed with the freeways as each direction is widely separated from each other.

I first sighted the Mediterranean at Cagnes sur Mer which was really exciting. We visited the Fragonard perfume factory at Eze, and I was not too impressed with the fragrances, however the tour of the factory itself was interesting. One ton of rose petals is needed to produce one kilogram of essential perfume oil. [I knew a lot about essential oils and perfumes because I was familiar with the soap manufacturing process at Colgate Palmolive]. Then we went on to the campsite at Antibes near Nice.

After setting up the tents, a few of us raced down to the pebbly beach for a swim on the beautiful Côte d’Azur. After a hot day in the coach the swim was fantastic. The beaches are very pebbly and it is quite a sensation to walk on them. The water must be about twice as salty as Australian beaches, and it is very easy to float. However the water got deep very quickly but was not too cool.

After dinner we all went to Monaco and Monte Carlo. We took photos of the harbour and the palace, as well as doing a little night sight-seeing. Then we went on to the casino which was really grand and had an atmosphere of the rich getting richer or the poorer getting poorer. The ceiling of the casino is really grand and you can see many TV cameras watching everything. Looked at blackjack, roulette and all the poker machines. I put through 7 francs and didn’t have any luck. Outside the casino is the Hotel de Paris which looked extremely expensive. There were many expensive cars parked around the casino – including Maserati, Cadillac, Mercedes and Porsche. From the casinò, we met in Rosies Hotel where we refreshed our thirsts with drinks bought with what money we had left! On the drive back to camp we saw the remains of a car accident. A small sports car had crashed and completely burnt out. We were delayed about ten minutes in getting back to camp.

SATURDAY, 30th August. Left camp early – 8.30 and then drove along the coast towards Italy.

Click this link to continue the journey in Italy

I am enjoying scanning and publishing this memoir of my travel forty years ago.

All images in this article are photographs of the postcards I purchased, Contiki brochure, tickets and labels collected on the travels.


3 responses to “Contiki Europe Tour – Part 1”

  1. Vividly worded description of your European tour that I felt like you brought me there.. Thank you for sharing and I am looking forward to reading Part II.

  2. Charles I cannot believe we did that in the same year! It’s so spoooooky that I recently found my scrapbook of the trip (and realised I’d been to Lyon). More later

  3. […] be continued….. If you missed the earlier instalments of this diary please go to this page and start reading from the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: