It was an overnight train to Madrid and we used it to save the cost of a night’s lodging. Having boarded at its starting point in Malaga Sunday night November 4, we had managed to score seats on one side of a compartment, with no one ending up sitting between us, giving us room to at least recline and try to get some sleep. The elderly couple sitting across from us were doing the same, and I thought it was cute how they cuddled with each other and smiled at Steve and I as we tried to find comfortable positions at opposite sides of our bench, not touching each other. In the early morning hours, when we came into Cordoba, the couple debarked and we got even luckier as no one else boarded and took their seats. So we each took a side, stretched out and I at least got a reasonably good rest of the night’s rest.
It was Wednesday October 31, Halloween back in the States, when we left behind our hotel in Granada and Steve’s sexual proposition to me, to hopefully move on. While we stuck out our thumbs to try and hitchhike, I wondered what my brother was doing for Halloween, and imagined that he would be at his best friend Greg’s house creating a spooky display to scare the kids that came trick or treating. I also wondered if Alice Cooper would be on TV in honor of the holiday tailor made for his onstage nightmarish persona and antics.
But the Spanish highway did not treat us to any success in that department. After three hours trying to satisfy my travel partner’s wish to at least try to avoid the added expense to him of the train, Steve relented and we headed to the station and boarded an early afternoon train to the southern Spanish city of Malaga. The city was on the Costa del Sol, the “coast of the sun” in English, and after six weeks traveling in mostly cold and wet weather, it sounded heavenly in both Spanish and English.
Monday October 29 1973, some 20 hours after we boarded the overcrowded train in Benicarlo it finally arrived in Granada, our current destination. We had spent the last couple hours sharing a compartment with two of our backpacker cohort, American guys like us headed for this beautiful old city nestled in the hills of the south of the country. When we got to our destination the four of us found a hotel together, their room right next to ours.
Spain continued to not disappoint its billing as heaven for thrifty travellers. We bought delicious freshly baked pastries at a storefront bakery for just five pesetas (that was just ten cents U.S.) each. Dinner with Paella, real steak, and wine for just 110 pesetas each ($2 U.S.). And finally the hotel room, with two beds, tile floor and a small balcony with a stone railing and a great view of the Alhambra on the hill across town, just 160 pesetas ($3 U.S.). Real easy to eat well and sleep in nice lodgings and still stay close to that six dollars a day budget! So we were living relatively grandly for a while. We spent the rest of the day doing nuts and bolts things like buying groceries, cashing traveler’s checks, washing some more clothes, and writing and mailing postcards. These things, in a foreign land where you don’t speak the language, can be a logistical challenge that takes all day.
Thursday October 25 1973 was our last morning in Barcelona. The sun pushing its way through the narrow window of our room in the little pension inspired us to get up early and enjoy being out in its bounty of heat and illumination in this beautiful old Gothic Quarter neighborhood of bricks and stone. We had agreed last night that we would try to hitchhike south to Granada. If I had been travelling on my own I would have used my rail pass to take the train, but Steve did not have one, and he wanted to avoid the expense of the train if at all possible given his limited budget. I certainly appreciated that, having very limited funds myself, beyond that key asset of the pass. And I so enjoyed having a travel partner, at least for my time in Spain.
Other than the difficult hitchhiking, Spain was living up to its advanced billing as heaven for low budget travellers like us, at least in the food and lodging department. We went to a little grocery store across the plaza from our pension and picked up supplies for our anticipated day on the road. I noted the prices in my journal…
Spanish sardines in oil 10 pst
4 (125cl) tubs of strawberry yogurt 32 pst
2 glazed donuts 10 pst
Biscuit cookies 9 pst
100 gm cheese 22 pst
2 bananas 9 pst
6 smallish tomatoes 3.5 pst
1 liter of Coca Cola 15 pst
Total 110.5 pst
As Zo wrapped her arms around my waist and pressed her short but stocky body against mine for a long hug, her wild explosion of red hair, somewhat contained by her ever present red Canadian flag headband with the white maple leaf, gently tickling my chin and cheek. As we momentarily held the embrace, it struck me how connected I felt with this woman that I had only known since yesterday. Though I had always been shy about any physical intimacy with women, Zo had made me almost instantly comfortable with her and I had had no discomfort sleeping very close to her last night, albeit not sleeping together in any sexual sense and with our clothes on sandwiched between our travel companions. My trepidation really was in initiating the physical intimacy, but if circumstances led obviously in that direction, I had no problem being intimate, and really enjoyed it. If only we were in a world that was not so patriarchal and women were more comfortable initiating more intimacy, it would be a boon to a shy male type like me.
So Sunday morning October 21 Steve and I hoisted our packs and walked from the Rue Titon hostel we had been staying at to the main drag that headed out of Paris south towards Lyon, and stuck out our thumbs. I was a bit wistful to leave Giselle and her striking daughter Laurence behind, but was happy to have my new travel partner at my side, even though he was also male and not the subject of my romantic fantasies. Given that biological shortcoming, he seemed a good companion, a bit more gregarious than me, smart, funny and even-keeled, and all with a low ego. He did not seem to have the bouts of moodiness and withdrawal that had plagued my last travel partner Jack.
Standing on the side of a big Paris thoroughfare packed with cars zipping past and lots of pedestrians as well briskly walking by us on the wide sidewalk, I wasn’t sure anyone would pull over and give us a ride. But someone finally did. A young guy, one of our own cohort with his own long hair and bellbottom pants, driving one of the funkiest beat up little runty car I had had the occasion to see in either Europe or the States. Later when I asked him, he told me with a dose of hippie pride that it was a Citroen “Deux Chevaux”. I knew enough French to figure out that that meant “two horses”, and I was ready to believe that the little engine, sounding more like a lawnmower under the front hood, might only be two horsepower (it was actually just nine). It was the cutest little ugly duckling of a car, his with a canvass rollback sunroof, which was closed on that crisp October day. Steve sat in the front passenger seat next to our host while I sat in the semblance of a backseat squeezed next to our two backpacks taking up most of the space along with our driver’s duffle bag and cardboard boxes of random stuff.
It was a Wednesday, October 16, finally a gorgeous fall day after too much cold and rain over the past two weeks of my European travels. From atop the cupola of Sacre Coeur, I looked down at central Paris. My loneliness was medicated somewhat by the dazzling fall weather and a previous evening spent with Giselle, Paul and Laurence, in a big European capital where I was all but anonymous.
As I stood alone on the observation deck and looked off at the city in the distance my mind looked off into the future as well. After I saw Christiane in Tubingen I figured I would have about four more weeks to go to Spain and Italy and end up in Vienna. Once I got there I would have it licked and could arguably say that I had seen Western Europe, and make my way back to England and then back home to the States. It felt a bit unnerving to be planning all this further travel when another part of me just wanted to hop on a train and get my ass back to the States as quickly as possible. I pondered whether that option was undermining my coping with my situation or was instead a helpful crutch.
Given the Noon checkout, I got myself up, stumbled down the hall of the little hotel to the bathroom, hoping it would be unoccupied and have a shower with warm water, which it was and it did. It was the first shower I had had since I left Christiane and Volker’s place in Munich four days ago. The hostels I had stayed at since had all had showers, but none with hot water, and I hated taking cold showers, and preferred to go without, with just a quick bird bath with a moist washcloth instead.
I left Christiane and Volcker at the Munich train station on Wednesday October 10 1973 and headed out by train using my rail pass, on my own again, this time headed to Mainz to take a boat up the Rhine river. I was due to meet my mom’s friend Giselle in Paris in six days and I decided in the interest of time that I would pass on exploring the Black Forest for now. My new plan was to spend a few days touring the great historic river, which separated France from Germany, that Patton’s army breached in World War II with my dad as an artillery platoon leader, and that I had done a report on in sixth grade with ample assistance from my dad. A couple of my fellow young backpackers that I had spent the night with in the Bern train station had suggested that the sightseeing boat ride up the Rhine and then down the Mosel were spectacular.
In the narrow hallway of the train I passed a young adult guy, maybe a few years older than me, wearing an American army uniform, shiny black boots and a beret, which I figured meant he was in some sort of elite unit, maybe airborne. He seemed distracted and distant and did not look me in the eye, even though we had to do an awkward little dance to get around each other in the narrow aisle, me with my big backpack on my back, him moving into a sitting compartment momentarily to let me clomp by in my own not so shiny black hiking boots. I suddenly remembered that the war must still be going on in the Middle East, and though I didn’t think the U.S. was involved directly, since Israel, Syria and Egypt were, then the U.S. and the Soviet Union were probably already active behind the scenes and mustering various forces just in case the other side made some big military move.