This is my memoir in 46 chapters of my 11 weeks backpacking thru Europe in the fall of 1973 at age 18. Though I intended to wear a brand new pair of hiking boots most of the time, they had not been properly broken in, blistering my feet and forcing me to mostly wear my second pair of shoes, a dressier pair of heels that were trendy in the early 1970s, and gave me a kind of strut that revealed a potential new persona. It was an odyssey that to a large degree transformed me from a youth into a young adult. It is written in a more narrative style than my previous autobiographical pieces, and is based on a detailed diary I kept of my journey. I hope you enjoy it and get a sense of the emerging me!
Click on the chapter title to read the chapter…
PART 0: THE ENDEAVOR – The events leading to my good friend Angie and I flying off to England for an ambitious extended journey through Western Europe. It’s the summer of 1973 and best friends Lane and Angie hatch a plan to backpack through Europe together for several months. I’m so taken with the idea that I manage to get invited to join. Lane then drops out and Angie and I plan our trip to Western Europe, living out of backpacks and trying to spend $6 a day.
PART 1: ANGIE – My good friend Angie and I fly from Detroit to London England to begin our planned three month journey through Western Europe. After our first few days in England Angie tells me that it is all too much for her and she decides to stay in London and not continue on to the Continent. I had never intended to take this trip alone and wrestle with whether to continue, now no longer so much excited about an adventure, but afraid of the loss of pride and self respect if I bail on the trip after putting so much money and self esteem into getting there!
PART 2: SOLO – After parting company with my travel companion in London, who I expected to share the entire backpacking thru Europe with, I set off on my own to the continent to Munich where my friends are not in town, it’s the yearly Oktoberfest with all the hostels and hotels full, and I learn to improvise in the moment.
PART 3: CHUR – Hitchhiking with my new travel partner Jack, we head south from Munich to Switzerland to the small town of Chur and a youth hostel where I meet and become friends with several fellow travelers including a young woman I make quite a connection with, and share an encounter with the local police.
PART 4: RAIL PASS – Leaving my comrades behind in Chur, I set out on my own hitchhiking across the Alps, experience the kindness of strangers, and make it to the tiny resort town of Andermatt, when and where I can now use my student rail pass to ride the rail network of Western Europe, which is a skill I learn by trial & error.Encounter more fellow backpackers and an old homeless man in the Bern train station.
PART 5: ANGELICA & HELMUT – In Munich, finally with Angelica and Helmet, I go to a birthday party of one of their friends, drink too much wine, and watch on TV in German news coverage of the start of the Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur war.
PART 6: RIVERS – Leaving Munich, now four weeks into my European odyssey, I ride the tour boats along the Rhine & Mosel rivers, interact with my fellow backpacker young-adult subculture their and wrestle with loneliness, longing home, and a proposition.
PART 7: LOW – I leave Germany for Luxembourg and the low countries to try to see some of the towns and other geography that was represented on the game boards of the military simulation games I had played as a youth. In the process I end up having a very long and soul searching day.
PART 8: PARIS – Still feeling the lonlieness of traveling by myself, and the resulting urge to cut short my trip and head back home, I finally get to Paris to visit Giselle and family, but then on my own feel anonymous in the big city where my youth hostel feels more like a homeless shelter.
PART 9: STEVE – Staying at a youth hostel more like a homeless shelter, I explore the art and architecture of this historic city and find a reprieve for the lonely traveler, a companion to continue my adventures with, at least for the next couple weeks.
PART 10: MAGIC BUS – With my new travel partner Steve and I leave Paris, Giselle and family and we hitchhike to Spain including an overnight ride on the iconic hippie chariot, the VW microbus, with a pair of Canadians who are our fellow travelers, literally and metaphorically. I sleep next to and am eventually smitten by one of them.
PART 11: BARCELONA – Steve and I spend our first 3 days in Spain enjoying the significantly lower prices on food and lodging, and have encounters with new food, sea creatures in the fish market, and one of the 20th century’s most provocative and transformational artists, plus spending a morning together in our underwear, waiting for the entrepreneurial older woman who rented us a room to wash our clothes.
PART 12: ALDEA – Steve and I leave Barcelona and try to hitchhike south to Granada with little success, spending a night sleeping under the stars outside a little Spanish town. But we do get a ride from our Canadian hippie travelers. And then finally giving up wrangle with a 20 hour ride on a very crowded train.
PART 13: GRANADA – I am impressed by the central market particularly all its exotic (for me) fish and discover the Spanish dish of Paella with Calamari on top. Visit the Picasso museum and see the developmental path of this transformational artist. And Steve presents me with a sexual proposition that I have to wrestle with.
PART 14: TORREMOLINOS – After Steve’s rebuffed sexual proposition in Granada we continue our travels together to the ticky tack resort town and enjoy the sun and sea, plus take in the uniquely Spanish spectacle of bullfighting.
PART 15: MADRID – A couple days in Spain’s capital and a visit to the Prado museum enthralled by the stunningly bizarre sexuality of “Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch and a more realistic but explicit nudity in Goya’s “La Maja Desnuda”, plus Goya’s paintings depicting the Spanish people’s struggles against Napoleon’s armies in the early 19th century.
PART 16: WALTER – Steve and I get a ride from an older German businessman who ends up buying us dinner, driving us all the way to Paris and putting us up for the night. The next morning we learn disturbing things about his past, and his dark take on the world.
PART 17: RUE TITON -Returning to Paris we leave Walter behind after his morning Hitler rant and luckily find room at the quite nice Rue Titon hostel we had stayed at before in Paris, checked in by the gorgeous but thoroughly fascist Jeanette. Steve and I go to an Algerian restaurant for dinner but I’m too shy to invite some other of my interesting female backpackers to come with. Steve and I confirm that our paths forward are in different directions.
PART 18: BAR-SUR-AUBE-In the swansong of my travels with Steve, we get stuck sleeping outdoors in the rain and when I head off now on my own the results are nearly disastrous as I lose my passport and rail pass boarding the train to Switzerland.
PART 19A: COMRADE JEN – I come into Italy’s capitol traveling on my own for the first time since partnering with Steve several weeks back and experience the uneven but at times rewarding feelings of being on my own, like meeting new people, including two charismatic Aussie women who I am quite taken with and give me the nickname, the “Coopster”.
PART 19B: ROMA – My second day in Rome, which the Italians call the much suaver “Roma”, I take care of business, including booking my return flight, but also have an unexpected offer from Jen’s partner Sarah.
PART 20: INNER SANCTUM – Continuing my visit to Rome I spend my first day touring the city with new friend and architecture nerd Morgan. The next day I act on good advice from one of my fellow backpackers and end up spending some 20 minutes nearly alone in the Sistine chapel pondering this sanctuary to a religion and a god I have chosen years previously to not believe in. Then from the dome of St. Peters I look out over the Eternal City and realize I am burnt out on seeing the sights of yet another big cities and long instead for what I’ve been told about the wonder of the snowy mountains of Switzerland.
PART 21: TRIX – On a crowded train from Rome to Florence Italy I encounter a very diminutive, charismatic and exotic looking young woman and find sanctuary and comfort in a compartment with her and five other of my fellow backpackers, all women, easily aligning myself with their otherwise all female space and sensibility, and they humorously re-invoking my new “Coopster” nickname.
PART 22: FIRENZE -I get to Florence, whose real name is the much suaver “Firenze”, with a large cohort of fellow backpacker types with many interesting characters among them, including three charismatic young women, who I am taken with, plus three guys from Cleveland who inspire me to think about the dynamics of patriarchy.
PAET 23: SOPHIA – I encounter a sexy older businesswoman on the train from Florence to Venice interested in hearing the stories of my travels to pass the time and sharing a very intimate story of her own. She buys me dinner in the dining car and I ponder the nature of a fair exchange.
PART 24: VENICE – I spend a couple foggy days in this uniquely sensuous and atmospheric lagoon city and am befriended by a character of a Frenchman name Jaques and we witness a forbidden kiss.
PART 25: UNDER THE ALPS – Frayed and homesick after eight weeks of travel, mostly on my own, I take a long train ride from Venice thru a tunnel under the southern Alps headed to the anticipated winter wonderland of Grindelwald, and I ponder who I am and where, if anywhere, I am going with my life.
PART 26: GRINDELWALD – I awaken in the youth hostel in this snowy little paradise in the Alps and come out of my shell some to interact with a crew of interesting fellow backpackers including three guys from Cleveland and two women from Sweden and an afternoon of playing cards, the game of Hearts, and the connections that it built between us, followed by an epiphany at dinner.
PART 27: DOWN THE HILL – A trip down the hill with some romantic flirtations, subtle and not, and a memorable evening in the pub with lots of beer and shared with fellow travelers on life’s adventures, including me stepping forward to lead at an important juncture.
PART 28: VIRGIN – A climax of sort to my whole European odyssey in the mountain resort of Grindelwald with intimate albeit nonsexual encounters with two bigger than life young women and the bigger than life mountains that surrounded all of us.
PART 29: SNOW DAY – The young women in our informal group decide to spend the treasure to ride the unique Cog Railway tunneling up through the mountains to the weather station at the “top of Europe”, while the guys I’ve befriended and I have fun in the snow with some local boys and I have an almost erotic encounter with one of my fellow male backpackers. Later the women return with tales of their journey, a new connection between two of them, and I have regrets of not going with them, and the possible encounter I could have had.
PART 30: BETH – I sadly part most of my backpacker comrades in wonderful little Grindelwald and take the train down to Interlaken to begin my journey back to London and then back to the States. But lucky for me, I am joined by one of those comrades and we share some secrets and have a quiet moment of intimacy together before going our separate ways, she chasing love and me heading home.
PART 31: STARTING HOME – I part company with Beth, the last of my Grindelwald backpacker cohort, and finally face the realization that I am heading home, with all the positive and negative feelings that engenders, including seeing how far I have come in my own development since the early stages of my odyssey.
PART 32: ANGELICA – I return to Munich and am grateful to get put up for the night at the last minute by my young adult family friends Angelica & Helmut. I wrestle with my attraction to Angelica and the boundaries between friends and lovers.
PART 33: HUGO – Tired, sad and homesick, on an overnight train from Munich to Amsterdam on a frigid night, I encounter a man who looks into my soul and tries his best to give me a little taste of home at his home in the little Dutch village of Best.
PART 34: AMSTERDAM – I arrive in this cold, rainy, but beautiful and friendly city, which is a haven for hashish and hippies and find my cohort at the youth hostel, some solace from my troubles, and free beer at the Heineken brewery.
PART 35: OTTO & ANNE – After my first trip to the Heineken brewery and all the wonderful free beer after the tour, now deliciously tipsy, I wander through the streets of Amsterdam and happen to encounter the Anne Frank house museum. I take the tour and am drawn into the life of Anne and her dad Otto, the character I played when my theater group did “The Diary of Anne Frank” the previous spring.
PART 36: HIGH – I awake the next morning at the youth hostel to a brazen offer to smoke hash even before I’m out of bed, which accepted, sends me on a day’s adventure thru Amsterdam with three other backpacker stoners, including an uncomfortable encounter with the ticket agent at the BOAC airlines office to book my plane reservation back to the States.
PART 37: INTIMATE – The rest of that day in Amsterdam after smoking hash first thing in the morning and then drinking a lot of beer at the Heineken brewery. Together with three comrades exploring various venues of the cold rainy but friendly city, including close encounters with Van Gogh’s works, a female backpacking comrade, and a young woman working at the BOAC office.
PART 38: NORTH SEA-I finally part company my fellow stoner types and the “hive mind” we developed at the Christian Youth Hostel in Amsterdam, but not before a wonderful goodbye hug from Gwendolyn. I finally leave the Continent of Europe after nine weeks, starting across the North Sea back to England.
PART 39: MAX – Sharing a bottle of Oude Jenever (Dutch gin) with a hippie rock musician from Los Angeles named Max and a seemingly more straight-laced young woman from Minnesota named Rhonda, sharing our stories and our paths forward on the ferry across the North Sea to Harwich England. A surprise twist when we debark catches me off guard.
PART 40: GREAT BENTLEY – I stay with the couple we traded houses with three years back when we spent the summer in England in 1970. They had now moved outside Colchester and were starting a young family, but I was troubled by the dynamics of that family and particularly the husband’s approach to marriage and parenthood.
PART 41: LONDON – I stop at the American Express office in London to get mail from home. Then I take a bus to Oxford and encounter three young women returning from an office party who have had too much to drink and engage me to make their trip home more interesting.
PART 42: THE CLAYS – Back in the village of Horspath outside Oxford I stay again with the family we lived next to three years back when we lived in England for the summer, a family very active and in tune with each other.
PART 43: KATE & COMPANY – Still staying with the Clay’s, their daughter Kate invites me to join her and here two best friends seeing the new movie “Godspell”, and I get a glimpse of the world and worldview of three young women, though just 2 years my junior, with a very different view of the world!
PART 44: THE COOPSTER – After my final days with the Clays in Oxford I finally take the bus to Heathrow airport and board my plane back to the States and have an insight on an old persona “Clubius” that I am giving up and a new one “The Coopster” that I will now try to inhabit.
PART 45: HOME – My mom and brother bring me home from the airport to find some things changed and some things the same, both uncomfortable in their way, but happy to be home and reconnect with my family.