This significant moment boosted my level of maturity
I recently found this little red booklet in my basement. It’s the travel diary I wrote in everyday from June 7th to August 21st,1965. As the pages are only 6.5 cm x 9.5 cm, the entries are cryptic. In
composing this account, I sometimes just copy the entry, e.g. “To Café Royale.” When a vivid memory presents itself, I expand the description. Because that’s the fun of writing memoir.
Setting the Scene
Right after my McGill graduation in 1965, my parents sent me to Europe. Each had travelled there for many months in their 20s, and they wanted me to have similarly broadening experiences. They provided Traveller’s Cheques for me to cash as needed, but extravagance was discouraged.
Why didn’t I travel with my boyfriend? Because polite 1960s Canadian society didn’t approve. It was completely out of the question in that era because we weren’t married. Instead, I would travel with Liz – a McGill friend. We weren’t particularly close, but our personalities meshed well. Neither was bossy or abrasive and we had similar travel budgets. We joined the Youth Hostel association, and bought "Europe on Five Dollars a Day," first printed in 1957.
Spending only five-dollars-a-day sounds crazy now, but the book listed good value hotels, hostels, and restaurants appealing to travellers on a budget. I tracked money spent every day and will share these hilariously tiny daily totals as I write. My Eurail Pass bought in Canada covered all train travel, so intercity fares had been paid beforehand.
This excerpt from my little red travel diary begins about two-thirds of the way through the trip.
A Fork in the Road
Periodically, Liz and I discussed our future itinerary. It became apparent that we wanted to diverge
– she wanted to return to France to see places where cave dwellers had done drawings. I had contacts in Oslo, Norway so felt drawn to head to Scandinavia. We were still getting along, but it became a logistics issue.
Knowing that my parents would be mortified at the thought of their naïve 20-year-old daughter floating around Europe all by herself, I wrote to explain in detail the route I would take and whom I would visit in each place. (I wrote on paper, of course, affixing an air-mail stamp. It would take about a week to reach them in Montreal.)
Liz and I hugged warmly and parted on Sunday, August 8th in Lausanne, Switzerland. My first stop was an afternoon in Neuchatel, home of the well-known boarding school where a cousin had studied. I didn’t know anyone there, but it sounded small and friendly. Then to Basle, where I had the phone number of a distant English cousin. Nobody home. Wandered around and settled in a sweet little hotel. Thought it wise to eat dinner very early and be safely locked in my room by 7 pm, so that became my habit during this travelling-solo phase. ($4.78)
Breakfasted in hotel, and took train to Frankfurt, then Wurzburg, Germany. Explored until the youth hostel opened at 5 pm. Beautifully clean. ($2.75) The medieval walled village of Rothenburg ob der Tauber was on Dad’s must-see list so I visited for the day, spending time with a couple I met on the train. After coffee with boy from Berlin, took bus back to Wurzburg. Slept in hostel. ($1.46)
Wednesday, August 10th - Took a 5-hour train ride to Hamburg. Boyfriend’s fraternity brother working there for the summer, so I called him upon arrival. Nobody home. I began a slightly scary hunt for a place to stay. Found a row of cheap hotels near the train station and went from door-to-door asking for “Ein zimmer – ein nacht.” (One room for one night). The only German I spoke. Finally found one. Very early dinner in rough neighbourhood, tucked up by 6:30 pm. ($4.32)
Train to Copenhagen took over five hours. Met American boy named Peter. I checked into the youth hostel. Tea at sidewalk café with Peter. Tried to find him a room, but he decided to fly to Amsterdam later that night. To the famous Tivoli Gardens where we ate a yummy dinner outside. To Café Royale, filled with Danes. He walked me back to the hostel holding hands. Talked about our respective
loves back home until 3:30 am! ($2.53) No idea where Peter slept.
Here I was in Denmark and my contacts lived in Oslo, Norway. When Liz and I parted I’d planned to go all that way to see them, but when I realized the train/ferry journey would take over 10 hours I cancelled that idea. Actually, I connected with none of the people I’d listed in my letter to Mum and Dad!
Breakfast at hostel. Before starting to explore Copenhagen, did some handwashing in the only sink available – which was very small. Washing my turquoise knit sleeveless dress was a challenge. When wringing out the water, I squeezed from the top and then gradually down to the hem. The weight of all this water stretched out the fabric and made the dress VERY long – to the floor instead of stopping above my knee! Took it home unworn.
Walked around, tram tour of whole city. Saw Little Mermaid statue – surprisingly small beside the harbour. Rested at hostel then window shopped until met an American Jeff at Tivoli. To watch Eartha Kitt. Beer. Home. ($3.13)
Told to leave the hostel due to Israelis. (Why?) Moved to another hostel with 74 in one room! To Church of the Saviour – climbed to top of the spire. To Christiansborg Palace. To Botanical Gardens. Depressed by news of escalating Vietnam War, wrote boyfriend a frightened letter. To dance at Student’s Club. Home with Don (Texan). ($3.60)
To St. Alban’s church. To National Museum. Met Yvonne, to lunch together at Student Club. Yummy open-faced sandwiches. All this time I was carrying my Swiss wooden walking stick from city to city. It had served its purpose and it was time to dispose of it, which was easier said than done. Whenever I’d leave it in a park, a kind non-English-speaking stranger would rush after me with it. I finally pretended to make a call in a phone booth. I left the stick leaning in the corner and walked happily away. Rested at hostel, boarded the night train to Amsterdam. ($1.78)
Each train compartment sat six, three facing in each direction, with a glass-paned door that slid shut. The best way to sleep, without paying extra for a sleeping car bunk, was to find an empty compartment.
Delightedly I found one. At some point during this voyage a man came into my compartment and began touching my arm. I woke up suddenly and loudly told him to “Get out of here. Leave me alone!” He did.
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Reading this diary in 2023, I’m struck by my careful, early-to-bed habits and the variety of people with whom I interact. If the train compartment incident had been a sexual assault, I would have remembered. Thank God that guy was just a nuisance.