Home > History, Stories, Trains > Memories of Greece 1963, pt 1

Memories of Greece 1963, pt 1

Is it 50 years ago? Can’t be. Yes, it is.

Steam Train the Flying Scotsman Leaving a Station, January 1963 Photographic Print

Two mates and I won college travel bursaries after our ‘first public exams’ – which in those days counted as ordinary degrees taken after 5 terms. Value: £36 each. So we planned a month away in the summer vacation – destination Greece via everywhere in between. It wasn’t called back-packing in those days; we were just travelling students, advised to sew Union Jacks on our rucksacks so that Johnny Foreigner wouldn’t mistake us for undesirables (!). Such innocent times!

We rendezvoused at London’s Victoria Station with several other student adventurers to take the boat-train to Paris and thence the ‘transcontinental express’ to Milan, eight to a wooden-seated compartment, plus bags and baggage. I suppose we ate and drank too but nothing special comes to mind – except some better-heeled passengers making for the dining car.

After maybe an hour en route south when it was already dark I needed something, maybe water, from my rucksack, which was well-and-truly jammed with the rest on to one of the overhead racks next to the window. I pulled and pulled with the result that there was a very sudden, very loud screeching of brakes as the train came to an abrupt halt in the middle of nowhere. Within no time a small, round, moustachioed, be-uniformed and very irate conductor appeared, screaming at us in French. Luckily one of our number, a nubile young lady, studied French and could translate his rant for my benefit. I could pay a fine now or be put off down the line to be locked up. He also described in vivid terms what had happened in the dining car when the train braked. Not a pretty sight apparently. So I paid up (obviously without too much pain – the fine was far from excessive). I’m sure I could thank my comely interpreter for heading off a more severe punishment.

Next morning (had we really slept?) we were wending our way through the Alpine passes and tunnels and south to Milan, to change trains. This time another fast connection to Brindisi, down on the heel of Italy, and the ferry across the Adriatic, through the spectacular Corinth Canal to Piræus. We could bathe in the sea before we embarked and sun-bathe on the decks of the clanking old ferry which was the first of many we would experience during our travels. So we eventually fell into our beds in a youth hostel in Athens. We had arrived! And that was the last real bed I slept in until I returned home.

…….to be continued

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Categories: History, Stories, Trains
  1. November 6, 2013 at 9:48 am

    Morning Janus.
    Good read, looking forward to the next installment. By coincidence 1963 was the year of my first foreign trip. I joined a brand new ship undergoing fitting out in Vlissingen in the De Shelde shipyard and had three months, all expenses paid, in a hotel ’til the ship was completed. Thought I’d died and gone to heaven 🙂

  2. November 6, 2013 at 9:59 am

    Wow! Holland in 1963 must have been interesting.

  3. November 6, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    jhleck :
    Morning Janus.
    Good read, looking forward to the next installment. By coincidence 1963 was the year of my first foreign trip. I joined a brand new ship undergoing fitting out in Vlissingen in the De Shelde shipyard and had three months, all expenses paid, in a hotel ’til the ship was completed. Thought I’d died and gone to heaven

    I also joined my first Foreign Going Ship in 1963. MV Cape Nelson, Lyle SS Co. In Bidstone Dock Birkenhead. Don’t recall thinking I’d gone to heaven.

  4. November 6, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    Jazz,
    MV London Banker, London and Overseas Freighters. 19,000 ton general cargo. Long since scrapped!
    First trip (tramping) lasted a year, loved it.

  5. November 6, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    Excellent story about the train, Janus! I am looking forward to the next instalment.

  6. November 6, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    jhleck :
    Jazz,
    MV London Banker, London and Overseas Freighters. 19,000 ton general cargo. Long since scrapped!
    First trip (tramping) lasted a year, loved it.

    You mean this London Banker ? A nice looking ship. I did about two months on the ore carrier Cape Nelson before joining Cape York a proper tramp for a 14 month voyage followed by 10 months on Cape Sable (another tramp). They were good days. Wouldn’t want to be at sea now.

  7. November 6, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    Hi, jazz. Nice to see you again.

  8. christinaosborne
    November 6, 2013 at 7:09 pm

    My God, could you really get to Greece for 36.00 then?

    36.00 quid happens to be sticking in my mind because that was the price of a one way bus ticket this summer from Heathrow to Swansea. Also the price of a first class rail ticket to get me back from Swansea to Reading! (And no bloody porters anywhere!)

    Question for Jazz, why wouldn’t you want to be at sea now then? What are the differences?

    Interesting J, look forward to the next episode. I do love other people’s travelogues, always makes me so bloody thankful that I never bothered when I hear the tales, a lovely shivery anticipation of the horror of it all!

  9. November 7, 2013 at 12:38 am

    Jazz,
    That’s the one. Where did you find the picture of her? It’s the best one of her I’ve ever seen. Were you oil or water? Served my apprenticeship on deck.

  10. November 7, 2013 at 7:23 am

    christinaosborne :

    My God, could you really get to Greece for 36.00 then?

    No, no, no, £36 was what it cost each of us to travel and subsist for the whole month!! Yes, really.

    In today’s money, that’s £640. 🙂 And the Pound was almost 3 to the US Dollar and worth a trillion drachmæ !

  11. November 7, 2013 at 8:40 am

    My wages were £6 per month!

  12. sheona
    November 7, 2013 at 10:27 am

    I remember that ferry between Brindisi and the Piraeus in 1969, Janus. All food was included in the ticket price too and all the other passengers seemed to be students as well. Great fun.

  13. November 7, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    jhleck :
    Jazz,
    That’s the one. Where did you find the picture of her? It’s the best one of her I’ve ever seen. Were you oil or water? Served my apprenticeship on deck.

    On Deck.
    The pic came from the Ships Nostalgia Website which has an excellent gallery containing sever London Banker pictures. Beware though, the site is full of fractious ex mariners.

  14. November 7, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    ‘several’

  15. November 7, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    christinaosborne :……………..Question for Jazz, why wouldn’t you want to be at sea now then? What are the differences?

    IMHO No one in their right mind would want to work on a Tanker, Container Ship, Bulk Carrier etc etc. No time in port, not very good pay, indifferent food etc etc. My career at sea was a headlong flight from progress, but it eventually caught up with me and I left.

  16. November 8, 2013 at 10:33 pm

    Janus, I am a bit behind in following the posts but yes, what a start and how exciting!

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