Friday, March 5, 2021

European Adventure

28th Nov 1976 It's a small world and it proved to be true when I met an Australian girl named Susan in the same flight who new Victor Liow who was already in Australia. Aeroflot was the cheapest way to get to Europe & so the sub-standard service and travel inconvenience was not a bitter surprise. There were two stopovers, in Karachi & Moscow. I was quite excited about going to Moscow and was hoping for an extensive delay, which was not uncommon, so that a trip round the city might be arranged which was also not uncommon. On arrival, the temperature was below -10 degrees & transfers from the plane to the airport lounge by bus was my first experience of winter. The whole airport was covered with snow, there was was a heavy overcast and the scenery was very Antarctic. A few minutes out in the open corridors to the lounge was a good lesson to me of what biting cold meant. Yet one could noticeably see Russian guards standing in attention in a number of paces on the tarmac of the airport, with their fur coats. The customs & immigration procedure was pretty militarized and I was confined in the airport lounge for 4 hours before another plane was ready to take us to London. I was glad to leave the 'Artic Station' to see a real city of the world.

London was exactly what I expected it to be from the moment I touched down at Heathrow airport. The clearing of passengers though customs & immigration was very efficient and soon I was already on a double decker bus on the highway to the city, I kept whispering to myself, this is it. I'm here, I'm here! Here I was, passing through the greyish suburbs of London with it's very old English character jut like what the British television serials projected. I had seen enough postcards from my brother Sun Ming who was last in England & it was a picture come alive to me.




Video recorded in 1969, 7 years before my trip to London, compliments of Michael Rogge, who crossed by boat to London from Belgium.

My time in London was spent like a typical tourist although instead of hotels, I had friends to stay with, particularly, Liu Kim Hock at Flat 3, 37, Brodesbury Park London N.W.6 with the kind hospitality of his Aunty & Uncle. In less than a week, I had settled down & made plans to start my journey in the European continent. Seeing as much as possible in London and meeting Kuan Kah Soon & Koh Yap Yew plus others from our gang of 'Science Two' from school.  Purchasing a rail ticket for £10, I left Victoria Station for Paris at night, crossing the English Channel to another world of the French

8th Dec 1976 Arriving in Paris, Gare de Lest station, I soon found my way to the Latin Quarter, St Germain area using the French equivalent of the British underground rail system called Metro. Here was when I actually started using a most invaluable book i had purchased in KL, Ken Welsh Hitch-Hiker's Guide to Europe which showed me the cheapest way to travel and what to see. I was my bible throughout the trip which guided me to cheap accommodation & places of interest. All I had to do was locate the place in the map and find a way of getting there.

Once in Paris, one could feel the richness of its culture from the buildings, the people &  many museums. The Lourve for me had a great collection of paintings & sculptures. It was a thrill to see the original Mona Lisa painting & the Tahitian paintings of Gauguin I had read of in literature. Paris is a good walking city with wide side-walks and many magnificent landmarks to appreciate eg. Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame cathedral etc. Although there was much to see or do, it was a lonely place for me mainly because of the language barrier. The French don't speak very much English and the only ones who do are mainly migrants from Africa eg. Senegal, Tunisia etc & Asia. So I met a Tunisian student , Ziouzion Mustapha who took me around the Paris Universitaire. His last address was poste Res Tante, Paris 25. Then a casual stranger named Malik whom I met in a tavern invited me to his flat in Rotterdam Holland at Compagnie Straat 21c. I accepted his kind invitation and did in fact stay with him & his Pakistani clan.

After having seen enough monuments or museums and discouraged by the lack of communication, I felt it was time to leave. After paying 112 Francs for 4 days accommodation alone & seeing the famous sights, I was back on the train again to Geneve, Switzerland. At this point I had exactly 21 days to use my Eurail pass which allowed me to travel anywhere in Europe by 1st class rail. I had planned to travel in an anti-clockwise direction, going down as far as Italy, head north to Scandinavia & back to the countries by the coast. Time was a limiting factor so none was wasted. I would would travel in the night time, saving cost & precious time, arriving in a new country & city fresh in the morning. Travelling by rail is really vey convenient as it brings you to the centre of the city, and the stations have 24hr facilities such as money changers, information counters, telephones, restaurant etc.

After while, the arrival became a routine where I would first look up my travel bible for places of accommodation. After selecting a few, I would hop off the train & head to the money changer for local currency. Then I would look for a telephone to enquire if the place is available & choose the closest one to the station, occasionally receiving directions to get there. Next would be the information counter for maps, rail schedule and directions. Travelling by rail was easy enough and everything went according to plan. The plan wasn't a rigid one and was detailed according to my time schedule. I had already decided to see as much as possible of the whole of Europe to get an overview of the place so that next time I would concentrate in a country I had found interesting. So day stops in a city was not unusual and if there was much to see, I would stay a day or more if it was worth it.  Sometimes I had wished I could stay much longer when I met up with some friendly locals or other fellow travelers but I always had to press on. Paris wasn't one such city & so I looked forward to picturesque Switzerland, the fist stopover being in Geneve.

Arrived in Geneve at 7.14am on 7th Dec 76 to find a beautiful & modern city. Stayed in a domitory at Centre Mazaryk, 1 Avenue de la Paix (Tel 220772) for 9 Francs. The day was spent wandering on the premises of the united nation's conference centre & walking by the lake which has the famous Jet D'eau a fantastic spout which hurls water 400 feet into the air. This I expected from the television series "The Champions" but unfortunately it wasn't turned on! While in the railway station I just happened to talk to a chap who had returned from the mountains, a place called Zermatt near the Matterhorn. He recommended the place and I caught the next early morning train there to Visp where another line ascended up the mountains. It was an exhilarating ride up a narrow track to the village. On the train, i met Karen & Susan from USA who knew of a chalet called Tony house which was very cheap. It was indeed and we met other Americans & Australians there who were keen skiers. There was this Aussie chap who had a weekly ticket chatting about his close encounters. I found out he was at the end of his 2 year holiday which gave me an impression of the people of Australia whom I was to live with for 3 years.

Early next morning, eight of us from the chalet went cross-country skiing up in a course at Fari. There was plenty of fresh snow and it was snowing all day too. This was my first experience on skis and with a bit of reading the night before, I handled them quite well. Unlike downhill skiing which involves speed, Nordic skiing as it's also called was like walking. I just had to follow the dual tracks in the course, finding little slopes the hardest to cross over. This we did all day and occasionally I admired the line of skiers coming down the slope of a mountain in the background. They were beautiful to watch and here I was going round and round an almost flat course, tripping myself into deep snow many a time. However I had my chance going downhill but it was along an icy track/road to the village. It was a windy track of about 3 miles and I went round the corners by side stepping, sometimes going too fast and had to fall on my backside to get enough resistance to stop or crash into the inner side for safety or else it's a pretty steep drop. We all got back to Tony House in one piece and there was to be a party that night. With great regret, I had to leave that night at 6.30pm to head to Rome through Visp, Brig & Milano.

10th Dec 76 Arrived in Rome at 800hrs. After the normal routine in the station, I headed in the direction towards the right of the station and found Hotel Pensione for 8,000 lires for 2 nights accommodation. Rome has the air of an ancient city full of history. Its historic building and sites are well kept such as the Colosseum(under preservation), the Catacombs, St Peter's Cathedral & Sistine Chapel. I observed the people are closer to Asians in way of life than the Europeans and their drivers are equal maniacs to the KL drivers. Their round-abouts are very wide with cobbled stone roads and this is where the drivers show their worth, crisscrossing the area with all furiosity, sometimes driving across 8-9 cars in width. Mopeds or motorized bicycles are a very common sight in the city as in most other European cities.

11 Dec Took a day trip to Naples(Napolli) & then Pompei, a large city of ruins. The city could fascinate even the least interested in archaeology as myself but its size and preservation, after being completely buried by a eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.

Spending almost half a day walking the cobbled streets I then took a private railway line, having to pay for the journey as Eurail pass was only valid on State owned lines, to the famous resort town of Sorrento. Arrived there are 1600hrs finding quite a deserted place as it was quite cold in winter. Rough seas and the late hour prevented hour prevented me t visit the fabulous island of Capri. So it was back to Rome by rail and I spent most of the time writing letters home with great difficulty due to the constant vibration. I was more fortunate this tie to get a seat as I stood most of the way from Rome. Italian trains are somehow more crowded and not as punctual as the European trains.

12th Dec Left Rome for Florence. On arrival at Florence it was a toss between going to Pisa(leaning tower) and sight seeing around Florence or heading to Venice on the next train. I chose the latter due to the limiting time factor, leaving Florence at 1700hrs for Venice & arriving at 2100hrs. While leaving the station I met two American girls named Kim & Shano who were also looking for accommodation at the late hour. Somehow we got separated and I happened to run into a man who was also seeking for accommodation for the night because he had missed his train. He offered to share a room to save cost and though I was very suspicious of the whole situation I accepted. For the whole night, I was quite uneasy and made sure all my valuables were in contact with me. I had read enough of travelers being ripped off in Europe and I wasn't going to be another one. The man retired to bed quite early at night because he was to catch an early morning train. I went out during the night for some supper & to look around still worried about the whole thing. When I returned to the room, he was fast asleep & when I woke up in the morning, he was gone. I didn't lose anything and so he must have been genuine after all. On the following day, I met up with the 2 girls again & we toured the place together, visiting St Maro's tower & Murano island by boat to see the glass makers. I had checked out of the hotel & left my pack where the girls had stayed. After an eventful day, enjoying the pleasant atmosphere of Venice free from traffic & pollution, I was on the move again for Vienna, Austria, leaving at 2005 hrs.

14th Dec On the train, there was a group of lively Americans, Africans, Canadians etc. & we had fun singing with a guitar. On the train, I also met a group of Italian soldiers of the Alpine troops, patrolling the border of Italy & Austria who were equally lively and offered their home made wine in a 2 gallon container to me. I plainly refused by manifested interest in their hats they were wearing which had a feather on it. I managed to persuade one of them to sell it to me for a reasonable price which he did. Soon their stop came and I waved good bye to them as they marched off into the woods. None of them spoke English and it was through sign language that we communicated with much laughter.

Arrived in Vienna at 0655 hours where I had to split with the others whom I had met on the train to stay in Meidling Kopinghaus for 45 schillings a night. This place was sort of a home for the poor & lonely as I found I was given a bed in a room/dormitory with others who were permanent there. Having to share a room with others, I was once again put on guard and was extra careful with my valuables. I had my meals there by purchasing tickets, which fed me well with lots of potatoes. Such were the advantages of staying in such a place which was opened to travelers. In my room I met two characters who spoke fluent English. One was always dressed in a dark suit with an unshaven face and I think he referred himself as an artist, a pretty poor one I must add. One morning as he got out of bed in his suit, he dug into his pockets to see how much he had & was delighted to find a coin. The other man was older and looked very self sufficient & responsible. He would sit on his stool & polish his shoes continuously. Often he would remark that the other fellow was a hopeless bum & would stir everybody awake in the early hours of the morning when he came back from his nightly stroll. I haven't heard him when I was there possibly because I am such a heavy sleeper myself. I had 2 whole days in Vienna & visited the St.Stephans cathedral, going up to the tower & visited an amusement park having the largest Ferris wheel in the World, in Prater.

15th Dec Left for Munich(München) at 0900 hrs through Salzburg where I changed trains as I had missed the direct at 0830hrs, having overslept! Arrived in Munich at 1600hrs & checked into International Haus. Here was another dormitory which I had soon got used to except I was the only occupant this time. After dinner I wandered around Muchener Freheit area and ran into a red light area. I was so overcome by the legality of the business that I did not solicit to any of the attractively painted women. I soon discovered that prostitution was legal throughout the country!

On the following day, at 0930hrs I followed a group of students from Pforheim, who were staying in the same place, to the Olympic Park. The teacher even paid for my entrance & soon I got to mix with some of the students. There was Urich Schaible of Landhausstrase 40, 7530 Pforheim Tel 07231/392556, Christa Hokel of Auf der Hohe 24, 7530 Pforzheim/Eutrugeu & Andrew Pfister, W-Rathenau Str 34 7530 Pforzheim Tel 07231/72520 We had lunch together in the city after visiting the Olympic Park. This was where we took photos of the group, exchanged addresses & promise to write to one another. Returning to the hostel, I found an American named Ernest A. Lavote of 65, Leyte Rd, Fitchbury, Massachusetts Zip 07420 Tel 342-7639, sharing the room and we went out together that night. Visiting the various pubs to meet the locals, on our last visit, a huge man offered us a drink that we could not refuse. It was only a very small glass & he called it 'corn'. We both drank it down very quickly & it tasted pretty sweet. It was only a matter of seconds before the drink took effect. We wandered out of the pub laughing away, not knowing our sense of direction. What luck it was to find Ulrich & Krista waiting for a bus back to the hostel & we followed them back.

17th Dec  At 1042 hours, I left for Hamburg arriving at 1800hrs. I stayed only for a night at Peace Food domitory for 12 Marks (4 for sheets. Street decorations were up for Christmas and it was already snowing heavily. I bought an Israeli sleeping bag for 79 Marks (RM84) which I still used in Australia

18th Dec At 1821 hrs, I left for Stockholm, Sweden 

19th Dec  Arrived in Stockholm to check into Kfum Hostel for 25 kroners per night for a domitory of 4 beds. Prices are exorbitant in Scandinavia & so this cut short my stay there. The weather too was extremely cold & though I had sufficient warm clothing my feet were constantly frozen to a stage where they hurt which caused me regularly to walk into a heated shop to defrost them & then be on my way again. There were only a few places of interest to visit & I saw the restored warship WASA sunk in 1628.

20th Dec Left Stockholm for Oslo, Norway at 2130 & arrived at 0945 hrs the following day

21st Dec The city appeared very much like Stockholm without many spectacular sites. I left my pack in the station & toured the city mainly to see some Viking Ships in a museum. When night came, I left for Copenhagen at 2240 hrs

22nd Dec Arriving in the morning at 0900 hrs, I went through the same routine at the station & checked into a youth hostel for 31 Kroners (RM15) a night which was supposed to be the cheapest place! Thankfully the weather was warmer. Walking around the city, I felt a bit of the Christmas spirit as most streets were decorated with strings of colored light bulbs.

23rd Dec 1000 hrs Caught a train to Norreport specially to see the little mermaid I had heard so much of. Having had someone take a photograph for me beside the mermaid(which was blurred due to movement!) I discovered many vandals would paint the statue with various colours, I returned to the city & went up the 'Round Tower' to have an aerial view of Copenhagen, with strings of decorations across the streets. It was the Danish Christmas Eve and most places were shut thus I soon ran out of places to go to. I was going to the Carlsberg refinery, hoping to meet Mary's husband(Mary our maid for many years) who worked there but that too was shut. I thought I'd spend a little more that day & had lunch in a Chinese restaurant, pork chop & plenty of rice to fill my hungry stomach.

24th Dec is Christmas day in Denmark. More places were shut & I felt a bit lonely while everyone else was having a family reunion, At 2110 hrs I left Copenhagen on the train to Rotterdam, Holland. Before that I had phoned London to Yap Yew's place to see if there was any letters from home. I was anxious to know my HSC results which were due pretty soon. He wasn't in but his sister was & she read my letter for me very quickly. Message "If you need more cash, phone or send telegram. Received 3 of your letters. Do not rush through Europe. You will come back one day." I was thrilled with the letter so as to forget to ask the date if was written before we were disconnected.

25th Dec on the real Christmas day, in the early hours of the morning at 0730 hrs the train I was on had crossed the border into Holland from Germany which was the same train that began the the journey from Copenhagen Denmark where I had first boarded. I was lying very comfortably across the seat in the 1st class cabin all by myself when the door slid open and I looked up at several faces of uniformed men staring at me. They were immigration/custom officers, I wasn't sure who they were needing my passport on the train as there were no immigration/custom checks so far in my journey on the train. After I had given it to them, they were muttering something among themselves which I could not understand but heard the name "Malaysia" repeated a few times. Suddenly I was asked to get off at the next station, Hengelo. I was then taken to a room and they pulled out almost all my things out of my pack as I watched amusingly. When they had finished, I had to repack it myself. I asked them if the search was normal was normal procedure & the answer was yes. (In my mind, I knew it was yes for Malaysians only!) They were all very polite throughout the whole procedure & referred to me as sir. At 0834 hours they left me at the station to catch the next train which wasn't an express but stopped at all stations plus I had to sit in second class!

I arrived at Rotterdam at 1100 hrs, I had Malik's address who invited me to his home when I met him in Paris. As i got out of the station, I started to get my directions and asked an old man how to get to Compagnie Straat. The old man insisted he was going he was going that way & walked me right to the door step. I was immediately impressed with the friendliness & hospitality of the Dutch people.

I decided to make a day trip to Amsterdam as it was only less than an hour's ride by train to return to Malik's home at night where I was invited for dinner. In Amsterdam, I took a canal tour of the city. Things were again very quiet & it was difficult to fill in time, so I went to see a movie. As I was walking along in one street, a Negro came up to me and asked if I had any "Pak Fun"(white powder) which I knew he meant drugs! So now I realize why the custom officers were so thorough in their search & I suppose Malaysians did not have a very good record of drug offences as a supplier!

In the evening, at Malik's place, we had a small gathering consisting of Malik's Pakistani friends. It was curry & rice for dinner, a real delight for me.

For the remainder of the trip, I was already getting already a bit weary of travelling. I rushed through Luxembourg & Belgium to recall spending more  time watching movies! Suddenly I just felt homesick & was looking forward anxiously to return to London where I had started. Crossing the channel & arriving at Victoria station, I made my way to Kim Hock's apartment and that ended my European adventure.

I had about more than 2 weeks in London which I used up to visit all my classmates from secondary school of Form 4 & 5 Science 2. I went as far as Luton to visit our 4 Science 2 class chairman Leong Kwok Hung with other Science tworians & thus had a little reunion group at his flat.


Besides visiting the popular tourist sites, I took the opportunity of going to the theatres of West End(Soho) & was impressed by the length of period some some of the live stage productions lasted. Many I was informed, were performing in the same place for over 10 years! I personally saw 'Jesus Christ Superstar' & towards the end of my stay in London,  I invited Kim Hock & both his aunty & uncle to see "Chorus Line". This was a gesture of thanks for the wonderful hospitality they had given me while I was in their flat for a good three weeks.

One night, I rang home from London, mainly to enquire the results of my HSC examinations. I had obtained 3 Bs & a C, my father informed me. Besides being overjoyed with the results, as it was achieved in one matriculation year from switching from a Pure Science stream curriculum at school to what is considered the Arts stream. This was necessary in order to qualify to be a Chartered Accountant where I had to study for the first time new subjects like accounting & economics in one year with help that the other two subjects of math and biology was a breeze for me.

Hearing the voice of my parents made me more homesick than ever! I really wanted to go home in a hurry. As the Australian semester starts in February as their long summer holidays are at the year end, I didn't have much time to spend with my parents in Kuala Lumpur before I would leave home again. This leads to another story of my flight to Australia after my trip to Europe that is shared here. 

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