I impressed myself by finding my way back to the Gare De Lyon station for my overnight trip to Marseille, but once inside I could only stand in a dazed state of confusion bordering on panic. People, platforms, more people, exits, entrances, signs in French … I had no idea where my train might be hiding and was terrified I’d board the wrong one and end up who knows where! I tried asking a few people for directions, but their response was the usual Parisienne shrug.

Then, my knight in shining armour materialised. 

Not only did Jean Louis speak a little English, he was on leave from the air force and on his way home to Marseilles. He took my suitcase, accompanied me to the train and located my compartment.

As we pulled out of Paris I stretched out on my couchette – I would have called a bunk bed, but couchette certainly sounded more exotic – content in the knowledge I was indeed heading to Marseille and not back to London with a side trip to Turkey.

Suddenly, the other 5 people in the compartment all started addressing me in French. I had no clue what they were saying, so responded with the Parisienne shrug and “no francaise. Parle anglaise? ” That really set them off. They started yelling and waving their arms about in a most alarming manner. Suspecting my life might be in danger, I made a hasty exit and took off down the narrow corridor hoping to find Jean Louis. Fortunately, he responded to my call and once again came to my rescue. We arrived back in my compartment and a 6 way conversation revealed that my crime, no doubt punishable by guillotine, had been to occupy the wrong couchette! All was solved and once again, peace reigned supreme on a night train rattling through France.

Well, all was quiet at least until the people in my compartment got hungry at about 2am. Then they all started talking, singing and sharing food and wine around. Of course (and perhaps fortunately, based on the smell) none was offered to the ignorant couchette-stealing foreigner!

It was still pitch dark when we came to a ear-piercing, metal grinding halt in Marseilles at 5.15 am. I staggered sleepily down the steep steps onto the platform and wondered how I would fill in the time until daybreak, but my luck was in. Jean-Louis caught up with me and said (I think) that it was not safe for a girl to walk around Marseilles in the dark. He helped me store my suitcase in a station locker, explained to me how to retrieve it, then escorted me to a cafe, bought coffee and pastries and stayed with me until it grew light.

That was to be the first of many kind gestures I would encounter from strangers during the months I spent on the continent. We left the cafe at daybreak and exchanged a kiss on each cheek, then Jean Louis and I said goodbye and good luck on a deserted wind-swept street at around

We were never to cross paths again, but I’ll never forget his kindness.

It was early March. I shivered in the icy wind coming off the Mediterranean. Then I reminded myself where I was! This was the south of France! I’d seen the Pacific and the Atlantic, and now, I was about to see the Mediterranean. I remembered the words of an old song …

I’ve seen the Pacific and the Atlantic

and the Pacific isn’t terrific

and the Atlantic isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

Well, I loved ’em all!

I had only allocated a half a day in Marseilles and wondered if it was enough, but after Jean Louis went on his way, I wandered around for a few hours and thought I’d seen it all. My train wasn’t due to leave until 11am, so at around 9o’clock I decided to visit the imposing Notre Dame de la Garde monastery that overlooked the city.

I asked a man how to get to it— or rather, I shrugged and pointed to a bus and said “Notre-Dame?” and he wrote #59 on a piece of paper. I could only hope we understood each other.  I jumped on a number 59 bus and when I disembarked, I found myself in a whole other world … a town built entirely on the side of the cliff.

It looked as though the 20th century had never touched it. Old stone houses crowded together on both sides of narrow winding streets. It was so steep that each house was above instead of behind the other. I had to climb about 50 cobble-stone steps between each street.

The shops had craftsmen working on their wares in shopfront windows—cobblers making shoes, tailors sewing suits, glass blowers, potters, milliners, etc.

The sky was a glorious vivid blue. and The air was so clear I could see right over Marseille, across an expanse of the Mediterranean and as far as the mountains of northern Italy! Breathtaking!

Time stood still as I wandered around in awe of this ‘Brigadoon’ type township. I was so entranced, I forgot my original intention had been to visit the monastery. Suddenly I realised it was time to head back to the station.

I could have kicked myself for not heading up there earlier. Perhaps … another time.

I collected my suitcase, unaided. I boarded the correct train – again, totally unaided. I settled into a window seat and silently congratulated myself. Yes, I was starting to get good at this!

Next stop, just 3 hours away, was the famous French Riviera! Yippee! What a life!

franceFrench RivieraMarseilles

PARIS (part 2)

I was awoken by the shrill ring of the telephone. How does one answer the phone in Paris, France, I wondered. I picked it up and before I could come up with a French word that sounded like ‘hello’, a woman started prattling on in high-speed French until I interrupted her and said “I’m sorry, non parlay .. um … French. “

So she hung up!

I had no idea who it was or what she wanted, but a few minutes later there was a knock on the door and I was handed a tray with the longest bread roll I had ever seen  (french stick), accompanied by lots of butter and marmalade, and a big pot of hot coffee.

My tray also included the newspaper, Figaro, which gave me a giggle. It seemed like a lifetime ago – but had only been five years earlier –  that I had written asking them to print my letter in the hope of finding a penpal there.

I already corresponded regularly with about 20 penpals around the world, but there was always room for more. l received an avalanche of letters in response to my ad. Every envelope I excitedly ripped open contained pages of scrawled French. I never did get a French penpal.

There was also a street map of Paris and one of the Paris Metro on the tray. No doubt they figured that my inability to speak their language meant I’d become hopelessly lost. How thoughtful, but frankly, just looking at the chaotic Metro (underground railway) made my brain hurt after being familiar with the organized and simplified map of the British system.

After my delicious breakfast, I headed off to see the sights. With only one day to cover everything, I decided to book a Cityrama bus tour. On the way to join it, I stopped at a souvenir shop to buy an Australian badge to pin on my jacket to let people know I was merely an ignorant tourist and was not responsible for my mistakes, but they didn’t have an Aussie one. I thought promoting myself as British might be asking for trouble, so I opted for USA and it worked!  I occasionally got a smile when I asked “parlay anglaize?” Just a smile. Then a shrug and a head shake.

Chandris facebook memberJennifer Bowler worked in Paris as a waitress at the Sheraton Hotel and apparently didn’t have the problems I had making herself understood. In fact, she even taught one of the French waitresses to speak Aussie when a group of Australian ladies arrived for a meal. The waitress greeted them “G’day, Ow ya gowin?” The Aussies loved it and insisted on meeting the teacher, then promised to call Jennifer’s parents once they were back in Australia.

The 3 hour bus tour was expensive – 23 francs (about $2) but hang the expense, it was worth it.  Earphones provided  commentary in every language with the mere push of a button. Wow, talk about high tech! How I wished I had one of those wherever I went. It really helped bring Paris to life. I learnt that nearly everything here has something to do with Napoleon, and if not, one of the Louis’. It seems there were hundreds of those.

We had a brief stop at the Eiffel Tower, but were not permitted to leave the bus due to the light snow, so I could only take a photo through the window. I’m still amazed that the Europeans I’ve encountered so far all seem terrified of a little dampness! Still, I was excited to see it even from that distance, it was like one of my old swap cards had come to life.

We viewed the Palace d’Opera, the Place de la Concorde, Avenue Champs Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe (which I’d already seen in all its glory last night ), but the rain and occasional snow prevented most passengers from disembarking for a closer look at anything. I was also excited to see Notre-Dame cathedral and tried to imagine Quasimodo swinging from pillar to post.

It’s a pretty city, although I confess I found some parts drab and uninteresting, and some too ostentatious for my taste.

At the end of the tour we were all presented with a voucher to collect a bottle of perfume. Whacko, Real French perfume! It smelt glorious, but of course, the bottle was so tiny that I dared not remove the cap in case the few drops inside evaporated.

I doubt some of the participants on one of Chandris member Neville Fenn’s tours smelt like French perfume.

Neville took some of his tour group on a trip through the Paris sewerage system! One has to wonder why, but according to Neville, they enjoyed it immensely, even when a large rat ran over one girl’s foot and her shriek echoed throughout the tunnels.Then, in Neville’s own words: “when the guide showed us the ladder that Louis XVI climbed to his execution at the Guillotine, I started to climb it. A couple of the girls made a grab at me and screamed that they were worried about the guillotine at the top. Of course, all three fell in. They spent an hour or more wandering around Paris wearing what was definitely not a Christian Dior perfume … perhaps more like Eau de Sewerage d’Paris … until they made it back to the camp and were able to shower and change their clothes.

Chandris facebook member Brenda Broad opted for something a little more glamorous than a sewererage system. In May 1979, Brenda was only 22 and travelling alone, so she chose the security of a Contiki tour. They visited the Palais de Versailles and she became so engrossed, she didn’t realize her watch was slow. She hurriedly headed off to re-board the bus, but could only stand and watch as it disappeared down the road.

Did she panic? Not our Brenda! In her words: “Using my limited school French, I asked directions from a French lady, a policeman, a bus driver and beautiful Dutch woman. I travelled by foot, bus and metro to the Champs Élysées, eating lunch on the way. I walked up to the Arc de Triomph where I ran into a fellow passenger who told me where to meet the bus later. I then had such a lovely time wandering down to the Louvre through the Jardin Drs Tuileries.”

I was brave, too … well, at least a little. After my Citirama tour was over, I dared to spend the afternoon walking around Paris alone, without anyone to guide me or translate for me. Apart from a quick walk around the block the previous night, this was my first time alone in a European city where English was not the native tongue! I headed in the direction of what I hoped was the left bank … and incredibly, I found it! Or perhaps it found me! For centuries this area has been home to philosophers, students and intellectuals, including writers Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, Sartre and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and artists Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. I was totally charmed by the cobbled streets, the open air markets and the quaint art-deco houses, their balconies adorned with pots of brightly-coloured flowers. It was still snowing lightly, yet people were in the streets, talking, laughing, hugging, even drinking coffee in open air cafes, fearlessly exposing themselves to the dreaded swirling snowflakes. This was the Paris I’d hoped to find.

Everyone seemed friendlier than in the more expensive part of Paris, and I was fascinated to see men kissing each other on the cheek 3 times on meeting! It was certainly not something men would dare to do back home and I found it utterly enchanting.

I fell head over heels in love with the policemen in their flat caps and capes, and when I asked one for directions, what a delight it was to hear him reply in English. He sounded like Maurice Chevalier and I almost expected him to launch into a rendition of Thank Heavens for Little Girls. 

My train was due to leave at 8.40pm and as I wouldn’t be arriving in Marseilles until 5.15am, I booked a couchette (2nd class sleeper) for 20 francs (about $3).

French Riviera … here I come! YAY!

Photo by Kay McEwen

You can read the ‘story behind the story’ in ‘Yesterday: A Baby Boomer’s Rite of Passage’. available at Amazon and all good online bookshops.

PARIS (part 1)

March 8, 1970 …

It’s finally happening. I can hardly believe it! Paris, here I come!!!

The train pulled out of Victoria station at 10.30 on Sunday morning, heading for Dover and the ferry to Calais. I wondered if I’d see the cliffs and wished I had someone to sing the song with if we sailed past them. I wasn’t brave enough to sing all alone … with my non-melodious voice I’d probably get thrown overboard! 

I could barely believe that soon I’d be in Paris! My English friends had warned me that the French are very anti-British and no-one there spoke English, even if they knew how.

I wondered how many English people would respond to a Frenchman asking directions in French in London and suspected there were as many anti-French English people as there might be anti-English French people!

Even so, this was going to be an interesting experience. Other than ‘merci’ and ‘bonjour’, I spoke no French whatsoever, so how would I be able to communicate? Apart from the ship’s ports of call (where almost everyone spoke English because their livelihood depended on it), this would be only my second foreign-speaking country. But Rotterdam didn’t really count. I had Peter to translate for me.

The ferry took just over an hour to reach Calais. Oh the joys of being back at sea again! And yes, I saw the cliffs. There wasn’t a bluebird in sight, but I hummed quietly under my breath anyway.

I boarded the train at Calais and arrived in Gay Paree at 7pm. American Express said I’d have no problem finding accommodation during off season, so I hadn’t made any bookings.

As they advised, I went straight to the tourist office in the station.

” Monsieur, I am looking for hotel tonight ….”

“No. None.” He moved further down the counter.

“Monsieur, please,” I hurried after him, “I need hotel, can you tell me ….”

“No English!” he snapped.

“No hotel for English?” I asked meekly.

“No speak Anglais.” And with that, he strode away and disappeared through a door behind the counter, leaving me standing, alone and worried, with only a bulky suitcase for company.

I walked around Paris for a while, now feeling far less excited about being there as night began to close in. Snowflakes swirled around me, some landing on my nose or cheek. I fought hard to retain my excitement … this was Paris, it was snowing, I was here! … but I had nowhere to sleep tonight, and no idea where to go or who to ask or even HOW to ask.

I eventually found a big fancy hotel, shyly entered and nervously approached the front desk to inquire about their room rates.  As expected, they were way beyond my budget. At least I had found someone – perhaps the only person in Paris – who admitted to understanding English! That gave me hope there may be others.

The manager was charming and helpful. He phoned a less-expensive hotel, booked a room with breakfast for around $2 per night, drew directions on a notepad and waved me off with a smile.

Fortunately, the Hotel Metropole was only a block away.

Now I could wander around Paris without worrying about where I’d be sleeping in tonight, and without lugging a heavy suitcase. I confess, I’d been eyeing off railway bridges and shop doorways.

I dumped my suitcase in my room and ventured out to greet the famous city with a little more enthusiasm but limited myself to the same block so I could eventually find my way back. I turned a corner and suddenly found myself slap bang in the middle of the Champs Elysees. It seemed to go on forever. Shops, theatres, cars buzzing past, people shopping, wandering, rushing, strolling, eating in outdoor cafes, and just a little way further down, there was the famous Arc de Triomphe all lit up and looking so beautiful it almost took my breath away.

Yes! I was in Paris!

I found a small cafe in a narrow side street and nervously entered. A waiter brought me a menu. Nothing was in English! I didn’t want to order snails by mistake, but fortunately I recognized the word ‘omelette.’

“Omelette, merci” I said confidently as though I had lived in Paris for years.

“Huh?” he said with a quizzical expression.

I pointed to the word on the menu. “Ah, omma-lettt-eh! Oui.” he nodded.

Then he asked me a question. Oh dear. I looked at him. He looked back at me. There was a long, uncomfortable silence. Finally I said “non parlay Francais.”

After another long pause, I meekly enquired, “Parlay Anglais?” 

He shrugged and walked away.

Why hadn’t I listened to my friends in London and bought a French-English dictionary? I had no idea what to do now! Should I sit and wait, or beg another waiter to serve me? Perhaps I should just leave quickly before someone called the French Foreign Legion to come and evict an arrogant customer who dared to enter a Parisienne eating establishment and then positively refuse to converse in French?

Thankfully, the waiter returned a short time later (although it seemed like hours) with … yes, an omelette! On a plate. Just a small, pale yellow omelette on a large white dinner plate. No chips. No salad. Not even grated cheese or a sprig of parsley on top!

Perhaps that’s what he’d asked me! Oh well, at least it wasn’t frog’s legs!

Chandris facebook page member, Neville Fenn recalls that on one of the many occasions he’d taken a bus-load of eager travellers to Paris, a pending snow storm convinced them to pack up camp and drive through the night to Barcelona. But first, they agreed to dine in style at a Parisienne restaurant.

The hungry group thoroughly enjoyed their meal and headed off into the night, only to meet the storm head on about two hours later. Pulling over to let it pass, they began discussing their delicious  dinner and asked Neville what they’d eaten.

When Neville told them the truth …  that they’d hungrily scoffed crumbed frogs legs and grilled escargots for starters, and that the steak they’d devoured was actually horse meat, half the passengers immediately retracted their praise and demanded better meals in future.

Thank goodness I ordered the one menu item I recognized. I was 21 and in no way ready for such exotic delicacies, although perhaps I’d have enjoyed them as much as Neville’s passengers had. At least I’d never have known without Neville there to set me straight!

After dinner it was straight back to my sweet little hotel (yes, I found it again!) and had an early night after an exhausting day, unlike another Chandris member Olwyn Trimble, who visited Paris in 2013 with her sister and two adult daughters.

The foursome decided to make a night of it at the Moulin Rouge, but the highlight was a scanitily-dressed girl who climbed into a tank of snakes that wrapped themselves around her, and all of it happening at the end of their table. “Scary stuff!” recalls Olwyn.

But the best was yet to come.

After the show, Olwyn and her sister decided to walk back to the hotel, but it didn’t take long for them to realize they had to pass through the red light district. Women in various stages of dress (or un-dress) were parading the street, doorways and alleyways, accosting any man who dared to walk by. Imagine the ladies’ shock when they passed couples ‘doing it’ in doorways and had to almost step over other amorous couples writhing together on the pavement!

What a night they had … from writhing snakes to writhing couples! Ahh, the fleshy delights of gay Paree …

If you’ve enjoyed this blog, you might also enjoy the ‘story behind the stories’ …

Ireland (part 2)

December 25, 1969 …

The day before I left Ireland, Barry drove us to Newry, about 15 miles south of Banbridge and almost on the border of Ulster and Eire. I was slightly nervous about the prospect of getting so close to the border area, but Barry assured me we’d be perfectly safe.

The drama that unfolded that night, however, had nothing to do with rifle-toting soldiers!

Kay’s long-time friend Linda was in the Newry hospital awaiting the birth of twins. She wasn’t due for another month, but the doctor had ordered complete bed rest, so her husband Noel came too.

Poor Linda was under strict instructions to remain flat on her back, and of course, she was bored silly. Originally an Irish lass, she had migrated to Australia with her parents, but in early 1968 the girls boarded the Australis and headed off to visit Linda’s relatives in Banbridge. They did more than visit! They both married local boys and had been living there for almost 2 years, so Linda welcomed news from home and the chance to hear a good old Aussie accent again.

After noisy visit (with so much to catch up on, we 3 girls barely took a breath!) we left Noel at the hospital to spend some quality time with his wife (and give him the chance to actually talk to her at last), promised to return to collect him at 9pm, then headed back to Banbridge and an Irish pub called Campbell’s.

It was early evening as we entered the small crowded room, and I couldn’t believe my ears! Everyone was singing Irish songs!

Some were gathered around the bar, a few were off to one side playing darts, others were seated at tables, but all were swaying back and forth, waving their glasses in the air as they sang ‘When Irish Eyes are Smiling’, ‘Molly Molone’, ‘Too-ra Loo-ra Loo’.

Had I stumbled onto a movie set, or had Barry and Kay somehow contacted the entire population of Newry and arranged for them to stage a special performance just for me?  Surely this wasn’t typical!

Barry assured me that indeed it was typical of Irish pubs, so I very enthusiastically joined in. I suspect I even impressed a few locals by knowing all the words. After all, they’d been my lullabies as a babe when we’d lived with my Irish grandmother.

What a wonderful evening!

At 8.30 we reluctantly said our farewells. Little did we know that while we were there … someone stole Newry!

During the 20 minute drive back to collect Noel, Kay and I were still pumped and continued our sing-a-long, no doubt to Barry’s annoyance. We’re not the most tuneful singers, especially after a few drinks! But as we approached the outskirts of Newry, our voices fell silent. Almost without warning, we found ourselves in the midst of a wall of impenetrable fog that appeared to have swallowed up the entire town!

Barry slowed to a crawl, leaning his head out the window in a vain attempt to see the road. I wound the passenger side window down and tried to locate the gutter or alert him to any parked cars.

It was hopeless. We couldn’t even see the white line. Soon, even the front of the car disappeared! We had no idea if we were on the right or wrong side of the road, the middle of the road, or even ON the road!

Barry finally accepted defeat and let the car roll to the left until we hit the gutter. At least, we assumed it was the gutter! We might just as well have driven into a parked car or a drunk pedestrian having a brief but necessary nap on the way home! Perhaps we’d rolled into someone’s front yard or were precariously teetering on the edge of the canal!

Kay’s fearless and intrepid husband decided to make his way to the hospital on foot, leaving two very nervous females alone in the car.

Would he ever find us again?

Kay and I sat, shivered and whispered. I’m not sure why we whispered, but it seemed appropriate at the time. Who knew who or what was ‘out there’! This was the stuff of Jack the Ripper!

Occasionally we’d hear muffled voices. Once or twice, the owners of voices bumped into the car and made it shake. When that happened, we watched with alarm as disembodied hands crawled tentatively along side windows. It was like something out of a horror movie. 

Almost an hour after Barry left to walk to the hospital (would he ever find it?) we strained our ears trying to identify a distant but muffled echo.

“Ssshhh. Listen. Was that Barry’s voice?  Was that Noel calling our names?”

We opened the car doors and a blast of freezing air rushed in.

Yes! It was them. “Kay? Sandy? Can you hear us?”

“Yes” we shouted back in unison. “Here. We’re here! We’re here!”

“We hear you! Keep calling.”

“We can hear YOU. Keep walking.”

Their voices seemed to come from every direction at once, as did ours to them. Somehow, and with great difficulty, we were able to guide them to the car. Barry climbed into the driver’s seat, Noel volunteered to walk in front with his hand on the car’s bonnet and communicate with Barry through sign language.

We could see nothing more than a vague shadow of his form. Hand signals were useless.

I climbed out, holding firmly to the door, and groped for Noel’s hand. Then I reached back through the window and took Kay’s hand.

“Whatever you do,” Barry warned, “don’t let go! These fogs distort sound. If you get disoriented, you might not find each other again!”

That was hardly encouraging. I tightened my grips.

Noel edged his foot along the gutter. Barry began driving. Very, very slowly.

A few times, Noel walked into the back of a parked car. Each time, the message had to be quickly relayed from Noel to me to Kay then to Barry. He would stop and slowly reverse while Noel and I performed a little dance called The Shuffling Backsteps.

Once we reached the edge of town, the fog began to lift. Driving was still hazardous, but at least we could almost see the road again.

It was only then that Noel broke the news.  Linda had gone into labour. What a surprise, as the twins weren’t due for another month. (No doubt it was the excitement of our visit that brought it on!)

Gerard and Paul arrived safely on December 27, 1969.

Linda (left) returned to Australia with her new family and the boys grew up as ‘dinkum Aussies’. They have since made her a grandmother.

Kay (right) migrated back to Australia over a year later with Barry and their new baby daughter. Yes, my little sister became a 10-pound pom, or at least the Irish equivalent. Kay is now a GREAT grandmother.

Love the minis, girls!

Beautiful Newry …. when it emerges from its Brigadoon fog!

IRELAND (part 1)

December 24, 1969 …

“We can book you on the train and the ferry,” said the man behind the counter at Euston Station,”but  before we can issue a ferry ticket you’ll need a sailing ticket. You get that by writing to Heysham and applying for one.”

“What?” I barked in my grumpiest voice. “I’m leaving in 2 days, I don’t have time to write letters and wait around for replies! I want to sail on the ferry, not hover above it or swim behind it, so why the heck do I need a sailing ticket as well as a ticket to sail?”

He gave a disinterested shrug and began to walk away.

“Look sir,” I said, softening my voice in an attempt to appeal to his better nature, “I only arrived in London 3 weeks ago and it’s my first Christmas away from home. My little sister was married in Ireland a few months ago and we really want to spend Christmas together. The flights are all fully booked so this is the only way I can get there. Please, isn’t there something you can do?”

“Well…” he rubbed his chin thoughtfully, “I guess you don’t really need one for Christmas eve anyway. We only issue them to make sure the ferry doesn’t get  overbooked, but there’s no chance of that on Christmas eve! It’ll be practically empty!”

I wanted to hug him right there and then, but I’d already learnt that you don’t hug strangers, or even talk to them, in London. This wasn’t Australia and it just wasn’t done.  I flashed a big smile at him and thanked him profusely.

“Oh, and by the way,” he said as he handed me the ticket, “make sure you ask the purser for a cabin when you board. You’ll probably get it for free, being as it’s Christmas eve and they’ll all be empty.”

With Kay in 1956

Yes! I was finally going to visit my ancestral home and spend my first overseas Christmas with my darling cousin who — while she wasn’t, strictly speaking, my little sister — had lived with us as a child. We considered ourselves sisters.

The train arrived at Heysham at 11pm and I hurried on board to find the purser’s office and, as instructed, ask for a cabin.

The purser just laughed! “You’ll be lucky to find a seat, lady, let alone a cabin!”

He was right! The ferry was packed to the brim and then some.

Humbled, I made my way to the lounge to find it full of drunk Irishman, all singing, arguing, drinking and vomiting! Some were engaging in all four at the same time. People were draped over every chair in a variety of grotesque arrangements. I carefully picked my way between, over and around numerous bodies sprawled on the floor, asleep or passed out, I knew not.

As we pulled away from Heysham, the sea became choppy and the ferry began to rock violently. Bottles rolled aimlessly across the floor in every direction, as did a few of the inebriated passengers.

With all the smoke in the room and the stench of smelly feet, vomit and whiskey, I was close to passing out. I staggered into the ladies’ loo, sat on a toilet seat in a cubicle and dozed for half an hour. I awoke with such a backache that I decided the floor would be preferable, but most of that surface was already taken.

I changed out of my mini-skirt, jacket and knee-high boots and donned jeans, woolly jumper and sneakers, then went out on deck for a stretch and some fresh air. It was there I discovered my bed —  a hard wooden, slatted bench-seat. I wrapped my boots in my skirt to use as a pillow, draped my rabbit-fur coat over my upper body, tucked my jacket firmly around my feet and slept soundly … for two glorious hours.

A few passengers staggered around the deck, no doubt looking for leprechauns and perhaps even finding a few.

The wind coming off the Irish Sea felt like solid ice! We passed The Isle of Man at some ungodly hour, but I missed it. I was too busy going through the painfully slow process of freezing to death!

I awoke at around 4.30am. My back ached. My shoulders ached. Tiny icicles had formed on my eyelashes! My lips were numb and my ears frozen. I didn’t dare stand up because I could no longer feel my legs or feet, and it took half an hour to convince my fingers to bend!

Arriving in Belfast on Christmas morning

The ferry docked in Belfast at 6.30 on a cold and gloomy Christmas morning. I could vaguely make out a shadowy silhouette of two lone figures on the pier, cuddling up to each other under one overcoat. It was Kay and her husband Barry, bless them. They’d  left home at 5.30 on Christmas morning and driven 25 miles from the small town of Banbridge.

Kay & Barry on their wedding day

It was my first meeting with my new brother-in-law and I looked forward to getting to know him during the next few days. The pale sun was just beginning to peep shyly over the horizon as he drove us through Belfast and he pointed out places of interest on the way, but in the dim light all I could see were barricades, barbed wire and rifle-toting soldiers. It wasn’t the sweet Ireland I’d always imagined — thatched cottages, green fields and rosy-cheeked maidens.

Peggy & Dick

It took almost an hour to reach Banbridge, and Barry’s Aunt Peggy came out to greet us at the front gate.

“Welcome, welcome m’dear,” she said with a delightful Irish lilt, wrapping her arms around me as though I was a long lost friend. “And a Merry Christmas te ya. Now, lass,” she said as she led me inside, “I’ve a nice pot of tea ready and waiting and I’m thinking that with a name like Coghlan, yer’d haffta like ya tea, yes?

YES! I loved her immediately.

When I related the story of my trip over the most welcome cuppa I’d ever enjoyed, Peggy insisted I get myself to bed immediately and have a good sleep before lunch was served or “you’ll likely fall face-first into my peas and carrots!”

I was so relieved. I could barely keep my eyes open but hadn’t wanted to seem inhospitable. I didn’t emerge until midday after a blissful four hours.

We had Christmas lunch at the dining table in front of the TV, watching the horse-racing. On Christmas Day! I knew without doubt then that I was really in Ireland! Barry’s uncle Dick had bets on a horse in each race, so between mouthfuls of roast turkey or plum pudding he rode each one home, waving his fork in the air like a whip and yelling at them to “giddyup ya old good-fer-nuttin pony or I’ll have ya fer glue!”

With Kay (me wearing last night’s blanket)
at the Silent Valley Reservoir, County Down

Later that day, Barry drove us to the Silent Valley Reservoir in County Down. The winter sun shone valiantly in a pale blue sky and I found the Ireland I’d longed to see.

County Down

We all had dinner by the open fire on Christmas night and chatted the hours away. Dick remarked that there was no doubt I had Irish blood coursing through my veins, insisting I must have kissed the blarney stone in a past life. None of us got to bed until well after midnight.

As I drifted off to sleep, I thought about my first Christmas day far from home and how wonderful it had been. Until a few days ago, I’d expected to spend it all alone in my dreary little London flat. Instead, I’d been temporarily adopted by a delightful family and couldn’t have wished for a happier Christmas away from home.

I still had two more days to soak up the joys of Northern Ireland, but I couldn’t have begun to imagine the adventure tomorrow would bring …

Back to London

December 1, 1969

Dear Diary … It’s 12.15pm Monday, and I left Holland precisely 45 minutes ago. The Dutch are nothing if not punctual. So here I am, once again, feeling very much at home on the open sea. I do feel a little sad, too, but I guess that’s life.

I changed what money I had left into English pounds before I left Holland and I now have the grand total of one pound two shillings and four-pence. I ‘ll need to spend some of that on lunch, and with 4 heavy suitcases plus hand luggage, I’ll have to take a taxi to Sue’s place from the station. I sure hope Chelsea is reasonably close to Liverpool Street station!

Thank heavens for Sue. If she hadn’t been inspired to do the Grand Trip and fly to London 2 weeks before my ship sailed, I’d be in big trouble.

The ferry is like a mini passenger liner. It has a bar, lounge, TV room, purser’s deck, 3 other decks, a shop and a dining room. The channel is very rough, but it really feels great to be back at sea, almost like being back on the old girl.

There are people from Holland, England, France, Germany, America and even one or two Aussies on board. In my purse I have money from Australia, England, Holland, the US, and a ten cent piece from Panama. Boy, do I feel international! Now I’m going to be very touristy and go up on deck and have a look at the water and think some more

I walked out onto the deck and was immediately slapped in the face by a gust of wind that threatened to haul me over the rails and blow me all the way back to Rotterdam. Oh but it felt so good. I closed my eyes and licked the salt from my lips. Heavenly. The biting wind whipped my long hair into a tangled mess. It would get no complaints from me. I loved it. l steadied myself at the railing and watched as waves slapped the side of the vessel, and as I had done so many time in the past few months, I reminded myself that it wasn’t Australian water I was looking at. These were European waves! Here I was, standing alone on a ferry on the North Sea, heading off for my next big adventure. My dream was now reality.

I leant against the rail and allowed the rhythmic rise and fall of those waves to lull me into a semi-hypnotic state. Suddenly, and without warning, my courage blew away on the next gust of North Sea wind. Tears of disappointment and fear welled up and burst through like a leaky Dutch dike. Until that moment, I hadn’t allowed myself to think too much about this next hurdle. I had just been relieved to be leaving Rotterdam.

Everything had been so wonderful on the ship. We had all existed in a bubble, a timeless fantasy world. Our every need had been met with a smile, our every whim generously catered for. Now I was facing a grim and frightening reality. I was alone and almost penniless. My one day in London on the way to Rotterdam had totally overwhelmed me. Soon I would have to face living and working in the very city that had terrified me.

At least everything would be relatively familiar. I understood the language, the money, the food and the way of life. I tried to convince myself that once I got settled and had time to look around, I’d feel more confident. After all, I’d done nothing for three  months but travel. It was time to settle.

How wonderful it would be to have my own apartment, somewhere to hang my clothes up and cook my own meals. I’d find a job and have a regular pay check to sustain me. I’d  learn how to find my way around sprawling London. I’d save my money and travel the continent in the spring.

I’d be fine.

 Yes, I was sure. I’d be just fine.

I would!

Harwich station

The Juliana docked at Harwich at 6pm. I loaded my luggage on a trolley, had my passport endorsed for a year, walked straight through customs without a problem and boarded the train for London, arriving at Liverpool Street station at 8pm. I had a one pound note and a few coins left in my pocket. I also had 4 heavy suitcases and sundry hand luggage. What fun it was lugging them up escalators one at a time, wondering if each one would still be there when I arrived at the top again. If someone wanted to steal them, they’d need muscles, and I doubted my mini-skirts and bell-bottom slacks would suit a burly, muscle-bound thief.

I hailed a taxi outside the station, gave the driver Sue’s Chelsea address, then slumped back in the seat and fixed my eyes on the meter. I was feeling sick to my stomach. What would I do if the meter clicked over to a pound?

Fifteen minutes after leaving Liverpool Street station, we stopped at a red light. By then, the meter was showing eighteen shillings and I was starting to break out in a cold sweat. Soon I’d have to shout “pull over!” But then what? I had no idea where I was. How would I get to Sue’s place from “somewhere in London”?

Would I be able to find a public phone? Where would I leave my pile of luggage while I looked for one? Did I even have enough change to use one? What could Sue do anyway? Would she have to come out in the cold and dark to find me? Perhaps she’d tell me to get a cab the rest of the way and she would pay for it when I arrived, but we were in a suburban area, so where would I find another cab if I had to let this one go?

Oh why hadn’t I saved more money? Why hadn’t I delayed my trip for a few more months. I had my return ticket, but what little extra money I’d saved had disappeared in ports along the way and during my time in Rotterdam.

Yes, I’d discovered the hard way that Dutch treats weren’t just a saying! They were for real.

Besides, why would I have needed to save more money? A friendly Dutch family had been waiting to welcome me with open arms into their cosy home. A work permit for the Netherlands was stamped in my shiny new passport, and  a job had been waiting for me in Rotterdam.

I bit down on my lower lip to stop the involuntary quiver that started when I thought about my stay there. How disappointing it had all been.

Once again, I briefly considered that perhaps it might be best if I jumped on a plane tomorrow and returned home. I had somewhere to stay tonight – if I ever got there – but how would I get through the weeks ahead? How would I find a job when I couldn’t even afford the train fares to go for interviews? How could I find a place to live when I had no money for rent until I received my first pay packet? And what was even more terrifying, I had to accomplish all this in London! Huge, frantic, immense, chaotic, overwhelmingly terrifying London! I could see the headlines now:


The traffic light turned green. The cab moved away from the intersection and  immediately turned into a side street.  And in that street, mercifully, it came to a stop.

“Here we are, luv. Tite Street Chelsea!” the driver announced.

The meter showed 18 shillings and sixpence. I could have kissed him.

I’m sure he expected me to say “keep the change” after lifting my four heavy suitcases in and out of the cab, but I bravely held out my hand for my one shilling and sixpence change. He grudgingly handed it over.

It was all the money I had in the world.


November 21, 1969 … Dear Diary, it’s 4am and I’m sitting in the Smoking Room. I’ve just come inside from walking around the deck for an hour or more. Every night for the rest of my life, before I close my eyes to sleep, I want to remember how it felt to stand alone on the deck in the darkest hours before dawn as my ship slowly nosed its way down a river towards Rotterdam.

I never want to forget leaning on the railing at the back of the ship, watching our wake, wanting to believe that it reaches all the way back to Australia like a watery umbilical cord, keeping me safe and connected.

I can feel the ship’s familiar tremble. It saddens me to think I might never again feel that gentle vibration. My hair is being whipped about by the icy wind. Tears sting my eyes. Is that because of the chilly air, or because I’m so nervous? Probably both.

I take a deep breath, trying to settle the fluttering in my chest. My stomach is turning somersaults. All is silent except for the familiar swish and splash below as we glide effortlessly through the dark water. Stars wink their encouragement and the moon’s reflection shimmers on the dark sea. From the back of the ship, I can’t separate sky from sea. I turn to look behind me and see the fuzzy lights of Rotterdam on the horizon. I think I prefer the view from the stern!

Am I ready for this? I shiver, pull my coat tighter around me, then slowly make my way to the bow to watch our progress. One of those lights belongs to the house where Peter lives. All the other lights in all the other houses are where all the other Dutch families are preparing to greet a new day. They’re unaware and unconcerned that for two people, this day will be different from any other.

I’m questioning my sanity again.

I have a sudden urge to run and hide.

Is my life about to be forever changed?

I remind myself that whatever happens next, it will be as it is meant to be.

The night before we arrived in Rotterdam, I spent an hour or more just wandering around the ship aimlessly. I missed my friends, I missed our routines, our conversations and private jokes. We’d spent a lifetime together in just a few weeks and now they were getting settled in England, without me.

The passengers I encountered now were strangers. They offered no smiles of recognition, merely glancing at me with blank expressions as they passed by. For most of them, this was their first night on board and the labyrinth of cabins, the sooty smoke pouring from the ship’s funnel, dinner gongs and other idiosyncrasies that made our ship special were still unknown to them. Would the Australis cast her spell on them, as she had for us? Perhaps not. Many were embarking on a journey to a new land and a new life. It was likely the destination was more their focus than the voyage.

When I finished saying goodbye (yet again) to every nook and cranny, I returned to my cabin, hopeful I’d sleep well and awaken refreshed. I should have been exhausted. I’d spent the day running excitedly around Piccadilly Circus and Carnaby Street, embracing the chaotic delights of London for the first time, then another 90 minutes on the boat train, listening as an elderly gentleman seated opposite pointed out historic sites on the way. Yesterday, I’d spent the day finding my sea legs in Southampton, then sleeping on two lounge chairs pushed together at a Chelsea apartment. The night before that, I’d sat up most of the night in the Smoking Room with my friends, reminiscing, promising, planning, all of us reluctant to waste our last few hours together in sleep.

Even so, sleep eluded me. I tossed and turned, then tossed some more. My eyes refused to close, staring through darkness at the underside of the empty upper bunk. At around 3am, I gave up, got up, wrapped my rabbit-fur coat over my pjamas, stepped into my fluffy slippers and headed up to the deck. A few early risers or nervous new passengers passed me in the corridor and I’m sure I made a comical sight.  I didn’t care. I knew it would be freezing outside. I shuffled through the doors and walked to the rail.

I could just make out a distant glow of blurred lights on the horizon. They looked to be at least an hour away. I stood shivering at the stern for a long time, questioning my sanity.

We docked at about 6.30am. As we slid closer and closer towards the wharf, I was disappointed to see that the eye-level balcony was totally devoid of humanity. I cheered a little when I noticed a few people gathered on the dock below. I leant over the rail and studied them carefully. Then one caught a rope and a second ran to help. They were merely dock workers.

Where was Peter? He had assured me he’d be there as we docked. “Believe me,” he had written 2 months earlier, “I am so looking forward to November 19th, I think I better take a carton of cigarettes with me that morning because I’ll probably eat them.”

How many times had I imagined this day? I’d be standing on the deck, bathed in glorious sunshine as we sailed into Rotterdam and were greeted by a cheering crowd. Of course, it hadn’t occurred to me that November was not Holland’s sunniest month, nor was I aware that daylight didn’t seem to happen in Holland at all. I had imagined how Peter would find me in the crowd as we glided in to tie up, and he’d smile and wave enthusiastically. Of course, I’d recognize him immediately too. I’d wave back excitedly, then rush down the gangplank (in a most ladylike way, of course) and throw myself into his waiting arms. We’d walk off, hand-in-hand, towards a glorious sunset. So much for dreams!

I returned to the deck after breakfast to find that daylight really did happen in Holland, after all. Not only that, the balcony was now packed with that cheering crowd I’d so often imagined. I scanned their faces. Still no Peter.  Had he changed his mind? What would I do if he didn’t arrive?

The queuing process began. By the time the passport inspection, document checking, permit stamping and other official paperwork was completed, it was almost 10am. I was finally allowed to disembark.

I gathered up my hand luggage, then turned to say a last, sad and silent farewell. Oh how I wished I could have stayed on my beloved ship. That first step was almost agonizing, but I pulled myself together and waddled off. And yes. I do mean waddled! One hand clutched my bulging handbag, the other a heavy overnight bag. My camera bag was slung over my shoulder and a bulky travelling wardrobe draped over an arm. I made at least ten stops on the way to blow into my palms and readjust my hold on everything.

What an elegant entrance to Rotterdam! It held absolutely no resemblance to the arrival I’d experienced in my dreams!

I entered a big hall with shiny polished floors and benches stretching ahead of me. A large sign emblazoned with letters of the alphabet hung above each bench. Of course, XYZ was where I entered, C way down the furthest end where a crowd of people were waiting and waving.

My luggage became heavier with each step. The handles bit into my sweaty palms. The strap on my camera bag cut into my sun-burnt shoulder. The smooth soles of my boots kept sliding on the slippery floor. I had no doubt that at any moment I would go skidding in spectacular fashion across the hall or drop everything and collapse in an exhausted, gibbering heap in front of what seemed by now to be at least half the population of Rotterdam.

Amazingly, I made it in one piece! I was almost to the C bench when I saw someone in a dark coat waving frantically at me from behind a wire gate. A photograph came to life. Yes, I’d have known him anywhere. I walked slowly towards him and he stepped through the gate to meet me.

We stood face to face, just smiling. Then I said “hello Peter” and he said “hello, Sandy” and we smiled some more. They were not really earth-shattering words, but it was all we could manage for now. We had waited six years for this moment.

Peter collected my 4 suitcases and placed them and my hand luggage on a trolley and we pushed it to his car. On our way, we passed a cafe with floor-to-ceiling windows. Andy and a group of other waiters from our dining room rushed to the window and began knocking on it, waving and beckoning me to come in.

I hadn’t been able to find Andy, Marci, Ianis or Victor the previous night and was sad that I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye. How I would have loved to run over and hug them all, but I noticed Peter’s frown. While I saw a group of sweet people who had shared my journey and became my friends, Peter saw a rabble of amorous Greek waiters and – I later learnt – had formed a few ungracious assumptions.

I waved, beamed an apologetic smile at them and shook my head. I was no longer a fun-loving passenger on my glorious Australis. The voyage was over. My new life was about to begin.   

But oh, please, couldn’t I just go around one more time before I have to face life in cold grey Rotterdam?


November 18, 1969

“Land, land! I can see England!” Denise said excitedly as she ran into the Soho cabin. We’d joined the boys for a drink before dinner, but Denise couldn’t sit still for more than a few minutes, running back and forth between cabin and deck to peer excitedly into the darkening twilight .

George’s English wasn’t good enough to understand what was going on, so we explained through Tony that she was born in England but that her parents had taken her to Australia 5 years ago and she’d been homesick for England ever since. Tony translated for George, who smiled, nodded and said “aaahhhh, nay, endaxi.”

I felt very international because I then translated that for her: “Denise, George says “Aaaahh, yes, ok.” which made everyone laugh except Denise, who was already on her way outside again.

Chris and I followed her out. All we could see was a black blob in the distance vaguely silhouetted against the night sky, but there was no doubting it. Land’s End. George came out too. He took Denise’s hands in his and they laughed and danced around, jumping up and down like a couple of hyperactive children. I wished I’d had my camera. It was so sweet, because George must have seen the coast of England many times. I think he just wanted to make it more exciting for Denise.

George, Denise, Nick, Chris, Tony

The three of us then made our way to the Smoking Room and stayed up most of the night talking ourselves silly, re-living all the good times we’d had over the past 6 weeks, wondering how we’d cope living back in the real world again. They’ve both promised to come to Rotterdam to visit me soon. I’ll miss them the most, of course. We did everything and went everywhere together, we “girls who never sleep” as Captain Ikiadis had dubbed us.

They left the ship early next morning a to face queues for customs and passport stamps and work permits. Goodness knows when we’ll see each other again, but I hope it’s soon. I didn’t have too much time to feel sad though, because Sue, my friend from back home, arrived soon afterwards. She’d been in London for 3 months and took two days off work to collect me and provide my first sight of London, which would include an overnight stay at her flat in Chelsea. 

We wandered (and I stumbled with sea-legs) around Southampton for a while and checked on times for the boat train. There was one due at 8.30pm, so after lunch in town (burger and coffee with real milk, of course!) we returned to the ship and I gave her a guided tour, then took her to the dining room for dinner on the ship. There were very few passengers on board so waiters didn’t care where we sat or who they served. Then we boarded the train and arrived at Victoria station, London at 10pm.

 I thought I was finally in London. And I was! But from the platform at Victoria station we had to go down an escalator and take another train to Charing Cross, station, then we changed to another train for Chelsea station, and after an hour of travelling, we were STILL in the centre of London and I hadn’t even poked my head above ground yet!

I quickly learnt the first lesson in using the London underground: you must, must, MUST stay on the right side of the escalator, because the moment you put your heavy bag down beside you, even at 11pm, people will be alerted in their homes and restaurants and shops and they will come from all over London for the sole purpose of running up the left side and kicking your bag or falling over it and yelling at you for putting it there!

You must must MUST stay on the right side!

We arrived at Sue’s place at about 11.30pm. She shares a bed-sit in Chelsea, just off King’s Road, and after sitting up most of the previous night, I slept very soundly on two lounge-chairs pushed together, even though they did initially feel like they were swaying back and forth on the waves

We headed off at about 8 next morning and made our way into town, wherever that is. In London, it’s everywhere! You can walk along a quiet tree-lined street on a cold foggy morning (which we did) and enjoy total silence, but then you turn a corner (which we did) and instantly you’re in a bustling, noisy city.

Sue asked me what I wanted to see before I had to return to the ship because we didn’t have much time.

I didn’t hestiate. “Carnaby Street.”

She wasn’t even sure how to get there, so she looked it up in her A-Z and we took a train to Piccadilly Circus. Wow! It was huge! Streets going off in every direction, big neon signs, cars, red double-decker buses, black cabs, theatres, people and more people and even more people!

We eventually found Carnaby Street and what a surprise it was! I was expecting a big, wide, long street full of fashionable dress shops, but it wasn’t much bigger than a laneway with lots of little shops on both sides. Windows displayed all the latest mod fashions, and even at 10am there were crowds of people there.

I heard a man advertising a concert over a microphone and looked up to see people stepping out of the way because an open-backed truck was slowly making its way down the narrow street, and there were our old BeeGees seated on the back, waving to the crowd! People were cheering and waving back and I was almost bursting with pride to know they’d become so popular since leaving Australia!

Suddenly, Sue looked at her watch and gasped. It was 12.20. I had to catch the 12.45 train from Victoria station to be back on board by 3pm or I’d miss the boat, literally.

It was a mad dash but we made it with minutes to spare. I hardly had a chance to give Sue a quick hug and thank her for a wonderful two days before jumping on the train and waving goodbye as we chugged out of the station.

I decided that London was way too big and busy, and was as much as I’d loved my quick tour, I was secretly relieved to be leaving.

I knew I’d never be able to find my way around the place even if I was there for a hundred years!

Home again. But only for one more night!


November 13, 1969: We left Miami 24 hours ago and already it’s cold and windy outside. We have a week ahead of nothing but ocean. Then it’s all over. There’ll be no more sun-baking, no more exotic ports, no more yummy bread rolls, no more getting excited when the mail is sorted and soon – worst of all – no more Australis!

We all knew it had to end eventually. We just don’t want it to.

November 14: There’s such a strange atmosphere on board. It’s like the voyage ended the day after we left Miami. Everyone seems gloomy and introspective. Hardly anyone goes to the dance or the cabaret any more. Over the past week we’ve had a Dutch Beer Garden night, a Carnaby Street concert and an English Pub show, but no-one really got too enthusiastic. They were just minor distractions.

Passengers are busy packing up and getting their warm clothes out of the hold. I’ve been doing the same, and what a job! Trying to find my suitcase to get my arrival clothes out wasn’t fun. I had to climb over mountains of luggage and when I found the right one, drag it to where I could get it open.

I packed all the souvenirs I’ve been collecting along the way – menus, Seascapes, news-sheets, matchboxes, postcards and 2 decks of playing cards. When I get settled I’ll put them into a scrap book so I never forget a single moment … as if I ever would!

I had to find space for all my dolls, too. I’ve bought one in most of the ports. There’s also a grass skirt. Why am I keeping a grass skirt? I can’t even imagine why and when I’d ever wear it again.

I also packed 8 rolls of film. I can’t wait to get them developed, but they’ll cost a fortune so I’ll probably just get one roll done a week. I didn’t label them so each will be a surprise. But how in heaven’s name do I pack my Acapulco sombrero? I may have to wear it! That should attract some attention, arriving in Rotterdam in winter wearing a rabbit-fur coat and a Mexican sombrero!! I’ll probably make the front page of the Rotterdam Daily News!

November 15: It’s getting colder every day and the sea is very rough. Not many sit out on the deck any more, or if they do it’s only the hearty ones and most stay on the promenade where they’re protected.

Not me. I love walking around the deck in a stiff salty gale. Sometimes it takes half an hour to fight my way up one side from bow to stern, then I turn a corner and literally get blown all the way back, my feet barely touching the deck!

What a joy it is to stand near the bow, clinging for dear life to the railing as we dive headlong into the churning troughs, each time emerging triumphantly and pointing skyward on the crest of the next wave, then plunging again and again as ship and ocean seem to merge into one continuous wave.

You can keep your roller-coaster rides! Even Disneyland. Give me life on the ocean any day!

I love sitting in my smoking room. It has big windows on both sides and on one side the window is full of ocean, on the other, only sky. Then the ocean levels out on both sides, then it reverses. But if I don’t see it, I don’t even feel it.

As I walk along a narrow corridor, I know I’m walking on a slant because my feet are on one side of the corridor and my head is on the other, but that feels perfectly normal, and just as normal when the slants switch!

It’s only when I’m in the bunk at night I’m aware of it. because I don’t see it! Last night while I was trying to sleep, the old girl would start rolling over and keep going, and going, while I clung to the side of my bunk. When I was convinced she couldn’t roll any further without collapsing on her side, and I knew without doubt that there was no hope for us and it was time to grab the life jackets and try to remember where our lifeboat station was, she’d stop, shudder, then start slowly rolling the other way.

When we’re dancing in the ballroom, we all find ourselves clustered on one side of the dance floor with the other half empty, then a minute or two later we all involuntarily dance back again. That feels normal too, but walking around in San Pedro after 10 days at sea didn’t feel normal at all.

Yesterday they put ropes up everywhere so we could hold onto something while moving around and we were advised not to go outside. It was really hard for the poor waiters to serve meals because the ship was lurching and rolling at the same time. Drawers of cutlery kept sliding out and crashing to the floor. They dampened all the tablecloths to keep the dishes on the table, but the food refused to co-operate and kept sliding around. My soup kept slopping out of its dish and I had a few good laughs chasing my peas around the plate.

Only about half the passengers came to dinner last night, and even some of those were looking green around the gills. A few tried to get up to leave in a hurry, but then the ship would lurch or roll suddenly and toss them back into their chairs. They’d struggle up again and weave their way through the tables with hand over mouth. Even some of the waiters looked like they wished they were anywhere but here.

When I was watching the ocean this morning, I realized there’s a difference between the Pacific and the Atlantic. They’re even different colours! The Pacific was blue and mostly calm. It might sound silly, but Pacific waves seemed more gentle and relaxing. The Atlantic is mostly grey and choppy, like it seems angry and impatient! I wonder if that’s the reason for the difference between places like California and New York.

November 16: We arrive in Southampton in two days, then it’s Rotterdam and oh how I’m going to miss my floating home. How does one adjust to normal life back on land? There’s so much I’m going to miss.

I’ll miss the pineapple juice Dalos brings to our cabin every morning. Somehow, I don’t think that will be on a Dutch breakfast table!

I’ll miss coffee and apple slices in the smoking room, stolen bread rolls with cheese at 2am on the mezzanine, being beckoned to meals by the dinner gong, hearing the xylophone and knowing there’s about to be an announcement. (“Prossokee, prossokee, parakalo”)

I think I’ll even miss evaporated milk in my tea and having my t-shirts stained with black soot from the funnel.

I know I’ll miss being rocked to sleep when I’m tired, choosing not to sleep when I’m not tired, and not being ruled by the tick-tock of anyone else’s clock. Time doesn’t seem to have any meaning here and it’s going to be so hard to adjust to routines and clock-watching.

November 17, 1969: Tomorrow, Old Blighty.

I’m so excited about seeing London, but also sad to think that the people we’ve met and have become our family, will soon be heading off in different directions. I’ll especially miss Chris and Denise, but who knows where life will lead us all.

Everyone’s exchanging addresses, passengers and crew alike, and telling each other we’ll stay in touch, but we all know they’re mostly just words and they’ll lose addresses or look at them in a month’s time and say “who the hell was she again?”

I swear the Atlantic has a gloomy influence.

Maybe we WILL meet up again one day. I’d love to think so.

Note: I confess, some of the photos above are not my own. I “borrowed” them to illustrate the text. The photos of the ballroom and smoking room are from the Chandris brochure, and a big thank you to whoever took those wonderful shots of the promenade deck and the rough Atlantic sea. They bring back so many memories for me, and – I have no doubt – also for everyone reading this.


November 11, 1969: We docked in Port Everglades at 1.30am. What a crazy time to arrive anywhere!

Didn’t get to bed until 4am, got a few hours sleep but was awake again at 9am. However am I going to adjust in the real world?

We were originally supposed to dock in the afternoon, then it was going to be early evening but by dinner time we still weren’t there and were told it would be 1am. (Either someone kept moving Miami, or we were lost!) As 1am was only about 4 hours away, we decided to stay up and go ashore immediately so we could make the most of the time we had. I think we may have been slightly delirious due to lack of sleep, because after all, where were we going to go and what would we do at 1am in an unfamiliar city?

Fortunately it was announced shortly before docking that passengers couldn’t disembark until 6am, so we had to hang around for yet another 5 hours. No point sleeping! After all, we had to stay up and watch our arrival.

By the time we descended the gangplank we’d been awake for almost 22 hours, and after only 5 hours of sleep and an entire day of sight-seeing still ahead!

Once ashore we learnt that the car Nick hired wouldn’t be available until 8am, so he suggested we go and have a wander around Port Everglades (Miami is 30 miles away!) and come back at 8. Which we did.

The 3 of us piled into a blue Chevrolet Impala with Nick and George. Nick drove us into Miami – about half an hour away – and I confess that I wasn’t all that impressed with the city. There were palm trees lining big wide streets, and vast stretches of nothing. It felt more like a holiday resort than a city. A bit like Surfer’s Paradise! Even Miami Beach wasn’t particularly impressive. Or are we just becoming blase travellers?

Miami Beach

We had to be back by midday because that’s when the boys start work. I have no idea why they work in the engine room when the ship’s in port! We dropped them off just before midday and as Nick had paid for the car all day, Chris decided she’d drive us back into Miami.

Bill, John, me, Andy, Denise, Fred

Waiters Andy and John stopped to say hello and asked if they could come with us, and before we had even left the car park Fred and Bill from our dinner table flagged us down and asked to come too. So now we were 7. Luckily it was another one of those big yank tanks! We didn’t get as far as Miami this time because we got lost about halfway there and just kept driving around in circles. We decided that it wasn’t worth the effort anyway so stopped at Burger King.

I suspect we stumbled onto a 1950’s movie set! It had booths with high backed seats and juke boxes. Teenagers were gazing at each other over milk shakes with 2 straws. Bowls of ice cream and sodas were being slid along a shiny-topped counter, and the juke box was playing Beach Boys’ music or rock’n’roll.

We had a delicious (but huge) hamburger. They’re just known as ‘burgers’ here, but this one was a real whopper! Then it was time to head back as we were due to leave at 5pm and had to be on board by 4.

On our way back, a young guy in a car tooted his horn and pulled up beside us. He called out that he was in the navy and stationed on a submarine, and he invited us to come and have a tour. Americans are such an amazingly friendly bunch and seem to love meeting people from other countries. It would have been fascinating to visit the sub, but sadly we didn’t have time. Imagine being in a submarine and having our ship sail off above us!

We made it back in time but nearly fell asleep in our soup at dinner. When we were able to think clearly again, we calculated that we’d been awake for 35 hours after only 5 hours sleep! (And we let Chris drive? No wonder we got lost!)

I have absolutely no idea how I’m going to adjust to normal time in the real world!

Farewell Port Everglades

Next, 7 days of the Atlantic crossing, then England. I’m going to be so sad when the time comes to leave my lovely old tub!