In May of 1978, I'd quit my job and gone to Paris, where the future Mrs THC was at the time, working as an au pair for a French-American family, studying French, and living in a 6th floor walk up garret room with a primitive communal toilet down the hall.
During July we'd traveled to England and Scotland and, after a few weeks of recuperation from my badly sprained ankle (see The Highlands for more), set out south for another adventure. We were backpacking, alternating camping and staying in cheap hotels as we had little money. I'd brought all my saving (about $1200 which needed to cover expenses for five months plus my air fare back to the States). We traveled by train through France (I remember camping on an island in the Rhone opposite Avignon) and into Italy, visiting Florence and then rolling down its Adriatic Coast to Brindisi. Italy was in the grip of the Red Brigades terror campaign and that may have prompted our unusual reception getting off the train at Brindisi. We were welcomed by heavily armed Italian soldiers who escorted us as we walked the mile or so to the city's port to catch the ferry to Patras in Greece.
We couldn't afford a cabin so slept on the deck during the overnight trip, but it was wonderful waking up early in the morning to see the Greek coast gliding by. I think it was by train we got from Patras to Athens where we stayed for several days (most of it with an old high school classmate of mine who was teaching at the American School), though before we found him we spent one night sleeping on a mattress on a fire escape at a crowded hostel. Barb and I hiked up the Acropolis at dawn where she took this picture; back then there were no barriers and access was easy.
By the time we returned to Athens it was late September and we were almost out of money. Surveying out options for getting back to Paris, the only route we could afford was the Magic Bus, which ran three times a week from Athens to London. Two of their routes went via Paris and we chose the one going through Italy. It was $40 for a 48 hour ride in a rickety, un-air conditioned bus (or maybe it was $48 dollars for a 40 hour ride; this memory thing is tricky) that had 48 seats.
I came across this recollection from someone who rode the Magic Bus in 1975 and it matches up well with our memory:
You had to find a certain doorway in a side street off Syntagma Square, climb four flights of rickety stairs to a scruffy office where 1,700 drachmas changed hands. Your name was laboriously and inaccurately added to a passenger list and you were handed a scrap of paper which purported to be a ticket.We set off on a late Friday afternoon, heading north towards the Yugoslav border where a jackbooted uniformed guard carrying a firearm got on the bus and carefully inspected passports. When he got to the few Americans aboard he took our passports, left the bus and only returned with them awhile later.
The Magic Bus drove day and night, only stopping for food and bathroom breaks about every eight hours (some of the male passengers brought along their own private arrangements to help deal with the latter issue). Most of us carried our own food supply, since nobody had extra money to indulge in expensive cafeteria food available at the stops along the highway. Much of our trip remains a blur as we became increasingly exhausted.
(Travelers with the Magic Bus in 1976, from Flickr)
Initially we sat towards the middle of the bus but we had two obnoxious guys behind us who never started talking so eventually we able to get seats closer to the front which give us a close view of the most memorable moment of the journey.
It was on the highway in France, somewhere between Lyon and Paris. There were two drivers on the bus, both Greek, who switched on and off every few hours - did I mention they always switched while the bus was moving to save time? A loud argument erupted - what it was about we didn't know since it was all in Greek. Both drivers were shouting and finally the one driving stood up to argue with the other - there was no one at the wheel as we careened down the highway! The passengers all started yelling and finally the driver returned to his seat so we survived to write this in 2017.