Europe 1987

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan 2018

Europe 1987

In 1987, while Head of Geography at a large boys’ school in Sydney, I undertook a one-year exchange teaching position at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire, England.  At the time, Stonyhurst was an all-boys’ boarding school, with classes on Saturday mornings as well as Monday to Friday.  As compensation, the summer holiday break was quite long.  My wife, Di, and I decided to make the most of our year away from Australia by using the long summer break to undertake a road trip through Europe with our three children at the time, Liesl (6 years old), Phillip (4 years old) and Tim (9 months old).

The result was a 56 day trip!  Planning had been underway for a year, starting before we left Australia to begin the year’s exchange.  In the pre-internet era, information was obtained by reading newspapers and word-of-mouth, and arrangements were made by mail or in person through travel agencies.  The process of obtaining the visas for Eastern Europe (plus France, which also required a visa) took several months of visits to the relevant embassies in London from our home base in Lancashire (in the north of England).

Unlike other travel diaries I have written and posted, this one comprises recollections of a family holiday rather than geographical research – although of course, the geography could never be far from the foreground of our thinking ;-)

Because I was still being paid a teacher’s salary in Australian dollars, which were depreciating markedly against European currencies throughout 1987, most parts of Europe were prohibitively expensive for more than short stays, so we decided to spend most of our time travelling in the much less expensive Eastern Europe.  That meshed well with my own philosophy of travel (if my thoughts can be elevated to the level of a ‘philosophy’), which is that the more difficult a destination is to get to, the more rewarding that destination will be, especially if there are very few other travellers who also manage to get there.

At the time, Eastern Europe was still behind the so-called Iron Curtain, and therefore presented a totally different experience from Western Europe.  We didn’t know it at the time, but the Berlin Wall was to fall in just over two years following our visit, and the continent of Europe which had been divided for almost half a century would start to homogenise.  As I look back on our 1987 visit, I appreciate more and more the opportunity of experiencing Communist Eastern Europe as it used to be.

On the day of our departure, we had an early start as one of the children woke up at 3:45am with diarrohea and vomiting, just what we needed to begin a trip to Europe (yes, sarcasm!).  Nonetheless, we were ready to leave at 6:00am and one of my teaching colleagues from Stonyhurst drove us all from our cottage at 10 Woodfields to Preston Railway Station.  We completed our farewells, and armed with books and new BoomBoxes for the children to listen to their cassette tapes of recorded music, we began the long day’s travel –a train from Preston to London-Euston Station, Underground to London-Victoria Station, train to Dover, bus to the hoverport, hovercraft to Boulogne (France), then SNCF train to central Paris, followed by a short trip on the Paris Metro and finally a walk to our hotel.

Our hotel was the three-star Hotel Peyris on the corner of Rue Richer and Rue du Conservatoire in the 9th district of Paris, near Cadet metro station.  It had been a very long day, and as you might expect travelling with three young children, by the time we arrived at the hotel we were all very tired and a bit cranky.  Feelings ran high as we coped with some of the initial negatives – the area around the hotel was crowded and dirty, but fortunately the room was fine and it even had a balcony to provide a narrow view out to the Rue Richer below us.


Day 1

Stonyhurst to Paris

Monday 13 July 1987