Impressions of Europe – An Introduction

Introduction

Since retiring from full time work in 2011, my wife and I have been fortunate enough to take three trips to Europe since 2013, the first time I had visited the continent since 1979. During this time numerous changes have occurred (Hey, I missed the entire era of the Mercedes O405 and much of the last generation of high floor trams!). Readers may have not particularly noticed my absence as, so far, there has been little effect on magazine production deadlines thanks to some hard work on my part both pre and post trips plus great co- operation from various contributors in providing material a little earlier than usual and from our proof reader Hayden.

However most of the period during which this issue would normally be prepared, I will in fact be in Europe once again sampling the low countries plus some areas of France not covered in 2014 and dipping a toe into Northern Spain. As this will involve visiting Paris and Brussels, both recent centres of Isis inspired craziness, hopefully I will in fact return intact to resume work on the November issue!!

As a result, I decided that a longish article and plenty of photos were needed for the September ABP and that such news and fleet listings that were available would fill in the gaps. The November issue will therefore be rather more newsy than usual, though it might not all be quite as current as usual.

OK I could have written a long history article on a local subject but hey that’s what the annual special issue is for. So, gentle reader, I decided to inflict my impressions of Europe upon you. This will also be a somewhat different tone of article to my usual. Rather than place the normal emphasis on detail, dates and gen, this one will be more of a travelogue and will even include (shock horror) some non -transport related material. (Your less than intrepid author ducks for cover at this point to avoid the objects being thrown by enraged foamers!. Hey you guys, you have my permission to stop reading now and just look at the photos).

What came before

Now my 1979 trip, undertaken at the tender age of 23 with fellow enthusiasts Bruce Tilley and Alan Greenhill was crammed in to just on a month. It was a typical European Adventure by three hard core transport gunzels. This involved a quick look at London’s transport followed by a 15 day Eurail pass during which we visited France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Holland and Belgium. (It’s Tuesday, this must be Zurich).

In most cities the area covered was restricted to the main station tram and / or bus terminals with little time to ride local services or visit tourist attractions. As an example, we did in fact see the Eiffel Tower but only through the grimy window of a metro train carriage on an elevated section of the line. Our main scenic trip was the Gornergratt railway which climbs from Zermatt in Switzerland up the side of the valley opposite the Matterhorn.

Of course there was no channel tunnel in those days so the English Channel crossings were done by ferry, one way in a force nine gale – they don’t sail in force ten. Coming from a long line of sea farers on my mother’s side (ship gunzels I guess), I was not overly affected but truly there were so many green faces on deck you’d have thought it was Mars!

The Eurailpass trip was immediately followed by a three day heavy bus bash of South Wales with Bruce’s pommie mate Clive (who navigated us expertly between depots using ordnance survey maps) then a week long trip around Portugal with two other poms Michael and David. Both trips resulted in finding some unusual and quite remarkable buses, not to mention posing against the signpost for the Portuguese town of Chaos! The trip was finalised with a whirlwind tour around England catching up with both some brand new double deckers models by Dennis and Foden as well as many classic bus types.

Of course thus was all when one was young, single, champing at the bit and could go all day providing there was beer and food after dark. The trip was very satisfying in terms of the transport modes photographed but in the succeeding decades tended to leave one struggling like a fish out of water when comparing European travel experiences with “normal” tourists.

A New Way of Operation

But can such an experience be replicated when one is older, a tad slower and accompanied by one’s non transport enthusiast wife? Especially one who has never before been out of Australia (New Zealand in 1999 just doesn’t count), let alone spent a month in places where English is not the main language.

So we “blooded” her in May 2012 with a short one week trip to Singapore which enabled a mutually satisfying mix of shopping, tourism and gunzelling to be accommodated, given the small size of the city state.

After that starter, Jeanette’s top of the list country to visit was the USA and mine was Switzerland (which I had just loved in ’79). So naturally our next trip in October of that year was to… well of course the USA. This introduced us to a firm called Insight Vacations with whom we did a most enjoyable two week coach tour through California and the deserts of Arizona and Nevada. The trip enabled me to experience, for the first time, the real joy of touring beyond transport and to see some fascinating natural and man-made wonders including the Yosemite National Park, the Grand Canyon and the Golden Gate Bridge. And guess what? There are even buses at most of them! Not to mention the excitement of a desert landing from a hot air balloon where one’s butt was dragged for 100 metres across the stony desert ground!

This trip allowed me to trial a new model of travel for us in which sightseeing and coach touring could be effectively combined with gunzelling through good planning and time allocation, combined with extra days in specific cities to get the transport coverage. And so we applied this model to Europe in 2013, 2014 and 2015.