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Tuesday
Jul042017

Changed times

When I left university I did what lots of undergraduates did before joining the workforce.

I went Interrailing on a student ticket.

The total cost of travelling around Europe for four weeks in 1980 was around £200 including food and accommodation.

We started in London and ended up in Athens after travelling through France, Italy and Yugoslavia.

To be honest, I remember remarkably little about it.

I was travelling with a friend who later joined the Foreign Office and was a guest at our boat party the other week.

We spent a couple of days in Paris, I think. We definitely had a day or two in Venice.

We had no itinerary and a mix-up with trains meant we raced past Rome and were well on the way to Naples before we realised we were on the wrong one.

Travelling through Yugoslavia and down into Greece was fairly hellish because we hadn't booked seats and the train was so crowded we had to sit in the corridor with our sleeping bags and rucksacks for 36 hours.

The further south we went it got increasingly hot. We'd stand by the open windows gasping for air while the smell from the onboard toilets seeped into the corridor.

Athens was bakingly hot but we found a hostel and one of my favourites memories is sleeping on the roof under the stars with other travellers.

A day or two later we left Athens on a local train that took us to a village by the sea. I don't remember a station. We liked the look of the place and jumped off when the train came to a halt.

To this day I have no idea where we where. What I do remember is it was early afternoon and nothing was open, not even an ice-cream kiosk.

We had to wait for several hours before a beach-side cafe opened up so we could get a drink and directions to a guest house.

Come evening the place was thronging with people and we sat outside a restaurant thinking things couldn't get much better.

The return journey was less of an endurance test because we weren't jumping on and off trains and exploring blind alleyways.

Back in Paris I had my first ever McDonald's burger. I must have been starving - or sick of salads - because it was delicious.

Back home my father was so impressed I'd kept within my budget of £200 (it was all I could afford) he gave me the money.

I didn't like to tell him that if I'd had it in advance I might have enjoyed the experience rather more because I wouldn't have had to slum it so much!

It has however given me a lifelong appreciation of clean sheets, air conditioning and five star hotels.

The reason I mention all this is that yesterday, at 6.00am, I dropped my daughter, who has just finished her second year at university, at Heathrow (Terminal 3).

Today I got a text to say that she and her college friend had arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia, via Dubai and Bangkok.

Later in the week they'll travel to the capital, Phnom Pengh, before moving on to Vietnam, returning early next month.

Far from being alone in a foreign country, two other students they knew were on the same flight. In a couple of weeks the daughter of a friend will make the same journey.

Cambodia and Vietnam are, it seems, the destination du jour for today's students travelling on a budget.

How times have changed.

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Reader Comments (3)

As it happens I'm in Phnom Penh for a week. Great place, much like Thailand in the eighties. Excellent food from all cuisines (including Ethiopian) but the best is Khmer-French fusion. Cost of the average meal is $4. (Everything here in the tourist area is US$, and a lot of ATMs dispense only dollars. And beer is $0.50 per half-litre mug. Never been to Vietnam, too much fuss to get a Visa.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017 at 6:40 | Unregistered CommenterFred

I also had my first McDonalds hamburger in Paris, in 1978, and I found it delicious. At the end of 1978, there were just 17 outlets, though the first UK branch opened in 1974. The first UK drive-through opened in Fallowfield, Manchester, in 1986, and I visited it several times during that year.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017 at 17:39 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Bagley

I was wrong. It must have been 1979. There were no McDonalds in France in 1978.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017 at 17:53 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Bagley

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