In part two of his trans-European adventure on public transport, Frank Sonderborg takes the bus from Greece to Denmark.
Arriving in Athens, the big city, was a shock with the noise, the hustle, the bustle.
I stood in the centre of Athens and for some insane reason, I believed the only one that could help direct me to a hostel, was a white-gloved cop directing traffic, a belief stemming from the old, helpful British Bobby syndrome, I suppose. I was stopped from making an idiot of myself by a family who asked if they could help.
“Yea,” I said, “I’ve just come in from Greece.”
“You mean the islands?”
Then I realized how stupid it sounded.
“Yea the islands.”
They were, amazingly, Irish, and were heading back to the Emerald Isle the next day. I got directions to a hostel and I was back in business.
That Sunday night, the 25 June 1978, was the World Cup Final between Argentina and Holland. I watched it in a bar that was crowded with Greeks, screaming support for Holland. I asked a native why they supported the Dutch team and was told, simply, that they don’t like the Dagos. This brought a smile to my lips, as the Brits maintained that the Dago-lands started at Dover. Well the South American Dagos won that one, and life went on in all the Dago-lands east of Dover.
The next day I went to look at the Acropolis. One US tourist said it looked like a bomb site and to my surprise it turns out, it was an old bomb site. In 1687, gunpowder being stored in the Parthenon was hit by a cannonball and exploded, making quite a mess.
I managed to buy a leather bag for the girlfriend back in Denmark and a very sharp knife, with a wooden handle. I still have this knife, a tribute to the quality of the steel and its maker. I planned to use this to cut fruit and open tins of stuff, I needed to stock up for my trip on the Magic Bus.
The following morning I headed down to the Magic Bus pickup spot. Was it on a back street called Syntagma, as I had read amongst other stories about the Magic Bus? I don’t remember.
They used to tell an awful joke about Greece back then.
“In Yugoslavia when you drink too much wine you wake up with a pain in your head. In Greece you wake up with a pain in your arse.”
So I was on my guard as I went down some very dodgy side streets.
And was indeed grabbed at, as I went past some risqué establishments. I’m a big guy so I managed to push these attempted customer kidnappings away. I eventually came to this very sad looking coach, with some Greek guys standing at the bus door talking to a girl. When they saw me, their attention shifted to me. Now, it was a long time ago, but I believe I paid the equivalent of about £5 for the Magic Bus trip back to Amsterdam.
Maybe this wasn’t the bona-fide Magic Bus and they were just Greek Cowboys, but it was along that same Wagons West are rolling, Oregon, Magic Bus, Wagon Train Trail, and it was taking me home. So frankly my dear, I didn’t give a damn. I paid the Drachmas and was given a ticket for the bus.
“Hey you,” they called out to the girl. A young, short haired, tough looking lady.
“He’s Irish as well, maybe he pay.”
She rushed over to me and told her story. She was from Mayo in Ireland and had blown her money so she needed a loan to get back home. Now what was a man supposed to do? I was a sucker for a sad tale and I did remember all the ribbing I gave Jimbo about his Clare friend.
I paid her fare and we travelled as companions on The Magic Bus.
The bus was packed with people going home. Germans, French, Americans, Ozzies. A couple of Danish lesbians spooned their way back across Europe, wannabe Hippies like me, heading back to civilization. The migrant invasion was not an issue back then.
Molly and myself ended up sitting between some French guys. I was brainwashed with the idea of the French wimps that ran away in the last war but these guys were tough as hell. Rough looking, they reminded me of the Frontier French beaver trappers I had seen in Hollywood movies. They were funny and great companions on a long bus trip and they, like most people I have met along the way, loved the Irish.
They immediately got into a conflict with the Greeks driving the bus. On a moving community on wheels, it got pretty tense. There was always the danger of getting thrown off the bus.
All thoughts of a, ‘Socialist Hippie Journey,’ was dashed right from the start by these mad Greek bastards. Little dictators of their domain on wheels. There was a courier on the bus. A gofer for the obnoxious drivers. He was Irish and was there to collect passports for the various border stops. He told me he got paid around £5 for the round trip. I presume he was bringing back some wacky baccy from Amsterdam to make it worth his while.
It wasn’t his first trip, so he knew the apes he was working for.
Our first stop before the Yugoslavia border was a very expensive Greek restaurant. This did not go down well with the hippies on the bus. The drivers got to eat free. We, on the other hand, had to pay what was overpriced food, even for Greece.
I had my tins of tuna and bags of fruit. I used my knife to hack open a tin until one of the Danish girls loaned me one of their smart tin openers. I shared everything with Molly from Mayo.
In that Hippie wonderland before the Euro. We travelled with either US dollars or/and postal orders. I had German postal orders in Deutsch Marks. I could change in banks and post offices, along the way, if I got time.
I remember, in Athens, standing behind a Greek woman trying to get a cheque changed in a bank. The gnome behind the counter covered that cheque, sent by a Greek guest worker somewhere in Europe to his mom, in various big black stamps. Then refused to cash it.
She went away crying.
My German postal order was cashed no problem. For a wad of Greek drachmas. Back then, the German Mark and the US dollar ruled the world.
The Magic Bus stopped for no man as it sped across Europe, heading for Amsterdam. In Yugoslavia, it was changing Drachmas for Dinars time. My memory of the journey through Yugoslavia, is a rainy wind swept communist country. Pretty backward, with kid soldiers, wearing the worst looking ill-fitting uniforms you can imagine. These kids had guns, so it was scary when they went through the bus.
We drove nonstop with very few breaks. Next, was the Austrian border crossing. Immediately we noticed the smart spotless white uniforms of the Austrian border guards in sharp contrast to the misfitting uniforms of the Yugo army conscripts. More changing of Dinars into Austrian Schillings and the loose change was building up.
On board the bus, life had settled down. I slept in the seat, Molly beside me. Some slept on the floor including the Danish spooners, which I had tried it, but the vibrations were too much for my sensitive head. The back seat was the prize as you could stretch out. Our French trapper’s pals claimed it, as soon as their occupants had departed at our German stop.
I had now a fistful of Deutsch Marks to spend in their expensive Motorway cafes.
The drivers were very aggressive in moving the trappers so they could avail of the seats for sleeping so a lot of bad blood was building up.
I drank Ouzo with my French pals and liked it. Ouzo is an anise aperitif much like Turkish Raki. It’s the type of drink that can taste like shite, if you get a bad bottle. When we were loading our gear under the bus in Athens, I had spotted giant bottles of Ouzo in the cargo hold. They must have been around 10liters each.
The drivers, I was told, were bringing them as gifts for their Dutch girlfriends. At the time I thought it was a rubbish drink, but this stuff I was getting from my French trapper friends was tasty and made me a convert. After living for months in some caves on Crete, the French boys were on their way home to Paris. Next time I said, it’s the cave life for me on Crete, so we drank more Ouzo and watched the Danish girls spoon some more.
Our never ending trip continued over the border into France.
I cannot remember any type of hassle at any of the borders. We were just the usual busload of hippies heading home. Now I had French Francs as well as a pocket full of loose multi denominational change as we sped for Paris. We stopped near the centre of a rainy Paris where we said our goodbyes to our French trappers. The drivers were happy to see them go and did not even leave the bus just pointed at the baggage area. The Irish gofer was designated official luggage unloader. I saw them opening the bus hold, getting their haversacks and then they were gone.
Next stop for us, via Belgium, was Flushing in Holland, or to give it its proper name Vlissingen where I would say goodbye to Molly, as she had a Ferry ticket that would take her back to the UK and then Ireland. We arrived late at night and I remember listening to the Dutch guards talking and I realised I could understand most of what they were saying. As the dialect they speak there, is very close to Danish.
I gave Molly my mom’s address and said she could send any cash she wanted to repay, to her, which she indeed did many months later, alongside some grand things to my mom about her son. Which was nice. As Molly pulled her bags out, the Greeks went ballistic, running around screaming and very close to having a punch up with the Dutch custom guards. It seemed my French trapper pals had taken the opportunity to liberate the large bottles of Ouzo from the bus baggage area when they vacated our company in Paris. I had to stop myself from laughing, as it could not have happened to a better bunch of obnoxious villains. No, I had no sympathy for these bastards. What will the Dutch girlfriends say now?
Paddy the gofer got all of the blame, but most of the bus was on the trappers’ side. And so, on we went, again, to our final stop.
Amsterdam. City of Hookers, and the left wing Marijuana Capital of Europe.
We stopped in the middle of Amsterdam around midnight. It was pissing rain. I had my rain-gear on. Most of the hippies had shorts. As we ran for the hostel, an American dude was giving the sound advice, that the place was full of cutthroats.
“Dude’s! The junkies will slit your throat for a Guilder. Sleep in your clothes. Be alert. Keep your valuables between your legs. Stay fucking alive.”
I think I paid in Deutsch Marks. And got a top bunk.
I slept with one very scared eye open, as if the cutthroat junkies of the Caribbean surrounded me. Moving like slithery pythons, in the pitch dark. I had my knife, ready to defend myself. Next morning I awoke to see the room full of shit scared backpackers like myself. Not a cutthroat Junkie in sight.
Next up, was a wander around Amsterdam and changing Francs into Guilders to buy a train ticket back to Denmark, the land of Milk and Money.
I eventually arrived back in Aarhus Denmark. As I opened the door to my Collegium room, I discovered it was full of young Irish guys who had come to Denmark to find their fortune. We never locked our doors back then. As we always had guests coming and going. Four of them all in a heap, sleeping on the floor. Like puppies in a litter.
I emptied my pile of jangling change on the table. Drachmas, Dinars, Schillings, Deutsch Marks, Dutch Guilders, French Francs, Belgium Francs.
One of the guys Larry, woke up and said, “Jayzus where’ve you come from?”
I said, I’d ridden the Magic Bus across Europe.
“What’s a Magic Bus?” Was the sleepy reply.
“That my friend,” said I, “Is a long story.”
Cover image courtesy of Poor Ole Rich via Flickr