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Greece: There and Back on the Magic Bus. Part 1

Greece: There and Back on the Magic Bus. Part 1

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1978 and we were living in Aarhus, a compact pretty Danish University town, in north Jutland, overflowing with beautiful girls and very smart kids. We were a group of Irish guys that had come to work in a Johnny foreign land, to enjoy the wonders of the EU.

I was working nights at a company making leverpostej, (Liver paste), a vile food the Danes are crazy about. It is generally spread thickly on black bread that my Mom labelled turf. On one of her visits to Denmark she was offered this bread and refused to eat it.

“I ate it during the war, and I’m not going to eat it now!” was her violent response.

No amount of explaining that the sawdust and grain droppings she got during the war, was not the same as Danish bread, would entice her to eat it.

It was around early June, when Norm came to see me and said he was going to Greece on a cheap holiday. For the sum of around £30, we could fly down to Rhodes and get a hotel for about 7 days.

I immediately said, “Count me in.”

However, he was not finished there. The plan would be to stay around 3 weeks then come back on the Magic Bus.

“The Magic Bus? What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s a bus that goes from Athens back to London. It’s on the Afghan hippie trail. All the cool dudes use it.”

As the average Dane had over 5 weeks’ holidays a year, getting time off was no problem, thus we laid out our plans and rounded up two more willing wannabe hippies.

Norm was ex RAF. One of his jobs was taking the top secret decoded messages from the basement in the Ministry of Defence building up to the big chiefs on the top floor. Of course he had a quick read of them on the way. It was typically British that during the height of the Northern Ireland campaign a Paddy was reading all their secret stuff. Not that he passed anything on, but it made me smile.

Stan was a typical country boy from Essex. A clever, very thoughtful lad. Never said one word when silence would do. Drove us all crazy with rolling his cigs, while very slowly contemplating what he would say. Which usually was, nothing.

I remember his warning one day when we met another English lad,

“Watch this guy, he’s a Southend Flyer.” Which, coming from Stan, was heavy duty stuff.

Jimbo was from Clare, in the West of Ireland. An excellent bloke. Smarter than the average bear and very witty.

We booked our trip, flying out very early in the morning from Billund airport with Tjaereborg, a travel company started by a Danish Priest.

The other “world famous in Denmark” Travel Company, was Spies. Simon Spies was no Priest. He had a harem of girls living with him aged from 16 years old to 18. As soon as a girl reached 18 she was out the door and a new one was added. Every year he took one of his planes out of circulation and went on a flying holiday orgy with his female pack and all the paparazzi. He called it free advertising. The press hacks loved him.

And the Danish people loved him as well, because he was a very naughty boy.

Anyway, we got a bus down to Billund, the home of LegoLand, and the start of our holiday in the sun. We immediately made an impression by smoking cigars in the no smoking area on the plane and annoying all the parents.

And of course we drank far too much.

The heat was a killer after coming from the frozen north. We had two rooms in the hotel and proceeded to enjoy ourselves on Rhodes. Even back then it was a very plastic experience. It was geared for the tourist dollar. And they would try and squeeze every Drachma out of your pocket. Norm being a man of the world, got us to avoid all the tourist traps and we went native, drinking in the dark watering holes the Greeks enjoyed, eating the local food, which seemed to consist of squid covered in sticky tarmacadam.

Boys from the black stuff indeed.

We eventually left Norm and went in search of chicken and chips and girls to talk to. The trip to Faliraki beach would prove a game changer for Stan, as he took a surfboard you stand on, and paddled on out to enjoy the sea.

I couldn’t swim and neither could Jimbo, which was very Irish back then. Lying on top of Stan’s cloths and money to stop any thieving, Jimbo and I found a spot out of the scorching sun and went for a sleep.

When we awoke, there were literally thousands of tourists on the beach and we couldn’t see head nor hair of Stan. We went to where we believed we had left him, but by now there was lots of guys hustling boards. After a couple of hours marching up and down the beach, we gave up and got the bus back to the hotel.

Stan turned up much later. In his swimming shorts and red as Geronimo. He was not impressed. He had been stuck on the beach with no cloths or money for ages. The rental guys laughed when he heard that Stan had left his money with his friends.

“You’ll never see them again my friend, you’ve been made to look like a fool.”

Suffering from a bit of sun stroke he had to stand by the bus and beg some money so he could get back. The upside was he got that million dollar, all over body tan and his hair went white blond.

We were soon done with Rhodes and next day was ‘get the plane back to Denmark’ day.

We discussed telling the Holiday rep we were doing a runner before doing just so and heading for the nearest ferry.

We bought four tickets going somewhere else. The plan was to just sail on the ferry and get off at the best looking port. We had no idea what was written on the ticket, but we were ready for everything.

On board was like being in one of those old Humphrey Bogart movies. The Africa Queen was the name of Bogies boat in a movie and it fitted the wreck we were on. I expected to be attacked by a giant squid that was unhappy with all its children being covered in burning hot tarmacadam. The round, brass covered port holes reminded me of those old deep sea diver helmets and the heavy pea soup sea fog outside scared us shitless as the fog horns worked overtime.

We sat very spooked near the bar and listened to some American dude, asking for a, “Scrrewww afff tap.” The puzzled bar tender just shook his head and said, “No understand.”

We were none the wiser and watched as he repeated this over and over. Then he made a motion with his hand. And then we all said in unison, as we finally cracked the code, “A screw off top! Where the fuck does he think he is?”

The heavy sea mist still lay everywhere as we slowed down and approached the first spooky island. The sound of the creaking and metal fatigue broke through the eerie echoes of faraway shouts. Breaking through the mist came a boat with two guys in charge. It was a small fishing vessel and they were shouting up at the ferry crew.

In the background the island rose up like a Mediterranean version of Alcatraz. Not our cup of tea. We went and hid, while the exchange of prisoners was made. We found out from the American dude, our next stop was Santorini. possible home of the Legendary Atlantis. That was more like it. We made our boat exit and caught a bus into town. Santorini is an amazing place. From the town we could look down onto an old island volcano, rumoured to be the reason Atlantis and all that Aquaman Technology went south, in a fireball.

We stayed in a hostel and got ready to hit the town that night. The hostel was rough and ready and we played the world travellers’ part, as you do. Anyhow, lots of Americans doing the grand tour, on a dollar a day. Plenty of Aussies, none of whom could ever take a joke.

The ol’, ‘Subjects of the Crown,’ always pissed them off.

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The bars were all cowboy style setups. ‘A Fist Full of Drachmas‘, if you will.

We ended up at a table with some very beautiful Lebanese girls getting away from the carnage in Beirut. Here we were, dressed like Clint Eastwood, the man with no name, minus the cowboy hat of course. Masters of the Universe. Four Ricks from Casablanca.

We all smoked back then. It gave us some character, or so we believed. Stan had to ruin it by having a run in with the local barman over the price of a packet of cigarettes. The barman wanted 10 Drachmas or something like that. Stan disagreed,

“Look mate, they cost 5 Drachmas in the shops.”

The guy looked at him and said, “15 Drachmas!”

Stan said, “What! It was 10 the first time?”

“20 Drachmas!”

Stan got the message paid the money and sat down defeated.

Lesson learned. When dealing with the Island Greeks, they’re lovely people, but they’ll take you to the cleaners given half a chance. This deflated our egos for a few nanoseconds. We saw a family out back refilling plastic water bottles from a well. If the silly tourists want bottled water, we’ll sell them bottled water. This was the Greek idea of keeping the tourists happy.

Santorini is up in the hills, so we headed down to the beach when some guy stopped us and showed us around a three-bed apartment near the beach. We could rent it for about £3 a night. We turned him down, as we were getting a lot of useful information from the guys passing through the hostel, though I wonder how much he charges now for that prime-located pad.

Jimbo met a girl from his village in Clare who’d had her money ripped off. Now Jimbo was a true gentleman, but he never offered to help her, which was the source of much ribbing for a long time after that. So it was on to the next island, which was Ios.

The trip to Ios was uneventful. As we entered the harbour, we watched the crew dumping the excess waste into the sea, such was the ‘who gives a fuck about the environment?’ attitude, back in the good old 70s. Ios was a beautiful island with a booming tourist trade. We could watch the big jets coming and going. But the place was still pretty empty and we camped on a site, right beside the beach.

Getting the tan was one of our prime objectives. Stan was sorted, having got the full 360 tan on Faliraki. We, on the other hand, were still like walking Victorian white marble exhibits.

None of that expensive sun protection rubbish for us, so we bought some cooking oil and lashed it all over. As we literally slow cooked, we went about our way around the island. I developed a very nasty septic chafe shoulder cut from the straps on my haversack. This I cleaned in the sea, which, of course, made it worse.

“But we were so much older then, we’re younger than that now.” As one famous balladeer put it.

We moved on to another island, which one it was, I have no idea.

Sleeping in a dark room while the family, all six of them, slept on the kitchen floor, I decided to head back to Denmark. So I left my band of brothers and took a ferry back to Athens. And my meeting with a hippie legend, ‘The Magic Bus.’

To be continued. Exclusively in Talking Soup.

Cover image courtesy of tourist at home via Flickr

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  • This evokes wonderful memories of The Magic Bus my friends travelled on to Athens in the 60s. We all also remember the Brian Hughes student travel organisation and the wad of fantastically useful infirmation leading us to cheap places to eat and sleep. I am going to give my friends this link now that we are all elderly and needing such reminiscences to detract from Covid isolation!!

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