Sightseeing and Sun Seeking Young Couple Make Their Way Across Europe to Malta
*From the Sunday Times of Malta, July 29, 1962 John and Jackie Becker Tell their Story
Twelve weeks ago, on May 6, we set off from London, having thrown up jobs and flat, sold our car and dumped our few possessions on slightly stunned relations. Just four weeks married and leaving no address, we were armed with a tent, two sleeping bags, stove, typewriter, camera and two bulging rucksacks.
Our aims – to tour the coasts of southern France and Italy, pass through Yugoslavia and spend the winter in Greece. John wanted to see as much as possible of the cities we passed through, while Jackie’s main aim was to reach the sun and the warmer people of the south.
We hoped to pick up casual work as we travelled and to save enough money in Greece to be able to continue further east next year.
Before leaving England, John, aged 23, was working as a freelance film editor and Jackie, 20, as a continuity girl. We have both already travelled a great deal, initially because both our fathers were RAF officers, but hitch-hiking was a new experience for both of us.
In fact we have had tremendous luck. We reached Nimes, on the south coast of France, in two and a half days, continued to St Tropez and then on to Monte Carlo for the Grand Prix. Quite by chance we discovered a ferry from Nice to Corsica, and we hurriedly changed our plans, crossing to Ajaccio on the west coast of the island.
We toured Corsica and Sardinia and then crossed to Leghon from Bastia, on the East Coast of Corsica. From Leghorn we hitched to Pisa, Florence, Rome and Naples, down the east coast of Sicily to Taormina, and finally across to Malta from Syracuse.
It is not, in fact, Jackie’s first time here, as her father (Group Captain L F Brown) was CO at Luqa ten years ago, but in spite of the many inevitable changes, Malta remains as friendly and individual as ever, and we are thrilled by it.
It has taken us two and a half months to reach this island and a great deal of walking but we have spent little money and come across many interesting and wonderful places and people on our way.
On the island of Corsica, where there is little traffic on the mountain roads, those vehicles too laden to fit us in would even stop to apologise for not being able to do so! Our longest lift took us from just south of Naples right down to Reggio, about 350 miles. This was in a lorry, and it took a meal, four coffees each and 12 hours before pitching camp at 2 a.m. the next morning!
Apart from staying at a farm in Nimes for a few days, and being put up for two nights by a Sardinian at Cagliari, we have tented almost the whole way and have not as yet had to use youth hostels. However, on La Maddalena, an island between Corsica and Sardinia, there was nowhere to pitch the tent and we spent a night on the quay, waking to the sound of fishing boats going out at 3 a.m; and on another occasion we camped on the concrete roof of a beach restaurant.
We have made several night trips by boat. We travelled the cheapest way possible, of course, and our accommodation was therefore merely a large room in the stern, shared with a motley crowd of peasants, wheezing old men and students as poor as ourselves. The only berths provided were deck chairs, but we were able to make ourselves very comfortable in our sleeping bags, after cooking a meal and coffee on our stove. But mainly we have stayed at camp sites where, on the whole, prices are low and facilities more than adequate.
In France, we found a little work. At Nimes, we picked peas in the fields with French and Spanish peasants for a few days. We worked on the camp site at St Tropez, clearing the beach, and also in a nearby block of holiday flatlets, cleaning cars, the grounds and the flats.
On our limited budget, we lived on bread and cheese through France, with a spate of salads during our stay at St Tropez. In Italy the bread was stodgy and the cheese fantastically expensive. We found it was cheaper and tastier to eat out in the pizzerias and rosticcerias, until we discovered the cheapness of pasta and tinned tomatoes, and thereafter cooked our own meals on our stove.
En route, we have occasionally sampled the local wines, and when camping in the shadow of Vesuvius we discovered an interesting local wine. Although every time the volcano erupts, so many villages are destroyed, people always return to live on the slopes of Vesuvius where, on highly fertile volcanic ash, the grapes are grown from which this unique wine, Lacrima Christi, is produced.
Another delicious wine was that from Marsala in Sicily, which we tasted at Taormina, sitting on the steps of a narrow side street, while a group dressed in national costume enthusiastically sang and played Sicilian folk music.
We have been stared at, shouted at, laughed at, and followed by hordes of curious children, especially in Corsica and Sardinia, where the population is not yet used to tourists. In southern Corsica, we greatly amused the peasant women by washing our clothes with them, kneeling over a stream and scrubbing on stone slabs worn concave by hundreds of years of rubbing. But at the same time, we have met with extreme kindness everywhere. We have been given meals, and countless drinks, by the many drivers who have given us lifts. The lorry drivers, especially, are very friendly and enjoy company on the way.
We have had only two major brushes with authority. The first occurred at Bastia, just before sailing for Leghorn at midnight, where the port officials could not, or would not, stamp our passports, as we had requested (purely for our record). It became a matter of principle, and 11.30 p.m. saw us tearing through the streets of the town to the office of the Commissioner of Police. Eventually we arrived back at the port, accompanied by three worried policemen and a police car. Our passports were then ceremoniously stamped and we embarked with five minutes to spare!
The other occasion was here in Malta, on our arrival in Valetta. It seemed that our integrity was doubted, and we were held on board the boat for two hours after docking. Indignantly, we were submitted to interrogation, and by the time we were allowed to go our way were almost on the verge of returning to Italy.
Since then, our feelings have been mollified by the kindness and helpfulness shown by the Maltese people towards us. We are now very much enjoying our stay on this sunbaked, interesting island, and shall leave with many pleasant memories when we continue on the second half of our trip through Europe to Greece.
John and Jackie Becker