Walking down the corner shop on this crisp, sunny morning to buy some bread for my bacon sandwich I was reminded of a trip to Norway many years ago. It must have been the cold, dry air and the low sunlight but, just for a second, I was back strolling beside the Strandkaien in Stavanger.
I mentioned it to Louise when I got back to the house and she commented on how lucky I’d been to have done so much travelling when I was younger. It certainly does leave you with a full assortment of memories and, of course, one or two funny stories.
Back in August 1980, aged 20, my best mate Pete and I decided to head off round Europe like a pair of budding Laurie Lees in my faithful old Vauxhall Viva (HA), which was almost as old as we were. We didn’t expect the car to make it home but if the worst did happen we hoped it would be high in the Swiss Alps, where we would at least have the pleasure of pushing it over the edge of a mountain and watching it crash to a fiery death. Just like the movies.
Back in those days borders between European countries still existed, along with passport control and customs. Of course, the EEC was already created so, more often than not, you were just waved on through even though the majority of crossings were still manned. As this was our first ‘epic’ adventure we decided to stop at every border and ask for our passports to be stamped as a permanent, official record of our travels. I also knew my Mum & Dad would never believe the car had got us beyond Dover without some hard evidence.
After a leisurely few days in Saint Tropez rubbing shoulders with the stars it was time to tackle the ultimate challenge for the car: crossing into Italy then over the Alps to Austria. The French-Italian border was only a relatively short drive so we decided to pass straight through and get the Italian stamp at the Austrian border. A couple of days later after an enjoyable but brief Italian experience, we reached the border at the Brenner Pass and parked the car. A series of single storey buildings ran in a line in the middle of the road on both sides of the border and we strolled into the first, passports in hand.
Behind the counter were two Italian officials dressed in bottle green uniforms, burning cigarettes in hand. Both were slouched back in their chairs, one with his feet up on the desk. “Si?” snapped the first. I raised my passport, pointed at it and replied “Stampa” in my best Lutonian-Italian. “No, no!” he replied, shaking his head. “Si, si. Stampa!” I argued, reinforcing my words with a hand stamping action. He glanced at his colleague and they grinned to each other. Okay I thought, this is a bit silly I suppose but I want that stamp. I don’t care if they think we’re a pair of daft English laddies. “Si, Stampa!!“, I demanded.
They looked at each other again, laughed and with a shake of the head Mr feet-on-the-desk swivelled round, leant forward, took our passports and stamped them. With an attitude. Again they looked at each other, laughed out loud and handed us back our passports. We quickly scuttled out and jumped into the car, our embarrassed glows merging with the fresh Cote d’Azur suntans. Sure, they had made us feel like little kids, but we had our stamps. That was all that mattered, the result.
I opened my passport to admire the new entry: “Automobile Club D’Italia” beautifully stamped across page 7. We looked at each other, roared with laughter and sped off into Austria. Plonkers!