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Glasgow—The air was brown October 2, 2009

Posted by Jenny in memoir, travel.
Tags: , ,

Sun obscured by smogThis is one of a series about a three-month hitchhiking trip I did across Europe when I was 18.

Glasgow in January.  Neither place nor time makes any sense.   I think I picked the destination because (a) it was served by Icelandic Airlines, the cheap way to go to Europe, and (b) I liked the idea of roaming the highlands of Scotland.  Could anyone possibly have been more ignorant?

It was January because I came up with the plan in the fall of a “year between” and I was hoping to spend six months or more in Europe before going to college.  With some high school graduation money from Granddad plus my earnings from a job as a cashier, I had about $800 in total.  Believe it or not, that lasted me until April, for  I managed to live on less than a dollar a day during parts of the trip.  But my money did run out, as described in my last post, and Mom and Dad bailed me out.

Yet it was actually my own money to start, and I was 18, and for the past several years of teenage rebellion Mom and Dad had been saying to me, “We have a legal responsibility to take care of you until you’re 18.”   I called them on it when I was 18, and on principle they had to let me go.  And they did.

One thing hard to remember now is that this mode of travel seemed more normal, more safe than it does these days.  Lots of kids were doing the hitchhike/youth hostel thing, though they were mostly a bit older than I was, recent college grads.

The flight over was broken by a stop at Keflavik Airport in Iceland in the middle of the night.  We all got off the plane, shuffled around the airport gift shop looking at Icelandic sweaters and low-price cigarettes, then got back on, carrying big plastic bags with “Marlboro” on the sides.  (I didn’t buy anything.)  On to Glasgow.

Once we arrived and collected our luggage, I had a tough time manuevering my green frame backpack with its “sleep sack” bundle for the youth hostel bunks.  They provided a blanket, you provided two sheets sewn together to sleep in underneath.  The pack wasn’t really that heavy, but I hadn’t learned how to get it on and off easily.  I had to sit down on a bench and back up to it.  And I kept remembering things that I needed, then had to take it off all over again.

I got a map and figured out where the youth hostel was, and with some help from strangers I boarded a bus that took me to the general vicinity.  While I stood on the sidewalk puzzling over my map, two nice fellows came up and asked if I needed help.  They looked at the map and determined where the hostel was, then actually walked with me all the way there, chatting along the way.

I hardly understood a word they said to me, their dialect was so thick.

The air was literally brown from the house coal.  I mean, you could just about cut it with a knife.  It smelled of sulfur.  (I gather that Glasgow’s air quality is much better now.)

I expected to meet other young people at the hostel.  I rang the bell and was let in by a dour man.  As it turned out, I was the only guest in the hostel that night.

I sat in the front room, wrote in my diary, and tried to read.  The wallpaper had  yellow and brown stripes.  I felt frightened, unable to go out and explore.  I managed to get down the street to a shop where I bought some bread and some candy.  I didn’t feel up to going to a restaurant.

After a while, I went into the bunkroom to sleep.  It was unheated, a cavern of damp, cold air.  I laid out my sleep sack amidst rows and rows of empty bunks, then piled up several blankets against the frost.

At 12:30 at night I woke up in a complete panic.  I wanted to give up my whole trip and go home.  I scribbled in my diary, “I am miserable.”

After unpleasant hours in the cold darkness, I hit upon a plan.  I needed to see somebody I knew.  Forget about “roaming the highlands.”   I was going to take an express train straight down to London and visit the Rosenfelds, old friends of the family.

And so I did the very next day, and after a day or so I got my bearings.  And from London I hitchhiked to Wales, and from there I took a boat to Ireland, and then…  and then…  and then….


1. DaffodilPlanter - October 24, 2009

Lovely vignette.

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