My first trip to Europe was with the school at the end of P7 when we went to Belgium for a week a very exciting time of on holiday away from home and having to get a passport. Just the one year visitor’s passport though as there wasn’t much travel abroad for me back then. I have a few memories of this trip but have been thinking it is strange what memories stick in mind. We had a visit to Luxembourg, we could spend Belgium Francs here but not Luxembourg Francs in Belgium, in the city centre there was a Maryland advert and the clock with a huge cigarette. The hotel that we stayed at was up a hill with a hair pin bend, by the end of the week the bus driver was spinning round with just a couple of manoeuvres. We were obviously studying the 2nd world war in P7 as one of our trips was to the 101st Airborne museum and memorial really bringing to life the stories that I had heard. Another memorable place and somewhere I would like to return was the Grottes de Han, an impressive network of caves in the limestone hill by the river Lesse. I remember the vast size of the caves, waffles at the café in the centre and the boat trip out. I believe there is now a bridge to exit the caves now, I will need to do this one on my own as I don’t think Emma would be so keen to go into the caves.
My next venture to Europe was to Gace, Kinross’s twin town in Normandy. This was a trip with the pipe band and as I was still just a youngster my mum accompanied me as did a few other mum’s, I think they also had a good time. We were staying in the college dorms, which seemed to end up being a feature on trips to north France in years to come. The visit was arranged by the twin town association and visits to Gace by Kinross and vice versa were arranged for alternate years with people from each town staying with people from the other town. The pipe band opted to stay together in the collage. This trip to France was a bit of an eye opener with a reception on arrival with Moulin Rouge dancers, yep topless! The trip coincided with Bastille Day and there was a big parade with floats that must have taken ages to dress, covered of crepe paper flowers. The parade went round the town, then round again and again eventually ending up at the Chateau with fireworks to end the celebrations. This was my first experience of a simple dish that I still love, beef tomatoes sliced and layered with red onions and drizzled with olive oil and some seasoning.
I have been back to France a few times both with pipe bands and work. A few trips to Lorient for the Interceltique festival, a huge Celtic festival with folk bands and dancers, pipe bands and bombards. About 5000 performers and 700,000 visitors for the ten day festival with about 200 events. The town is alive with the sounds of Celtic music and the smells of food stalls. There is no escaping the festivities, I remember playing in the local supermarket one year. The accommodation for the pipe bands was the college dormitories with the Scottish and Irish taking it year about to be in the blocks further away from the town centre. As a performer this is a superb festival with access to all concerts and free transport with in the town and to the beach, we would sometimes play in the morning, head to the beach then back and play in the evening. We did however have to work with many obscure places to play but here was also lots opportunity for a good time. Just along from Lorient is a port called Saint Nazaire where Germany had an impressive U-boat pen still standing today. This provided the U-boat fleet access to the Atlantic via the Loire River estuary. Due to the German marine bases, Saint Nazaire was one of the most damaged towns from air raids in France and pictures show the town raised to the ground with the massive concrete pens undamaged, quite a structure and important base for the Nazis. I was working at a beside a refinery not far along the coast and passed the Airbus factory en route often seeing the gigantic Beluga cargo plans, I am still amazed at how they managed to get into the air and they would, it seemed, slowly bank round after take-off quite a sight to see.
My first visit to Spain was an overnight stop in Madrid en route to La Palma so I don’t think I can really count that, I have been to north Spain a couple of times once to festival in Gijon with a pipe band and once to Bilbao with samba band. Festival time in Gijon was a colourful affair where again the town is alive with music, not quite on the same scale as Lorient but vibrant all the same. It is a holiday down on the north coast of Spain where the Spanish go for holiday and being in Asturias don’t consider themselves as Spanish. I remember being in a bar one time and there was bull fighting on the telly, an old boy in the bar was keen to say that that was Spain and that they didn’t like bull fighting here. I have had had another encounter with a bull, not in Spain but Portugal. I was there with a samba band for a festival of the sea, there was a big parade in the evening with lots of fire and dance, the samba band was leading the parade but in front of us and the main leader of the parade was the local dignitaries including a bull, which was a bit much for some of the band members and a couple couldn’t bring themselves to play.
Most of my travel has been with one band or another getting to Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal and Belgium but I have also managed to get a trip to Amsterdam with Emma and a couple of other friends. Amsterdam is a wonderful city to wander round or jump on a canal cruise. We did the obligatory walk round the more touristy section of the red light district and ventured in to the sex museum, not for the prudish amongst us but a good laugh! We had hoped to go to the Anne Frank museum or rather the house that she hid out in but the queue was right round the block so gave it a miss and just enjoyed wandering along the canal sides and stopping for a wee coffee or two.
Just a wee taster of my travels in Europe and it is hard to say where my favourite place is that I have visited, I like different places for different reasons. I found Sainte Nazaire for example interesting with its war time history and industrial history. Amstardam was a very relaxed visit taking time to explore and enjoy what the city had to offer. Other trips were with bands and they were the whole experience of being with the group and playing at festivals not necessar8ily having the same time to explore the town. I would certainly like to explore more of Europe as a tourist getting to see and experience new places.
Continuing to live the dream.