England’s treasures

England’s treasures

Three sisters and a legacy of wonderful fiction, and all written by three women who lived in a quiet, out of the way village in Yorkshire – The Bronte sisters.

I had always imagined Parson Bronte’s daughters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, living in remote, windswept Haworth, in a damp, dreary stone cottage with no neighbours, confined to indoors and infinite boredom as the rain and sleet swept over their abode from the moors that were like a lonely and fierce moat oppressing them.

I was wrong, well, mostly.

Even though on the early spring day I visited – the village was tempered by misty rain, I discovered a charming village, much the same as it had been when the three literary sisters lived there in the early 19th century. The village is situated on
the eastern slope of the Pennines, located close to the river Worth. Yorkshire has retained many fine villages and most set like Haworth in glorious, wild nature precincts. It provides a landscape that was ripe for three imaginative young women to draw dramatic, romantic tales from and set them to paper.

A long, narrow cobblestone street rises from a sharply dipped valley and slim residences line the street locked in by little shops, cafes and boutique stores. Cafes are full of chattering folk and mothers wheel their prams up the steep thoroughfare.

It is this road that the ‘girls’ would have trod in sturdy boots, and there’s the local post office where Charlotte sent her manuscript of Jane Eyre under the pseudonym Currer Bell. In fact the three sisters took the Bell name, Emily was Ellis and Anne was Acton Bell, which veiled their gender – in a time when it wasn’t seemly for women to write novels.

The Brontes arrived at Haworth from Thornton in April 1820 and settled into the parsonage. Patrick Bronte outlived his six children (two daughters died in 1825), his wife, the three daughters and son Bramwell who was a loving brother but a troublesome son. He lived a complicated life and through drunkenness and the use of opiates his health declined and he died in September 1848. In December the same year Emily Bronte died and a year after, Anne passed away in the seaside town of Scarborough. She was buried there to spare their father from burying yet another one of his children.

The paintings above are rare and were painted by Branwell Bronte. The one of the three sisters on the left featured Branwell at the back of the composition but he painted himself out. The picture on the right is of Charlotte. 

So, the lives of the Bronte sisters weren’t long. They were well-educated by their father, a man whi crusaded for better education for the village folk and also better sanitation for the poor village of Haworth. \

The sisters also spent time in boarding school and their lively minds fed off each other creatively as they wrote together in their home by the Moors.

Today the parsonage is a museum of charm that invites visitors to look around and see just how they lived. The dining table is most evocative, it’s where the girls would gather to talk and write and walk around reading aloud to each other. The table is in the parlour, as is the couch where Emily died.


Patrick Bronte.

There is a collection of personal items such as purses, books, modest pieces
of jewellery and clothes owned by Charlotte – the last to live in the house
as a married woman.

Charlotte – great and small

There’s a dress on a stand that she wore which is fit for a child, so small with the tiniest waist. And shoes of soft leather like ballet slippers – yet again, minute. Charlotte was only 4 foot 10 inches (147cm), a tiny woman, constrained by her life and times but with great ambitions. One of the artefacts on show is a book so tiny it would fit in the palm of a small hand, in script almost unreadable because of its size, which was written by Charlotte, part of her obsession with all things secret and tiny.

I enjoyed the house and the welcoming shop where you can’t help but pick up a fresh new copy of one of the Bronte’s novels. I settled for The Tenant of Wildfell Hall written by Anne Bronte.

It was Charlotte who lived the longest in Haworth, living in the parsonage until her death at age 39 in 1855. She married Arthur Bell Nicholls a year before her death.

Literary giants in their own time and beloved authors down the years, the Bronte, were three formidable sisters. •


Writer, Bev Malzard returned to Sydney to binge on all the movies made from Bronte books. It’s still a toss up with Jane Eyre – the Joan Fontaine or the Mia Wasikowska (as Jane) which is her favourite. Which is yours?

 AND Qatar Airways flies to Manchester daily from Australia via Dohar. Visit: [@]

www.qatar. com

The closest railway station
is Keighley Trainline ([@] thetrainline.com) buy tickets from London Kings Cross via Leeds.

Visit: Bronte Parsonage Museum ([@] bronte.org.uk)
More information: [@] www. visitengland.com [@] http://www.visitbritain.com visitbritain.com 




Top 10 sites of Stockholm

Top 10 sites of Stockholm
Stockholm Syndrome . . . 
Never get enough of Scandinavia? Love Scandi Noir? About to visit Sweden for the first time? Want to have your check list ready? All this and more too, and remember to stop, sit at a cafe and watch the world go by in this fabulous city. No hurry here.
If you are p;anning a trip to this Scandi beauty, here’s how to get to know Stockholm. Tack!
In just one day you can stroll along cobblestoned mediaeval streets, take a boat trip to the archipelago and enjoy world-class shopping. Get to know Sweden’s capital in 10 easy stops.
The top 10 sites:

1. Vasamuseet. Scandinavia’s most visited museum – and it’s easy to see why. This miraculously preserved 17th century ship and the building that houses it combine to make an extraordinary experience. The Vasa, one of the grandest war ships ever built in Sweden sank on its maiden voyage in 1628. (How embarassing.) It was salvaged (below)in 1961 and is the best preserved ship of its kind in the world. Don’t miss this.

2. Skansen. A beautiful, spacious open air museum that offers a romantic picture of rural Sweden from centuries past.
3. NK. Shop or browse in the stupendous department store. NK (Nordiska Kompanier) is steeped in the stylish tradition of excellence.
4. ABBA, of course. A museum dedicated to the Swedish super-group is on the northern edge of Sodermalm. Tickets can be purchased from the info. desk on the ground floor at NK.
5. An evening stroll along Monteliusvagen on the edge of Sodermalm, as the sun sets slowly over Stadhuset and the city centre.
6. A boat trip to Sandhamn, a bustling island off the edge of Stockholm’s stunning archipelago. It has sandy beaches, beautiful views and some excellent places to eat.
7. Moderna Museet. Visit the museum (below) on Skeppsholmen and appreciate the building’s design (by Rafael Moneo), its impressive collection of modern art and its great restaurant.
8. Walk through the winding alleyways and mediaeval squares of Gamla Stan (below). The Old Town has been designated a cultural landmark. A walking tour will reveal where a famous poet was killed in a tavern brawl, where Dominican monks walked and where the classic haunts of the artists are. Most tours depart from the Obelisk on Slottsbacken outside the Royal Palace.
Historic centre of Stortorget, Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden, Scandinavia
9. Fika. Swedes love to have a ‘fika’ – spending a long leisurely afternoon with a friend over cups of coffee with a pastry on the side. Embrace this tradition at Chokladfabriken, a cafe that shares its name with the Swedish title of Roald Dahl’s book about Willy Wonka. It serves truffles, marzipans and hard to resist sweet treats.
10. When you’ve had your fill of fika, you have to try the national dish of ‘sill’. Once the simplest of foods, sill is now a delicacy served on almost every national holiday. It’s marinated herring which comes in glass jars with many different flavours. Once you have tried it – you’ll be hooked. Or, that’s the story.

(What’s On? Official tourist & events guide can be picked up from tourist kiosks and hotels around the city. The brochure has an excellent map and comprehensive information about the city and surrounds including best restaurants, museums, tours, entertainment and cruises.)
OK lovely readers I know there are many more experiences to be had here – please add them in the Comments box.
Writer Bev Malzard left Stockholm on a dark and near-wintery night feeling a little frustrated at the amount of money she’d spent in that expensive town. She caught a train to the airport and when the train station guy told her how much her ticket cost, she exclaimed: “What? are the bloody seats made of gold?” He  replied: “No, that’s first class and the tickets are more expensive. But for you my Queen, I’ll put you in platinum class.” And that was the last genuine smile she had for almost 40 hours. The airport wifi was down, the plane was four hours late and she would miss her connection in Bangkok. She was ushered off the plane in Thailand, given a hotel room and a meal for a nine hour stopover and arrived in Sydney in a scary, demented state. She has since recovered – but has a twitchy eye.
(Writer flew Thai International Airways, which was superb through all crazy circumstances.)
SEE SWEDEN BY BIKE: The best time to visit Sweden is at the height of summer, when there are longer days and short nights. See Sweden by bicycle with its many cycle paths and dedicated cycle routes. Active holiday specialists Outdoor Travel based in Bright, Victoria offer guided or self-guided cycling holidays to Stockholm, Södermanland and the Kattegattleden Bike Path on Sweden’s west coast.

Guided or self-guided tours focus on the capital Stockholm and the nearby mostly flat rural landscapes of Södermanland.  An area of expansive forests, pastures, boulders strewn moorlands and over 400 lakes formed by ancient glaciers, there are many charming red-painted wooden houses and elegant manor houses dotted throughout the region.
Cycle to Gnesta then take the train to Katrineholm to see castles and palaces and Viking sites with ancient runestones and rock carvings. In Stockholm city tours include Drottningholm Palace and Gripsholm Castle and a boat trip to see some of the many islands.
On the menu too are a traditional smörgåsbord of hot and cold dishes, including a casserole of potatoes, onions, cream and pickled sprats (small anchovy-like fish), locally caught lobster, prawns, langoustines, mussels, oysters and of course herring, served in almost any way you can imagine – smoked, fried, pickled, marinated, baked, au gratin, with dill, beetroot, mustard, onion, or even blackcurrants or lingonberry jam.
The Kattegattleden Bike Path on Sweden’s west coast forms a part of the 5,900km EuroVélo North Sea Cycling Route. Outdoor Travel offers an 8-day (7-night) self-guided cycling tour along a portion of this epic coastal journey from Helsingborg.  
Bike Sweden Järna - Trosa (1)
Tours depart from May to September & costs start from $1530 per person twin share.
Guided: http://bit.ly/2mabVNB
Self-guided: http://bit.ly/2D6k6St
For more information call Outdoor Travel on 1800 331 582 or see www.outdoortravel.com.au

Holiday tips

_IGP1560.JPGHappy new year friends, let’s hope for fun, frivolity, fairness and a fecundity (couldn’t think of another F that was suitable) forthcoming.

I’ve had a lovely Christmas in sunny Sydney and ate my body-weight at the groaning table of abundance. Headed to Melbourne to view the amazing array of wall art that has been decorating the laneways of Australia’s fabulous southern city.

Back to Sydney for the amazing fireworks that are emblazoned across the city on the harbour. Always spectacular, always producing shouts of joy from the crowd.

January 1 is the day for the first swim of the season at Coogee and a day to reflect and make resolutions.

I reflected on the year past and was fairly happy with it and my place within those 12 months and as for resolutions . . .nah, not for me. BUT I have promised myself to post every Tuesday for this blog – and as I woke up today with a sore throat and a croaky voice, I didn’t feel too inspired or creative. Next week, so much more for you.

So I dragged a few old posts from another blog I did for a magazine and offer them to you as ideas for your future travels, they are snippets and observations . . .enjoy. ( The top, featured picture has nothing to do with this post but these little Pope fgurines took my fancy in Assisi.)

Solo in Avignon

We walked into the courtyard in front of the mighty Palace of the Popes in Avignon,
France, a marvellous sight to see with the blue sky framing the silhouette of the building roof. There was the clear, pure sound of the saxophone echoing around the empty square and this fellow was there on his own in his own musical world – a particular lovely memory of a Trafalgar Tour. (Well worth it to take a day and walk around Avignon.)

France to Tuscany

In Tuscany, about 20 minutes from Florence now. We arrived (a small group) at Rome airport to a sunny day then coached it north. We left behind a rainy gloomy looking Nice – but only after a few splendid days in Provence.
The ‘A’s’ have it
Avignon and Aix-en-Provence were the spots we looked at and enjoyed.
We had a wonderful lunch in a small town at a tucked-away Michelin starred cook’s Le Jardin du Quai. Chef Daniel Hebet gave us a masterclass ‘demo’ on creating the perfect macaron. Perfect little pink beauties.
* The 2 1/2 hour fast train trip (TVG) from Paris to Avignon
* The dinner at night in a restaurant over a thundering river – we were eating trout too.
* A stroll around the walled town of Avignon checking the Pope’s Palace – those crazy pope’s and their indulgences!
* Lunch at an exquisite private home in Provence – set in the middle of its vineyard
* Counting the dogs being taken for a walk in Aix-en-Provence
Off to buy ingredients in Florence with the chef from the villa here. Then to take a cooking class – bella! (www.trafalgar.com)

Holiday in Istanbul

Thinking of visiting an exotic destination for your next trip? Readers may have visited Istanbul 30 or so years ago in their hippie heyday – say no more! I’m 24 hours away from flying out of a city of more than 15 million people – Istanbul. I’ve been here for just four and a half days after a brilliant cruise from Athens to Istanbul.
After the peace and sailing serenity, arriving in Istanbul was like a shot of adrenalin.
What an extraordinary place, layer upon layer of history – talking Turkey means talking Hittites, Persians, Romans, Gauls, Macedonians, Ottoman Turks – and an amazing, glittering era of Byzantine rule and splendour.
When I see a pile of pomegranates, next to a tray of fresh dates – I’m seeing the same thing here that someone else was checking out at the green grocer’s a few thousand years ago.
I am here in the middle of Ramadan, and there aren’t too many people in a bad mood. I wonder as a man serves me dinner – humus, shepherd’s salad, kebabs, bread floating across the room with air-filled wings; all finished off with a plate of sliced watermelon. A glass of apple tea washes it all down as a cup of the high-octane Turkish coffee would keep me awake until next week.
Everything about Istanbul is full on . . .
Enjoy a couple of non ‘postcard perfect’ pictures (above) from the frontline.

Cruising the Coral Sea

Cruising the Coral Sea

Seeking sun and relaxation, pampering, a perfect getaway or the history of Australia’s connection to this exotic place? PNG is AOK!

Papua New Guinea is not often top of the holiday list but with the advent of cruising out of Australia to this exotic destination that’s pretty much undiscovered is a boon to people who like exploration without the hassle and with a dash of luxury.

Since P&O Cruises introduced its inaugural Papua New Guinea itinerary four years ago, departures for this special cruise now leave from Brisbane, Sydney and Cairns.


Leaving from Cairns was smooth sailing with a big wave to the mountains of the Great Dividing Range behind the sun-drenched city. We were headed into the Coral Sea.

Time before dinner to explore the Pacific Eden, with many of the public areas recently refurbished, the ship has a buzzy, modern ambience. It was towards the end of the season in November and the ship was full of excited cruisers, some new to the game and others – seasoned and ship-shape.

Our first stop was Alotau, capital of the Milne Bay Province where echoes of WWII can be heard. The Battle of Milne Bay took place here in 1942 and is one of the nostalgic stops along the way on war history tours.


Over breakfast we marvel at the beauty of the sheer-walled cliffs that are close to the ship. The bay is so deep we can anchor a stone’s throw (almost) to the shore. We went ashore to be taken to an open field on the bay and were greeted by a sing sing and some traditional dancing. Excursions aren’t organised from the ship, they are just sincere welcomes by the locals.

After a couple of (hot) hours here it was back to the ship to cool off. (Take a wide-brimmed hat and water with you on any land excursion.)


In the evening there’s a choice of two specialty restaurants that are free, Dragon Lady for fine Pan-Asian food and Angelo’s for frisky Italian fare (book early as they fill up fast). I went for Dragon Lady and it was full of tasty, spicy surprises.

Next stop as we sail through silky smooth waters is Kitava, a wee island off the side of the larger Trobriand Island of Kiriwana.


We are greeted by shy, smiling islanders and we were directed to the village where there were mats laid out selling local basket ware and trinkets, Interesting, it was the men doing the selling. The school put on a dance and the fierce steps by eight-year olds was amusing as the kids liked the attention and lost the choreography plot several times.

There was a woman cooking outside in a makeshift kitchen and boiling up fat, succulent crabs – the queue was long!

While some of us gorged on crab others enjoyed a wild ride on a bamboo raft to a tiny island just offshore. The ride cost $AU2.50 and the participants said it was worth every Kina (5 kina).

Next stop was in the Conflict Islands. We paid for a walking tour of the island to see the dense and lush gardens. But after landing, and being crushed by the heat we spied brilliant white sand and crystal clear water in the distance so we skedaddled through the gardens to the beach on the north side of the island – and everyone else had discovered this exquisite place too.

There was a little bar set up for cold drinks and hot snacks. Cold beer, hot, salty chips and a gently breeze coming off the sea – not too shabby at all!

People wax lyrical about ‘paradise’ and ‘perfect island beaches’ and I now understand – this place is heaven to visit and having the luxury to stay here in this unspoilt treasure for most of the day was like winning the lottery. And it wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t come here on a cruise ship.


As we reluctantly walked along the pier to pick up a tender, children were paddling little, very simple bamboo canoes in the cove and singing as we departed.

Such a simple and unaffected farewell but warm and sincere.

Back on board for our last dinner and concert in the bar we met with fellow passengers and related our day’s enjoyment, and they did the same.

Papua New Guinea is a special destination and offers wonderful opportunities to meet with and understand our neighbours.

Travel Tips

  • Take extra Kina (local currency) with you. Visitors pay for goods in Aussie dollars and give $$ to the kids but it’s hard for the locals to exchange the money and they often get ripped off. So, if someone sidles up to you and whispers ‘you have Kina’ – it’s OK to swap money.
  • Take some pens and notebooks with you for the kids, the schools are poor. And everyone has T-shirts at home they don’t wear – take kids sizes and men’s – as I have said, the villages are not flush!

Contact your travel agent for sailing dates and times for cruising to Papua New Guinea.

Bev Malzard was a guest of P&O cruises. Visit: www.pocruises.com.au

Writer Bev Malzard had visited PNG before and experienced the lock-in at her hotel in Port Moresby of a night due to the streets not being safe after dark. Visiting remote areas by ship was safe, sound and damn good fun. She thoroughly recommends a swim in the Coral Sea.


Images by Bev Malzard and Fran O’Keefe.













Three great Swiss dishes

Although it’s summer in Australia there are images coming through from Europe and England, and America of glorious snow blanketing the countryside and even dusting the cities. I love snow and have a little envy at this time of the year for the traditions and food that come with a snowy winter. Gluhwein, hot toddies, roasting chestnuts.

Who am I kidding, fresh prawns and oysters and glam-salads are what I really hanker for. But being a food lover (I love all food) I collect food memories on my travels and as I made a tuna salad yesterday, my mind went back to a fine, light lunch I had in Switzerland, as well as all the comfort food and the sweets . . .

2012-08-21 12.19.43

For a tiny, alpine country, Switzerland makes the most of every corner’s cuisine. The Swiss love their tucker and on my last visit I joined the food fan throng.

Switzerland’s neighbours are the influence for the table here – France, Germany and Italy press the flesh and have infiltrated Swiss kitchens for centuries. Historically, Switzerland was a farming country – and still is in many parts and the most popular crops were potatoes and dairy products from happy cows. Chocolate has been top of the food chain too.
Much of what is popular and served up in homes and indeed restaurants are regional dishes. In modern Switzerland, Italian food is common including the staples of pasta and pizza. Swiss cheese dishes include Emmental cheese, Vacherin and Appenzeller. And the aromatic cheeses from the various regions in the mountain areas have their special flavours from the mountain herbs growing in the lush pastures that the cows love.

2012-08-25 13.00.38
A typical Swiss breakfast (and my favourite meal in European countries) might display good, artisan breads, butter, honey, cheese, cereal, milk, hot or cold chocolate, coffee and tea. (Except in some of the hotels in the Italian region – especially Lugano where I stayed in Hotel Lugano Dante – and had the most splendid brekkie – check out the picture for cake. Any country that serves cake for breakfast gets  my vote as a winner.)
Lunch in Switzerland is usually a meal of pasta, potatoes, meat, fish, seafood and veggies – see my lovely tuna salad, served in a mountain top cafe above Lugano.
Dinner can range from a full meal to a snack.
Fondue is still on the radar, as is Aloplermagronen – a nostalgic dish of macaroni, caramelised onions, potatoes, melted cheese and served with a dish of apple sauce. Basically macaroni cheese but with the added potatoes – pretty heavy.
Another favourite edging towards the German tradition is Zurcher Geschnetzeltes – sliced veal in cream sauce and mushrooms, served with rosti.

2012-08-26 08.13.16
I’m not saying I returned from Switzerland four kilos heavier than when I left – but I’m not denying it either.
I did manage to have a green salad every day! And a Swiss chocolate too.
The writer, Bev Malzard was hosted by Swiss Tourism www.infoswiss.info
Hotel Lugano Dante
Zunfthaus zur Waag (for veal dish)

4513EBC6-2D5F-41E9-A1FD-B25660C4988A (1).JPGYou could do worse that eating a wurst on top of a Swiss Alp!

Neck and neck, a tale of three scarves

They keep our necks warm, they are lovely companions, they can be roiled up into a little ball as a pillow, they accessorise the plainest outfit, they’ll cover up a bad hair day, their colours can enhance your looks, they are beautiful gifts, they can be worn as a sarong, a sash or a stole and can become objects of obsession . . . in fact not to have one on hand can be quite anxiety making.

Silk, pashmina, cotton, merino wool, cashmere, hand-knotted, woven by angels – any which way a scarf comes into being makes the world a better place.

I have far too many scarves to even put on a post, but I’ll start my tale with three old friends who have travelled the globe with me.

The first is a beautiful blue and black fringed scarf from India. I purchased it in Chennai – no bargaining, it came from a boutique that didn’t play hard and fast with tight fists. This is a one-off,  and when it is folded in a drawer near its market cousins, it remains expensive and haughty.
A few days before I purchased the scarf I was in a bus trundling through the southern part of India. The bus had made frequent ‘comfort’ stops – let’s call them toilet stops at places that I couldn’t quite cope with – and I have a high tolerance for shitty toilets.
At one stop I said to my lady companions that perhaps it would be more hygienic if we just went into the bushes. All agreed with me.
As we were squatting in easy silence I looked behind me and there was a holy man wandering through the bush and starring at us. We all turned to wave and the poor skinny fellow took off like a rocket – don’t think he’d quite seen that many white bums lined up ever.

This next, soft, pretty confection came from the markets in Istanbul. I had just finished a cruise from Athens with my sister and we were stockpiling scarves. They only cost about $5 each but were comely and colourful. We wore them draped around our shoulders back to our hotel.
In a café near the hotel a young, pushy fella called us every night with true Turkish hospitality to come and have apple tea with him. We did, but he was starting to get annoying and we were trying to find ways to avoid him.
One night I said, ‘why are you flirting with us, we are old, there are lots of young, gorgeous girls around. ‘Ï don’t care’,  he said,  I just want a little bit of kissing and   . . .’- yep, he wanted more. I just starred at him and said ‘you’re a lunatic’. He laughed hysterically and attracted the attention of his boss. The boss came out and shooed him away. ‘Why did you do that,’ I said – ‘he doesn’t work here, so why not?’ he said. So a strange man had been flirting with us and making us apple tea from the café . . . ah, Istanbul.

This silk organza lovely was found at Stanley Markets, Hong Kong. I had bought an embroidered silk coat that I was thrilled with, and not cheap either. While the coat was being packed up I saw the edge of this scarf poking out from under a pile of sweaters. As I gently tugged it out I saw it was silk organza with fine cotton tufts sprouting – it was intriguing and quickly attached itself to me. I bargained for a while then put my foot down and said I should have it for free, as the coat had no bargaining attached to the deal . . . shopkeeper was bemused and said – ‘why not’.
That trip to Hong Kong I was invited on a helicopter ride too see that amazing city and surrounding islands from on high – what a flight! And the scarf playfully tickled my neck as the helicopter swooped through the mighty canyons of the vertical city.
Tell me about your scarves . . . where did you buy them, what do they mean to you, and do they tell a story?

Down and out in Berlin – or a night to remember

Down and out in Berlin – or a night to remember

I was happily listening to someone at a travel function recently about the new routes for Rail Europe and the new timetables and new trains for Germany. Back in the day, I travelled on trains a lot through Germany, they were always on time, efficient and clean.

And I’ve always been fond of the architectural beauties of the European railway stations, great caverns with iron as the constructing base for every shape and grand curve.

In the early 80s I had not such a grand experience at the old Berlin Hauptbahnhof (main railway station).

I was staying in Munich in the dead of winter with friends and decided to go to Berlin (which I had never been to before) and surprise a ‘holiday’ boyfriend. How hard could it be.

In those days there was an agency in Munich call the Mitfahrzentrale ( I think it still exists). It was kind of like safe and legal hitch hiking, which wasn’t easy out of major European cities because of the Autobahns. I digress.

I signed onto the agency list – you say where you are going, where your pick up point is, pay a few Deutschmarks (pre Euro) for insurance and Bob’s mein Onkel!

I got a lift in the smallest car I’ve ever built, and there were two in the front and two of us in the back for the long, long, windy and snowy drive to Berlin.

They were pseudo hippies and played cassettes of reggae music all the way. We all smoked cigarettes and a little weed along the way and the air was stinking! We were stopped at the border between East and West Germany and a youthful soldier carrying a big gun was dealing with us through the window. The nationals were OK but in my limited understanding of the language I thought he was asking me for 50 (funfzig) marks for a visa and no way was I paying that and started to get stroppy. My travelling companions told me to ‘shut ze up’ and as I shut up I got the gist that it was only funf (five) marks. ‘Well, OK then.”

So on we trundled and my fellow travellers looked shaken and told me they had ‘contraband’ in the car and I could have had us all in ‘the gaol’. I never did ask what the contraband was – best not to know.

We arrived in Berlin mid evening and I had to unfold my creaky limbs out of the chariot. Nice folks but that ‘beschissen’ reggae music . . .

I had not really thought this venture through. I arrived with the equivalent of about 10 bucks in my wallet, a small backpack with a few items and that was it. I phoned my friend several times and there was no answer. But, always the eternal optimist I sat in a cafe in the middle of town (the middle of the half of Berlin then), bought a large beer, a sausage and fries. How cool was I? And lucky I had the big scark, gloves, beanie and the parka. Soooo cold.

The night dragged on and Berlin in the early 80s was a darker place that today. Lots of shady folk coming out at night as the club scene was dangerously good! I moved to a park bench, well-lit and in the middle of a lot of seedy action – and felt secure. But still had to go back and forth to a phone box. This was the olden days, no mobiles, no credit cards, no atm, in fact I had nuthin’

After a thousand phone calls I tried to curl up and sleep under the park bench (hidden for safety) and as I snoozed I was kicked sharply in the kidneys by the Politzei. They moved me on and I strolled around the town feeling less than optimistic about my survival til morning.

Back to the phone box to call the police and found a nice bloke with good English to tell my tale of woe to. He told me I was a stupid girl and he could not help me but . . .there was a christian charity set up at German railway stations that helps travellers (old people, sick people – and idiots like me) in trouble when they arrive off the train. He gave me the address and it was inside the Hauptbahnhof.

I can’t remember the name of the charity but roughly translated to ‘Travellers Aid offices. So around 2am I walk in the dimly lit, empty station and to my left is a doorway at the end of a corridor with a light above it. And before I can make the journey to that door I have to run the gauntlet for about 20 metres of groaning, fighting, vomiting and even singing junkies and drunks. Now is the time to gird my loins – if I can’t beat ’em, join ’em. So, I took off at a healthy pace, backpack bumping along with me as I sang very loudly and slightly madly “Waltzing Matilda’. Piece of cake!

As I bashed on the door a fresh-faced young man opened it to a blubbering, stupid girl. He was so kind, and I explained I had no money til I could find a bank on Monday (it was still only Sunday morning). He told me to sleep on the office couch. No nightmares, nothing and I woke to the aroma of filtered coffee and hot rolls.

Such kindness and he got me into a hostel (with hostile wardens) for the next night. Still phoning and leaving my new address in case someone could come and fetch me.

My ‘holiday’ boyfriend had been across to East Germany for the weekend and was rather shocked at my exploits. After he picked me up he warned me about hanging around the centre of the city late at night and going to the railway station. OK, warning taken.

When some money came through I took a donation to the Travellers Aid and gave it with great thanks.

It was a night to remember.

Writer Bev Malzard returned to  Berlin several times but has not been there since the Wall came down. She likes things a little dangerous.