I so wish I had seen the movie, ‘If It’s Tuesday This Must Be Belgium’ before Marie and I embarked on our Trafalgar under-35, 18 day tour of Europe in October, 1977.

Not that the tour was a disaster, and not that we did not learn a lot about Europe in a short time, which was the aim.

But it was an extravagant and rushed trip around nine countries, given Marie and I were intent on spending at least 12 months in Britain and Europe. (The 1969 movie, ‘If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium’ is a comedy about an identical tour).

Photo 1: The 1977 Trafalgar Tour Group in Florence Italy.

On our Trafalgar tour, we blew nearly 50 percent of our budget, because we had not read the fine print about hidden extras, which our smooth tour guide, Digby Holmes from Leeds, enlightened us about on day one of the trip, as the coach, driven by Naples local, Miguel, cruised into Amsterdam.

Never mind. Hang the expense. You only live once.

But for the South Africans on the trip it was a disaster, because the Apartheid based regime of the time only allowed them to take a certain amount of currency from the country. So, while the rest of us were cruising down the Rhine, ‘Frik du Preez’ and his mates/partners remained on the coach. Erill, an Afrikaner, had not heard of rugby league. What planet did he live on?

There were a lot of Americans on our trip, which was not surprising. They go for these rushed tours around Europe because they only get a couple of weeks vacation a year. Please. Aussies. Can we refer to our time away from work as holidays?

Our American fellow travelers included female twins from California and a lass called Candy Christmas, from Texas. There were also travelers from Canada, New Zealand, England and Singapore.

There were a few Australians, among them Bill and Diane White from Brisbane; Patsy Paine from Ross in Tasmania; John Abbott and Glenda Willingham from Liverpool in Sydney; John Kellow from East Roseville. I had played rugby league against Bill White in Brisbane. I was contracted to Brothers, and Bill to Wests’ Panthers.

The Australian accent was confusing to many, none more so than a barman in Amsterdam, who thought Marie said Bourbon, Coke and …. when ordering a Bourbon, Coke and ice

In Venice we paid 17,000 Lire for a seafood meal. I mean, really.

I paid more for a Florentine steak, but it was worth every centime.

The climb up the Leaning Tower of Pisa was ‘hairy’ to say the least, because the tower, well, it leans, and there were no safety rails, or people in high viz jackets, or STOP/GO people.

Now, the best example of budget blowing Marie and I incurred, took place in Cannes on the French Riviera, where we both had fish soup and I also had sole, done with macadamia nuts. I think I might have had a few oysters as well.

On the way back to our hotel in Nice, we saw the villas of actors, Michael Caine and Douglas Fairbanks Junior.

In Paris, our night tour was a bit of a fizzer. The dinner was ordinary and the stage show below par as well (the curtains were dirty) with the girls not up to the class of lass I grew up with in northern New South Wales. The magician had a shocker, dropping a salt shaker on the glass floor, which shattered. There’s no way that could have happened to the great Aussie magician, Phil Cass, although his coach at Brisbane Souths, Bob McCarthy could not understand how Phil was such a clumsy handler of the rugby league football.

“He can pull a rabbit out of his bottom, but he can’t catch a football,” Macca once said.

Digby Holmes told us he had been a tour guide for 13 years, with one of his most harrowing experiences the witnessing of a bus crash on the Arlberg Pass in Austria, which resulted in 17 deaths.

He ‘got’ a few of the more gullible tourists a few times. e.g. – pointing out the pasta bushes outside Rome. I must confess to turning my head to have a look.

Anyway, the weather was kind to us on tour – just the one wet day – in Paris.

I wish I could say we made friends for life, but that’s not the case. We kept in touch with Albany Creek based Bill and Diane White back in Brisbane, for a time. But that was it. We got along fine with everyone, but there was no real ‘bonding’.

The single girls on the trip were disappointed there weren’t more single men. A young single, male dentist from Israel – Cobi Landsberg – was the centre of attention for most of the single girls. No dentist jokes please. But he did have a smile on his face for most of the trip.

Photo 2: Bill White with Marie Ricketts (left) and Bill’s wife, Diane on top of Mt Rigi, Switzerland.

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