Reflections from The College – On Europe

By Richard A Roberts BA TEP CTAPS (Alumnus)

Image Source: Munich

One of the consequences of the COVID-19 lockdown is the effect on worldwide travel and that led me to reflect on what I believe may have been a Golden Age of travel for so many of us during the past 30 years. The combined effects of Greta Thunberg’s lead on environmental issues and a natural reluctance to embark on travel (even if restrictions are lifted) may well mean that the opportunities for travel are fewer and farther between.  I have been fortunate and seen almost every corner of the world by almost every form of transport.  As I look back over those travels I would like to share some memories with you.

The European café society is my real passion: there is nothing finer that sitting in Dallmayr, the leading Munich café, large hot chocolate and even larger chocolate truffle torte in front of me on the table watching the world go by – or promenading in the interval at the Munich Opera sipping champagne and admiring the impeccably dressed Bavarian elite. As a real people watcher I can spend many a happy hour just sitting watching; and that is one of the ‘must do’s’ of travel. Put the camera down, stop the selfie frenzy and just observe. Watch the world go by and let your imagination carry you along. Take in the splendour – or not – of your surroundings and absorb the atmosphere.  That will live in your memory for ever.

As I look back over those travels I would like to share some memories with you.

There are times when one has to gulp, wave the credit card and seize the day. Florians in St Mark’s Square in Venice is world famous and over the years I have been lucky enough to sit out side in the ‘drawing room of Europe’ sipping prosecco with sloth like slowness, and sit inside surrounded by raucous friends, dressed in seventeenth century costume for Carnival, and drinking hot chocolate (again!). It is eye-wateringly expensive whatever one does but it is truly a life lasting memory. 

Experiences are the real joy – forget acquiring souvenirs to bring home – relish another culture, another way of life. Thinking of Venice and the Carnival I was fortunate to go for a whole week some years ago and an already magical city is transformed into the wildest of living galleries. Walking round in costume is de rigeur and my velvet knee breeches, frock coat, and tricorn hat were well used if rather safe costume wear that week. Revellers in masks, indulgent dinners, private opera performances in noble villas overlooking the Grand Canal, sipping cocktails listening to period music on period instruments, players in period costume – what could be more removed from the world? Wickedly indulgent and financially crippling yes, but one of those memories that will stay with me.

Take in the splendour – or not – of your surroundings and absorb the atmosphere.  That will live in your memory for ever.

However not every experience needs an application to extend the credit card limit – talk of Dallmayr makes me think of the glorious Oktoberfest held in Munich in September every year. My very first journey out of the UK was in 1985, aged 25, driving a white Peugeot 205 with my then partner Christopher first to Munich, and then Turin, then Cannes before a two day drive back to the UK.  Our first morning in Munich was spent just stood on the street corner outside the Staatsoper watching the nearly three hour long procession of Bavarian bands, dancers, marching men and floats as the Oktoberfest opens. Entirely free entertainment. Then our host Karl-Heinz, took us off to the Englischergarten, past the naked sunbathing areas, and to the Chinesischer Turm for beer and live oompah music. That’s 35 years ago and I can still smell the Balkan Sobraine tobacco Christopher used to smoke, and taste the pretzels and beer as if it were yesterday.

As I age and want to drive less – and bearing in mind some years I used to do 25,000 miles a year – the thought of taking the train becomes more and more appealing.  I shall miss the 80mph dashes up the Stelvio Pass and its 80+ hairpin bends, the joy of the Promenade des Anglais at dusk with the hood down on the car or utter chaos of the Milan Ring Road in rush hour with cars seven wide on a four lane road. Trains though allow for creative imagining, for an impromptu picnic at one’s seat – food bought from a local deli before boarding.  One of my abiding memories is loading our bright red heavily dead fly encrusted BMW Z3 2.8 onto the train in Bologna one afternoon and arriving at Brugge by lunch the next day having dined off Palma ham, olives, and then cheese accompanied by a fine Barolo in our compartment while the Italian and Swiss scenery sped by.

Not every holiday has to be packed with selfies and food, its lasting memories come from experiences and they endure for a lifetime.

The last car-train journey I did was to Croatia via Dusseldof and that was memorable for many reasons not least trying to load a very large car – one is ashamed to say a Bentley – onto the train carriage much to the consternation of the German train crew. I managed with millimetres to spare and achieved a round of applause for my skill. That said the holiday also gave me two of the most precious yet simple memories: in Dubrovnik we were fortunate to stay in a hotel in the walled city itself and each morning we looked out from our balcony in wonder at the street market below. They knew not that we were looking down yet we could see the market traders, the produce, the customers and the friendly bantering – a scene of timeless quality.

My final ‘priceless’ European memory, that is free to enjoy and endures 24/7, comes from that same holiday – the great sea organ at Zadar which plays music by way of sea waves and tubes located underneath a set of large marble steps. Lying there on the marble, gazing up at a peerless blue Croatian sky, one is transported to another world.

Not every holiday has to be packed with selfies and food, its lasting memories come from experiences and they endure for a lifetime.


Want to share your thoughts? We actively encourage discussion and debate and would love to hear your opinion! If you’d like to write a full response, or if you have any thoughts on this article that you would like to share with us, please comment below or email johns.chronicle@durham.ac.uk.

Please note that the views and opinions expressed on this site are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the editorial board.

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