Camping, Cooking and Cursing in a thunderstorm in Paris

Summer 1970

What was the cheapest and easiest way to see as many countries as possible in Europe? Go on a camping trip with one of the companies that do Europe. We (my twin sister and I) chose Autotours because they also squeezed in Greece and Turkey on their 9 week tour. Amazingly, you can still do similar holidays today. Contiki Tours was the rival company in the 1970’s and although Autotours is no longer operating, it is:

Paris here we come!

First stop Paris. Oh boy, were we excited at the thought of visiting this most romantic of all cities. My memory of how we actually travelled from London to Paris, has been squeezed out by what happened after we arrived. It was a boiling hot summer’s day. We had been allocated our little (very little) tents, into which three would have to sardine. Most of us had never camped in our lives before so the driver and courier were supposed to instruct us on how to put them up. But there was an impatience to get out there and explore Paris, so this was a rushed affair.

The Short Straw

Then of course meals had to be considered. 30 campers, 10 tents; each tent’s occupants would take turns to cook the evening meal. We drew the short straw for the first cooking night. Instead of going to explore Paris, we had to go shopping for food – bugger. None of us had done any cooking to speak of.  We had no idea how to cater for 30 people. We decided that a nice lamb chop with some salad might be the easiest.

The driver took us to some sort of abattoir. None of us spoke French. Did we make “baa-baa-ing” noises to indicate that we’d like lamb chops? Somehow they understood us and they showed us some that looked good. But they were way too expensive for our budget. After much bumbling and mumbling – did we hear ‘cheval’? – we were taken deeper into the abattoir where bigger carcasses were hanging. What were they? By now, we just wanted to get the hell out of there. So we let them hack off a pile of chunks/ ‘chops’? for us. Was it horse meat? We would never know. Blast furnace heat hit us in the face as we emerged from the refrigerated meat market. We bought some salad stuff and headed back to the camp. We could see huge storm clouds building. Maybe some rain would be a welcome relief.

Dinner disaster

Did we manage to see anything else of Paris that day? I can’t remember. But I can remember the disaster that was ‘dinner’. As we headed for the small blue cook tent, the storm broke and the rain came bucketing down. We discovered that the only frying pan was a dented wobbly aluminum thing that was only big enough to take max two ‘chops’ at a time. In no time at all, the tent was leaking. One of us was the fryer. There was serious spitting as drops splashed into the frying pan. One was the salad maker and disher-upper. The salad bowl kept filling with blue dye and this had to be poured off before helpings could be spooned onto individual plates, along with a ‘chop’. One was the runner. No use trying to hold an umbrella as well. We were all already soaked. It was a dash across the muddy campground, dodging lightning bolts, to deliver the soggy dinners to 27 expectant happy campers, huddled cozily in their tents. There was much cursing and swearing as we worked our way slowly through that pile of meat. The air too, turned blue in that leaky tent. Were there complaints about the food? It would’ve been justified. I have no memory of that. It felt like forever before we were finished. And then we still had to wash up. We were exhausted and couldn’t wait to get into our sleeping bags.

Wet and miserable

But when we got to our tent, the fly sheet hadn’t been pulled tight enough and everything, I mean EVERYTHING, was sodden. Then our tent mate announced she had something to tell us. “Don’t be shocked”, she said. Then she pulled off her wig.  The poor woman had had alopecia and was as bald as a coot.

My thoughts, as I dozed off in my soggy sleeping bag, squished between the wall of the tent and my twin were: “If this is camping, I’m going back to London tomorrow, and to hell with the money I’ve forked out”  But the next day the sun came out, everything dried rapidly – and it wasn’t our turn to cook. And we were in PARIS – let the fun begin!

If you enjoyed this ‘not so fun’ travel story, here are some more: ‎ ‎

8 thoughts on “Camping, Cooking and Cursing in a thunderstorm in Paris

  1. Patty

    You write so well Jane. Thoughly enjoyed this memoir and we too took an Autotours trip in winter to ski. !!!!
    Can’t remember much but accommodation was pretty gruesome.
    Think lots of gluwein wine helped us tolerate it. Our tents conked in on the first night. Xx

    1. djfeet Post author

      Ah, thanks for your lovely comments Patty! I’ve been so enjoying going down memory lane and it’s amazing how clear these 50 year old memories are. I’m on a bit of a roll with them now, so look out for more. We too did so much drinking on that tour!

  2. Neville Fenn

    Jane, interesting to read your article. I did a trip in 1975 and then worked as a courier from 1979 to 1979. Can you recall who your diver and courier. I am trying to compile a history of the crew members. I have actually documented my time combining all my tours as one itinerary around Europe and hope one day to publish. If you can remember can you send them via email.

  3. John Deering

    I was guide for Autotours in 1970 .I had been on their 21 day Austrian ski holiday ,heard they needed guides for Europe in the summer Eventually did a three week training trip for Europe then a (I think 12day training trip for Scandinavia and that was it
    I took a 3 week trip to Scandavavia with a bus load Rod was the driver , both going for the first time, lots of adventures especially Berlin and Check Point Charley . When we returned we did the 9 week tour of Europe and Greece .
    Unfortunately have lost track of both Rod and other passengers ,would love to know where and how they are .
    I live in New Zealand and have a grandchildren in London and also Berlin , and when we go to visit it brings back many memories , I also have lots of photos from the trips
    John Deering

    1. Jane Foote Post author

      Great to get your comment on my blog John! I will reply on gmail as well. Those were crazy times! I didn’t keep in touch with anyone on the two trips we did, which was the 9 week one round Europe, including Greece and Turkey, and then the 3 week Scandanavian one. And now we are all scattered all over the world – especially South Africans.

  4. Anne clark

    I did a couple of the ski trips in Austria in 1968 and 1969, then my sister and I did a Scandinavian camping in 1969. We were the only Americans on any of them. I remember the office was in earls court. I met many wonderful South African,Canadian and Australians whom I have kept in touch with and visited over the years. I do recall our driver and guide that summer of 1969 were Graeme boddy and Mike (can’t think of his last name). Wonderful memories…

    1. Jane Foote Post author

      Hi Anne, I love getting these random comments on my blog, so thank so much for yours! The woman in our tent who had alopecia was American (Marlene – can’t remember her surnae) – and she was the only one our tour. It did seem strange that there were so few Americans and Canadians on these tours. Well done you for keeping up with lots of people who were on them. I only kept in touch with two New Zealand women I’d met on my ski holiday in Kirchdorf, Austria. One of them visited us when we lived in Mauritius and then I visited both of them in 2008. Sadly both of them have died now – quite sobering! I have just had a hip replacement – successful, I’m happy to say, but it is a wake up call as to how things at our age are reaching their sell by date! Take care and I hope you continue to enjoy life to the full!

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