My first solo trip abroad. I was nineteen and at Heathersett, the RNIB assessment centre for blind
adolescents and in the summer of that year I had planned to go abroad on my own, much to my parents
concern and surprise, and this I did.
My trip was to former Yugoslavia, to Serbia, to stay with blind pen friends in Belgrade, in a small town
called Svetozarevo. I travelled by train. It took three days. The journey was interesting but very
uncomfortable. First of all the train to the coast, to Folkestone, in fact, from Victoria, was comfortable but
then the ferry had many problems, one being that people were not as helpful as they should have been.
The second was a rough crossing. Withstanding that I was helped through customs and onto what was
still the famous Orient Express, although in 1972 it was in a state of tatty glory. Hard, leather seats, like
concrete, barred windows and immensely overheated. We travelled through France, Switzerland and
Italy. the journey took many hours. We were held up at the Yugoslav border for ten hours and were well
late arriving into Belgrade.
Belgrade was a very busy city, with trams and buses and people hurrying everywhere. Many peoples'
families worked as guest workers in Germany and although people had things we had in the west, what
they had was of poor quality because it was locally made or cheaply bought from the Far East.
One of the most spectacular things that happened while I was on holiday and I really mean that word,
was that a blind person and I were given the chance to visit a local museum in the town of Svetozarevo.
There they showed us and I really mean this, showed us by letting us feel stone age axe heads and a
stone age skull. It was wonderful because often in museums things are behind glass and if you are blind
as I am, it is frustrating not being able to get near the objects and get the sense of them.
The journey back was as eventful as the journey going, particularly when I discovered to my horror, that
my reserved seat from Belgrade to Paris had been triple booked so I was forced to stand for fifteen hours,
through the day and the night, before getting off in Paris and changing carriages and in fact, trains.
It was a most memorable holiday because I gained confidence and a desire to travel, which I have
continued to have. One thing that saddened me though was the fact that for the first time in my life, I
witnessed the brutality of Communism, in the sense that I realised that people that although they were
able to travel abroad to some degree, did not have the ability to speak freely at home.
I happened to make a comment about prices and was told, "Keep quiet, we have to obey what the law
says here." I was only commenting on the difference between the price of beer in one shop and another
but of course that was regarded as subversive.
I would always encourage anybody to travel and I am glad that I had this opportunity, which enabled me
to have the confidence and enjoy travelling to many other places.