30 Years Ago, This Weekend . . .

This weekend, 30 years ago, I was flying on a big ol’ jet airliner with my best friend Sally.

We were coming home after three months of what  would be the best trip of our lives.  Sal was 19, I was 20 and we had embarked on our biggest adventure to date.

Allow me to digress, in January of 1990 I returned from four months in Germany with my family and Sally returned from months spent with her family in England.

The year before Sally was fresh out of high school and I already had a year of working under my belt.  At the time, University did not appeal to either of us, we were both determined to travel and see the world.  After Sal came back from England and I returned from Germany she said, “Moni, we should go on an adventure this summer!  Let’s work our asses off and then backpack through Europe.”

Our parents were all good with that, we had similar upbringings.  My parents said to me, “It’s fine if University is not for you.  It is important to us that you see the world, so do this trip with Sally and start saving because we’re not paying for it.”

Sally and I did just that.  We saved and saved, we bought our “Let’s Go Europe” books and we started marking off where this adventure would take us.  We could not wait.  I still remember how exciting it was when we went to Mountain Equipment on Queen Street and bought our backpacks.  Sally chose a deep blue colour and I chose turquoise.  We bought locks for them and hoodies to match, money belts and sleeping bags.

I’d like to tell you that we mapped out a bunch of historical sites that were “must sees” but we were 19 and 20!  Our only “must see” was Jim Morrison’s grave at Pére Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.  The rest of the trip was planned around beaches, beer and cute boys.

In May of 1990 we had the money saved that we needed and off we went to Europe.  We started in England with a week or so at Sally’s grandparent’s place on a little island off the south coast of England called Hayling Island.  Here we were coddled.  We enjoyed afternoon tea with Sal’s grandparents, empire cookies were my favourite, and then we’d check out a few rides at the carnival on the seaside and hit the pub after.  Just as a side note, I still remember us all sitting in the living room together listening to the news on the radio and hearing about Jim Henson’s death, such a sad day in history, we loved the Muppets.

All of the time spent with Sally’s grandparents was so comforting and easy but we both had butterflies in our stomachs.  In a couple of short days we were hopping on a Hovercraft from Portsmouth and heading to Le Havre to start our trip, with no adult supervision.  I think this was the first time for both of us that we realized we were the adults now.

When we arrived in Le Havre we were shaking in our backpacks!  We could only understand a little bit of French and all the other backpackers were speaking different languages.  We were freaking, suddenly we saw a backpacker with a Canadian flag on his pack, just like ours.  We ran over and gave him a huge hug!  A handsome 20 something from Vancouver.  He took us under his wing and we all rented a room in a hostel together.

This was the beginning of so many experiences to come.  We went from France, to Spain, to Portugal to Morocco, to Italy and then Greece.

I feel like I could write for hours about the people we met, the places we saw, the food we ate and all the parties and discos where we danced the night away.

I will tell you this, there is a reason this was the best trip I ever had.  It was the trip where I learned to love and trust myself.  I felt so safe in Europe, surrounded by fellow backpackers and I knew that every day I would experience something new and I was open to all of it.  Sally and I got along in the way that best friends do, allowing each other to be who we were, with no expectations.

Today this trip is a part of our history.  So much has changed since then but this will always be ours.  Our friends and family will always clear the room when one of us says, “remember the Europe trip?” because they know they won’t get a word in and they know we won’t shut up.

Sally lives in England now and I miss her every day.  We were going to celebrate her 50th in Portugal last month but, of course, it couldn’t happen.

When Sally and I were in Europe back then we also noticed a few people over 50 and 60 having a similar adventure to ours!  I have a feeling Sally and I will be able to do this all again one day, it might just look a little different.

Here are just a few of the highlights of backpacking through Europe in the summer of 199

Drinking too much red wine in Barcelona and staying in bed the entire next day.

  • Getting to Portugal convinced that the entire beach was full of men because we didn’t see any bikini tops.
  • Having the guts to join in on the topless tanning.
  • Shopping in Marrakech and trading our sleeping bags for silver rings.
  • Watching the World Cup on tiny TV’s in the medina of Marrakech.
  • Staying at a youth hostel in Finale Ligure where my Mom stayed in the 60’s, a castle where you had to climb over 100 steps to get to it.
  • Being so excited to have a double adapter for a walk man so we could listen to the same music together.  This playlist included, George Michael, Anita Baker, Black Box, Steve Miller Band and Roxy Music.
  • Me wiping out on a Moped while singing “Born to Be Wild” at the top of my lungs.
  • Kissing cute boys from California on the beach.
  • Falling madly in love with all the Aussie’s because we were obsessed with INXS.
  • Smoking cigarettes in every country.
  • Drinking pink Ouzo at 7am on a bus that took us to the Pink Palace in Greece.

Oh the memories!  We both kept a diaries with every detail.

I’m so grateful for this trip, it really shaped me and it’s kind of freaky to think that in another 30 years I will be 80! But 30 years is a long time, and I know that Sally and I will both find the time to do it all over again, minus kissing boys from California on the beach!  Ha ha!

Monica XO

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Wild and unforgettable times! Finale Ligure is one of my all time favourite places and I love the memory of sitting on the beach, chatting until dark when we had to climb the steps to the hostel. So fun meeting you and Sally!

Monica Graves

Laura!! How amazing that we reconnected after all these years! Absolutely amazing! I don’t know if you remember but the reason Sally and I ended up at that hostel was because my Mom was there with my aunt in the 60’s when they had their backpacking adventure! XO


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