The Special Bus from London to Athens
Posted January 14, 2009 by Rob Daniel. “Cheap and distinctly uncheerful,” Rob says. “Character-building stuff.” Indeed it was!
“There is a bus, to Frankfurt and London, every Tuesday morning,” Nikos says. “It’s cheap. A lot of people take it.” He begins to speak rapid, guttural words she doesn’t understand, to someone [Emily] hopes is his wife. She wonders if they have already talked about this, decided what to do. Maybe they want the baby. Emily will leave her with someone while she packs.
In the story “No Ending”, in Facing the Other Way, Emily prepares to get on the bus that goes directly from Athens to London. In an earlier version I included the bus ride but it wasn’t really relevant to this story.
I took that bus, though – it also stopped in Frankfort. My emergency money was in the form of a cashable ticket for Air Canada from Athens to London, trapped in the first Canadian postal strike – 1968. I was a long way from my plane in London. Someone suggested the Magic Bus. Both the urls in the blog take you to funny and delightful accounts of the ride. I’ll also give you mine.
I packed a few things to eat, assuming the usual – ie – stops along the way. I settled in beside a Brit named Tim who taught me to say hello in Greek: “Ef Harry Stowe,” he said. Off we set.
We took back roads, the kind with no official border crossings, often waiting for whole flocks of sheep to move along so that we could continue. Whatever their bladder secrets, the drivers did not seem to need to stop. It was a three-day journey, driving through the day and night. I’d always been proud of my slender ankles, not ones that swelled like my mother’s, but with about two stops on a good day, eventually my ankles were bigger than my thighs.
Tim and I shared our crackers, bread, cheese and jam, never mind the quality of our precious cheese. When we did stop, on whatever country’s mountainous road with no guard rails – no one had the local currency to buy the chocolate bars and chips that the little gas stations offered. I believe we used the outdoors as our convenience stop. After three days of not washing, I’m sure we were better outdoors anyway.
The seats did not tip back – they were school bus seats. Eventually, I took to lying on the seat with my legs up the back just for a change of position. In my dress.
I remember near the end of the trip, barrelling down the autobahn, the driver got up from his seat, walked to where the second driver was dozing, roused him, chatted briefly as we continued, and after some time the second driver walked over and took the wheel.
I left the crowd at a gas station in Frankfort to hitch the rest of the way, occupying the washroom for rather a long time before putting up my thumb.
Here’s another rather fun account of the famous journey
Days that the magic died
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