Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Recollections of Max Leonard Traveling in Europe in 1950

Finally it dawned on me what Lee had said about returning the same way from Vienna to Salzburg. However, by that time I was deep into the Russian Sector. As I traveled through the countryside I saw Russian air field and tanks on maneuvers with my new Leica camera and telephoto lenses. I couldn't resist taking pictures. (Max had acquired a Leica with a telephoto lens during the trip) About the time I was just putting my camera back in the car a carload of Russian soldiers came along and waved me to stop. I knew what they wanted so I got in my car and sped down the road. They turned around and took after me. They had a Volkswagen Beetle that couldn't go more than 60 MPH without passengers and with four of them in the car about 50 MPH. My car (a 1949 Ford Anglia) was much faster so eventually I left them, especially when I started climbing the Simmering Pass.

Blocked at the Russian Check Point
I got to the top of the pass an there were the Russian guards checking cars going into the British Sector. The bar across the road was up to let the car in front of me go on. I followed close behind this car hoping to accelerate past the gate before it dropped and get over the hill and down the other side before the Russian guard could get off a shot with his machine gun. Unfortunately he quickly dropped the bar before I could get to it. I stopped and he asked me for my papers in German. After looking at them he asked me where I was going. I told him to Italy because it was the tourist route. He told me I was to go back to Vienna and proceed west to Salzburg in the American zone. I argued with him and he pointed his machine gun at my head and he told me to go back to Vienna. With the threat of being shot, I did what he said. It was getting dark and I was worried about running into the Russian soldiers in the Volkswagen or maybe having a flat tire. Nevertheless, I headed for Vienna as fast as I could go.

Arriving in Vienna
Two and a half hours later I arrived in Vienna, got a hotel and met some young Austrians who invited me to a party at their apartment. We had some very interesting conversation about why the Germans lost the war and their opinion of the American soldiers. They said the American soldiers weren't as brave as the German soldier because when German soldiers were ordered to take a machine gun nest or artillery emplacement they would attack until they took the position or until all of them were killed. American soldiers would attack and if they encountered strong opposition they would call in artillery fire or planes to bomb the position. I told them American commanders valued the lives of their soldiers and if calling in artillery fire was needed to help to take the position, they did it. It was better to take a position that way than have the men sacrifice their lives.

Meeting the Hitchhiker
I spent another day in Vienna and then headed for Salzburg and south to Italy. Some of the stretches of the road from Salzburg south were in appalling condition. After leaving Salzburg I traveled through Lefer, Saalfelden and Zell-am-see, Austria. In Zell-am-see I picked up a hitchhiker, who told me during our conversation while driving over the Gross Glockner Pass, one of the highest passes in Europe, that his father was a German general during the war. As we struggled up the steep pass, I heard something metallic drop from underneath the car. I stopped and got out to see what had dropped and my passenger crawled under the car and retrieved a large spring from the car which had broken as we traveled over the rough roads of Austria. My friend told me we should travel on to the next large town on the other side of the Gross Glockner and find a werkstatt where they would make me a new spring. We proceeded slowly over the top of the pass down the other side to Lienz and as we approached Lienz my friend saw a large barn like building with a werkstatt sign on the top of it. We left the road and traveled across the open field to it. My friend explained to one of the workmen what we needed and asked him if he could replicate it. He said he could do it. We waited for him to make the spring leaf. When he took the leaf off, he found seven more cracked ones so he replaced them. After several hours the car was ready to go. I paid the workmen and was surprised how reasonable it was.

Driving to Leinz
I drove into Leinz, found a hotel with a good restaurant but my friend said he couldn't afford to stay in the hotel or eat in the restaurant and that he would go outside of the town and sleep in the field. I checked the hotel and the restaurant for two. It was very reasonable, something I could afford, so I told my friend I was paying for him. He eventually accepted my offer. We ate a hearty meal, showered and went to sleep. My friend was grateful to have a shower because it had been quite a while since he had one. The next day he told me goodbye and set off on a different route.

Several miles outside of Lienz I crossed the border into Italy. I traveled south to Cortina d' Ampezzo, a beautiful Italian alpine village that later became a famous ski resort. Traveling on south through Belluno, Conigliano and Treviso to Venice, where I spent several days sightseeing. From Venice I traveled to Padua, a famous old Italian city with one of the oldest and most famous Universities in Italy. It was well worth a visit. From there I traveled south to Bologna and Florence where I spent several days visiting the famous art galleries with paintings by Italy's greatest artists and the Cathedral with the dome built by Michelangelo and the exquisitely carved door by the Ghiberti. The famous piazza with Michangelo's statue of David and the Loggia d' Lancia with Beneanto Cellini's works. Sights you never forget. I loved sitting in the piazza eating my mid-day meal in such a glorious setting from the Middle Ages. It was such a contrast from my small western town of Price, Utah.

Traveling south from Florence I picked up two hitchhikers, one an American and the other a Dutchman, both were theological students studying in Holland. They were touring Europe during their summer break. We traveled together to Siena on to Rome where they stayed in a youth hostel. They invited me to stay there as well but I prefer a hotel where I have my own room and shower. The next day I picked them up and we toured Rome together. We stayed in Rome about three days and then traveled south to Naples and Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii; the famous Roman city that had been covered with lava when Mt. Vesuvius erupted about 79AD and covered the city. Touring Pompeii you had a firsthand view of how the city was constructed and the streets laid out was well as how people lived at the time of Christ. From Naples we traveled north along the coast past Rome to Civitavecchia, where we all slept on the beach. The next day we traveled to Livorno and to Pisa where we climbed the leaning tower, visited the famous cathedral and baptistery.

The next day we continued our travels along the coast to Geneva, Savona, San Remo and Monaco, France. While we were in the French Riviera we visited all of the well known cities along this coast including Nice, Cannes, Antibes, St. Raphael and San Tropez. The most popular in 1950 was Monaco, Nice, and Cannes, so we spent most of our time in these cities. My two hitchhikers found a good youth hostel to stay in because I had saved a considerable amount of money sleeping on the beaches or in my car coming up the Mediterranean Coast of Italy, I decided to splurge on a beautiful hotel in Nice. It was a luxury hotel on the waterfront. The price was very expensive but it was a once in a lifetime experience, so I stayed there. The service was first class and the room was luxurious with a view of the beaches and coast. The food in the restaurant was gourmet. Not having experienced this type of cuisine before it was a memorable experience.

A few days later, with a thinner wallet, the three of us left the coast and traveled north to Grenoble. Since we got a rather late start we stopped for the night along the road in the French Alps, just north of Grenoble. It was about eleven o'clock at night and my friends said they would find a place in the woods and sleep. I parked the car in the trees about twenty feet off the road and put my blanket over me and fell asleep. About three in the morning I awoke very cold, I looked up the road and there were two men walking toward me. I couldn't imagine anyone walking through this mountain road at three in the morning, especially with it being so cold. My instincts told me to lock the doors and start the motor in case they tried to come over and break into the car because I knew they could see me where it was parked. As they got closer I decided to pull out into the road and head toward them. As I got close I saw it was my two friends letting them in the car where it was warm. I asked, why are you up at this time walking around. Their reply was it got so cold we had to move around to get warm. I told them I was cold too so get your sleeping bags and let's move on to Grenoble. They quickly got their bags and put them into the trunk and we traveled on past Grenoble to Lyon where we ate breakfast.

From there we traveled northwest to Beaune, past south of Dijon and through to Auxerre, Montereau and Fontainebleau. By this time it was quite late. We found a farmer's field that had just had the wheat cut and stacked nearly so we pulled the car off the road and took one of the stacks apart spreading it over the ground to make a soft place to lie down and sleep for the night. We slept through the night without waking up until we heard the farmer's tractor. We hurriedly awoke, gathered up the wheat and bundled it back into a neat stack. The farmer came over and said, "did you sleep well?' The Dutchman who spoke French told him we had and apologized for destroying his stack of wheat. The farmer said it was alright as long as we put it back together. He did tell us we were lucky the rats in these stacks hadn't bothered us.

Visiting the Chateau
Traveling to the nearest mileage we had breakfast and then spent the morning visiting Chateau Fontainebleau. It was a very impressive chateau, one that had been used by several French kings. After Louis the XIV of France built his famous Versailles Chateau in the 1600's it became less popular. After exhausting ourselves walking around the Chateau and its grounds we proceeded on to Paris. We spent several days there taking in the well know and not so well known historical places. The Cathedral of Norte Dame, the Louvre Museum with its magnificent paintings, especially Leonardo de'Vinci's Mona Lisa. I especially loved the ancient Greek statue of the Venus de Milo. You could spent days in the Louvre Museum without seeing everything. The Place de la Concorde where the French royalty were guillotined. The Champs Elysees, the most beautiful street in the world. Montmartre with its famous artists colony and entertainment centre, Place Pigalle and Place Blanche with its famous Moulin Rouge. There was so much to see and do you needed to spend a few months in Paris.

It was in Paris where I said goodbye to my two friends and headed west to Stuttgart, Germany. I had been gone over a month and I am sure Lee was wondering what had happened to me. Arrived back in Stuttgart after visiting World War I battlegrounds along the way. Lee was happy to see me safely back. He listened intently to the highlights of my trip and was happy I had returned from my foray into the Russian Sector of Vienna. I got my films developed of the Russian airfields and tank on maneuvers. He took them with him to headquarters to show the Intelligence Officers.

Going to Spain and North Africa
After resting for a few days in Stuttgart Lee gave me permission to go through Spain and parts of North Africa. The hardest part getting to Spain was attaining a carnet for the car and a visa for me. Spain at that time was under the iron rule of General Francisco Franco a dictator like Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin. He didn't like tourists coming into the country so he made it very difficult for tourists to get in. The carnet for the car was $50 and the Visa about $20. (A considerable amount for that time.) After waiting sometime, I obtained them and was off. Before I parted, Lee suggested I take several Jerry cans full of gasoline because gas stations were scarce and mostly in large cities. Moreover, most of it was low octane that was hard on the motor of your car. I strapped the three Jerry cans, each holding about 5.5 gallons of gasoline on to the roof of the car. Traveling through parts of France I hadn't seen before such as the Chateau of the Loire, south of Bordeaux, Biarritz, Bayonne, to the Spanish border where the guards, even though my papers were in order, wanted another $0 to process the papers. The military was very corrupt in Spain. After paying the extra charge I traveled on to Pamplona where they have the running of the Bulls each year. From there I continued on south to Burgos an old Spanish city with a beautiful cathedral and remnants of a wall that encircled the city. The main entry gates to the city were beautifully carved stone. It was an impressive old city.

After spending the night in Burgos in a good hotel and having a delicious dinner in its restaurant at very reasonable prices. I was amazed how cheap Spain was, I paid about $2 for the room, dinner, and breakfast. The Spanish peseta/dollar rate was about 60 pesetas for one dollar. This exchange rate helped salve my wounds and depression over having to pay about $80 to get into the country. Gas prices, however; were considerably higher that what the military gas stations charged in Germany and it wasn't as good. Continuing on south toward Madrid I decided to leave this main road and travel southwest to Segovia and Avila, Segovia was an old Roman city with its aqueduct still being used to bring water into the city. Its old cobbled streets and buildings reeked with history and romance. When you walked around at night, guitars music floated through where some romantic fellow was wooing a fair young maiden. I loved the city. Jean (Who he married in 1952 after moving to England to work for the US DOD.) and I came here a few years later.

Another interesting landmark in Segovia was the El Kagas Castle sitting on top of a high cliff overlooking the countryside and the river below. It looked like a great sip. This was King Ferdinand and Isabella's castle and it was said Christopher Columbus came here to plead for ships and men to travel across the Atlantic to the wealth of Cathay. After spending some time in Segovia I moved on to Avila, a walled city with 88 towers. It took a pounding by canons during the recent Spanish Civil War and the breeches in the wall hadn't been repaired as yet. Nevertheless, it was an impressive sight sitting on high ground with nothing around it, an easy target for canons. I went inside and looked around. The city was a beehive of activity with restaurants, especially those with outdoor seating areas. Prices were very reasonable and had flamingo dancers and two piece flamingo band for accompaniment.

As I traveled on south, I realized none of the roads I had traveled in Spain were modern. Only those near Madrid could be considered suitable for travel. Ninety-six percent were filled with pot holes that I had noticed repair crews working on the roads, they consisted of peasant men and women. Along the side of the road a truck had dumped sand and gravel. The woman would hold out her apron and the man with a shovel would shovel sand and gravel into her apron and she would carry it to potholes and fill it. The man would pour hot oil into the hole and stir it through the mixture and then tamp it flat. After it dried it was a solid filling. They had no modern road equipment.

From Avila I traveled south through Cordoba, one of the sacred Muslim cities with probably the most sacred mosque in Spain. I couldn't leave Spain without visiting Alhambra and Sevilla. From there I traveled to the English colony at the Straits of Gibraltar. Here the English had a military establishment which they had held since the Napoleonic wars. Spain was an alley of Napoleons and to stop French ships from coming through the Straits they established a fortress with gun emplacements to stop the French ships from attacking. Egypt was blocking English ships from coming to the aid of their colony in Egypt.

Getting to Algeria
At the Port of Algeria I embarked on a ship to Tangiers, Morocco. After arriving in Tangiers I traveled to Casablanca and west as far as the ancient Phoenician city of Carthage. This was a long arduous trip, arriving there at dusk. Because there were no cities close by I decided to sleep in my car. The next morning I was awakened by an Arab's knocks on my window of the car. I rolled down my window and tried talking to him. He did know some English and French and offered to cook breakfast for us. I accepted and it was an enjoyable experience.

An autobiography of Max G. Leonard hand written in 2003 by him and typed by Michael Leonard. Part 3 Traveling in Europe in 1950.

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