A glimpse in time

There’s almost nothing as useful to illustrate the passage of time as a photo album – except perhaps a mirror.

Parisians waiting for the light on the Boulevard Saint Michel in Paris. Note the 1970s clothing, including bell-bottomed trousers and platform shoes.

Finding in my ‘attic’ some of the 35mm colour slides of a student tour to Europe in 1974 provided a glimpse in time, just as if paging through an album. It was my first overseas trip and looking through those images pulled back the curtain of time. 

Drivers in Rome park in any which way wherever there seems to be space.
A tourist is fascinated by the Italian marine feeding the pigeons in front of the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral in Florence.

There they were: cobwebbed memories stored in the far recesses of the mind. The images were no longer great: some were out of focus, the result of manual focusing, others badly exposed and some suffered from camera shake. There were scratches and dust that I could remove digitally, but in many instances the film had quite visibly deteriorated. Still…

An artist in the Montmartre district awaits a buyer for his painting of a Paris scene.
Dejected artists in the Place du Tertre in the Montmartre district of Paris.

I can recall that the tour during the European winter lasted 30 days, covering six countries. In those days we had to apply for tourist visas for all of them, except the UK. This was years before the Schengen visa regime came into play.

Shopping in a street market at night in Florence.
The famous ‘David’ sculpture by Michelangelo in the Galleria Dell’accademia in Florence.
The colour slide image of a Franciscan monk in Assisi is showing the deterioration of the old film.

We took travellers’ cheques and foreign currency in cash. There was no such thing as the Euro, or for that matter credit cards and ATMs where one could withdraw cash. On this trip we carried in our wallets some Deutsch Mark, French Frank, Italian Lira, Spanish Peseta and Dutch Gulden. Once there in Europe, we would look out for a small outlet signposted Cambio/Wechsel to exchange the cheques for cash.

Rembrandt’s ‘De Nachtwacht‘ on display in the Rijksmuseum was painted in 1642 during the Golden Age of the Netherlands, and is arguably one of the world’s most famous paintings.
A Dutch couple dressed for winter on an electric bicycle in The Hague.
London cabbies equipped with The Knowledge are considered to be the best taxi drivers in the world.
Iconic red Routemaster buses and black cabs in London, with pedestrians nonchalantly crossing the street.

The all-expenses tour, including flights, hotel accommodation, excursions, museum visits, tour guides and most of the meals came to just over R800 per person.

Postcards in London’s Carnaby Street. Mailed to friends with a foreign stamp these were the Instagrams of yesteryear.

Boarding the Alitalia DC-10 airliner at Jan Smuts airport (now OR Tambo International) was most exhilerating. One could even choose a smoke-free seat. Yes, passengers were allowed to smoke on flights in those days!

And of course, at the famous Trevi Fountain in Rome I did cast a coin over my left shoulder. Just to make sure I return some time in the future – which I did many years later, with the wife and children who did the same as I had done 46 years ago.

[Some of these images and reminiscences were recently published in the travel section of South Africa’s RAPPORT newspaper, part of Netwerk24.]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Safrea or its members.


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