Chapter 67: Touring Europe by Car
Mrs. Armstrong, our son Richard David and I returned by air to London from our Middle East tour Friday, May 25, 1956.
Before leaving London on this tour of the Bible lands, arrangements had been completed for holding a two-week speaking engagement at Dennison House, a hall in London’s downtown West End near Victoria Station. The office had been left in charge of George Meeker while we were gone. He and the office staff in London had sent out notices of the meetings to those in and near London on our mailing list.
Speaking Campaign in London
Almost two years before, I had engaged a hall and spoken three successive nights in London. So this was the second time for speaking before our radio listeners in London.
Customarily, in earlier years, I had held evangelistic meetings six nights a week for six weeks. But these were not “evangelistic” meetings—but rather speaking engagements for the purpose of meeting those who had become regular radio listeners.
Commencement exercises at Pasadena that year were held on Friday, June 1. Our son Garner Ted graduated on that day—the first commencement at Pasadena I had missed.
Immediately after his graduation in 1956, Ted and his wife, Shirley, flew on over to meet us in London.
Actually, before leaving London on the Middle East tour I had written a letter, to be printed later and mailed to our mailing list for the area, inviting them to these special services. At the time of writing, we did not yet know just where the meetings would be held. I had arranged for our London advertising agency to work out the booking of a suitable hall with Mr. Meeker. Mr. Meeker was to add this information to my letter.
Although I had written this letter in April, before our tour of the Bible lands, it was finally dated May 22, when Mr. Meeker posted it. It was sent only to those radio listeners already on our mailing list. It said: “I hope to meet you personally here in London very soon—and for some of our friends, it will be for the second time.” Then the meetings were announced, beginning June 4, for Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday nights of that week, and Monday through Friday the following week. On the second week, my son Dick spoke one night, and Garner Ted the following night. I did the speaking on all other nights.
Early Sunday morning, June 17, the five of us—Dick, Ted and Shirley, Mrs. Armstrong and I—left in my car, which we had brought over with us on the Queen Mary, for a brief tour of the Continent.
I do not remember all the events of that tour, but we crossed the Channel from Dover to Calais on a ferry, and drove on to Paris. Tuesday we drove on to Luxembourg. On the way we examined many scenes of both world wars. Seeing the actual battlefields made the wars seem much more real.
At Luxembourg we visited the radio station, then on to Frankfurt. Mrs. Armstrong, Dick and I had driven through Germany and visited Frankfurt am Main in 1954, and Dick had been there in 1952. We were tremendously impressed with the amazing progress in restoration of bombed-out areas; the war had devastated most of the city—and other German cities as well.
When Dick had visited Frankfurt in 1952, people were living in quickly erected temporary little cabins or shacks. They were then rapidly rebuilding their industrial sections, with apparently inspired zeal. Retail stores were operating out of temporarily roofed-over, mostly destroyed business district buildings. Their temporary little wooden cabins were being made neat, with patches of lawn and carefully planted flowers.
When we had visited Frankfurt with Dick in 1954, almost unbelievable progress had been made. The giant factories were then restored and steaming full-blast—many 24 hours a day. The retail business districts were well toward complete restoration, and almost endless blocks of flats and apartment dwellings being rapidly erected. But there still were many whole blocks of stark devastation, as yet uncleared.
But now, in 1956, few vacant blocks remained from war’s destruction. Work was rapidly nearing completion in expanding the retail district and residential areas. German cities had made far greater progress at restoration than had London.
Even 10 years before, people of other countries were saying Germany would never rise again—or, as some cautiously admitted, it would take 50 to 100 years to restore devastated Germany.
We spent a day driving over various parts of Frankfurt. Then on Friday, June 22, we drove on to Munich on the famous German autobahn. Someone of us became careless. The car ran out of fuel. We were out in a wide expanse of country, miles from any town. One of the party remembered passing a petrol station a couple miles back. So, with the car pulled over to the side of the highway, Mrs. Armstrong, Shirley and I waited while Dick and Ted started afoot back along the autobahn.
About an hour later—actually much sooner than we expected them—they returned in a car which had taken them in, with a can of gasoline.
At Munich we saw the same miraculous restoration—streets lined with gleaming modern new buildings. On Saturday night we visited the historic beer hall where Hitler’s Beer-Hall Putsch started, November 8 and 9, 1923. Actually, this beer hall might be called the site of the beginning of World War ii. On November 12, 1923, Hitler was arrested for leading the putsch, and imprisoned at Landsberg. There he wrote Mein Kampf.
We didn’t remain long in this beer hall. Hundreds of robust Bavarians were drinking their beer, shouting with deafening, throaty voices, holding their giant beer steins aloft. Mrs. Armstrong wanted to leave immediately. Nevertheless, it was quite an experience.
En Route to Switzerland
Sunday, June 24, we drove on southwest toward Zürich. En route we passed through a corner of Austria—had lunch at a restaurant in an Austrian town, probably Bregenz. The Bavarian countryside between Munich and the Austrian border was very scenic. We were impressed with the large farm dwellings, where the barns for livestock were part of the same building as the family dwelling. Their system of gathering hay also was something we had not seen before.
Then came a unique experience. We entered and crossed one of the tiniest little countries in the world, Liechtenstein. There was a certain amount of mountainous scenery and a castle atop a small mountain.
But very soon we entered scenic Switzerland and, between Liechtenstein and Zürich, one of its most scenic highways. Much of it was along two elongated lakes, the Walensee and the Zürich. There was just enough mountain scenery, combined with the beauty of the lakes, to make it breathtaking and exciting. The higher mountains, of course, are a little farther south. Switzerland undoubtedly offers the most stupendous, breathtaking scenery of any part of the world I have visited—and I have traveled completely around the world.
We merely spent the night in Zürich. A grand-scale festival was in progress, and we were only able to get our car within about two blocks of our hotel. We had to carry suitcases afoot through the throngs of happy festival participants—many in native costumes. The gaiety lasted well past midnight. We viewed the excitement from our hotel windows, but finally were able to get some sleep after the noise and din began to subside.
Monday morning we walked up and down the Bahnhofstrasse—Zürich’s main business street, and did some shopping for wristwatches. There I purchased the watch I wore for many years, a Rolex Chronograph. It gave the day of the week, day of the month and was also a stopwatch.
When I purchased this watch, Dick solemnly shook his head in mock disapproval, saying, “It’s no good, Dad. It doesn’t tell what year it is.”
By noon on that Monday we arrived at Lucerne in time for lunch.
Then we proceeded along the way of exciting scenery and beautiful lakes to Interlaken, arriving a little late for evening dinner. However, the kitchen staff hurriedly prepared a special meal just for us. Switzerland is just about as famous for its good cooking as it is for its fantastic mountain and lake scenery, its watches, and its trains which always run on time—you can set your watch by the arrival or departure of a train.
The Spectacular Alps
Next morning, early, we boarded one of the mountain trains which daily transport awestruck crowds up to the top of the spectacular Jungfrau, one of the highest peaks in the Alps. We changed trains twice, as the climbing became steeper, proceeding on a cog railway.
The steep journey winding upward is simply one breathtaking and exciting view after another. Cameras click constantly. Arriving at the top, we found it necessary to purchase specially dark sunglasses. The brilliant sun, reflecting on the glistening white of the snow and glacier is almost blinding to the natural eye on a cloudless day.
We had lunch in the large restaurant at the top—took the few tunneled side tours, and then started the slow descent on the cog railway. The afternoon was well spent on returning to Interlaken.
Wednesday morning we were back in our car resuming our journey. Retracing our way some little distance, we then proceeded east and south toward Lugano, which Mrs. Armstrong and I had visited in 1947. We passed through some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in the world. Arriving at the famous St. Gotthard Pass, we decided to load our automobile on one of the flatcars which the railroad makes available for that purpose, and ride through the railroad tunnel, rather than drive the car on the winding figure-eight roadway over the mountain.
At Lugano we again contacted and visited Madame Helene Bieber, whom we had gone to Lugano to see in 1947. At that time we had visited Madame Bieber’s villa, Heleneum, with a view to its possible purchase for the European branch of Ambassador College. We had envisioned this branch college in Europe even before the opening of the college in Pasadena. We then drove on to Milan, northern metropolis of Italy, for the night.
The next morning, Thursday, after visiting the great cathedral in Milan, we drove on to Genoa, on the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. I had read about Genoa even as a boy. It was exciting to visit it for the first time. We drove around the city a bit, had lunch there, and then proceeded west along the Italian Riviera. I had always heard a great deal about the Riviera. But when one speaks of the Riviera, he is speaking of the French Riviera, farther on west—especially that bit of coastline from Monte Carlo on past Nice and Cannes.
Bustling Italian Riviera
But we found the Italian Riviera one continuous winding coastline of jam-packed beaches, with a continuous congestion of town after town, and perhaps hundreds of Mediterranean-front hotels. Only these hotels were not the large, elegant, luxury-class hotels of Cannes and Nice frequented by the rich of the world. The Italian Riviera, we found, was far more densely populated with pleasure-seeking vacationists than that of the French coast. But that was true because it is a much lower-cost type of resort area.
We found going quite slow along this Italian Riviera because of traffic congestion. By evening, we reached Monte Carlo, where we had reservations for the night at a hotel.
Next morning, Friday, now the 29th of June, we drove, first, up to the palace of Monaco, which is ruled by Prince Rainier iii. He had married the American motion picture actress, Grace Kelly, April 18, just a couple of months before our visit. As we approached the palace, atop a hill, we began to wonder why all visiting sightseers seemed to be staring at us. We learned that, although we were not driving an expensive limousine, such as one would expect royalty to ride in, but just an ordinary car in the Chrysler line, Prince Rainier and Princess Grace drove the same model car we were driving!
Monaco is another of these very tiny nations. Its entire area is only a half square mile! Its population is around 20,000, and that includes the city of Monte Carlo, a small city of only 9,500 resident citizens. But of course the hotel population of visitors swells that considerably. This little nation is entirely surrounded by France, except for the Mediterranean coast. Yet it has existed as an independent principality for 300 years! This miniature nation has no income tax. But it is one of the world’s famed tourist resorts. It derives its government income from gambling at the casino, the sale of postage stamps, the indirect taxation on money spent by tourists, and a tobacco monopoly. This made two of these very little countries we had visited this trip.
As we proceeded west toward Spain, we made brief stops at both Nice and Cannes, which we had never visited before. But we had no inclination to join the playboy vacationers lolling around on the beaches in front of the luxury hotels. We continued on to Marseilles, France, where we had hotel reservations.
One interesting thing I remember about Marseilles: The Harlem Globetrotters professional basketball team was there. We did not attend any performance, although we assumed they probably were giving one. But we had seen them at performances back home. They stage a hilarious performance. The things they can do with a basketball must be seen to be believed.
On Sunday morning, now July 1, we continued our trek along the Mediterranean, entering Spain, and arriving by evening at Barcelona. This was our first visit to Spain. It was necessary to visit Spain because Garner Ted speaks the language fluently. We noticed at once something we had not seen previously in other countries. Dictator Franco had his armed gendarmes stationed at frequent intervals along the highways.
At Barcelona we were put in one of the finest hotel suites I had ever seen. This was not of our choosing. American Express, London, had arranged all bookings. The bathroom off the room Mrs. Armstrong and I occupied had one of these elaborate sunken Roman baths. But when we checked out on Tuesday morning, the hotel office overcharged us rather outrageously—completely above the price quoted by the travel agency. Protest did no good. This is somewhat of a European custom. But we had the consolation that we had enjoyed exceptional accommodations, at least. Barcelona is a city of about 1.5 million people. We found it interesting, but I do not remember anything worth recording here.
Tuesday was another day of driving. Tuesday night we checked in at the Castelana Hilton Hotel in Madrid. It was a comparatively new hotel. Certain parts of the building were still unfinished. But we learned that certain parts of virtually all buildings in Spain are left unfinished. It seems that once buildings are almost completed—sufficiently to be occupied—they simply never do get around to completing them.
We found Madrid to be an exceptionally beautiful city of 2 million population. It has broad avenues and boulevards, with beautiful parking alongside, and the streets lined with imposing and beautiful buildings.
Dick had been there before. He had made the acquaintance of a young man of a family of the former nobility—prior to the Franco regime. This young man had visited Ambassador College in Pasadena, so we had all met him. We spent one enjoyable evening at the home of his widowed mother and two sisters. The mother was an accomplished pianist. They had a grand piano, and she played for us.
The next day, July 4, our American Independence Day, this young man—I believe his name was Francisco—arranged for a friend, Juan, to drive us out past the outskirts of the city—I believe the direction was north or slightly northwest—to one of the most unusual structural operations I have ever seen. General Franco was secretly building a tremendous cathedral, to become a surprise gift to the Catholic Church. I’m sure there is nothing like it. It begins on the side of a small mountain. Actually this church or cathedral is a gigantic tunnel under the mountain, coming out on the far side of the mountain. As I remember it, it had a ceiling higher than any other room in the world—and it was unbelievably long. Also, it was being done in magnificent and ornate cathedral style. We drove around the mountain to the rear entrance.
There, on level ground just beyond the far side of the mountain, was a most beautiful building. It was beautiful in its very plain simplicity. It had been built as a monastery, which the generalissimo had wanted to present as a gift to the monks. But the monks had refused to accept it. It was “too fine.” The monks have taken a vow of poverty. They seem to feel they must live in surroundings so plain that they are gloomy, depressing, utterly lacking in anything fine and beautiful.
Incidentally, this very experience impressed on me an outstanding difference between Ambassador College and other universities. Between the sixth and 12th centuries, the only colleges in Europe were the cathedral schools and the monastic schools. The monastic schools were colleges for training the monks, usually if not always located in the monasteries. After the founding of the first modern-type university in the 12th century—the University of Paris—the monastic tradition seemed to cling to all educational institutions as an inviolable policy. That is the reason classrooms, libraries, study rooms, lecture rooms, halls, in so many colleges and universities have always been so excessively plain, foreboding, gloomy, depressing.
At Ambassador College we strive to create even a physical atmosphere of equality, character and beauty. We find quality and cultural surroundings much more conducive to inspiring education than a bare, colorless, depressing atmosphere.
While shopping in Madrid we strolled into the lobby of one of the luxury European-type hotels. At a cigar-news-souvenir counter, we found a beautiful gaily dressed Spanish doll of perhaps 14 or 18 inches in height. Mrs. Armstrong liked it, and I purchased it for her.
That started a hobby. Mrs. Armstrong continued collecting dressed-up dolls in various countries we have traveled through, usually in the native dress or costume of that country. Her doll collection has been used in elementary schools to help children understand the people of other countries and how they dress.
The night of July 4 we were unable to sleep until long after midnight. In a hotel court below our window a group of Americans were celebrating Independence Day. The alcohol was flowing and the voices were not only merry, they were loud! So even though we were far from America, there was a 4th of July celebration going on!
On Thursday, July 5, we started driving back north. We reached San Sebastian, in northern Spain on the Atlantic and near the French border, for lunch, and spent the night at the French town of Poitiers. We stopped off at Versailles on the way in to Paris.
The next day we were spending a quiet day in our hotel suite.