Part V- Munich-Amsterdam

Day 15

Sophie dropped me off to a spot in the north of Munich, and we said our goodbyes. This was a slip road, part of a junction where one autobahn leaves another, and it’s always frustrating seeing the traffic on the other side of the barrier, all going your way, but not able to stop. I waited about an hour at the side of the road, before picking up a ride north.

Initially, it seemed, this could be a ride all the way to Hamburg, which is further north than Amsterdam, but it emerged that my driver was doing the trip over two days. She took me as far as Nuremberg. On the way, we talked about noir detectives and the cars they drove, and it started to rain.

She dropped me at a service station, and gave me a bottle of water. I headed for the exit, and for the first time, I had to get the umbrella out to keep the rain off.

Under my umberella. Ella. Ella.

Under my umberella. Ella. Ella.

Huddled under my umbrella, I waited. After about 40 minutes, another hitchhiker showed up, but she was going a different way. It was kind of dispiriting when she got a ride in five minutes, but that’s how it goes.

After I’d been there for about an hour, with my sign for Amsterdam- my first driver had said a lot of people go there from Munich, so I might get a direct ride- a car pulled up.

“Wir fahren nach Berlin” (If you don’t know where Berlin is in relation to Amsterdam, go and look on a map. I’ll wait. Done? Good. It’s a pretty long way away, especially if you’re in Nuremburg).

“Sprechen Sie Englisch?“

Yes.“

It’s better than standing in the rain!“

So in I got, trying very hard not to drip on the rather smart leather interior of the car. This was a great ride. Richard, and his wife (Whose name I have, to my shame, forgotten) were a middle aged couple on their way to visit their daughter in Berlin. Berlin was a lot fur east than I wanted to go, but it was also a lot further North than I was now, and there was a road straight from there to Amsterdam. I wrestled with this during this ride, whether it was a mistake to take it or not.

Richard spoke pretty good English, much better than my embarrassing German. He and his wife gave me many suggestions of places to visit, especially around Annecy, since they were quite familiar with that area. Part way into the ride, Richard asked me what my political leanings were. Uh oh, I thought. This was a smart car- leather seats, shiny paint, all the things I’d expect from a car owned by someone who was not radically left wing. I told him I was left wing, since the vast majority of hitchhikers are. He said he’d been very left wing in his youth- he pointed out when we crossed the old border between west and east Germany, and said that at the time, he and his friends in the west had thought that the east were in the right, until the wall came down and they were able to see the state of things on the other side for themselves. He told me a German proverb;

If you’re not a communist at 20, you have no heart. If you’re still a communist at 40, you have no brain.“

We stopped off about half way, and they bought me a hot chocolate, which was so kind. Then, they went out of their way to drop me at a service station to the west of Berlin, on the main road to Amsterdam.

At this point, it was about 7pm. I’d come 600 km from Munich, making this my best day yet for distance, and we’d also hit 170km/h (106mph) on the autobahn, which set the speed record for the trip. It wasn’t raining here, although it was looking a bit grey. It also turned out that it was a public holiday in Germany, which meant that trucks weren’t allowed on the roads. I headed for the exit of the service station, and started hitching. It was slow going, but I’d come a long way, and while it hadn’t been entirely in the right direction, I felt good.

Something told me I was in a good spot for Hannover.

Something told me I was in a good spot for Hannover.

I should note, at this point, that I’d decided I wanted to beat Zoe to Amsterdam. It was Thursday evening, and she was due to arrive on Saturday afternoon. Unbeknownst to me, there was already discussion of whether team Tante Zoe would beat team Vagabond First Cousin Once Removed (later renamed to team Vagabond Achterneef) happening on facebook.

While waiting at the exit, I decided to add my very first piece of hitcher graffitti to the barrier. I felt like I’d earned it.

After about an hour’s wait, a recovery truck pulled up, and the driver waved me in. He was polish, and heading for Dortmund, beyond Hannover. I jumped in. He was polish, and didn’t speak any english. I knew literally zero polish. We shook hands, and off we went. This was a ride of a little over 200km, and very late in the day. I couldn’t believe my luck. As we drove into the night, a curious thing happened- suddenly the road was full of trucks. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Barely any cars, just trucks as far as the eye could see. Later, I learned that the ban on driving only applied until 10pm, so they were all trying to make up for lost time.

My driver dropped me at a service station beyond Hannover at about 2330, and I thanked him as best I could. I headed into the service station, and almost immediately decided that I didn’t want to sleep outside tonight. Now, I realised, 250km west of Berlin, that once again there were no wrong decisions in hitching. It was only 330km to Amsterdam.

I carefully put my mat out on the floor behind a large planter, leant against my bag, and slept, hoping no-one would see me. I don’t know if they did or not, but they left me alone, and I woke at about 6.30.

This is were I slept, fortunately undisturbed. I didn't take a picture in the evening, since I figured that might draw attention.

This is were I slept, fortunately undisturbed. I didn’t take a picture in the evening, since I figured that might draw attention.

I’d come a long way since the panic and anxiety of the first few days. Now, the despair that had been almost constant was gone. In retrospect, long waits just make for good stories, for amusing reactions when people say “HOW long?“, and what you really remember are the great people you met, how it felt to cover such a long distance, what it was like to sleep in a service station with your camouflage jacket draped over the back of a chair at the end of a planter in the hope that if someone looked your way they’d just think it was a plant, and not there to cover your legs which were sticking out because you couldn’t bear to keep them crossed anymore. You never know about the rides you miss, so there are no wrong decisions. This applies to life as much as it does to travel.

It was at this point of the trip that I realised I was sounding more and more like a hippy every damn day.

Total distance: 850km (distance record!)

Total wait: 3 hours

Day 16

After a quick wash, I headed out to the exit. A lot of trucks were starting to move, and after only about 20 minutes, I got a ride. It was about 7.30, and it felt good to be on the road so early.

This was Tomas, a german truck driver who spoke great English. When I got in, he saw the umbrella on the outside of my rucksack, and said “Oh yeah, you’re english!“. He was driving to Venlo, just inside the Netherlands, via Duisburg, an industrial town on the Rhine. He’d travelled a lot in the UK, and also in America. He was into the blues, and had been to Louisiana and Alabama and played with bands there. In fact, he’d lived in Southend, and been in a band with the drummer from The Hamsters, for everyone out there who knows The Hamsters. He told me all kinds of stories about his travelling, and pointed out various industrial monuments on the way. Before we made our delivery in Duisburg, we crossed back over the Rhine, which I’d crossed previously in Basel.

This is the Rhine, and Tomas.

This is the Rhine, and Tomas.

Just before Venlo, we stopped at a cafe that wasn’t really a truckstop, but had become an unoffical one. It was run by a mother and daughter, and apparently an inn for travellers had been on that site for 300 years.

Tomas bought me lunch, which was just super kind, and very welcome since I’d eaten nothing but cereal bars the day before. He dropped me off in Venlo, and wished me luck. Now that I was in Holland, I was feeling good- I speak very little dutch, but everyone knows that the Dutch speak fantastic english.

This was a bit of an awkward spot, as it turned out, since it was beyond the main road to Amsterdam, and just before another, such that no one was going to Amsterdam. I waited for about 90 minutes, not bothering with a sign for the latter part of that, since no one was going to Amsterdam. This was the first time I’d hitched without a sign. A driver stopped, going to Antwerp. He was from Turkey, and spoke only Turkish and Dutch. So much for being out of the language woods.

He very kindly went out of his way to drop me at a service station near Breda, just north of the Holland-Belgium border, on the main road from Antwerp to Amsterdam. I thanked him, crossed the road, and was walking to the exit when a car pulled up and asked if I wanted a lift. They were going to Amsterdam. I got a ride without even trying.

This was Mike and Leah, a young dutch couple on their way back to Amsterdam from a holiday int he south of france. It was a super cramped ride, since the car was full before I got in, but you just don’t care about stuff like that when hitching. Mike had hitched a lot in the past, and they were both outdoorsy sort of people, so had recognised that I was probably in need of a ride when they saw me. They took me into Amsterdam, and dropped me off at a station, where Alex and Dineke met me. It was 4pm on Friday. I’d made it to Amsterdam! I’d arrived at a reasonable hour! I was only one page away from the UK in my map book! Most importantly, in spite of underhand tactics (her plane got in at 10am on Saturday, it turned out, not 4pm) Team Vagabond Achterneef had beaten Team Tante Zoe.

Total distance: 475 km

Total wait time: 1:50

Total distance Munich- Berlin: 1325 km

Total wait time Munich- Berlin 4:50

Total distance Saltash- Amsterdam: 3345km]

Total wait time Saltash- Amsterdam: 1 day, 15 hours, 30 minutes.

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