Posts Tagged ‘adventure’

Part VII- Amsterdam- Home

Sunday, October 5th, 2014

Day 20

Dineke dropped me at a service station on the motorway between Sassenheim and Den Haag, and I waited about 90 minutes before getting picked up by Martin, Who’d just started a marine salvage business. He took me to a service station near Rotterdam, and I was walking to the exit when a car pulled up and offered me a ride. This was Vosie, whose name I hope I’m spelling correctly,who’d recently opened a fish restaurant and cafe in Antwerp; he gave me a bottle of water and a pastry, and took me just over the border into Belgium. We passed the service station where Mike and Leah had picked me up on my way into Amsterdam just a few days before, and he dropped me off at the next one, about 10km down the road.

On reflection, this was a bad decision on my part- this was a smaller service station, and there were no junctions between it and the last one. I got to the exit, and waited. After ten minutes, I started freaking out. Why had I come to this place, why hadn’t I stoped at the previous one? Should I cross the road and hitch back up to it? Would I ever get out of here? After 20 minutes, I had a ride to Dover.

Needless to say, I could not believe my good luck. This was Gregor, a Polish truck driver. We pulled off, got stuck in traffic jam, and I couldn’t have been happier.

After travelling through the industrial wasteland that surrounds the ferryports of Calais, and being depressed by the sheer number of immigrants in lay-bys and camps, trying to make it to the UK, we arrived at passport control. I’m not sure what happened next, because it was all in Polish, but Gregor somehow got me listed as a backup driver. This meant that when we got on board, I got a free meal in the driver’s canteen.

On the ferry, in the wingmirror.

On the ferry, in the wingmirror.

I asked around on the ferry for anyone who was heading to London, but no one was, or their cars were full. I went to the stairs to the vehicle deck to wait, still holding my sign for London, but no one approached. I got down to the vehicle deck when the doors were opened, and waited by Gregor’s truck. Suddenly, there was a shout, and some people beckoned me over.

“You’re going to London?“ they said

“Yes, could I have a ride?“

“Yes, if you can show us the way.“

Back in England, I turned on the data on my phone, and found us a route. I got them to take me to Sutton, so I could get a bus to Bryony and Phil’s, and then wrote down the directions from there to where they were going in Chelsea. I hope they made it ok!

I spent that night with Bryony and Phil, and the next day as well. Phil gave me Roundcat, who’s become my mascot, and walked me to the station in Carshalton. After that, I caught a bunch of trains and tubes out to Gunnersbury, at the beginning of the M4, and waited 20 seconds for a ride to Bristol. The final day (I hoped) couldn’t have got off to a better start, or so I thought until I tried to get a ride out of Leigh Delamere services for the M5. From there, it was a punishing 6 rides to Exeter, stopping at literally all but one of the service stations on the M5, before finally getting a ride to Plymouth. All of these rides were wonderful, and I wish I’d written more about them, but being back in England meant being able to chat, and so I didn’t take nearly so many notes.

Ah, roundcat.

Ah, roundcat.

During the last few days of the trip, I started thinking all the stupid end of trip stuff, all What Has This Trip Taught Me and such. I’d come a long way since the stress and anxiety of the first few days, on the way down through France, but it still comes back to me when I’m in a bad spot. In a good spot, I’ll happily wait for 6 hours, but in a bad spot, I’ll be freaking out after ten minutes. The main cause of stress on this trip was when I imposed time limits on myself, when I wanted to be somewhere at a certain time, and then was bummed out by not making it. Then there was the elation of reaching a destination, tempered by the anxiety of leaving it. A lot of the hard parts of this trip would have been made easier by having company; that said, I’ve done a great many things in my life where I wished I had someone to share them with, and I don’t think this was one of them. Sure, the long waits and anxiety of leaving would have been a lot easier with company, but the connections that I made, and the experiences I had, would have been diluted, I think. That’s not to say that I’ll always travel alone, just that I’m really glad I did the first time.

56- final

I totally intended to bring you the final statistics here, but I can’t work them out exactly. Roughly:

Total distance (whole trip) 4400km (2735miles)

Total wait time: 42 hours

Total time: 22 days

Part V- Munich-Amsterdam

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

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?“


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.

Part IV- Munich

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

Day 12. Munich.

There’s nothing like the feeling of arriving at a safe place when on the road. In fact, almost a better feeling is picking up the ride that’s going to take you there. I was also feeling better about the trip as a whole- the ride to Annecy hadn’t just been a fluke, this was a viable method of travel.

Sophie welcomed me in, gave me a beer, and pasta, and we began to catch up. We’d not seen each other since I left Southampton, about five years ago. She and I used to climb together, with Shep, in a slightly unorthodox threesome. The three of us met on a climbing club trip to Symonds Yat in Gloucester, and about an hour later, we resolved to undertake The Eric Journey, a trip to climb Pillar Rock in the Lake District, spending a night on a ledge somewhere. We haven’t done it yet, but since then, Sophie’s lived in a bunch of different cities, having already lived in Germany, Canada, and England when I met her, and Shep (who was training as a navigational officer in the merchant navy at the time) has travelled all over the world on various ships, and is now a First Mate. The point is, I was sorely letting the side down in travel terms.

Amazing sofa bed.

Amazing sofa bed.

Sophie had work the next day, and as it turned out, my friends Ari and Kiwi were in Munich for a convention, so I caught the hideously expensive and confusing train into the city. I went to Marienplatz, a large square in more or less the centre of the city. The train came in underground, and as I walked up the steps and out into the square, the clocks were just striking 12. It made the whole thing seem tremendously momentous.

The first thing to do in any city you’re planning to spend some time in, particularly in the summer, is firstly to find where the free drinking water is- usually a fountain- and secondly (and rather less urgently) to find where the free toilets are. Water discovered, I watched the figures move on the Rathaus clock as the carillion tinkled merrily. Damn thing goes on for well over 5 minutes, though, so after a while I decided to beat the crowds and move on. I wandered around the city vaguely for a bit, with no particular aim beyond seeing it. I’m not into shopping, really, and museums and galleries tend to be expensive, and also closed on Mondays. It was then that I realised that maybe it really is better to travel than to arrive- if I hadn’t been staying with people I loved, and had been travelling purely to see the cities, I thought, I perhaps I would have been disappointed. I looked around for a present for Amy, Alex and Dineke’s daughter who I’d be meeting for the first time in Amsterdam. It was actually her brother Callum’s birthday, but as he’d be 1 and she was almost 5, I figured she’d be more appreciative of a present. Nothing jumped out at me, though.

My wanderings lead me to what I think was the theatre, which was oddly quiet. I had a look around its buildings and courtyards, and found a very strange fountain.

If anyone ever asks me what I'm looking for in a relationship, I'm going to show them this picture.

If anyone ever asks me what I’m looking for in a relationship, I’m going to show them this picture.

At about 2.30, I met Ari in Marienplatz, and Kiwi met us shortly afterwards. We climbed a church tower, which offered excellent views of Munich from above.



Ari bought us iceream, and we then headed for the river- somewhere in the English Garden, apparently, people have moved boulders in the river to create a standing wave, which they surf. We couldn’t find it this time, though.

Ari and Kiwi were flying home that night, and I was, I admit, somewhat jealous that they’d be back in the UK by the end of the evening. It wasn’t that I was homesick or wanting the trip to be over, just that I was very aware that I was a long way from home. It was lovely to meet up with them, though, almost as a reminder that home is still out there and not just something that I made up while delirious from waiting for a ride in the sun.

The next day, I’d planned to hitch about 20km to a nearby lake, but it was very grey, and I decided to just take a day off- drink tea, read, and not do anything. It actually made a pleasant change. In the evening, Sophie wanted some fresh air, so we went to the lake anyway. I swam, and we walked a bit. I found a huge snail, which are apparently quite common. Then we went home and ate pizza.

Jumping in. The lake was green, but in a cool way, and quite stormy.

Jumping in. The lake was green, but in a cool way, and quite stormy.

This thing was huge, but I neglected to include anything for scale. It's a vineyard snail, apparently. I rescued this one from the middle of the path.

This thing was huge, but I neglected to include anything for scale. It’s a vineyard snail, apparently. I rescued this one from the middle of the path.

The next morning, Sophie had left me a note with a spare train ticket she’d found, so I went back into Munich. I wandered in a direction I’d not wandered previously, and saw this window:

The ten of hearts in a boot? Those are both things I love!

The ten of hearts in a boot? Those are both things I love!

It turned out to be the window of the most incredible outdoor store I’d ever seen. Spread over four floors, with a kayak pool in the basement and a bouldering wall at the top, it had EVERYTHING.

Oh yeah, that's our kayak pool.

Oh yeah, that’s our kayak pool.

I’ve been in many outdoor shops in my time. I’d never been in one like this. I realise most people probably aren’t that interested in outdoor stores, so I won’t go on. One thing that struck me about this place, though, was that the stairs were covered with travel and adventure photos. I really want to believe that they’d been sent in over the years by customers, and as Phil later pointed out, they were way too weirdly specific to be stock photos.

I want stairs like this.

I want stairs like this.

Found the hitchhiker.

Found the hitchhiker.

For the first time in my life when confronted with pictures like this, I didn’t feel wanderlusty and sad, I felt good. I felt like I was finally doing it right.

Trip Part III- Annecy to Munich

Friday, June 20th, 2014

Day 10

On the road again. It’s surprisingly hard to give up the comforts of the place you’ve been staying, the company of a family member, to get out of the car and wave as it drives off with absolutely no idea what will happen next, or where you’ll spend that night.

Zoe drove me into Geneva, about 20 minutes from Annecy, to a petrol station which was apparently the best spot for hitching out. It was still quite an urban area, which means pedestrians walking past and a high percentage of local traffic.

Geneva is a very rich city, and the vast majority of people driving past ignored me completely. I’d been waiting for about 90 minutes when a chap walked up to me from a minibus that had pulled in. He was from Kenya, in Geneva for a conference on the environment, if I understood correctly. He asked me what I was doing, and I told him I was trying to get to Munich to visit a friend. Why didn’t I take the train, he asked. I said I couldn’t afford it, and that I enjoyed travelling this way. He nodded to me, and went back to his group.

Ten minutes later, he returned, and gave me 20 Swiss francs, saying he hoped it would help. I was blown away by this generosity, and struck by the irony- in what must be one of the richer cities in Europe, the locals ignored me, but the guy from Kenya wanted to help me. In fact, I had great experiences on this trip with people from all over Africa. I don’t want to dwell on it too much for fear of getting into positive racism or anything, but I mention it for what it’s worth.

About 30 minutes after that, someone pulled in and offered to take me to Nyon, just up the lake. It was a very short ride, but this was the first car that had stopped for me in two hours, so it definitely seemed like the right choice. I was dropped near the motorway, which meant some slightly sketchy on-ramp hitching, but I waited less than 10 minutes for a ride to Lausanne, with a guy who was meeting his friends there and then heading into the mountains for some camping.

In Lausanne, I was in a tough spot, with a lot of traffic but not much space to stop. At this point, the day having been very slow so far, I was seriously considering taking the train to Munich, or at least to Zurich, since my confidence was still somewhat shaken from the trip down. After about 30 minutes, however, Nicole picked me up. She was heading to Basel, but could drop me off in Bern. After looking at the map, I decided it would be better to go all the way to Basel. It was north of where I wanted to be, but still broadly in the right direction. The first thing I noticed on this ride was that Nicole was playing music that was not electronic. I asked her about this. “No,” she said, “It’s only reggae in my car”. After the constant electro of France, this was a welcome relief.

As we approached Basel, Nicole offered me her spare room if I wanted to stop for the night. Inititally, I turned it down, since it was about 4.30pm, and I thought I could still make some good headway to the east that day, but then I thought- no, that’s not what this is about. This is about taking opportunities and having experiences I wouldn’t otherwise have; with that thought, I took her up on the offer, and we headed into Basel. We met her boyfriend there, whose name I have forgotten (sorry about that, if you guys end up reading this!); he was from Gambia, and they’d met at a reggae night in Basel.

The apartment was beautiful, in a very pretty part of town.

The view from the balcony.

The view from the balcony.

After we’d got everything up from the car and relaxed for a bit, they offered to take me out to see something of Basel. We crossed over the Rhine here, which is an incredible river.

A large amount of my pictures from this trip are motion blurred.

A large amount of my pictures from this trip are motion blurred.

Basel is a funny town, with dozens of ring roads and a very sudden border between industrialand rural. We headed across that border, to a park with a river running through it, crisscrossed by road and rail bridges. The whole thing was kind of sci fi, really.

If any of you are familiar with the album artwork of Systematic Chaos by Dream Theater, you may have just done a double take.

If any of you are familiar with the album artwork of Systematic Chaos by Dream Theater, you may have just done a double take.

There, we met up with some of their friends (who I think were also Gambian), and they shared their barbecue with us- it was lamb, cooked in a whole bunch of spices and such. I was given a beer, too, and again was blown away by the generosity of people towards a complete stranger.

At the amazing barbecue with the amazing people.

At the amazing barbecue with the amazing people.

I started to think about hitching and this style of travel now. At times, it seems awfully one-sided. In England, I can offer company and entertainment. Anyone who knows me will know that I rarely stop talking, and so hitching anywhere that I speak the language seems… not exactly fair, but a but less one sided. Basel is in the German speaking part of Switzerland, though, and my German is more or less nonexistent. It felt a bit rude to expect rides when I couldn’t offer much in the way of company, and I felt kind of bad about the generosities of others which I was unable to repay.

At the barbecue, one of Nicole’s friends, Cosimo, started talking to me, and said he used to hitch, and that the next day he would be heading to Winterthur, which is just near Zurich. He gave me his number in case I was still waiting for a ride at about 2pm.

I realised that I’d been constantly tempted to take the easy way out, to give up and get the train or use rideshare websites and such, but that that was the wrong way to think, that in fact hitching IS the easy way if you approach it in the right mindset. Your ride is always out there, you just have to wait for it and it will come. I also decided at this point to give up on asking for rides at service stations. It seemed too pushy, and given my guilt about generosity, and my inability to speak the language I was asking in, it didn’t seem right- the thing to do is to wait at the exit with a sign. People who want to help will walk over hot coals to do so, and it’s better to get a ride with someone who wants to give you one than to persuade someone who doesn’t.

I spent that night on the floor of a spare room in Basel, with WiFi and a place to charge my phone, and in the morning Nicole gave me breakfast and drove me to a service station on the motorway.

I made a habit of taking pictures of my beds on this trip. In a few posts time, this will be hilarious.

I made a habit of taking pictures of my beds on this trip. In a few posts time, this will be hilarious.

Total distance: 250km

Total wait: 2:40

Day 11

I waited about 90 minutes for a ride from the service station with some hippies in a VW campervan. This trip has left me SO well disposed towards hippies. They took me about 80km to a service station just before Zurich.

Sorry it's blurry. It wasn't much more interesting in focus, I promise.

Sorry it’s blurry. It wasn’t much more interesting in focus, I promise.

This was a good spot. I got set up at the exit, and waited. It’s a funny thing- when I’m in a good spot, I can wait hours and feel fine, but when I’m in a bad spot, I freak out after about ten minutes. My mindset was better now, though, and I was much more relaxed in general. It was also here that I saw my first hitcher graffitti.

I wish the destination wasn't obscured, but the fact that it was in Germany encouraged me.

I wish the destination wasn’t obscured, but the fact that it was in Germany encouraged me.

While this was a good spot, it was also slightly brutal. No shade, and a very hot day. There was a crash barrier to sit on, though, which was something, and it was right next to the main road- the volume of traffic allayed any doubts I’d had about hitching on a Sunday.

I could see the entrance from the motorway from where I was, and after maybe two hours of waiting, I saw a VW campervan pull in. Oho, I thought, maybe this will be my ride. Frankly, if you’re not going to pick up hitchhikers, you don’t deserve such a cool van. The van parked up, and the owner went into the service station, and was gone for a long while. I kept hitching, and I swear every fifth car here was a supercar. Some people looked at me with disgust, in the same manner as Geneva, but the vast majority waved, offered peace signs, thumbs up, in some cases stopped just to say that they were really sorry but they were coming off at the next junction. It was like this all day, which really helped my morale.

Suddenly, I realised the VW camper lady was walking over to me. She wasn’t going my way, but she’d bought me an icecream, and wished me good luck, and gave me a big wave when she drove past. Again, I was just blown away by the generosity.

There isn’t really an obvious route from Zurich to Munich. For a start, the Bodensee is in the way, but in addition, the main motorway in Switzerland swings down to the south, avoiding the main road to Munich which comes in from the east and swings North. My difficulty was in picking a direction to go around the Bodensee, so when, after 5.5 hours (my longest single wait of the trip), a van pulled up, saying he was going to Winterthur (to the North) I decided to go for it, and be decisive about picking a route. Winterthur was only 15 minutes away, but I figured I’d waited long enough, so off we went.

At this point, it was about 7.30pm. The area around about was mostly forest, so I was pretty relaxed about finding a place to sleep. My driver dropped me off at a tiny service station, and I headed for the exit. I decided I’d give it 30 minutes, and then call it a night. Three minutes later I had a ride to Munich.

Once again, the late night Sunday ride. One again, I couldn’t believe my luck. This was Brip and Isabella, two magnificent hippies on their way from Biel in Switzerland to Regensburg, north of munich. They said they’d been thinking of stopping for a swim in the Bodensee, and of course I was on board, so off we went. Once we found the lake, we couldn’t find a free place to park, so abandoned the car at the side of the road and headed for the lake. We couldn’t get to the lake proper, so we swam in the harbour of a yacht club. The sight of three people taking off all their clothes and jumping into the harbour caused a few funny looks, but it was worth it.

This was probably my favourite single experience of the trip.

This was probably my favourite single experience of the trip.

This was one of my favourite rides of the trip, with fascinating conversation and electrical storms. The journey to Munich seemed to go incredibly quickly, even though it was getting on for 350km. They drove me literally to Sophie’s front door, and we exchanged email addresses, so it’s possible they will see this too. Hi, guys! Hope you don’t mind that picture! I love you!

Total distance: 400km

Total wait: 7 hours

Total distance Annecy to Munich: 650km

Total wait Annecy to Munich: 9:40

Total distance Saltash to Munich:2020km

Total wait Saltash to Munich: 1 day, 10 hours, 40 minutes

Trip Part II- Annecy!

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

This part of the narrative won’t be broken down so much into days, since I was staying in the same place the whole time.

I’ve always enjoyed arriving at a place I’ve never been before at night. I love forming an idea of it when I can’t really see it, and then seeing it in daylight and trying to work out where everything was the night before.

Annecy is a beautiful place. There’s water everywhere, in rivers, in fountains, in the all consuming lake, and it’s all crystal clear. It was a wonderful place to arrive after a long journey. Zoe took me to her apartment, which is on a hill overlooking Annecy proper, and we talked for a bit. That night, I had my first shower in 4 days, slept on a sofabed under an actual ceiling and did not wake up at 7am with my bedding covered in a mix of dew and condensation. It was awesome.

We had breakfast, again on the balcony, and talked more. Something I’ve found since I began hitching is that it’s allowing me to establish relationships with parts of my family, beyond the “see you next time someone gets married or dies!” kind. None of my extended family lives in Cornwall, so growing up I would see relatives maybe once or twice a year. I figured that, at 26, if I wanted to have a relationship with my relatives, it was up to me, rather than to some other family member to set up some big get together. This was a theme even before Annecy, since as a warm up for this trip I hitched up to Bristol to visit Rhiannon, and Merion, my cousins from the other side of my family; while growing up so far away from everyone wasn’t great, it’s now a huge advantage to have so many floors I can sleep on dotted about the place, and a real pleasure to get to know the rest of my generation on equal terms, rather than the slightly contrived conversation of family gatherings.

The view from Zoe's balcony.

The view from Zoe’s balcony.

Zoe is also self employed, rather more successfully than me, so I left her working and headed out to explore the old town and maybe go for a swim. I’d been given directions, but the old town proved surprisingly hard to find. I asked someone, was pointed back the way I’d come, and was wandering vaguely along when I saw a café Zoe had mentioned. Next to it was an archway, unremarkable in many ways, but on one side was a fairly typical inustrialish French town, and on the other, the breathtaking old town. It was a bit like the entrance to Diagon Alley.

The magical archway. This was taken later, since, not realising its magical effects, I didn't take a picture on the first day.

The magical archway. This was taken later, since, not realising its magical effects, I didn’t take a picture on the first day.

The old town is absolutely beautiful. Very alpine in its architecture, yet interlaced with watercourses. Beautifully crumbly buildings overhanging rivers with mountain views have lead people to call it the Venice of the Alps, or, the Venice of Not Actually That Far North-West of Venice. Zoe has been working on a theory that everywhere is the Venice of somewhere.

Most of Annecy looks more or less like this.

Most of Annecy looks more or less like this.

I made it to the lake and went for a swim, in the shadow of the mountains. The water was the clearest I’ve ever swum in, and was somewhere between 14 and 17 degrees, which was just about perfect for me. I was able to swim for about 20 minutes at a time, then get off and drip dry in the sun without shivering. Anyone who knows about me and wild swimming will know that while I do often swim in cold water, I actually have very little tolerance for the cold, so it was profoundly strange to see a few of the apparently hardier locals swimming in wetsuits, gloves, boots, and neoprene balaclavas. Here is a picture of a swan.


Told you.

At this point, I feel the need to mention my Onya bag. Knowing I’d be stopping along the way, leaving my rucksack, and exploring on foot, I’d thought about bringing a smaller rucksack as well, but I didn’t have the space. I threw my Onya bag in, which packs down to slightly smaller than my fist, then folds out to perfect daysack size. Also, it’s made from recycled bottles.

My wonderful onya bag-

My wonderful onya bag-

I headed back into Annecy to try and find some lunch. My goal with this trip was to spend as little money as possible, so dumpster diving was a key part of the plan. On the face of it, Annecy should have a great dumpster scene, since there are dozens of restaurants and bars around. However, in every alley that, in England, would contain the back exits and dumpsters, there were just.. more restaurants. This happened over and over again. Eventually I managed to find a baguette, but that was about the extent of my dumpster fortune for the whole trip.

On my second day in Annecy, I borrowed Zoe’s bike, and cycled around the lake. It’s about 38km around, which I’d manage pretty easily on my bike, but on a heavy hybrid with flattish tyres, it was challenging. It yielded some amazing views, though.

Zoe's bike on a jetty.

Zoe’s bike on a jetty.

It was at this point that my plans changed a bit. Initially, my plan had been to spend two nights in Annecy and get back on the road, but I realised this was all wrong. When I set out from Calais, I thought, right. Next stop Annecy! But it just doesn’t work like that. It’s a horrible cliché, but it really is more about the journey than the destination; having come so far to Annecy, it would be foolish to just leave again immediately. In addition, the trip down had been so hard, and I was very much enjoying not having to worry about where I would sleep at nights. I decided at this point that I wouldn’t go to Vienna. This was a tough decision to make, since it meant I’d miss out on seeing Beverley, and since the trip had originally been conceived as Saltash to Vienna, but on reflection, it was the right decision. This seems like a good time to briefly introduce the Harlequin Theory of There Are No Wrong Decisions In Hitching, which is basically my realisation that because you don’t know about the rides you miss, however you get there is the right way to get there. I’ll revisit this in the next post.

This was, truthfully, a difficult part of the trip for me. Each time I stayed in a place, I got very anxious about leaving it, and particularly at this point, since the journey down hadn’t been the smoothest, and Annecy was so lovely. I’m prone to this kind of anxiety anyway- every time I travel to London I get nervous the day before, even though I’ve done it over 50 times and never once had anything approaching a problem. Here it was especially difficult since I wasn’t sure where I’d go after Munich, and it seemed like it would be just a long trip back to the UK from there. I was in a slightly delicate state, and slightly overwhelmed, and in situations like that I can’t put it out of my mind and come back to it later; I’m completely useless for anything until I’ve worked it out in my own mind. It was then Zoe suggested that I contact Alex and Dineke, my cousin (Zoe’s brother) and his wife, in Amsterdam. I sent Dineke a message, apologising for being vague, since I had less than no idea when I’d get there, and she said I was welcome any time. I had a new destination!

Sophie, my Bavarian friend with whom I would be staying in Munich, was away until Sunday evening, which meant I realistically couldn’t leave Annecy until Saturday, and, the outline of my plan made, that suited me fine. That evening, Zoe and I had sushi on a jetty on the Lake, and I was very glad to be staying in Annecy a little longer.

Zoe eating sushi on the jetty.

Zoe eating sushi on the jetty.

The next day, day 7 overall, I climbed an alp, or at least a part of one, and saw the Basilica that overlooks the town. Unfortunately, the only viewpoints on the hill looked out over the industrial parts of the area, rather than the pretty bits, but here’s a photo just in case you like that sort of thing. I could also see Zoe’s apartment from up there.

I don't know why you did this, France.

I don’t know why you did this, France.

I’d decided on the trip down that I needed a small bag of some kind, in addition to my rucksack, for keeping things that I wanted quick access to in- my diary, marker pens, mp3 player (amazingly important when I’m feeling run down), so for a few days I’d been looking around for something appropriate. I found a bag, known henceforth as my hippy bag, in a hippy shop. I asked about bags and completed the transaction entirely in French (and some Spanish, because I’m horrible at differentiating between foreign languages), which I was quite proud about. My French had gone from basically zero to almost useful in the four days of hitching through a country which really doesn’t speak any English.

15a- hippy bag

My hippy bag.

That evening, it rained, proper European rain. It might rain often in the UK, but it’s never that hard. The French don’t mess about when it comes to rain. I decided to go for a swim, and walking through Annecy, with the river levels up and all the gutters spraying water into them from the rooftops was quite a sight. The beach, predictably, was deserted, but the water was no colder, and I swam for a good while, finally managing to get out of my depth in the surprisingly shallow lake. After that, I walked home, and then Zoe and I went to meet some of her friends at a winebar; it was nice to meet them (and I suppose they might end up reading this, so hello!), and I also managed to table dive a bunch of bread and smoked salmon, which was a consolation after the dumpster disappointment.

On the morning of my last day in Annecy, the weather was fine again, the hottest it had been, and we went out to the lake, since Zoe had some work to do that didn’t require a computer.

I tried to work standing in a lake once, but the fabric got wet.

I tried to work standing in a lake once, but the fabric got wet.

I swam a lot, to some buoys about 300m offshore. The water was warmer on this side of the lake, the opposite side to where I’d swum before, and the view even more spectacular.

Yeah.. not much I can say in a caption to this image, really.

Yeah.. not much I can say in a caption to this image, really.

I had a wonderful time in Annecy, and I’m super grateful to Zoe for putting me up and putting up with me. Here is a quote from her which I wrote down in my diary at the end of my stay, the context of which I only vaguely remember :

“We’re no better than lemmings really, when it comes to jellybeans”

Small Update, Big Trip

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

I’ve not written anything here for a long time, and that’s partly because the website is in the process of being updated. Once it’s sorted, things will be a little different around here.What follows is the first blogpost in a series documenting my recent adventures hitchhiking around Europe.

Day 1

The trip started out slow. My regular spot for leaving Saltash had only ever provided me with 15 minute waits, but today it took me 2.5 hours to get a ride, and then it was only to the other side of Plymouth. From there, though, I waited less than ten minutes for a ride to Gordano Services, near Bristol, in a van which had the heaters stuck on full. At Gordano, I got my water bottle refilled in Starbucks, and then waited about 25 minutes for a ride towards London. A continuing theme of this trip was having in depth discussions with people without ever actually learning each others’ names, and this was the first example. This was a guy who’d been driving from Cornwall, and had seen me that morning, but not been able to stop, since I was on the sliproad rather than the main road. He’d lived and worked in Singapore and now lived in Looe. We talked about generational differences and how no one hitches anymore, at least in the UK.

I was keen to get to the M20, so asked him to drop me just before the junction with the M25, but this turned out to be a bad idea. Fortunately, I was only waiting 2 minutes before I got a ride to Heathrow, with a really kind Indian guy who took me right to the terminal I needed for the underground.

I got a tube from there into London, and another out to Mottingham, on the A20 heading for the M20, apparently the best spot for hitching out of London towards Dover. After a 25 minute wait, Richard, an Irish tree surgeon who lives in St Austell, Cornwall, picked me up. He wasn’t going my way, but had had a good day and wanted to pay it forward. We stopped and he bought me a sandwich and a beer, then dropped me at the junction with the M25.

I waited about an hour there, right in front of a bunch of Highways Agency guys. It wasn’t a great spot, and when Rachel stopped to say she was going the wrong way, I asked her for a ride back to Mottingham. From there, I tried to hitch onto the M20 again for about 30 minutes, before calling Bryony and Phil, some wonderful friends of mine from South London, and staying the night with them. They gave me suncream, which turned out to be utterly invaluable, and then gave me breakfast the next day. After that, I headed back to Mottingham.

Approx. total distance: 400km

Approx. total wait time: 5 hours

Day 2

I waited for about an hour before another hitcher, Stephanie, showed up. She was much more experienced at this and shared some valuable wisdom. I started asking drivers at the pumps if they were heading down the M20, and was able to find us both a ride to Maidstone services. At Maidstone, we asked around the petrol station again, and got a ride after about 30 minutes with Peter and Charlie, and Hennessee, a small dog, in a 4 seater convertible. This was a squeeze, to say the least. They took us through the tunnel, with Stephanie finding a ride to Calais en route. After that, they were heading south, so I headed south with them, and they left me at Baie de la Somme services, a service station south of Calais. I waited for about 3 hours before giving up and deciding to spend the night there. At this point I felt pretty down and lonely. No one seemed to be going my way, and Annecy seemed a very long way off. It was, at least, a safe and comfortable place to spend the night, with free WiFi.

The lake at the back of Baie de Somme Services. The French do not mess about when it comes to service stations.

The lake at the back of Baie de Somme Services. The French do not mess about when it comes to service stations.

Where I spent my first night in France. It smelled of blossom, and minimal light pollution meant a beautiful starry sky.

Where I spent my first night in France. It smelled of blossom, and minimal light pollution meant a beautiful starry sky.

Distance: 250km

Wait: 5 hours

Day 3

I woke up after a fairly comfortable night in the grounds of the service station, dried the condensation off my stuff in the already hot sun, and headed back to the front of the service station. Asking everyone who came past, I waited for another 3 hours, and started to feel quite low. Sometimes when hitching you’re in a bad spot, but you don’t always have the option to get to a better one. Later on, I came up with a better method for hitching from service stations, but at this point I was still a relative novice. Finally a truck driver told me he’d go inside and pay, and then take me to a truckstop, near a peage, the far side of Amiens, about 100km away. We listened to AC/DC most of the way. It’s funny, all the insecurities and worry that build up while you’re waiting evaporate in the first 10 minutes of a good ride.

At the peage was another hitchhiker, from Germany. He didn’t speak much english, and my german is awful, but it turned out he was heading to Spain, with two dogs. He was waiting just before the tollbooths, so I went and waited after them, and he got picked up after about 20 minutes. I forget how long I waited- perhaps two hours or so, before Bea picked me up. She was going to Troyes to meet a friend, which it turned out was the exact direction I wanted to head. This turned out to be my favourite ride of the trip so far, a ride of about 250 km. Her English was pretty good, and I had my french dictionary too, and the conversation flowed pretty well. We’re friends on Facebook now, so she’s probably reading this. Hi, Bea!

The french do not mess about when it comes to fields.

The french do not mess about when it comes to fields.

We stopped part way, and she bought me a can of coke and a mars bar, which was super kind. She took me to Troyes, which, on the map, is almost exactly halfway between Calais and Annecy. She dropped me in the centre, and I waited at a bus stop for 10 minutes for a ride to the peage heading towards Dijon, with Francoise, who lived by the bus station and saw me waiting, so very kindly took me out. She’d been a german teacher, and while she didn’t speak English so much, she understood a lot of it, which was about where I was getting with French.

Once I got to the Peage, I tried hitching for a while, slightly confused about which way the road was heading. I also went and tried the nearby french equivalent of a B-road, which saw three people stop in 20 minutes, though none of them were going very far. While waiting here, a cyclist came past on a touring bike, with a trailer, obviously on a pretty long journey. We nodded and smiled at each other, and it kind of felt like a “Yeah, we’re travelling differently. We understand each other.” Maybe it was wholly imagined, but it was a nice moment.

In this image, the artist hopes it doesn't count as a selfie if he uses a tripod.

In this image, the artist hopes it doesn’t count as a selfie if he uses a tripod.

I decided to try the peage again, but a policeman told me I couldn’t hitch there, and asked to see my passport. It was about 8pm by this point, so I decided to find a place to sleep. Once I’d worked out where I would sleep, I returned to the peage and sat down, collecting my thoughts in my diary. At this point, I felt good, like I was over the worst of it, the difficult starting point of any journey, and it was all going to be fine from here. I was wrong, but not super wrong. I slept pretty close to the peage, but down a bank behind a thick hedge, hoping I wouldn’t get seen. I didn’t, fortunately, since the police station was about 200m away.

Distance: 260km

Wait: Roughly 6 hours, including 2 before giving up and going to sleep.

Day 4

I woke pretty early, and had to dry my stuff out in the sun again. It was already hot at 7.30, and once I started hitching from the peage (today, a different police officer stopped and chatted for a bit, while I was sat in the exact place I’d been moved from the day before), I realised that it was time to break the umbrella out as a parasol.

Everyone loved the fact that I had a full sized umbrella strapped to my rucksack.

Everyone loved the fact that I had a full sized umbrella strapped to my rucksack.

NOTHING happens in France on a Sunday. I waited for about 4.5 hours here before changing my sign from Lyon to “Aire de Service”, just to get onto the right road. Finally, I got a ten minute ride to the nearby service station.

This was probably the lowest point of the trip. I kept asking people and kept getting rejected. I went inside, bought an adaptor to charge my phone, connected to the WiFi, and whined at anyone I could on Facebook (sorry guys). I found out that it was about 340km from Calais to where I was, and over 350km just to Lyon, and this really depressed me. At this rate, I wasn’t going to make Annecy until Tuesday or something. Talking helped, though, and once my phone was charged, I decided to give up asking for rides, set my sign and bag up outside, and start juggling. If people wanted to help, I reasoned, they would help.

Desperate times call for increasingly adventurous self portraiture.

Desperate times call for increasingly adventurous self portraiture.

A nice guy came up and started talking to me. He wasn’t going my way, unfortunately, but he talked to me about travelling in Scotland and his own experiences hitching. Meetings like this were to become a theme of the trip, people who’d hitched when they were young and now picked people up whenever they could, or just stopped to apologise if they weren’t going the right way.

After a while of this, I decided to go and try at the petrol station. I did that for about an hour, and then elected to just go and sit at the exit with my sign. It was about 7.30 at this point, and even though I’d only travelled 5km that day, I felt ok now- the petrol station had a free shower, and there were plenty of trees around so I could have slept there. At least I was on the right road now- I’d realised the reason this had been so hard so far was that I’d come south out of Calais, eager to stick with my ride as long as I could, when I should have come south-east.

I’d been sitting there for about 5 minutes, having been at the service station for about 4.5 hours at that point, the 5th car pulled up. He wasn’t going to Lyon, he said, but maybe he could take me part of the way? I broke out the map to try and work it out, and when I leaned in through the window to show him, I glanced at his SatNav. He was going to Annecy.

Utterly unable to believe my luck, I jumped in, and off we set, to cover the 450km to Annecy. His English was at about the same level as my French, but goodwill and humour are fine things. I broke out my dictionary to look up words, and took the wheel so he could do the same. We listened to music, and shared a bag of nuts and raisins I’d brought. He gave me his phone to call Zoe, my cousin in Annecy, who explained the whole situation to him. We drove on into the sunset, hitting the alps just after dark. One important note: If you’re going to hitch in France, either learn French, or learn to love electro, dance, house, and any other electronic genre you can. You’ll need it.

As we approached Annecy, he gave me his phone to call Zoe again. She said she’d meet me by the town hall. Great, I thought, and hung up. Then rang her back to ask how to say town hall in French. We arrived at about 11.30, and met Zoe. I was more or less delirious at this point, unable to believe my luck.

That is not a "smile for the camera" smile. It's pure delerious non-believing joy.

That is not a “smile for the camera” smile. It’s pure delerious non-believing joy.

Distance: 460km

Wait: 9 hours or something ridiculous like that

Total distance from Saltash to Annecy: 1370km

Total wait time from Saltash to Annecy: 25 hours

Stay tuned for: Annecy!

I know it’s been a while…

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

But I have a plan for keeping this blog more up to date.

I run two businesses, as some of you will know, and unfortunately, while this one is my secret favourite, the other one takes up most of my time. I don’t update this blog often, and that’s not because I am too lazy to update it, it’s because I’m not doing very much that’s relevant to this business.

Here is my proposed solution; rather than just using this blog for abeautifulpalegreen, I will use it as my personal blog as well. I’m not going to be going in for introspection and myspacey whining by any means- I’ll mainly be talking about my adventures in getting fitter. For example, I am currently training for a long distance swimming event here in Plymouth- it’s called the breakwater swim, and it’s 2.2 miles swimming in a straight line from the breakwater to Plymouth Hoe. It’s a big deal- it’ll be the furthest I’ve ever swum- and it’s also for a great cause! Should you be so minded, you can check out my JustGiving page, and donate!

I’m planning to get a touring bike and see a bit more of the world, too, and this’ll be a cool place to discuss that. A few years ago, some friends of mine and I kept a video blog for a year, and documented some great times. I miss that. I still have great times, I just don’t record them anymore! I will change that, starting today!

Here is a picture from a training swim with the Devon and Cornwall Wild Swimming Club:

It was a nasty, cold, windy, rainy, foggy day, and it was AWESOME. The breakwater is about two miles behind me in this picture. You’ll notice that I’m avoiding looking at it!

If none of that lifts your luggage, don’t despair! I’ll still be updating with details about all my abpg projects.