Posts Tagged ‘munich’

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