Why I’m still a lucky hitchhiker and other stories.

I was busy having fun in Croatia and Montenegro the last few days, but do let me tell you the tale of how I got here.

Remember, I was in Trieste, the only part of Italy that geographically can be counted into the Balkan area.

My aim was to reach Dubrovnik by night, 700 odd kilometres and four border crossings away. 

Leaving Trieste, I had to properly open the hitchhiker’s toolbox for the first time during my trip. First step: consult the eternal wisdom of hitchwiki.org, and find some good spots outside the city. Second step: get to that spot (I managed eventually, but got off the bus too late and had to get back to the still-Italian-but-not-quite-so village I wanted to leave from). Third step: plant yourself next to the road, in a place in which cars can conceivably stop to pick you up. Fourth step: make a sign and stick out your thumb.

 Fifth step: wait.

Arghh. Arghh. (That’s the sound of watching unhelpful cars go by). The whole trip, I’d only been on service stations, asking people directly. This, of course, also has the difficulty of plucking up the courage of asking strangers for a favour, but that’s something that usually gets easier over time (unless I’m super tired), while staring at cars driving by does. not. get any easier. Also, it’s less likely to succeed (there’s been studies done on that, but I don’t have a link right now). And you have all the time in the world to multiply the gloominess of your thoughs. And no-one stops to say “I’m not going your way, but I wish you luck”. You just see people stare at you and imagine that they all have no understanding of what you’re doing and that they despise you as a person and… it’s also a good way of learning how not to do that. And how to deal with the uncertainty that someone might pick you up in a minute, but that it could also take hours (or days, when you’re as patient as my friend Julian or other people). Or how to deal with the stare of others, and not conform nor feel bad for that, but smile at them in return.

Even more disappointing that I had no long hours in front of me, but just enough time to think these thoughts, until an Italian civil servant stopped after 39 minutes of waiting and brought me through Slovenia into Croatia.

Time for some stats!

On my whole journey, from Brittany through France, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and again Croatia, I had 14 stops, of which all but two were on service areas next to the motorway. I waited for just under 18 minutes on average.

If you don’t have a sense of how phenomenal that is, imagine that this means that there were times when I literally didn’t wait at all and that 10 minutes were usually what I had to expect! 10 minutes! That’s less than what I usually plan for changing buses! It was only a few stops that increased this mean, like the one time I had to wait for about one hour. So that’s why I’m a lucky hitchhiker.

Doesn’t mean that this is what I or anyone should expect when hitching, but it does mean that I reached Dubrovnik in time to have dinner with my friends.

Some cool other people I met that day were an Austrian couple in their fifties or early sixties, who looked like unusual suspects – they were driving a big BMW, and he was on the phone for business reasons, wearing a shirt that dazzled me in its whiteness (and that’s what he wore on a holiday!)… and then, I didn’t even have to ask them, but they asked me if I needed a lift, and I loved the daily dose of anti-prejudice training. 

Another was a Swiss-Croatian girl who’d also just finished University and who thanked me for driving with her (Me: “…euhh? Thank you?” She: “no, seriously, I wish you’d continue my way, it’s so much more fun to have someoneto chat to!”).

And the Croatian health and safety inspector who brought me through the bit of Bosnia (or probably rather Hercegowina) that separates the two parts of Croatia, and who turned out to be a hobby-historian furnishing me with knowledge about the former Venezian and Dubrovnian republics, and who’d have been able to teach me much more had it not been for language barriers.

Anyway – thanks to all who made my trip so awesome, and thanks to you who were following my stories! It’s been great, and I hope life will continue to be interesting enough to be talked about 🙂

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Part 3: Crossing Italy

Hitchlog: 761km, 9h30 total, 2h waiting, 25min pause

Haven’t read Part 1 and Part 2 of the journey yet?

part 3 Ronja

I started off with the small frustration of being on a relatively quiet station where everyone went off the mountains and not to Italy. I say small, because the first people going to Italy, a young couple from southern France, promptly took me on board. And when I looked at the time, I couldn’t believe that I’d only spent about 10 minutes trying anyway! If I continue being that lucky, I definitely won’t work on my patience, which was one of the initial attractions of hitchhiking. But I won’t complain! One thing I did work on that day, however, was renunciation. That’s something I do relatively often, half-voluntarily, since I rarely take a lot of food with me. I always tell myself “oh, in the worst case, I can buy something on the way”, which is something I never end up doing, because somehow I’m never hungry enough to pay 3.50€ for a packet of crisps. For the two days on the road, I had: 200g of walnuts and 2 fruit bars (still from my gran at home), a few slices of bread, and two oranges. The bread and one orange, as well as some nuts were gone the previous day, so I had the other orange in the morning and decided to savour every bite from then on. Which was totally fine.

Just to clarify: I don’t do these kinds of things for any aww-my-gawd-I-needa-lose-weight reason. I kind of hesitated writing about food (and lack thereof) because it’s a touchy topic for many people, and I know very few people who have an entirely healthy relation to what they eat and what their body looks like. Well, I think I’ve grown to develop a liking of my body and don’t see at all why I’d want to torture it to fit a certain, mainstream accepted, look (if I wanted to do that, I’d start by shaving my legs). Experiments like this one are more in line with staying up the whole night to do parkour, and, in this case, err on the side of the spiritual journey. Y’know, like Indian monks wandering around, depending on the charity of others (“only take what is given”) and not craving for more than that. Already, hitchhiking really helps developing that kind of modesty and gratitude and non-attachment (to the extent that now, I really don’t care anymore if someone could actually take me but doesn’t want to, and can ungrudgingly wish them a nice journey). The food-scarcity is something of a bonus, also because only eating walnuts is a bit boring, and breaks the craving for special tastes or whatever. And I felt truly like that kind of nomad when sometimes I got offered a biscuit or a handful of almonds.

Anyway, after I got through all of Italy fine, I arrived at my friend’s place in Trieste where home-cooked pasta was waiting for me, eheh.

Some more fun on the way included seeing lots of middle-aged men in big cars, smoking and looking so clichéd Italian that I couldn’t help but find it hilarious, landscapes changing sooo quickly. I also got ciao-bella’d (pff) and met more cool people… but to be honest, now I’ve written a lot and would prefer going out to see Trieste!

Rendez-vous in Croatia 😉

 

Part 1: Changing skies

After a beautiful time spent in both the calm of the counntryside and the festival-atmosphere of my host family’s party, I was left at a service station on the main road out of Brittany.

 It was grey and a bit foggy and I realised that this was the very same station where, 4 years ago, a much more nervous version of myself did her very first solo hitching. After about 15 minutes, a retired optician took me, and very soon the sky started clearing up. He was traveling towards Tours to pick up his four grandchildren who were brought up North by their dad who coudn’t take time off for them during the summer holiday. He left me at the entrance of the station, where I first had to take a break and strip off various layers of clothing. Then, I went around asking “Est-ce que vous allez dans la direction de Lyon, par hasard?”… until someone half-grinned at me and asked “Are you German?”. I realised what had happened when four girls came to kiss him goodbye – I’d found the son of my first driver! He continued the new family tradition and drove me further (as well as the old family tradition of being an optician).

The next stop, before Montluçon, was the longest wait of the trip (and also that was only about an hour long!), where I met a guy who wanted to hitch the same way as me. He immediately asked whether we could “say we’re together” (however he meant it?) and I declined, knowing that I wouldn’t help myself at all. It would have been interesting to compare his success rates to mine, not only because hitching is generally said to be easiest as a woman by herself, but also because he didn’t seem to compensate his initial disadvantage very well. I could see that he’d put on a shirt to seem “proper”, which looked a bit overdone (like when you meet Jehova’s witnesses on the street); and most of all, he had a kind of awkward way of approaching people, which probably didn’t help them trust him. How sad that you can’t cover up your body language with nice clothing :D.

Anyway, I did continue eventually, with a headache from all the sunshine, and passed Lyon at about 4pm in a super cool VW van containing a dad and his 14-year-old daughter.

The last ride of the day, which brought me to the middle of the mountains (just next to the Mont Blanc!), was given by a shy 32-year-old who looked much younger than that.

Part 1 Ronja.PNG

Hitching again!

It’s been 10 months since I haven’t been on the road; 10 long months in which I finished a degree instead, and discovered that being sedentary can also be fun. We-ell, here I am again. I used the past few weeks to piece myself back together, after running on a limited version of myself for quite a while (I really really did enjoy all the studying. But that’s not all I need, and then there’s the stress, of course).

First came Tandem Festival (whoa! Music! Crafts! Movement! … I kept on smiling sheepishly – “Forgot how happy this stuff made me!”) and sunshine in Oxford. 

Then I stayed up a whole night running around London parkour-style, while also learning how to build shelters or light fires … which made me feel a bit more ready to face an urban catastrophy scenario (or a G20 meeting … or long nights next to motorways).

I traveled to Germany, did couchsurfing again (“whoaaa, such nice people” *gratitude overflow*), and felt scared about all the hitchhiking I’m planning to do this summer.

Then I shut up for 10 days and meditated and now life is kind of easier. At least the bit of it which is self-caused misery; which might end up being all of the misery we feel. Please remind me to write a post dedicated to meditation!

After meditation retreats, sometimes great things seem to happen and stuff suddenly works out; like when I found someone driving past my family home (in Western Germany) and did a surprise visit for a few hours. Imagine the happiness of seeing family again after months, and then receiving the gift of doing so unexpectedly. Add to that getting your uni results which turned out fine; and an impromptu party including both of your divorced parents (“Efficient time allocation”). Bliss – and so many hugs.

The next day, after a long long breakfast, my mum dropped me off at a service station to hitch towards Brittany. Hopefully it is evident how much I love her for being that kind of mother.

About to set off!

And then – vrumm, vrumm – back en route! I didn’t have enough time to get properly sceptical or pessimistic about my lift chances, because an old couple in a minivan took me on board after 15min, and the magic of the hitch started working again. He told me how he hitchhiked to the red sea back in ’59; and I learned some things about market research and Iron Man competitions. I got my next ride from a German ladder-manufacturer whose father had invented a special type of ladder now endangered by new EU-regulations. He was off to Paris attempting to get an exemption through, and had a great hands-on life philosophy… again a nice reminder that one does not need to be an academic to make sense and to think on one’s feet (and that, conversely, I  should not stop trying to make sense even though I know fancy words. Surprise.)

He dropped me off just before Paris, since I wanted to continue to Brittany… but here, time passed and I got bored (also, I’d only slept 4hrs because of said impromptu-party). And so, I hitched into Paris and spent a lovely evening with a high-school friend who lives there now. More of these beautiful surprises 🙂
Anyway, now I’ve reached Brittany, staying once again in the house where I spent some of the most important months of my life, helping my ex host family prepare the party that’ll happen here in a few days.

So, for example, this ladder is built in accordance with the new standard, prescribing that the bottom width be 50% more that the top width. However, that does not take into account the special case in which the top is larger too, which means you only need 25% extra at bottom and top… also, we made bunting.

Hopefully, I’ll have some time to rest and to brace myself for the journey to Croatia which awaits next week…