|A quick trip through eight countries|
After visiting Portugal and Spain for the first time this year (as a hitch-hiker, that story will follow later) I decided to escape the Belgian part of Lithuania, the house was somewhat overrun by our grandchildren and relatives of my wife, for a few days…
After getting out of bed at the horrible time of 5:30 and eating a few sandwiches and a drink, I jumped on my bike, cycled to the President Kennedy Plein (the start of the A10) and stuck up my "Brugge" sign, but it took me about half an hour to get a ride, and quite remarkable, it was the third (out of four) times I left Oostende with a female driver, to the "Jabbeke" petrol station.
I short 9 minutes later ride two followed, taking me eventually to Junction 8 (Wemmel), we missed the "Groot Bijgaarden" petrol station, but in the end I think it was good to give it a miss, as it can be quite hard to get a ride from there to the other side of Brussel.
Junction 8 is just a sliproad onto the ring, so it's not ideal, but it took only 27 minutes to get a (somewhat expected) short ride to the sliproad onto the E40 at Kraainem. The wait here was a bit longer (if I had wanted to go to Leuven I would have been away in a handful minutes, and four times more in the next 20), but eventually (after 36 minutes) I got a ride to the last petrol station before Liège next to Waremme (aire de Bettincourt to be exact). By now it was 10:07 and I had done just over 200km in a little over three hours, not too bad. Unfortunately, things had to get worse before getting better and I had to wait for well almost one and a half hour for the next ride, the petrol station is a bit quiet and a lot of the drivers I asked for rides didn't go further until Liège and that's a place to avoid when your hitch-hiking.
However, after this "worse" came the "better" a ride with a Czech guy, Peter Matocha, to Šumperk, just over 1,100 km further. Better, I drove for about 450 km of that distance, something that hadn't happened for a very long time, in fact so long ago that I cannot even remember when it last happened. And best of all, Peter called his brother before arriving in Šumperk, and the latter made us something to eat and allowed me to sleep in his apartment.
Totals for this day? Five rides, three countries, 1308.4 km in 12:10 driving time.
The next morning I had a quick look around town, bought a small gift for Mrs Prino and then gave Peter a ring, he had promised to take me a bit further and in the end dropped me off near Prostejov, on the way to Brno, at the nice time of 12:34 (a bit late…)
There wasn't a lot of traffic, but in the end I got my ride to a big petrol station on the outskirts of Brno and here the wait was an unbearable three minutes and after seven rides with an average speed in excess of 100 km/h, I came back to earth with a bump, the Hungarian truck that took me to the Agip petrol station of Zsambeki some 30 km before Budapest was moving at a rather leisurely 75 km/h. :(
Now the original plan had be to just pop into H (I'd never hitched or even visited CZ, SK or H in my 29 year career as hitch-hiker) but during this ride a somewhat audacious idea had entered my head, to return via HR and SLO…
Obviously that required getting around one of those places all hitch-hikers really love, a big city. Getting a ride into Budapest took me the best part of half an hour, it would have been virtually impossible to get a ride directly from the M1 onto the M7 and as I didn't have a map of Budapest, I went for the next best thing, public transport. A friendly taxi-driver told me to get the metro to the Deli Palyaudvar station. Once you get there, go up to the railway station, walk towards the trains and stay on the right until the exit onto the Alkotas Utca and then follow that for just over one kilometre to traffic lights (you can try your luck there with a sign) or the OMV petrol station just after the lights and ask around (what I did) "Crossing" Budapest had taken me 1:25.
The first driver I asked for a ride (a woman) said no, but after she paid and returned to her car, she told me that she could take me a bit (all of 3 km) further to the actual start of the M1/M7 motorway where she dropped me at another OMV station (there's also an ESSO a tiny bit further). The wait here was not too bad, another three minutes, for a ride that would take me to a Shell station next to Szekesfehervar and after getting out at 21:11 I had more or less decided that it would be nice to spend a day on Lake Balaton, but then Mrs Prino SMS'ed me that looking after the two grandchildren on her own was just too much and so I decided that that would have to wait for a next time… And about "next times", I think it took at least half a dozen of them and probably more, before I finally visited RSM, which is a mere 21 km from the Ipswich-Athens motorway. ;)
Needlessly to say, traffic was sparse by now, but an hour later I got my last ride of day 2, with a truck to an Agip petrol station near Galambok. The driver stopped there for the night, the petrol station on the other side of the road was open but sleeping there wasn't possible and in the end I ended up at this location. The two petrol stations are in the top left corner and I slept in an empty trailer next to the rectangular building which has a blue-greyish last part of the roof. Pretty lucky to find it as the weather was not very good!
Totals for this day? Seven rides, another three countries, but only 652.3 km in 7:19 driving time, an itsy-bitsy slow.
This day started, when I woke up at about 5:00 after a not very good night, where the previous had left off, with rain, lots of rain. The petrol station opened at 6:00 and after a cup of coffee I finally managed to get a ride into Nagikamizsa, past a tiny roundabout that would have led me back onto the M7. It took me about half an hour to walk back and nobody stopped during this time. At the roundabout where it was still drizzly I fortunately didn't have to wait too long for the third female driver of the trip to stop. She took me to the H-HR border at Lentenye.
"Fortunately" Hrvatska is not part of the EU, so there are border controls and I could ask all cars waiting for the border for rides, unfortunately, most were full and the remaining ones were not interested, so eventually I walked over to the HR side and stuck my thumb in the air while also hopping over to the truck park whenever a new truck appeared. In the end it took 1:21 to get a ride in a Polish truck who was going all the way to Ljubljana, good. Less good was the fact that the driver had to make a delivery in Zagreb and I didn't get out at a petrol station before Zagreb, losing us 1:40 in the process, with worse to come…
"Unfortunately" Hrvatska is not part of the EU, so there are border controls and these are very slow for trucks, losing us another 1:26… Once we entered Slovenia, the fifth "new" country this trip (and the seventh for the year) things were OK and eventually I was dropped off at Počivališča (aka Raststätte/Motorway Services/Area Servizio) Podsmreka. Here I waited 28 minutes, probably longer than required, but I absolutely wanted a ride with someone from Slovenia, having already missed out on a ride with someone from Slovakia! The ride was with a couple and they dropped me off on the south side of the ring around Ljubljana, on Počivališča Barje.
By now it was 16:07 and I was getting a trifle worried, having promised Mrs Prino that I would be home Friday morning. It took 1:28 to get a ride, but it was a good one, all the way into Germany with a GPS expert who was helping Croatia to set up a GPS network. The ride took me to Raststätte Holzkirchen. Getting out at Irschenberg might have been better, Holzkirchen isn't very big, but the (possible) disadvantage of Irschenberg is the fact that it's on the wrong side of the Autobahn, although accessible from both sides.
Good choice or bad choice?
Given that it took me 1:19 to get my last ride of day three, I'd go for the latter, although Irschenberg might have been worse… The ride was with a guy who told me that he was Yugoslavian, as his father and grandfather were also Yugoslavian, and he didn't care that the country no longer existed. In the end he turned out to have a Croation passport. He dropped me off, just after midnight on Raststätte Greding.
Totals for day three? Six rides, four countries, 831.7 km in 8:25 driving time, quite good.
After being dropped off at 0:04, I tried to get another ride for about an hour, but in the end I got a bit of sleep on a bench in the deserted bistro. I was woken up for the umpteenth time at about five o'clock by the cleaners and after brushing my teeth and a quick splash of water on my face, I walked over to the pumps, waiting to see what this day would have in store.
At 5:25 I got my first ride of the day, 267 km to Raststätte Weiskirchen, which, in case you don't know, is near Frankfurt. Speed was an unremarkable 127 km/h, because of a small traffic jam and some 80 km/h roadwork sections. At Weiskirchen I had a quick look around on the car park. One of the cars I spotted, a limited edition Toyota that very much looks like a Ferrari, was British and the driver was sleeping. ;)
Obviously I didn't wake him up, but I did return a few times from my spot at the petrol station and lo and behold, after about 45 minutes he had woken up and was looking at the map. When I asked him if he was going towards the UK, he told me he was, but it took me some time to persuade him to give me a ride. He turned out to be Hungarian, was raised in the USA, and now living in the UK. After eventually agreeing to give me a ride, he asked where I was going and after I told him "to Oostende", he programmed his SatNav for Oostende and at 14:24 he dropped me off in front of my house. Obviously I invited him in! My wife, who was a bit angry that I was late, made us something to eat, while he took a shower. We had lunch together, he let us taste some Hungarian wine and something, I don't remember the name, that was a few bits (50% alcohol) stronger, before going to Sluis in Holland (his ferry wasn't until early the next morning), to hopefully get some space-cake.
Totals for day four? Two rides, two countries, 794.2 km in 7:15 driving time, the fastest day of the whole trip!
And the total? 3586.6 km in 35:09 driving time (79:33 total time)
So what are my thoughts about this "Doing Europe the American way". First and foremost, hitching is still perfectly possible and it can actually compete quite handsomely with other means of (public) transport, and even driving yourself - it would not be too easy for me to cover the 1,300+ kilometres I hitched on day one! Secondly, I regret that I've missed out on hitching in Slovakia and, for all intents and purposes, in Hrvatska, but the "good" news is that missing out on them will "force" me to make at least another trip to correct these "errors"
As for the statistics, if you've read my old article on Suite101.com (try Bernd Wechner's archived version for a more readable version) you know that I have this funny formula to designate the purely numerical quality of a trip, to quote the article:
To end this tour, let's return to the question that I posed at the beginning, "How do you define the quality of a hitch-hiking trip?" It's easy, the quality of a trip is:
- is the total distance in kilometres,
- is the number of rides,
- is the number of days on which you got rides, and
- is the actual driving time in hours.
As for the derivation of this formula:
where is the average speed for the trip. In simple terms, cover as much distance per ride/day with a speed as high as possible.
Any over 100,000 should be considered a treasure, my best achievement is 116,167 and looking at the other 100,000+ trips, they were also excellent in most other ways …
This little "excursion" through eight countries had a quality of "109,790" and the last time I got a score over 100,000 was no less than eight years ago, in May 2000, when I covered in excess of 5,000 km in just just under four-and-a-half days of zipping through the UK; at 117,733 the quality of that trip still stands unsurpassed.
I'm weird hitchhiking grandfather… ;)
Note: This blog was originally posted on the site of Abgefahren e.V., the German hitchhike club, but is no longer accessible there. Compared to that version, this version has been updated to remove a number of typos.
Last updated on 7 February 2020 to shorten heading