For my fall reading week, I decided to hitchhike to Budapest. This exploit wasn’t entirely impetuous, as a club at my university holds a competition every semester where teams of 3 compete to reach a certain city.
In Canada, hitchhiking has a bad rep and is often seen as dangerous or just point blank stupid. No one will pick you up! You will be murdered! In Europe however, I got the feeling that the practice is marginally more common and hopefully more socially acceptable. The club had done many trips in the past without any complications and so… why not? That’s not to say it’s common here in the Netherlands. Many Dutchies thought I was crazy to try. I think hitchhiking is more of a thing to check off of your tourist bucket list.
I teamed up with my two unit mates and off we went. Luckily, between the three of us we could passably speak english, dutch, german and french. Armed with only a backpack, a sleeping bag, some souvenir stroopewafel, and a white board reading “highway?”, we stuck our thumbs out and hoped for the best.
Our first ride took us in the wrong direction. After (illegally) crossing an overpass we hopped in the back of a meat truck towards Arnheim. In retrospect, accepting a ride from a couple with a windowless and seatless meat truck was not our brightest idea. But, after three hours of thumbing for rides we were desperate to get out of the Netherlands.
Picking up rides wasn’t as hard as I expected. We tried to get out only at gas stations directly on the highway, so everyone passing through would be traveling long distances anyways. Our method was simple. One of us would approach cars stopping for gas; politely asking where they were going and if we could tag along. I imagine it would be easier with two people instead of three as many of the cars were small and full of luggage. However, many drivers took pity on the sight of three girls soddenly trudging along with backpacks the size of their torsos. That definitely helped.
The journey was smooth sailing until we were dropped off at a gas station just out side of Passau, Germany. Here we encountered two problems. First, the gas station was off the highway meaning any traffic was most likely to be local. Second, it was Saturday night. What’s wrong with Saturday night you ask? Well. Apparently, every Sunday in Germany is “car free” to reduce environmental emissions. Bad news for hitchhikers. We slept overnight in the station’s empty restaurant and tried again in the morning. 8 hours later, we finally found a ride. The nice lady took pity on me standing on the street corner with my sleeping bag cocooned around me. Oh well, I’ll take it! The only upside was I had the best pretzel of my life at that gas station. Mmm, German pretzels…..
After getting back on the highway, we found a nice gentleman and his father traveling all the way to Budapest! He took us from the German/Austrian boarder to the city centre. The whole ride the father sat in the passenger seat crushing beer after beer. This was at 10 am! Only in eastern Europe…