Waking up in a tent to hear voices around you, you gingerly open the flap in the hope that you have hidden your tent well enough to be hidden. Thus far, nobody has disturbed me in the night or in the morning. As was the case when I woke up behind the bush somewhere near Udine. My cooking utensils were scattered around the floor and after packing up, I waited a few minutes until a Hungarian couple picked me up. The husband was a chef with a few English words, while the wife had smiles. In a mountain pass between the border of Italy and Austria, we stopped for a coffee. While I was in the toilet, they bought me a coffee. A cappuccino I think. I don’t drink coffee. I never have, I never liked it. Loading it with sugar, I swallowed it down out of politeness, before they dropped me off in a tiny town somewhere in Austria.
It wasn’t long from here until I got my next ride with a 20 year old Italian guy. Do you want a beer? he asked. It was cold. Of course I did. It was 60% lemonade but it tasted good on a hot day. After an hour he asked if I could drive. Sure I can. Cue us switching places. For the next couple of hours, I drove through Austria while he smoked a couple of joints that had been hidden in the light of his car. Following his sat-nav, I directed myself into the city of Graz and my couch for the night, at which point, he continued on his hazy way.
With ‘fantastic’ flavoured ice cream (as per the translation), we drank beer on a mountain overlooking the city before a tasty dinner with people of six different nationalities; English, French, Belgian, German, Austrian, and two Romanians. The Belgian guy owned an amazing yellow camper van that looked like something special preserved in history. Inside he fixed some posts and slung a hammock where he could sleep. I would happily drive one of those one day, for many days.
I met more people from couch surfing on the following day and finished my Murakami book. It was most enjoyable. There was a famous island in Graz; a building containing a theatre and a restaurant that was connected to the river banks by a bridge on either side. I couldn’t quite tell if the island was floating or fixed as we walked through it’s huge metal structures. It was rather ugly and not particularly enjoyable.
Coca-cola is my biggest fix. Almost everyday, I need one. Just one. In Austria, coca-cola is more expensive than beer. Dilemma.
Leaving Graz, I waited over two hours at some junctions without any luck. I moved closer and closer to the motorway until a man picked me up who was on the way to visit his girlfriend, an actress in Vienna. He didn’t particularly like the theatre, but he enjoyed watching and supporting his girlfriend. Once she played three separate characters in one performance. After him, I rode with a pianist. Her daughter was hitchhiking somewhere in Asia during a study break on her journey to becoming a doctor. The daughter didn’t like playing piano.
Leaving the pianist, a trucker saw my sign as I crossed the forecourt in the rain and waved me over. For several hours we rode together, communicating in had signals. My Czech is, well, non-existent. When we hit the border, he took great pleasure in pointing out all of the prostitutes and exclaiming erotica! There were a lot of prostitutes, and from what I understood of our ‘conversation,’ German and Austrian men liked to come to the border for the cheap Czech women. There were a great many buildings with billboards on scantily clad woman. I have no idea what goes on inside those walls (does that sound naive).
Late in the evening, dark at night, I was left several kilometres from Prague. Having no money for a bus, I decided to continue hitching on a roundabout despite the fact that cars would barely be able to see me. Straight away a car pulled up quickly and I looked inside. Three guys. Calculation; three guys and me? Not ideal. I hesitated and almost didn’t get in. Using your intuition is very important while hitching; go with your gut feeling. Then I went for it. Oh wait, I forgot, we have to pick up one more friend, said the driver as he spun the car around and headed away from Prague. At this point I am wondering what is happening although my driver speaks fluent English and chats with me, explaining that they are hunting for girls. When we reach a residential area, I jump out the car. Looking around, I weighed up my situation and decided to continue. The friend turned up and then we drove on. We passed through a very rural area, a little far from urbanisation which reminded me of the time my friend got into a car in Dar Es Salaam that ended badly. For him, the first guy was helping him find something and the second guy turned up with a car. They picked up a third guy because ‘it was his Birthday’ and the fourth guy would be buying the Jack Daniels. At this point during polite conversation, they informed him that they were like the mafia and took all of his belongings and cash before driving him to the ATM to make another withdrawal. Then they gave him friendly directions back to town using the local buses. Informing them that he didn’t have any money for the bus because they had taken it, they apologised and gave him enough money to take the bus back many times over.
This didn’t happen to me. The guys drove me to the exact bar I wanted to go to and then came in for a beer. Failing with several girls in the first half an hour, they soon left. I had gone to the bar to meet the guy I met while hitching to Copenhagen. We had decided to hitch towards Finland together from this point. The bar was holding a couch surfing event and we talked with some people but failed to secure a bed. Instead we went to a dead end bar where the bar man looked like gravel, before climbing some security fences to enjoy a beer on the pedalos by night. Floating on the river as all the people passed, completely unaware, was calming. In the morning, staff would turn up, so we found a new park to sleep in. When free-camping, hiding is important. In this park, there was only one bush. It was shaped perfectly for a tent to fit inside it. The foliage was too thick to see through, but the inside was hollow. We drank Czech vodka until late and woke up in the afternoon when the park was busy. Our bush was just a few metres from the path, but no-one had disturbed us.
Prague is a very lovely city. I didn’t feel like spending much time in it on this day however.
We journeyed to Liberec with a man who didn’t speak before eating mountains of cheese and bread with our host. In the evening, we went for a beer with another couch surfer. We walked the streets by night and in the morning, all four of us hiked up a mountain to look over the landscape. We could see for miles. There were old castles everywhere.
My next stop was Poland. I had heard rumours of heavy drinking and interesting cities. I would not be disappointed.
In Poland there are many storks. They are very big. So are their nests.