Wednesday, July 28, 2010

1500 km and 17 car-drivers

The beauty of an idea is trying it out. But the real fun of an idea is trying it out immediately before you've got time to think it over. Fun and thinking don't go very often together.

'What are they doing?What's written on that cardboard they're showing us?' Curious faces gaze at us from behind the car windows, some of them open-mouthed. Like with all first time experiences the reactions differ, that's why I'm smiling to get them get over the shock of it - I guess it's quite unusual to see a hitchhiker in Switzerland. To see two of them carrying big rucksacks must be overwhelming.
Most cars that pass us by are full - people going in holiday with half the house packed on the backseat along with the family's kids. It's a late Friday evening that finds us standing on the side of the road leading out of Lugano nord on the A1 highway, with a Zurich cardboard sign and a 3 hours young idea: to hitchhike home, from Lugano to Timisoara. The mission: 1500km, 6 countries, one weekend. Mission impossible?

First step: Lugano-Bellinzona
The requirement for finishing any feat is starting it. That's why the driver taking us to Bellinzona is the godfather of our mission. I'm quite sure he had absolutely no idea what important part he was about to play in the amazing journey of discovery in the transportation, turistic and sociological departments, not to mention in the education of so many young (between 2 and 60 years old) swiss offsprings in relation with the human race history (yes, we did use to be born and live outside the car not very long ago), respectively with other species living on the same planet (like hitchhikers), alas, in the revolving of the world. He was very calmly driving to see his mother after yet another day at work in Ascona when the luck striked him (and especially us) offering him the opportunity to be the starter of it all and to take us to the gas station close to Bellinzona exit.

The young and the restless: Bellinzona - Erstfeld
If you wonder what thoughts cross the mind of a hitchhiker when she's standing in the light of a road lamp and you pass by her grinning from your car, let me just assure you that if those thoughts became real the grin from your face would dissappear very quickly. But if that hitchhiker knew she had a warm bed 30 km away and she was hitchhiking in the opposite direction of that bed, those thoughts would not include much respect for a hitchhiker's brain.
Fortunately, an italian car with three young men stops and the passengers squezze to take us in. They're driving to Paris for the weekend. Suddenly the world doesn't seem such a lonely place anymore:) At midnight we celebrate the driver's birthday with a chocolate cake, a lighter and a song. 20 years - so young! We still have the restlesness in common if not the youth. We part in Erstfeld where the rain is pouring down on a night spent in the gas station.

Green, green grass of home: Erstfeld - Zurich
The driver that takes us out of the rain into his car is from Lugano too; the difference between him and us is that he's only driving a young black teenager to the airport and then he's driving back to the sunny side of Switzerland. He enjoys playing the guide and persists in telling us about the wonderfull sights you can get on this scenic road against the early hour. I have the impression the nature tailors the inhabitants, because the fog and rain is just as persistent and I have to take the drivers' word for the beauty of the scenery. Well, this is how the green, green grass is made.

Yet another scenic road: Zurich - Heidiland gas station (~Chur)
The young swiss german couple that take us from the road leading to the Chur highway are discussing the best place to take us to so that our chances of fulfilling our mission are increased. They're very nice although not very talkative, but neither are we (talkative, I hope;)) as we immerse ourselves in observing the scenery. It's quite a demanding activity since we have to catch the moments between rain and fog. Just before Chur, at Heidiland gas station we have the opportunity to get a closer look at the rain while trying to get a car to Sargans and Lichtenstein.

You are not alone: Heidiland - ~Sargans
A mix couple, she German and he Italian takes us from the rain into their car and some few kilometers closer to the Austrian border through Lichtenstein. They're visiting her parents to escape Milano's heat; judging by the way it rains, they've succeeded. They're recalling the times when they were also hitchhiking to Greece and back. Unlike us, they got to Greece with one car only, that car being a van. So, it is possible.

Lifelong memories: Sargans - ~Montafon
The two Austrians taking us on improve tremendously my opinion on Austrian people. I admit they're young and crazy (especially the driver who I'm not sure is 18 years old, but it's better not to know), they're smoking and not very respectful to the border authorities (although as my german is not good I didn't understand exactly if what the driver said was about the officer's mother, brain or other parts of his body), but they're also very friendly and they subscribe too to the success of our mission. They're actually so friendly that they decide to take us to the first gas station on the highway although they were only going to the town. The first gas station is very far and so they end up making "a short side-trip"(to cite the blond blue-eyed kid driving the car) which side trip is longer than their initial business trip. I'm sure we're not going to forget our mission, but I'm also sure they will remember it as well:)

Lucky with the weather: ~Montafon - ~Innsbruck
People are very unfriendly at this gas station. Especially the old people are looking at us accusatorily as if we're breathing their air. Which in a way we are, since we're certainly not Austrians. However, the thing they're most likely bothered about is that we're breathing their air and not paying for it:)
After the lunch hour spent in the gas station with lots of other people that stopped there for lunch, the difference being that we didn't eat, a very friendly Austrian guy takes us on. He's a very humorous guy, and tells us how lucky we are with the rain because if it hadn't been raining he would have driven a motorbike. He's retired and very happy about it, and he has so much will to live and enjoy his life that he's contagious. We part in a gas station near Innsbruck with a warm good-bye and a cold heavy rain.

Forgiven, not forgotten:~Innsbruck - Rosenheim
It's raining mildly and after 1.5 hours of standing there I'm not believing my eyes that the lone lady-driver stops to take us. I was developing patterns of driver behavior and one of them was that lone lady-drivers don't take hitchhikers. Well, I'm wrong and happy about it. We're tired and sleep through most of the drive, so the conversation is almost inexistent. But the music the lady listens to (Celtic woman) and her outlook tells me her story - and I understand what I hear. The world is even less lonely now.

Worst enemy, doubts: Rosenheim - Salzburg
It's raining heavily. It's raining through me, my shoes are half full. I see the train and wonder how far away the railway station is. After what seems an eternity with my shoes soaked it seems my brain is flooded also. A lone lady-driver stops, I can't even speak the words of how thankful I am to be out of the rain. She's a strong lady in her 40s and I can guess her story too. It has independence written all over her, and combined with beauty and brain it means single. She stops at the gas station before Salzburg where she knows it's the best place to catch a drive to Viena, but I'm too tired, too wet and it's raining too heavily so I ask her to get us to the railway station. This is the critical point, this is where I'm on the edge of giving up. I feel the loss of a dream, the regret of not being up to the challenge, of not trying everything before giving up. The regret shakes my brain while the cold and rain shake my body. Dry clothes (what it means to have an excellent friend!) and a hot kebab after, we're going back - let's give our mission another chance!

A small step forward, a huge leap in faith: Salzburg - Mc Donalds
Yet another lone lady driver takes us out of Salzburg to the Mc Donalds 5 km away, on the entrance to the highway, giving us the last chance to get a car this evening before it's going to be too dark.

The shelter: Salzburg - ~Linz
After a stupid driver insists on showing his disapproval to hitchhikers by almost running us down although we are standing by the side of the road and not on the road, a russian driver stops to get us a lift halfway to Linz. The conversation is limited to thank you (in russian) and stop here (universal sign language). The gas station we are now at is not very popular, and there's no chance to catch a drive further this evening. But we find shelter and the lost faith in a small chappel where we sleep.

It's a small world: ~Linz - Linz
It seems the night of silent sleeping prayer has helped and someone up there was tuned on the small chappel in the gas station, because the rain has stopped and a young czech couple frees the backseat of luggages and takes us on. The driver is actually from Moldavia and they were travelling for the weekend to the lakes in Austria. The gas station close to Linz where they let us is a bit far from the highway, but at least the sun is out.

Hills and mathematics: Linz - ~Viena
There are very slight chances to get a car to Viena from here but at least we enjoy the sun. A young austrian stops and tells us he has to drive to Viena but he doesn't have enough money for gas so we agree to contribute 10 euros to the gas. So we start to Viena in the same time while starting a conversation on probabilities and the relevance of constraining parameters on computing probabilities. For instance, what is the probability that two people hitchhike 1500km in 2 days, knowing that the lion population in Africa is decreasing with 10% per year and a baby elephant was born on a Monday afternoon? It's an interesting conversation although I'm not sure how much the hills we're passing through have influenced the probability of us having the conversation. One thing I'm sure of is that the driver doesn't get anything out of it, but he also doesn't care about it. So he drives smoothly to Viena, regardless of the probability of him doing so, given that a baby elephant has been eaten by a lion family on a Wednesday morning which increased the life expectancy of the lion population with 0.5%.
We remain at a gas station close to Viena thinking it'll be easier getting a car to Hungary from here (or at least that the probability to get a car from there to Hungary is definitely higher than getting a car from Africa to Hungary, given that a lion had sit on a tourist car on a Sunday afternoon).

Not everything goes according to plan, especially when you've got none: ~Viena - Viena
We realize soon enough there are no chances to get a car to Hungary from here(might have been the lion's fault), so we jump in the car that stops to take us to Viena, relieved of not getting stuck so close (which is a false hope, as we are little over half the way). The two young men taking us are probably at their first drive on the highway and the first hitchhikers. Luckily it's a short drive.

Via ferrata: Viena - Hungary
We walk to the first gas station on the highway, following the bike loan along the Danube river side. Nobody seems to drive to Hungary, and I'm starting to feel we'll have to take the train after all. Finally, a hungarian guy working in Viena takes us on. His car is full of heavy working equipment, iron bars and such. He's very talkative and I realize how very close mentalities romanians and hungarians have - as if they were neighbours:) He's unsatisfied with the political system and comments on the communist era, just like a romanian would. We part at the hungarian border. If we continue in this rythm, I doubt we'll get home before Monday morning.

The way home: Hungary - Arad
The car stopping to take us has a german number. But it takes less than a minute to realize the driver is romanian. So, we're going home, or almost home, to Arad. One thing we don't appreciate immensily is the fact that the driver, except for the fact that he's friendly as almost all romanians are, asks for money. Welcome to Romania, before you got there. Anyway, we don't let this detail stand in our way and enjoy the confort of being out of the rain that we've caught up with. In Szeged, very close to the Romanian border, we take two more hitchhikers. They're from Poland and go to Bulgaria to the seaside. We convince them to visit a little bit Romania, especially because they are so lucky to get a ride to Sighisoara with this car. They let themselves very easily convinced (when you tell the truth, like how beautiful Sighisoara and the road through the Carphatians mountain is, it's easy to convince people) although I hope they were spared of the adventure of a Romanian flood.

The 50th hour: Arad-Timisoara
It's almost dark, and we are almost there, almost home. Only 60 km stand between us and the fulfillment of our mission. There's a young romanian couple and the man's mother in the car that takes us on. It doesn't take long to realize that the adventure is not at the end, it's merely starting. And that is when I notice that they too must be very eager to get home, especially on the parts where the speed limit is 70 and the car goes with 140. I wonder how it's possible that this guy still has a driving licence - he should have remained without it at least 100 times by now. One thing is sure - when these 60 km are over I'm twice happier to be in Timisoara than I would have been without them. That's because to the general happiness I add happy to be still alive.

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