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Entries about backpacking

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After some time in the city, one needs to get out and breathe.

semi-overcast 16 °C
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Air

Air

After months in Mexico City I ached for some movement. So when friends in Berlin confirmed my spot working in Fusion, I jumped at the chance.
Here's some of the things I learnt this past month in Germany:

Learn the language!
Smile no matter what.
Life is better with good shoes.
Friends make everything be worth it.
Open skies, stars, fire, and a blanket.
Sometimes, umbrellas are unavoidable.
Hammocks are grossly underrated.
Gemütlichkeit.

Fusion Festival is a place of joy, vegetarian food, any kind of music and good vibes. It is awesome and great. There's fire spitting dragons and hammocks and more fire. If I get the chance, I'll be there next year too. It is a huge festival, with some 70 000 attendees this year, and you can very easily lose your group. So people carry poles, decorated umbrellas or just any kind of funky tall thing to find themselves. I would just wander alone, then meet back at camp or in our designated meeting points. Yes, I would recommend it. It was awesome!

Dragons!

Dragons!

Summer!

Summer!


Too soon the week was over and we were back home. Berlin's the only place I've been to every time I've been to Europe. That's only three times, sure, but three makes a pattern. I could certainly spend more time there, but everyone says very nasty things about the Berlin winter, and I don't feel like proving them wrong... So maybe next summer?

Kiel

Kiel


When travelling it is very easy to meet people, at least when you get in the mood. I find it a curious thing that first approach, when you must make clear you don't speak the language, without being that guy that expects everyone else to speak his. After the Festival I met some boat builders and travelled north, to Kiel. I know resin and wood, so maybe they had some work I could assist them with. After all, almost half of it is sanding! It is a nice city, Kiel. I mocked the summer, though. "It's like 15 degrees outside, they said, yep, summer alright!". Well it felt like a cold spring to me, but I guess we are just too spoilt in the tropics.

On a borrowed bike I went further north up to Arnis. "Statt" Arnis. It was exactly what I needed. For a week I stayed there, in a small town of some 300 people, enjoying life.

A great place for little walks

A great place for little walks


Arnis is located next to the Schlei, a fjord, so connected to the Baltic Sea, but feels like a lake. It is a great place for little walks and fine sailing. The water is cold and salty, delicious to swim in. Skinny dipping is not frowned upon either.

There's worse places to spend your time

There's worse places to spend your time


For such a small place it is very touristy. There is a ferry there, you see, and lots of people cross it on cars and bikes. So while you wait for the ferry to come, why not have some coffee? Between the ferry stop and one of many little piers, there sits the Freies Arnis Café. Not a bad place to spend your time! I even ended up working there for a couple of days, helping with the dishes. And working helps with the language skills. After a month and some basic mp3 course, I could almost begin to understand things. Guess life might not be too short to learn German after all!

And it's good coffee too!

And it's good coffee too!


I made good friends there, in the north. Slept under the stars, sailed and cooked chilaquiles. I left promising to come back and I intend to keep that promise. I even left my tent over there! But it was time to move on.

Arriving in Rotterdam felt incredible. "This is what coming home should feel like", reads my journal. A friend was having a birthday party, so I had a reason to be there. I wasn't the cross-the-world kind of epic, but still in that department. Up until the moment I stood at their doorstep, they still believed I could be joking. It had been a year since last time I stood there. So long, yet it felt like barely a week had passed.

Then after beers with friends, meetings, catching ups, dancing, biking, and a few more beers, I left for Mexico.
The truth is, you see, I shouldn't have gone to Europe. Left on a whim, with barely any savings, and just a tiny possibility of working in Belgium. Since that didn't come through, I'm now in the red numbers. But hey, what's life without a little adventure? On that note people, take my word, never book stopovers with less than an hour between flights. I have now been one of those pale faced airport runners. It is not as fun as it looks.

But I made it back, and now some plans are brewing. Looks like soon I'll have something to write home about!
For now, thanks for reading!

“It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

“It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

Posted by Zaspirucho 21:39 Archived in Germany Tagged adventure germany berlin sailing backpacking coffee kiel fernweh arnis Comments (0)

Later!

Here's to the people I've met, and the ones I failed to meet, too.

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View Liberty Goes East & Crossing back & Re-Europe on Zaspirucho's travel map.

See you later my Turkish brothers and Romanian lovers.
Good bye, my Bulgarian roadmates and Polish dreams.
I hope we'll meet again, Italians.
And I'm not forgetting you, Hungarians.
All of you I'll miss, even the Swiss.

See you soon, my Belgians; fare thee well, my Germans.
Au revoir, my dear French smiles.

I'm changing worlds tonight.

Faraway I'll leave you, half a world away I'll stand.
There was too many people, this time around,
that I couldn't see, that I left behind.

I wish I could have met you all.
But there was not enough time.
Instead the list grew longer,
of those with a place in my mind.

I thought this trip would last much more,
yet a mere a year later I'm flying back.

It won't be long before I leave again,
but I do not know where I'll go then.
This world is so big, so beautiful,
How can anyone just stay,
with Australia just a plane away?

So why don't you come for a visit?
But first, ask where I am.

Come, change your world for just a day,
plan it months in advance;
or follow a whim,
leave it all behind.

Travel the world!
Make me a dot on your map,
a scale on your journey,
let me walk by your side.

Unleash your feet, let them wander;
never hold yourself back.

You will find a home, wherever you go,
if you open your heart.
There will be some tough days, yes.
And some sleepless nights.

But the road will reward you,
if you give it the chance.

As for me, I will be
somewhere out there.
Its a big world, I tell you,
with too much to see.

See you soon, my dear friends;
the ones that I'm leaving,
and the ones I fly to!

(me)

Off to yet another horizon!

Off to yet another horizon!

Posted by Zaspirucho 07:59 Archived in Spain Tagged farewell spain backpacking travelling goodbye poem see_you_later the_end the_world Comments (0)

July

On the last leg of this Journey!


View Crossing back on Zaspirucho's travel map.

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This blog began with this trip. I started writing every week or so, and kept it going through the US, India and SE Asia. The nature of the travel changed, waves gave way to trains, tracks to wheels, and still I wrote. Yet now, in this final leg of the journey, it feels more difficult and cumbersome to write of what has been; but lets try!

After some months of zig zagging through Europe, finding love and not, I sit on a café in Barcelona. Last entry I had just left Romania and sped towards The Hague. Since then I have lost trains, visited friends, met Theo Jansen, got to Paris in time to recover my new credit card, worked in Belgium, and crossed France. Not bad, ey?

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Few things will make you feel more stupid and impotent than getting on the wrong train, and realizing it too late. It's just money, you tell your silly self, breathing deeply to stop your heart from bursting through your eyes, as you contemplate the thought of spending the night on a Czech train station. But there will be another train, everything works out in the end, if you only let it flow. Getting on the wrong side of the platform cost me a bit over a hundred euros. Not a mistake I'll make again soon, you can be assured of that.

So after a week of trains I got to the Netherlands in time for the beach demonstration. I biked from Rotterdam to The Hague; it was a windy day, not too good for biking, but just what you need to see a Strandbeest walk.

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For the creator of a life form, Theo Jansen is incredibly human. He gave his rehearsed talk and demonstration just as playfully and smiling as if it was the first time he talked about the subject. He loves his walking beasts even when they refuse to behave properly. Only his props betray how many times he has shown them, the torn paper and old tubes. I have seen his presentation before on TED, analyzed his design and spent hours looking at diagrams. Still, it is another thing to see the beasts live, walking in front of you or carrying them on your shoulder down the beach.
“Yes, send me pictures!” he said, when told I wanted to build a vehicle with his mechanism. And I will, after I figure out how! The design is not ready to leave the beach, as he put it: “they don't like the rough terrain, just the hard, flat sand.” Well, guess that's where I come in, no? A project is in the works! Just need to settle down for a bit and make it happen.

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Then I made it to Paris. Three years later, I sat on the same table I sat that first time. St. Christopher's Inn, Northern Paris. A lot has happened in this time. Many roads and countries have seen my feet, on many floors has my backpack rested. That orange rucksack is the only thing that's the same, all else has changed, the carried and the carrier. I met with the past in Paris, had coffee with it, with her, with them. We walked the streets and talked of the future. Then I left, glad to live in the present.

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After a year abroad, I must say, I'm quite exited about returning to Mexico. Two years ago I got depressed after buying the ticket back. Not this time though, now I can only think of all the friends and family and food! I don't know how long I'll stay there. At first I said two months, but with projects and birthdays and weddings coming up, there is no estimate I can give anymore. I guess it will be the same as always, a week at a time, living each day until the road calls again.

But for now, Barcelona! I got here planning to spend a mere handful of days, but then heard the talk: I arrived just in time for Las Fiestas de Gracia. And after seeing everyone getting ready for it, streets being closed a week in advance, people making decorations out on the sidewalks, posters appearing on walls... Tension is building everywhere in the Gracia neighborhood, it feels ready to explode. I guess I could hang around a few days, no? Right before crossing the Atlantic, completing this first trip around the world.

And now here are two photos of Arq café, because they are awesome, and it is my most favouritest of places in Rotterdam.

Nice!

Nice!

And delicious!

And delicious!

Posted by Zaspirucho 10:22 Archived in Spain Tagged trains barcelona paris friends netherlands backpacking rotterdam fiesta working past strandbeest theo_jansen Comments (0)

tracks

Of where I've been, bank hurdles and the present track.

sunny 19 °C
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For six weeks I barely wrote a word. Not just here, but my journal famished too: only a couple pages to account for over a month; poor thing. But I am on a train again, earth rolling beneath my feet. And moving calls to words in a way that staying put does not.

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So, I arrived in Rotterdam, where I did not find the story I was looking for, yet I decided to stay. With pride I saw the days pass, staying put, not hurrying onward. But there was something missing. Maybe if I had stayed just a bit longer... but by the end of the second week, I was on a plane bound for a warmer place.
The Netherlands I found... strange. For all it's beauty and charm, I kept talking about rat races and recalling old conversations with conspiracy theorists, their claims that Big Brother is no longer watching, for he has no need, since we write the log ourselves. According to the internet's wisdom, citizens of the EU can work in the Netherlands for up to three months, without being formal residents. And it must be all true and easy if you have a set life back in your home country. Which I don't. There is a fun triangle they use to make staying around more difficult for anyone slightly outside the system.

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To get a job, you need a bank account. To get a local bank account, you need an address (and a resident's number usually), and to have an address you need a contract, therefore you need a job. So you need a house to get a job, and a job to pay for your house. And work cash? Forget it. There's places where they don't even take cash anymore. So basically, its very, very complicated to just up and arrive. If you are already part of their system, be welcome. If not, kindly do not try, or be ready to don your rat costume and run.
So I left for Romania. I enjoyed it the first time, and though it was a rash decision, I'll stand by it. It was a month of cooking, enjoying, and just living. I saw many new movies, we watched all of Breaking Bad, and I never repeated a recipe. Some days I did not leave the house, many a day did not own a morning. It was great.
I left Rotterdam with the idea to make this project I've been thinking of for an embarrassingly long time, yet haven't really done anything about it. I want to build a functional vehicle using Theo Jansen's walking mechanism. That's the What. Don't ask me Why. But I had a plan, and my notebook grew rich in designs and ideas. Then I faced reality.

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I decided to fund the thing myself, since I can't explain it well enough to look for sponsors. Then I spent the better part of a month trying to get my money across the Atlantic... Tired of annoying people and Western Union's fees, I decided to take care of it myself. I thought the best way (or rather, the least bad way) to do this, would be Paypal.
So I deposited money into my Mexican Paypal account. Then made a Romanian one and transferred the money. All was fine, so minus a good percentage, I had my money in Europe. Or somewhere. That's when the truth got in my way. See, if I had just lied, everything would have been simple. But since, when I opened my new local Bank account using my Spanish ID, a Spanish address was expected. Otherwise, if I gave an address in Bucharest, I would need some proof of residence. Or something, it was all fuzzy and lost in translation. They even got my name wrong. But I got the account in the end, with fake name debit card and everything... But since it was set to a Spanish address, I could not deposit into it from Paypal Romania, as I later learned. But I am not K., so eventually I got it.
By then I had explored material depots and scoured Ebay for pieces and Chinese made ball bearings. But with my budget, I realized I had to size down. From a house sized project, to a car sized one, then a bicycle thingy. By the time I actually got the money, more than half of my allotted time in Bucharest had passed, and I was no closer to starting than when I left Rotterdam. I decided for a scaled model.

And then, without a warning, the travel bug struck. "I'll leave halfway through August", I said one day, then stared off into distance. By next day it was "the end of July". Then “this weekend”. Once the wanderlust set in, only trickery and a half priced train ticket kept me in place.
And so it is that I find myself on the go again. After a month in Bucharest, I decided to follow the original plan. I made no scale model. Instead, I'm going to meet the original designer, and see his creatures first hand, maybe even ask a question or two. I'm off to meet Theo Jansen.
By train. From Romania, back to the Netherlands.

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Posted by Zaspirucho 03:24 Archived in Romania Tagged budapest netherlands romania plans time backpacking rotterdam goodbyes bucharest working thoughts Comments (0)

Two days

Of mixed experiences while crossing Slovakia

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I had popcorn in Budapest... it got me thinking...
Try as I might, I could not remember the last time I'd had popcorn. It's one of those comfort things that's forever been around. We always had a stash of microwaveable packs at home. Later, with my ex, we would even take the time to fry them “old style”. I remember laughing at the way they fizz when you pour chilli sauce over them, their tiny anguished shrills. Popcorn's awesome. So why haven't I had any in months? And what other simple, normal, day to day niceties have I gone without?

I lost my camera's cable, so I'm effectively cameraless. So for this entry, I'll use the magic of Paint, Google Maps and Street View for a couple of images.

The visit to Romania was very homely and personal. For me, Bucharest was a city of graffiti, musicians, painters and writers. I could have stayed had I just wished to. I still might go back. It's a place full of movement and will. I like what I saw of that country, from the beautiful women, to the exquisitely eccentric gypsy castles of Cluj-Napoca. Or their seductive tales of medieval festivals and warm beaches, of werewolves and stabbing love.

Then Budapest. I stayed in the house I sent a Couchrequest to the first time I was there. And I was right. Even two years later, staying with Dorka and her family proved to be the energizing and homely experience that I expected/needed. But it is Budapest, so even though we weren't out looking for it, every night there was music, or friends, or both. There was even a massive Board Game Night event that Dorka is involved with. Just perfect.

But now, let me tell just you about Slovakia. This might take a while, so go grab some coffee.

First day.

I left Budapest a bit late, true; but it was difficult enough to leave, I just could not rush it. I got to the main Pest Train Station at almost 11. My intention was to hitchhike, but still I inquired. A train ticket to Krakow would normally cost around 30€. By normally I mean three days in advance; if you buy it same day it costs three times more. Yes, you read that correctly! Ninety euros for an eight hour ride! I wouldn't pay that even if I had it. So I got my local 500 Ft ticket and left for the highways.

Here was the first mistake. Not a big one, but this things tend to escalate: I missed my stop. Had I stepped off the train where I was supposed to, I would have been on the E77, gotten several rides through Slovakia, maybe make it to Poland that same day. That did not happen. Instead, I got off at the last station and walked towards where the Highway 2 intersects the E77, while holding out my “Kraków” sign. A car stopped. Then, the second mistake. We were enjoying some Manu Chao when I got distracted and saw E77 speed past. My driver was going to visit some friends and insisted I should come. I did. After all, why did I learn to say “Miért ne?” if not to use it! Once in what turned out to be Operentzia's recording studio, I checked the map and decided on a new route. I enjoyed the tea and joint they offered, then left. I should have gone back to the E77.

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It was around 3.30pm when I crossed the Slovakian border at Esztergom. It did not go well from there. After asking and figuring out where to go, I walked a couple of kms out, and got my last ride of the day. It was 4. At some point I found a bridge over some train tracks, and stopped to rest. I never stopped flagging oncoming cars, be it while walking along the road, or while on that bridge, but it was a small road and people were not going far, already going back home. Drivers kept pointing down, which means “I'm coming here” or “not going any further”. It's basically a polite No.

I seriously considered making camp under that bridge. The wind had been getting steadily stronger, and the trees next to the tracks did not seem to sway as much as the rest of the world. Scouting around, I found a nice spot with very little wind, where I'd be protected by thorns. Nice place to camp! So when I had but decided to stay there, I grabbed my packs and continued walking. I would not quit; not while there was still light. It was around 5.30. My next pointer, Slevice, was some 44 km away. I would make that 34 at least. Then I met Josef.

I know his name was Josef because he showed me his I.D. Not just that, he showed me everything he owns. I met him by the side of the road, he said something, so I crossed to hear him better. It was clear that I did not understand a word, but he did not seem to care. I guess some people are just lonely, and will take any chance to talk with (or to) someone. He may have also been a little crazy. He just did not stop talking.

I'd say he's in his sixties. An unremarkable, little old Slovakian man; well shaven, small, gray. He would come some 10 cm from my face when talking. Laughed a lot, spat a little, and licked his finger before turning every page. He was nice. There was no running water in his place, so he had to carry bottles and gallons from the street tap, and that's why he was outside when I walked by. He took me in, and showed me everything he had around, from his empty wine bottles, his dog and empty fridge, to his childhood pictures and the contents of his wallet. I took a tour of his house, admiring every picture on the wall, his magazine cut-outs of pretty girls, and learning how to turn the heating on, and where the thermostats were. He gave me some strawberry jelly and excused himself for not having coffee. I think. I understood very little of what he said, for he did not use his hands when speaking. He simply did not care, being just happy of the human presence. I did get it though, when he asked if I wanted to leave. I guess if I'd stayed for longer he would have offered one of his several dusty couches, but when he asked a second time, I said yes. It was dark already. Cold again, trembling in the biting wind, I walked on.

I think I hit a new low point that night. You will not understand what I felt, unless you've ever started wetting your lips at the sight of a derelict building. What I felt at the sight of that overgrown, roofless carcass can only be described as lust. I stalked it from the other side of the road. Barely any cars passing by, but they were now unimportant. There were three abandoned buildings in total. Two with no roof, one with just no doors. To my relief, all empty of people. But the third one had signs of use: empty bottles, pizza boxes and stray pieces of clothing. Also, a broken down couch, only a hinge holding it all together...

Google was there in 2012. It wasn't so overgrown back then.

Google was there in 2012. It wasn't so overgrown back then.


With the right leverage, I finished splitting that couch and took it's backrest with me to another house, into a room with half a roof. There were no doors, so I could see the highway at my feet. I felt completely vulnerable, but i was safe from the wind. I crawled inside my sleeping bag, set my rucksack as far and protected from the door as possible and had a good night's rest. With my knife under my pillow, of course.

Second day.

After a surprisingly good night, I woke as soon as there was light. The wind had not stopped; I could see the trees swaying violently outside. At least it wasn't raining. Yet.

I got on the road and set a limit: If by 10 I was not in Levice, I would backtrack all the way to Hungary, and back to the E77. But by 7AM I was already at the outskirts of town. Looks like just as people the previous evening were reluctant to pick anyone up when going back home, they seemed almost eager to get some company for their way to work. What came after was my mistake, just mine... My driver told me, when he knew of my destination, to follow road's eastwardly direction where he dropped me. If we had had a common language other than grunts, he also would have told me to get on the proper road, not just follow the one I was on. As such, I ended up walking a good 10k's that morning, going in the complete opposite direction from where I wanted. But it wasnt that bad, really. I could actually call it a nice walk. Still I was glad when I got a ride and finally got back on the planned road.

My leisurely highway strolls

My leisurely highway strolls


A few quick rides and I was past Krupina, halfway through Slovakia. Then I was picked up bt a man who did not speak neither english, spanish, french, italian, german or japanese. We still could exchange a few words. Mexikanski, tekila, that kind of things. Yet we formed one of those inexplicable bonds. An ancient friendship made of silence and smiles. He drove me well past where he was going, leaving me in a service station outside Banska Bystrica. He said there was a good restaurant there, and that I must try a typical Slovakian meal: Bryndzové halušky. He actually wrote the name on a piece of paper, then gave me 25€ for it.

I could not refuse. So I thanked him and got off his truck. I had forgotten it was cold out, we were now in the mountains... so I hurried inside the wooden building. It was like entering a movie set. I was almost surprised to not see minstrels singing among the thick benches and long tables made from whole logs. Furs and old farm instruments decorated the walls, stuffed animals stood or hung here and there, a boar's head at the center of all. The space was dominated by a big fire pit—sadly off— around which the waiting staff pranced about in their traditional garments. Only the waitress's Crocs broke the kitschy charm.

Broke as I am, with still no wallet, nor credit or debit cards and stretching every penny I got, I considered only getting some coffee and moving on. But if I was to truly show my gratitude, I had to eat that which the money was given to me for. Besides, it would have been a mistake not to, I learned. Bryndzové halušky is awesome! At least to me. You either love it or hate it, the guy next table said. And I love it. It's gnocchi-like potato! and the cheese, and the savory bacon! That and a cold draft beer, and I still had 20€ to spare! Take the good as it comes, when it comes. The bad will find you on its own. Delicious.

I got a ride almost as soon as I was back out, and we crossed the mountains. The good times were over, it soon started to rain. When we parted ways in Ruzomberok, on the other side of the pass, it was full storm. Umbrellas flew off people's hands, or clawed at their faces. I stood under a bus stop, with my Krakow sign up high, the wind holding it flat against my outstretched arm. I was wearing double socks, double pants, scarf, sweatshirt, coat, hat and flannel shirt. I was soaked to the core.

But hitchhiking is called like that for a reason. You have to walk to the outskirts of town, out to a point where people know just where you want to go, and are going the same way. Sometimes, that means walking in the shivering rain for a couple of miles, then standing patiently with the backpack on and a smile stamped on your face, until someone stops. Because someone will stop, that is the hitchhiker's faith.

But soon it was five, I was between towns, and people started pointing down again, arriving home. I was close to the border, but not close enough. I crossed the last town in Slovakia with no one stopping. Despair started to grow in me. Very little cars actually passed my way. It was my fault, and I knew it! You see, in my last ride I had seen a highway veer off the side, with a Krakow sign on it. It was a ring road, I saw it, but could not get off in time. So now I trembled through town, with no hope of getting any rides there. Then a car with Polish license plates approached! And drove past. The cold reached inside, and I stopped.

How do you say "I need to go left" in Slovakian? Fast!

How do you say "I need to go left" in Slovakian? Fast!


I had 20€ in my pocket. Surely I could find a place to sleep with that. I could walk back, talk to someone, go to a bar, ask around, go online... But I hate going back. I could see the highway in the far distance, it's little trucks just an arm away. No cars came, I was alone in the rain. I was tired. Tired of waiting, and watching time pass by. But two years it was since I was last in Krakow. I would not wait another day. So instead, I walked faster than before. I started to sweat under the weight of the packs , even with the cold outside. But I did not slow down.

I will not wait for you! I yelled at my fate. I'll get there even if I must walk there! I shouted as if the wind could listen. I shouted as if it would care. I spurred myself onward, my legs were burning when I reached the highway, only then I stopped. There was no space to hail the cars, no safe place for them to stop. I could not hitchhike there. But there was no need. Just before stepping out into the speedway, I felt his presence. I turned around to find a car almost upon me, having come the same way I had, creeping through my rainy thoughts. I bared my thumb. He stopped.

I made it to Krakow some hours later, before it was even dark. I had no local money, so I traded a bookmark and a smile for some coffee and apple pie. I could not stop trembling. A cold had crept inside me that only a very warm shower could thaw. But hell! I was already there. I could rest. I could even get some popcorn too.

Posted by Zaspirucho 22:07 Archived in Slovakia Tagged bridges rain budapest poland camping europe backpacking slovakia wind cold hitchhiking free_camping Comments (0)

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