Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Hitchhiker's Guide to Europe - Somewhat hard to hear

Quickest blog post in the west

Brendan at the campsite in Kinsarvik

Waiting for three hours makes us desperate!

Where we slept in Kinsarvik

The tent we slept in at the medieval festival

Brendan in medieval garb

Me in medieval garb

Some belly dancers at the medieval festival

Or at least it will try to be. I've been meaning every day to write this blog post, but every day seems to get filled up so fast that there has been no time. Blogging requires one to be a little bit anti-social, and that is difficult when surrounded by so many family members. Therefore, I will try to write a long blog very quickly.
We left Copenhagen on the 15th of July. We took the Metro to what was supposed to be outside the city but before the airport, but turned out to be the airport. I wasn't happy about this because it is often difficult to navigate away from an airport via hitchhiking, but thankfully that wasn't the case at Copenhagen Airport. We were able to follow signs leading to a highway entrance and stand by a bus stop to hitchhike. Just using our thumbs, within 15 minutes we had a ride to Sweden. We'd gotten a late start, so it was already 6pm.
Mats, an avid hang-glider, drove us across the bride into Sweden. He lives in Sweden and works in Copenhagen. It is cheaper to live in Sweden and he makes more money in Denmark, so it is a good deal for him. Mats dropped us off at 6:30pm.
Almost instantly we had another ride, this time from two Danish women heading to the summer home of one of them to do some home improvements. They needed to stop at a home improvement store to pick up some materials, and then could take us a fair distance.
At 7:35pm they dropped us off and we got a ride right away from a man named Christian, who was just going a short ways down the road. I think by now we were around Halmstad, Sweden, but honestly I wasn't keeping very good track of where we were exactly so long as we were still on the correct highway (the E-6/E-20).
(From Brendan: at some point in our travels through Sweden, a ride pulled up as we were still getting our gear out of our last ride. I don't have the notebook in front of me, so I'm not sure which ride this was, but that was very thrilling to us.)
Christian was a man with young daughters who seemed convinced the world is becoming a much worse place that will not be as safe for his daughters as it was for him growing up. Christian dropped us off at a truck stop that he said was not a very busy spot, but where we could probably get a nice long ride. It was around 8pm when he dropped us off, and we were not able to get another ride that night. We did, however, have some wonderful wild raspberries and a fun camping night.
The next day, July 16th, we got a ride at 1:10pm with Jasper down the road a little ways. Even thought it was a short ride, it was enough to get us out of a tough hitchhiking spot. Our next ride was with Jerker, pronounced with a soft J sound and much nicer sounding than it looks. He took us another 30 minutes down the road to a gas station.
After a food break, we were hitching again by 3:15pm. An hour and half later, we had a ride with Johann. He dropped us off at 4:40pm at a gas station. Now we were nearly to Göteborg. Our next ride came at 5:45pm from a man named Johan and it turned out to be our last ride of the day, because he took us to the medieval festival in Kungälv, north of Göteborg. He even let us borrow some medieval-looking clothing so we wouldn't feel out of place.
We had a great time at the festival, and I think I'll save the details for another post. The next day, Friday the 17th, we left the festival in the evening to see if we could make it a little ways further while it was still light out. We got a ride at 7:10pm with a lovely family literally just going to the next exit. There we saw another hitchhiker and spoke to him to make sure we weren't invading his space. Turned out he was coming from Oslo and making his way back to Italy, where he was from. He said he'd been having good luck hitchhiking.
Our luck was a little better than his that evening, at least, because we got a ride first. It was another short ride, but our next one was a little longer. We camped near a gas station and woke up the next morning when it started to rain.
By 9:30am the next morning (Saturday the 18th) we were back out there with our thumbs well-rested. We got a ride an hour later with Benny, who didn't speak as much English as many of the younger people we'd been getting rides with, but who was a really nice guy on his way to work. He dropped us off at a fairly dead spot, so we were worried we would have a hard time getting a ride. We needn't have! We had a ride five minutes later with Jobst.
Jobst was on his way to pick up his son, who'd been on a sailing trip. He was kind and offered to share his breakfast with us, but we weren't hungry again yet. He picked us up at 10:40am and dropped us off at 11:10am. Where he dropped us, the E-6 had changed from a 4-lane to a 2-lane highway with a lower speed limit, so we felt safe standing just on the shoulder of the road near a truck pull-out. We stuck out our thumbs there in the pouring rain.
At 11:45 we got a ride with Katarina, who was going to Oslo! We decided to go all the way into the city center with her rather than try to take another tunnel-highway that also headed the direction we wanted to go, in the hopes that there would be more people leaving the city. Katarina was really nice and took us on a 15 minutes tour around Oslo before dropping us off at a gas station on the edge of the city. The gas station was ideally located by a grocery store, so we were able to stock up on some bread and fruit.

We then had a ride with Bernt, a kind older man who told us how people in Norway are wary of picking up hitchhikers because of some recent news stories where people posing as stranded motorists had in fact been thieves preying on the kindness of strangers. He gave us the contact info for one of his sons who lives in Germany when he heard we would be returning there. He also gave us his contact info in case we ran into any trouble and needed to contact him for help. He dropped us off by an entrance for the E-134, which crosses the mountains and ends in Haugesund, near where my relatives live.
Our next ride, though, came from a man who was going quite far, but not on the E-134. His name is Botolv, and he would be taking a highway that also runs west, but north of the E-134. He was going very far, though, so we decided to go all the way with him even though it meant taking a different route. He was a very interesting man to talk to. He is a linguist who works in Oslo at the university. He specializes in place names and is a part of a committee of experts on geographical names for the United Nations. He's moderately famous in that of the one couple we told about him one of them had seen him on TV. We also got to listen to a little bit of The Hobbit on CD in German.
We camped that night in the most beautiful spot. It was near Kinsarvik by a fjord and it was so incredibly lovely. It was raining all night, but we stayed mostly dry in our tent with a tarp on top and another beneath us. The next day, though, even though the spot was so nice to stand at, we were frustrated that it took us three hours to get a ride. Our ride came, finally, from some German tourists who'd been stopped nearby fishing and took pity on us, I think, because they had seen us trying to get a ride the whole hour or so they were parked there.
They dropped us off back on the E-134 and we got a ride within 10 minutes from Ole, a sheep farmer. He drove us into Haugesund even though he wasn't planning to go that far, and let us use his cell phone to reach Heidi and Dag Terje. We couldn't through on their cell phone, so he did some sort of text message search for their home number and we got through. He dropped us off at the bus station there, and Heidi and Dag Terje picked us up and took us to Karmøy Island! Phew.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cousins, rain, and hiking

Preikestolen (or Pulpit Rock) is 604 meters above the fjord. The hiking trails are maintained by the Tourism Bureau of Norway (or something like that):

"Why," you may ask, "do we care at all about the Norwegian Tourist Forening?" Because several Norwegians have told us about them very proudly and with good reason: They maintain hundreds of huts around the country that anybody can go and sleep in and that are sometimes stocked with food. The fee is on the honor system, and you leave it in an envelope after your stay.

And to leave you with just a slice of what can happen when you keep contact with the family left in the homeland: Stina was in a room with 1st cousins twice removed, 2nd cousins once removed, 3rd cousins, and 3rd cousins once removed (everybody's eyes are on Ingeborg, Linda-in-the-foreground's one-year-old, eating and making a mess).

Monday, July 20, 2009

1st European Vlog!

Just to brag a little, that's the t-shirt I won for coming in 2nd at the M2010 Prerelease. Now I have FOUR t-shirts! (And two of them are Magic: the Gathering-related...)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

From a laptop in a motor home

We are riding with Johan, who is taking us to a medieval festival tomorrow! This puts us a little behind in hitchhiking to Karmoy Island, but this is the beauty of hitchhiking and being flexible.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Travels from Hannover to Copenhagen

It's a very sad thing to lose one's hitchhiking notebook, which we keep so that we don't have to rely solely on our memories when we try to recount our journey. Yet somehow in Duesseldorf it must have fallen out of my pocket somewhere, so this post may not contain all the details it once would have. 

We last wrote a thorough blog post when we were in Hannover, over a week ago. We had a great time there. My favorite part about it was riding bikes around town, as I think I may have already mentioned. Leaving Hannover on Tuesday the 7th, we followed advice found on Hitchwiki.org, taking a streetcar well outside the city center and then walking another thirty minutes through lovely fields to get to a Tankstelle. 

This is where our memory fails. I believe we had about three rides from Hannover to Bremen, but we can only remember the last one. He was a nice man who told us about several places in Germany we should visit (Hamburg is his favorite) and made one or two disparaging remarks about the French being unfriendly (as so many Germans are wont to do) and noted negative stereotypes about and feelings towards Belgians (some of them stemming from a child pornography ring busted about 10 years ago that reached up into the government). He had a GPS system in his car, and he was kind enough to take us directly to our destination in Bremen. When we arrived around 9pm, our host was away but left a note for us, so we sat at a nearby bench and ate one of our trademark meals--cheese, bread, and apple. 

About an hour later our host arrived and we visited with her a bit that night before going to sleep. The next day we wandered all around Bremen in a very touristy way, absolutely loving the tiny streets in the older part of town, and ended the day by eating at the Ratskeller restaurant we posted pictures of before. We left Bremen on Thursday the 9th to make our way back to Duesseldorf for a Magic: the Gathering prerelease we'd heard about when we were there before.

Leaving Bremen, we decided to just walk out of town and hitch along less main roads until we reached the Autobahn. Our first ride was a short one from a woman who dropped us off near a road leading onto the A-1. We walked along the road a little ways until we found a semi-decent place to stand. Soon enough, we had a ride! Sort of...it was the Polizei, coming to tell us we were not allowed to stand there. Now we've had two rides in police cars. They took us to a bus stop outside of an Ikea near an entrance leading to A-1 and said it was okay to stand there. We were just given warnings, not tickets, but they said it could be quite costly to hitchhike illegally in Germany.

Our next ride was from a man going quite far. He was heading towards the Münster area and dropped us off along the 43. We were picked up next by a lovely woman named Ricki and her two daughters. It was her older daughter's birthday and they had just been to large park (riesengrosser Spielplatz) to celebrate. Even though she was heading to Wuppertal, she took us all the way into Duesseldorf and dropped us off at the main station there. We wrote a little birthday story in both German and English while we drove along for the older daughter. (It was about their having a fantasy adventure saving the lonely oldest tree in the area)

Thursday night we stayed with a nice couchsurfer who would have played Settlers of Catan with us if we had had more time. He had family coming to visit, though, and could only host us the one night. On Friday we went in the evening to the game/comics store where we would be playing in the prerelease the next day, and there I left Brendan so he could play some Friday Night Magic. I traveled on to our new hosts' home and got to know them a bit. 

Later, Brendan was given a ride home from some Magic players, Tobi and Alex. On the ride there Brendan had found out that our new friend from the week before, Stefan (the one who had told us about the prerelease), lived very close and was hosting a poker night. So Brendan, our host Alwin, Alex, Toby and I headed over to Stefan's place to play. Alwin, Brendan and I took the pot. I came in first, Alwin second, Brendan third. I'm not sure they'll have us for poker again. 

Saturday morning Brendan and I headed out for the prerelease. The store, Drachental, is filled with games, comics, and geeks. It was lovely. We paid our entry and the tournament began. I used most of my time for deck-building just carefully reading the cards and asking for help with the German words I didn't understand. Finally, with just a few minutes before play was to begin, one of our new Magic player friends helped me throw together a deck. I did okay, and most importantly had fun. Brendan, though, did so well. He came in second place overall and won nine booster packs. Wow! I was very proud of him. 

Magic player, Magic player, Florian, me, Brendan, Stefan,
Alex and Florian
We then traveled with our new friends Alex, Stefan, Florian and Frank to a French festival near the river, where we had plans to meet our hosts. The bunch of us all hung out for the next several hours, then Brendan and I and Stephanie, one of our hosts, traveled back to their place and played some Carcassonne. 

On Sunday the 12th after a lovely breakfast with our hosts, we headed out. Alwin kindly gave us a ride to a nearby gas station so we could try to hitch out and head to Copenhagen. We waited there for over two hours before giving up and trying to find a better place to stand. We walked up the road a bit and discovered we were actually in the same spot where we'd stood when we were leaving Duesseldorf before. From this new vantage point, though, we were better able to get the attention of drivers, and soon we had a ride towards Wuppertal, though by now it was already 5pm. 

Our ride was with Leo (son) and Hans (father) and they explained that if we were willing to wait, Hans would drop Leo off and then be able to take us a little farther on to a gas station. We were happy to wait. From the Tankstelle, we got a ride within just five minutes from a man headed towards Muenster. He dropped us off at 6:35pm at another Tankstelle, and just a minute later we had a ride with Angelica, who was going to Bremen. She dropped us off at 7:45pm at another Tankstelle and about half an hour later we got a ride to Hamburg with a lovely family. 

Before we even left the Tankstelle with Antje and Detlef (who were traveling in separate cars because they'd just been to pick up the car of one of their parents, to try and sell it, I think, or maybe just use it - yes, to sell it - Brendan), they offered us a place to sleep that night. They now feel like another set of parents in Hamburg. They fed us dinner that night and breakfast the next day, and Antje took us to a gas station along the A-1 after breakfast. I know I've mentioned this before, but people's kindness just amazes me! I hope I can be so kind to strangers as our couchsurfing hosts and hitchhiking hosts have been to us. 

Taking the A-1 north towards Denmark leads to a ferry, unfortunately. After a very frustrating time of hitching, where it took us two and a half hours to get our first ride, a short one, and another two hours to get our second ride, with one more short ride after that, we arrived at the ferry. It would have been far cheaper for us to avoid the ferry, but we had some hopes that we could hitch a ride onto a car already going on the ferry. However, we were redirected away from the line of cars waiting for the ferry by a ferry employee, who told us where we could buy tickets. So we bought tickets for 18 euros, or about 25 dollars. After such a slow and frustrating day of hitchhiking, this felt like the final blow. We ate some scavenged food, though, and then we both felt a lot better. Yay for dumpster diving, even if it's just trash diving on the ferry. 

As the ferry was about to dock, we were wandering around the cars that were about to get off to see if we could get a ride. We succeeded, and a had a nice ride with a woman named Helle who lives in Denmark, but works at the border shop across the ferry in Germany. She took us about a half an hour along the way and ten minutes later we got a ride another half hour along the way with a woman named Karin. Our next ride also came within about ten minutes, from a man named Freddie. 

Freddie was going all the way into Copenhagen, and we had a great time riding with him. He was very easy to talk to and by the time we got to Copenhagen he was committed to helping us find our way. He dropped us off at a train station from which we could get to the city center and from there find our way to my friend Marie. Before leaving us, though, he helped us find an ATM, then changed the large bill Brendan got for smaller coins, then helped us buy our tickets. 

We got to the main station with no troubles and asked someone how to get to Marie's address. We were told which bus to take and asked the driver to tell us when we arrived at our stop. When we got off the bus, though, we still had no idea where to go, so we just started asking passers-by. The first person had no idea about the address, and the next people, a couple perhaps, didn't either, but the guy of the couple called his parents for internet help. Unfortunately they had a hard time finding it on the internet, so he explained that they lived very nearby and we could actually just walk there and he would look it up himself. 

When he and his partner came back down, he explained that he was embarrassed, because the street was just right around the corner and he felt he should have known it. He said his mother was embarrassed as well because she drives down the street every day on her way to work, yet didn't know it. We were just happy that it was, indeed, nearby. He and his partner walked us to Marie's door, and ever since we've been having the loveliest of visits.

Marie has been feeding us and supplying us with tasty treats, and yesterday Marie, her roommate Lene, Brendan and I visited Christiana together. Christiana was created in the seventies when squatters took over what had been a military base. After we visited there, Marie treated us to a picnic lunch along a canal. We went next to the palace and hung out near there by a fountain for awhile, then made our way back. 

Marie, Lena and Brendan in Christiana

Marie (and Brendan in the Pissoir in the background)

Brendan, me and Lene in the fountain

That brings us to today! I've been writing this post over an hour, I think, but soon we will head out. We are going next to my relatives in Norway, and we plan to camp along the way. I think we will make it there by the 18th at least, and hopefully sooner. Speaking of which, I should probably write them with another update. Haj haj!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Pictures, out of order

Wine barrel at Ratskeller (restaurant under the Rathaus) in Bremen.


In front of the Bremerstadtmusikanter statue.

Rheinturm in Duesseldorf.

The line we waited in to get tickets to see Twelfth Night in Central Park.

A kid running through the fountain in Washington Square Park.

Brendan waiting in line to get tickets. We camped out from 6am-1pm.

Brendan and me with my twin-cousin Gladriel (she is 8 days younger than me) and her husband Jared.

The funny security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He would act like a zombie when little kids approached the Temple of Dendur (sp?).

Here we are in front of the Jekyll and Hyde Club, the restaurant where I celebrated my 17th birthday. We happened to walk by it by chance and met a nice 13ish year old who raved about how much fun she'd just had at dinner there.

A pretty church in New York City.

The ceiling in the Rose Reading Room at the public library in NYC.

The police department in Times Square.

Brendan in Times Square.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Grüsse aus Hannover

We're doing a much better job of practicing our German now.

We arrived in Hannover yesterday evening after a long day of slow hitchhiking ("trampen" or "per Anhalter"). It was difficult to leave Düsseldorf because while we stood in a high-traffic area, there wasn't much room for anyone to pull over. There was, however, a light, and finally after two hours waiting as we walked forward to see if there was a better spot to stand, Brendan held out our sign and a man at the red light said he was headed our way. Brendan sat up front and held a conversation in German with him, and about 30 minutes later he dropped us off at a Tankstelle (gas station).

At the Tankstelle we again waited a nice long while before walking around to see if there was a better place for us to stand. We discovered we were on the side where people could come and park and rest, but that there was a whole other gas pump on the other side and we'd probably been missing many potential rides.

We moved over to this other side and held up our sign that said "Hanover" (there was only room for one N) on one line, and "A-1/2 Ost" on the other. In this new spot we were in sight of several trucks parked nearby, and one truck driver came over to talk to us. Brendan talked to him and I understood little of what they said, but Brendan told me afterward that the truck driver said he would be there for the weekend.

We kept sticking our thumbs out and holding up our sign at cars passing by, and then another truck driver came over and talked with Brendan. A little later the first truck driver came back and had another conversation with Brendan. Maybe you can tell by now that the German is coming back more slowly for me. Brendan told me that the two truck drivers were offering to take us to the next gas station, which was a busier one, but each of them could only take one of us. They said they only had one extra seat each, but they were going to the same place and one would follow the other on the road. Brendan and I discussed in English whether we should take them up on this offer, and we decided we would.

We were nervous about this because neither one of us is carrying a cell phone, so if somehow we got quite separated, we would be in a fix. We both had a good impression of the truck drivers, though, and decided we would trust them. If we did get separated, we would find internet as soon as possible and email one another.

Off we went in our separate rides. This was an excellent chance for me to practice German because my driver did not speak any English, and I didn't have Brendan to carry the conversation for me. I wrote down the license plate number of the truck Brendan was in, just in case for some reason I needed it. Brendan told me later he kept checking the rearview mirror to make sure the truck I was in was still visible. We had our guard up, and I think that's okay, but it is also important to trust people. Our instincts proved correct that these guys were honest and safe, and about 15 minutes or so later they dropped us off at a much busier gas station.

Within ten minutes or so we had a ride, finally, all the way to Hannover. A man and woman around our age were headed to Berlin and would take the A-2, which also passes by Hannover. They very kindly took us all the way into town, to the Hauptbahnhof (main train station). From there we were able to find our way to our host by foot, and here we are.

Last night after we arrived we were introduced to an old German tradition where a craftsperson (in this case a carpenter), after completing an apprenticeship, may embark on a three-year-long journey. During this time they are not allowed to return to their home area, nor can they carry a phone, though they can call home. They must travel by hitchhiking and seek jobs where they go. First, though, there is a grand party to send them off, and we got to attend such a party last night, for a friend of our host.

At the party, there is an auction for all the items the carpenter will need on his journey, and friends and family bid for them. Afterwards, the money and the items are given to him. One of the items auctioned off is an earring, and another is a nail. After the auction, the nail is used to pierce the carpenter's ear, and the earring is placed in the hole. This was somewhat unsettling to watch, especially since it took awhile for them to get the earring into the hole and there was blood running down his ear. It's kind of hard to see, but in this picture the nail is already through the ear. The wood stick is his walking stick.

We had a great time getting to know the friends of our host, whose name is Sebastian, and drinking beer and eating yummy food. In between this party and returning to this party, we attended the birthday party of a Couchsurfing friend of Sebastian's. This whole night, we were riding borrowed bikes and feeling like real Europeans as we rode around.

I must end now as it's bedtime, but soon we'll post more pictures from New York, plus pictures from Düsseldorf and Hannover.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

To Hannover!

Today we leave the comfort of Düsseldorf for the excitement of Hannover... Last night we visited a brewery (Uerige for the aficionados) and Bobby, a pub of ancient and glorious lineage (since the 1st half of the 20th century, I believe). For those who might be confused, we are NOT joining the hitchhiking contest, and instead are doing our best to let go and let the winds of whimsy blow us where we will. So next is Hannover... then, who knows! We'll probably come back to Düsseldorf for the 2010 prerelease next weekend if the Magic-playing guys we met last night actually write us an email.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Entschuldigung, haben Sie die Uhrzeit?

Ah, Düsseldorf. After a long plane ride, one should always take a few days to put one's feet up and relax. We thought we'd hit the ground running (reference our itinerary of a few days ago), but this seems like a much better plan. When we arrived here on Tuesday morning, we didn't know where we were going to stay. I had sent out some Couchsurfing requests, but had only received a "no" and nothing from the others by the time we had to leave Michael's mother's house. We arrived around 8 am local time, 2 am to us, and went through all the customs and security and everything half asleep.
We soon realized we were so totally exhausted that we couldn't manage to make obvious choices, let alone even think up some smart solutions. We wandered outside to see where Düsseldorf might be. We laid down on the grass to rest. Little green bugs hopped around on us, and we were twitchy enough that we couldn't find peace. We wandered back inside.
We wandered around the airport. We wandered to the information booth, pretended to speak German, wandered out, wandered back to the information booth again... and did that about 3 or 4 times until the woman helping us began to smile knowingly when we approached. I used the 5 Euros I had left over from 3 years ago to get some change. We plunked 50 cents into the internet kiosk and used 3 of our 5 minutes getting from one website to the next, one minute blogging that last crazy (but hopefully reassuring) blog, and one minute taking down a name and phone number that Couchsurfer Robin sent us. For though he could not host us, he delivered unto us our saviors.
After some shenanigans with the phone we managed to call Chris, and over a period of time during which a nap, a train ride, and some pretending to speak German happened we reached his abode, where Ieva let us in. Ieva and Chris have made us feel quite comfortable here. We play games, chat about hitchhiking, travel, school, Twilight, breakfast, and couchsurfing, and hang out like old friends. Yesterday evening they took us along to a dinner party. We ate delicious veganerrific ratatouille, watermelon, and salad. We übed our Deutsch. We played charades (and they all played in English for us, though we tried to push for German). We met Kathi, our host, who is a costume designer and currently works for a costume shop as a seamstress building for theatres all over the world, including the Metropolitan Opera in New York. She and Stina and I talked shop a bit, and decided that if Stina and I move to Berlin, we'll produce a show together, and she'll make it fit in her schedule somehow. We're thinking Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead or Waiting for Godot (which because of the Tonys we now know is pronounced GOD-oh). I'd also like to make something by Thornton Wilder. I think I should avoid Ionesco and other non-English-language plays because if I'm doing it in Germany, I should either do the play in its original tongue or in German... and I could never translate from French to German, and I'm sure I'd butcher Brecht in German... maybe not, though. Anybody else out there have a suggestion? Nikki, want to visit Germany and maybe direct a play? Anybody else want to join us? Apartments in Berlin are only 250€ ($325)

Bis dann!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009