How often do you meet someone while hitchhiking, and still keep in touch with them years later? In my case it’s happened twice, in September-October 2000 I made a trip with Audrone, and a year later we were married. As for the second time, just read on…
It’s 28 February 2008, and having missed out on hitching on 29 February 2004, I decide that missing more than one leap-day is one too many. There’s also the fact that I’ve never hitched in Luxembourg. True, I did pass through the country on 4 September 1994, in the company of Wim Roodzand, a truck-driver who had picked me up near Brindisi two days earlier and who would drop me off in Utrecht later that evening. That ride, the fifth (and so far last) with a distance over 2,000 km, was enjoyable, especially during the last day, when we rode in a convoy of three trucks of van der Kwaak.
So I hit the road, and following the somewhat illogical route via Hasselt and Liège I end up at a roundabout in Hosingen at 17:45. It’s raining, cold, but 11 minutes later Paul picks me up. He is going to Luxembourg city, to see some old friends from university for their monthly get-together, but he tells me that he will first go past his house, and that I can access the internet from there, to find someone to stay with. Logging on to Hospitality Club, I proceed to Luxembourg, call the first person who has a “yes” under the “Accommodation:” column (Paul had suggested to call, as a mail through the spam-filtered system would quite likely have been useless) and am greeted by an answering machine. The second person doesn’t answer the phone, but going down along the list, I stumble upon a name I recognize as being Lithuanian… I call, the phone is answered, and Inga, without even being able to look at my profile, tells me I can stay at her place. As it turns out, she lives within walking distance of the restaurant where Paul is going to meet his friends, but I don’t even have to walk, he drops me off right in front of her door. Inga lets me in, and, for the next 40 or so minutes, disappears to the meeting of the occupants of the building. After her return we have a bite, talk about traveling, she has just spent Christmas in Tanzania, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. I tell her about my hitchhiking trips, and the next day we part.
Then, a few days later, she gets in touch with a somewhat surprising request, she wants to do some hitchhiking herself, but doesn’t want to do it on her own. I have no problem with this, but initially my wife isn’t too enthusiastic about it. However, a few weeks later one of her friends visits us in Oostende, and after we take her back to Zaventem, the airport next to Brussels, we drive on to Luxembourg, so that she can meet Inga. It turns out that the ladies can get along very well, and as a result I’m allowed to go hitchhiking with Inga.
I tell Inga that there are two options, a round-trip from Luxembourg via somewhere around 700-800 km away back to Luxembourg, or maybe a cheap flight with “that airline” to a destination around 1,500-2,000 km away, we have a maximum of four days (Thursday to Sunday) for the trip. In the end we settle for Porto, which, according to
Google Maps, is exactly 2,000 km from Luxembourg. Of course going to Portugal implies going back via España, which is a country with a somewhat bad reputation when it comes to hitchhiking…
On 3 June 2008 I hitch to Luxembourg, which isn’t the best of experiences, it takes me more than 11 hours to cover a mere 370 km, including almost five hours to cover the 70 km from the Belgium-Luxembourg border to Luxembourg city, not good. On Wednesday I stroll around town, Luxembourg is a very pretty city, and at 2:45 in the morning we walk to the station to catch our bus to Frankfurt Hahn (one of those airports in the middle of nowhere used by “that airline”), and given a name that bears no resemblance to reality, it’s more than 100 km away from the real Frankfurt airport. Our plane leaves at 6:30, and an hour later we arrive in Porto.
Just outside the terminal we ask two policemen who happen to be parked there how to get towards Braga, and about an hour after our arrival we got our first ride, to Braga. Six more follow in fairly quick succession, and after a lunch in Chavez, a concrete-mixer(!) truck takes us across the border into España. Our first ride in that country is with a Portuguese lady on her way to her guitar lesson, and it’s just short of 3 km. We are dropped at the slip road onto the A52, and here we get our first real taste of hitchhiking in España. It isn’t too bad, a mere 36 minutes later a father and daughter couple stops, and they take us just over 40 km further, to an exit without slip road back onto the A52, which means that we spend the best part of the next hour walking to the next exit with entry. Just before this there is a petrol station and after a bit of a discussion with a Romanian truck-driver, he gives us a ride of 100 km to near Quintanilla. By now it is 19:15, but a mere 17 minutes later we manage to get our last ride of the day, with the French director of a Spanish subsidiary of a French car manufacturer. He tries to take us to a hotel in a little village (Magaz) near Palencia, but when that turns out to be full, he drives us to Palencia itself and even manages to find a reasonably priced pensión. We have covered almost 500km, and despite all the horror stories about España, our longest wait has been just 1:10, which includes the long walk!
The next morning, while walking out of Palencia, we get a welcome surprise while standing next to a traffic light: our French driver from the evening before pulls up next to us and drives us to the slip road onto the A62/E80 near Magaz. From here, after a mere 15 minutes, we get our second (and last) ride with a Spanish driver. It’s short, just over 20 km, to a big petrol station/truck-park near Quintana del Puente, where the wait is equally bearable, 22 minutes. The ride is with a French couple in a camper van and takes us to just before the border. We are dropped at a petrol station, and to our delight we find a Lithuanian truck-driver, who gives us a ride to a customs area just before the border. He is taking stuff to Russia and tells us that it will take him quite a while to finish all the paperwork, and, not wanting to waste time, we decide to look for another ride, which we find in the shape of a French truck-driver. He takes us to “aire de La Fontaine Colette”, a motorway service area just before Tours.
We arrive there at 20:25, there is no accommodation, and Inga isn’t very keen on sleeping in the open air, so we decide to go on, and just under 40 minutes we get a ride with a young Belgian couple, who eventually drop us next to an F1 motel in Chilly Mazarin, just south of Paris. The place is cheap and basic, and after a quick shower, we soon find ourselves in the arms of Morpheus.
On Saturday morning we have bite and quickly get our first ride, with an Algerian truck-driver, who just stops on a slip road! He drops us on a petrol station more or less on the ring around Paris, and just under half an hour later a Cape Verdian athlete drives us, well past his original destination, to a petrol station close to Disneyland. From here follow three rides with couples, taking us to another petrol station, this time just before Metz. We go in, have a drink, and when we come back out I see a car with Luxembourg plates, and it actually stops for us. The occupants, a mother and her two children are on their way back from Madrid to Luxembourg and at 14:48, a mere 53:08 after starting in Porto, she drops us off just a two minute walk from Inga’s place.
I leave Luxembourg on Sunday, and maybe some of Inga’s beginners luck still clings to me, because it takes me just 3:31 to cover the 329 km back to Oostende!
Some months later Inga, together with two other Lithuanians friends, visits us in Oostende. We have become good friends, I’ve been back in Luxembourg every year, and the memory of this trip is one that I will cherish forever, it ranks just below the long trips to Sweden & Denmark (in 2000) and the Olympic games in Athens (in 2004) I made with Audrone, and well ahead of the short trip I made with an English journalist in 2006. I hope that someday we’ll have an opportunity to make another trip together.