On June 15th, we bid a happy farewell to Istanbul, our home for the past six months. At the time, I had been eagerly awaiting the final day of my teaching contract, and couldn’t wait to get out of the country. I’d had a lot of negative experiences there, and was ecstatic to be removing myself from the whole situation. In retrospect, there are many things that I remember fondly, and I wish that I’d done more with my time there. I currently live in South Korea, and there are many aspects of life in Turkey that I miss, including the ease of being a vegetarian (despite popular belief), my loving and appreciative babies (a.k.a. students) and, of course, some pretty awesome people…but I digress. I got rid of 90% of my belongings, packed my life into a tiny middle school backpack, and ran for the hills- or rather, the mountains of Bulgaria-when we got the chance, traversing Central and Western Europe with a mere 45 Euros between the two of us.
After visiting a close friend and her son in Sofia for a few days, we hitched through smoking-hot Serbia, once again. It’s a shame: I’ve hitchhiked the length of the country four or five times, but have only ever stopped overnight to sleep in Belgrade. One day, I’ll give the country a proper look-around. My wishy-washy self had to commit to a destination (or at least a direction), so as to avoid spending our whole trip riding in cars to nowhere. I’d never been to Italy, and it seemed like a good route to take back to the UK for the Sigur Ros concert. We hitched straight through Croatia and Slovenia, arriving in Northeast Italy around 2 in the morning. After a few hollow attempts at getting a lift, we decided to call it a night, making our “camp” out back behind the gas station. He and I aren’t so great at planning things out- to be fair, we usually don’t try very hard. On this trip, we ended up a few hours short of our goal on several occasions. When you’re in this situation, you have two choices: peel your eyes open and try to hitch through the night, or bust out the sleeping bag and free camp in a parking lot. Funnily enough, we only had one sleeping bag and a thin blanket, so I took the inside liner while he had the outer bit. Looking back, I can’t believe that we got away with this as many times as we did, particularly when the early rising truckers were conversing five feet away from our sleeping bodies.
After an uneventful night,we got dropped off near the ferry port and took an early morning boat ride to Venice. Although I only spent a day there, it lived up to every expectation that I had. We didn’t do anything particularly special- only meandered around one of the most famous Italian tourist spots in the world. After a day of exploration, I was exhausted and dehydrated, mainly because of the heat, and felt the need to take an impromptu nap before setting off once more.
A year earlier, J got a life from an Italian trucker who had kept in touch. The man had been following his blog, and knew that we were not far from his town, prompting him to offer us a room in his cozy mountain home. Gabriele picked us up in Venice, and drove us a couple hours north to the Dolomite Mountains for a few days of eco-tourist pleasure. One day, he took us around several beautiful summits, allowing me to experience one of my oldest and truest dreams: hanging out with wild mountain goats.
When our mountain retreat came to an end, we headed west for the Ligurian coast. After many hours in the scorching Italian sun, we arrived just south of Torino and threw in the towel for the night at another rest stop. We got an early morning ride after a few hours of sleep, and arrived in Savona just after the sun had come up. Over the next few days, we hitched through small sea towns, swam in the Mediterranean, and slept on the beach unbothered and completely at peace- apart from the unforgiving sunburns that we both incurred.
Originally, I had desperately wanted to go to Spain, but after a series of unfortunately long waits in the heat, we decided to head straight to England. All good things must come to an end- that’s the saying, right? A ride from a Russian doctor living in Italy brought us to Monte Carlo, a place that I’d never thought I’d go. It’s not really my style, and seems more fitting for chronic casino goers and yacht owners. It took us two days to get through France, but we did manage to hitch out of a main street in Paris- a far from simple feat.
At a huge rest area somewhere outside of Amiens, we spotted a UK license plate coming toward us just as the rain started to fall. Waving like maniacs and pointing at the plate gained us the attention of the driver, who pulled over with a huge smile on his face. The two brothers agreed to take us with them onto the ferry at Calais, after casually verifying that we weren’t trying to sneak drugs into England. After a pint and two hours of friendly conversation, we bid them farewell to search for a ride off the boat.
We’ve made this trip several times and, as such, have developed a fool-proof plan: I venture into the truckers’ lounge alone, with a cardboard sign and an innocent smile. Works every time. I managed to snag us a lift, and we rode around the outskirts of London with him for a few hours while he made his delivery. After a few short rides and much more standing in the dark, we were less than 20 miles from home. By this time, it was past 2 in the morning, and we knew that our chances of getting a ride were slim. If we kept walking, we’d be home in six or seven hours. We could have easily called J’s ma to come pick us up, but we were still set on keeping our arrival a surprise. An hour into walking, and several minutes into J hallucinating from sleep deprivation, we gave in, and he sent a text to his mom with the final seconds of his phone’s battery life. We had no choice but to continue. This was my worst nightmare come true: walking in a forest in the pitch black, and seeing a very sketchy abandoned car on the side of the road. An hour or so later- time moved differently in those moments- we saw a line of traffic approaching and a car distinctly swerve: mama to the rescue! After chuckling at our gypsy-like appearance, we piled into the car and slept into the afternoon. It was the perfect curveball ending to a spontaneous adventure. No plans, just life.
My words aren’t much compared to this video: my nine day microadventure was captured much more accurately in this 3 minute video, my favorite by the talented creator at www.greatbigscaryworld.com, thus far. Enjoy!
I know, it seems like a joke, right? How could 45 Euros cover the travel and eating costs of two? Well, it did, and to be honest, we could have done it with less if we had been a bit more frugal with snacks. We went freegan whenever we could, and were fortunate to receive kindness and generosity from strangers who fed us on several occasions- thank you all! Still, an adventure doesn’t need to cost you a month’s, or even a week’s, salary. You only need to choose something and go for it, whether it’s across a border or in your own backyard.
|Shopping for dinner||€5|
|Bottle of water||€1.15|
|Ferry to Venice||€5|
|Food in Venice||€5|
|Crackers and ricotta||€2.70|
|Jar of pesto||€0.89|
|Bottle of water||€0.80|
|Crackers / camembert||€4.50|