Hitchhiking

Hitchhiking (Polish: autostop) in Poland is a popular form of travel, not only for tourists, but also for those who have no other way to quickly reach their destination.

Catching the so called here “opportunity” is legitimate, but it is not permitted to stop the car directly on the highways or in places that threaten road safety. However, you can do it in front of highway entrances and at gas stations and parking lots. Because city names in Poland are often difficult to pronounce for foreigners, it is recommended to write the name on a piece of paper. Poland is a country where hitchhiking is relatively safe.

There are two ways of informing the driver about the route:

  • “thumb up” indicates long journey so this method is recommended on the quick speed roads with plenty of trucks
  • waving an open hand indicates the need for short lift so this method is typically used on local roads

To better organize the trip one can use the site that contains information about the runs, but they are not for free rides.

Hitchhiking in Poland is shown in popular teen comedy “A trip for a smile” (1971), and was also commemorated by a popular song “Jedziemy autostopem” by Karin Stanek. Nowadays, for several years, there is organized “Hitchhiking International Championship”. The route begins in Poland and ends in some foreign country (in 2011 it was Amsterdam, in 2012 – Dubrovnik).

Hitchhiking International Championship

Below we present a report of hitchhiking in Poland, which was written by the Dutchman Frank Verhart (thank you very much for this report!), who at the turn of 2012/2013 used this way of traveling to get to Podlasie and a village Meteliai in Lithuania. As a big lover of forests and wildlife he could say a lot about this region, which is a part of the area known as the Green Lungs of Poland. This region is rich in forests, national parks and nature reserves, lakes and rivers, which held kayaking. In the vicinity of the Frank’s route are among others: Augustowski Forest, Knyszyn Forest and Bialowieza Forest, The Rospuda Valley, Biebrza National Park, Wigry National Park, Channel Augustowski, and small “eastern” towns with lots of Orthodox churches.

It is the perfect place of relax for those seeking peace and quietness and close contact with nature not spoiled by high civilization yet.

  Wigry National Park

HITCHHIKING ON A WINTER HOLIDAY IN POLAND

Polen voor Nederlanders recently asked me if I would like to report a little about my experience with hitchhiking around Poland during my recent winter holiday. A few months ago I wrote at Polen voor Nederlanders that their logo, a thumb with the Polish flag, would be a perfect icon to show passing drivers to get a lift to the beloved country of Poland.  Well, it certainly wasn’t the first time that I travelled on the goodwill of car drivers – I call this a way of endless recycling other people’s mobility and it’s got its benefits. Carbon emissions caused by hitchhiking are practically zero. There are social interactions with people having a place free in the car and willing to share. The costs are extremely low, although it takes a bit more time. Hitchhiking is still the fastest way to move after using airplanes or cars – pretty often it can compete with the pace of public transport!

I was going to hitchhike to Poland from the Netherlands on 27 December. Also that wasn’t the first time for it to happen. Already five or six times before I hitchhiked to Poland – or the most eastern part of Germany – on 27 December in order to get to Poland “for free”.  Whenever I hitchhike to Poland, pretty often Polish drivers offer me rides over a big part of the distance. There are some understandable reasons for this. One of them is that Polish drivers in other countries are sometimes on the way from or to Poland, so their rides are useful for my journeys. This chance is obviously bigger on those main road connections from the west of Poland into Germany, the Benelux countries and the United Kingdom.

I’ve covered the distance from the Netherlands to Poland by hitchhiking about fifteen times. Quite often the journey includes a ride with a length of over 500 kilometers, occasionally of 700 to 1050 kilometers. It usually takes me 7 to 12 hours to get from the Netherlands to the west of Poland by hitchhiking.

Few words on hitchhiking

There are some essential differences between hitchhiking in the Netherlands and in Poland. Of course the basic idea is the same everywhere: you get somewhere, without spending, somewhere else using vehicles which are on the road anyway. The main differences in my perception are these.One difference is that the road infrastructure is much more expanded in the Netherlands as in Poland. Nearly all long distance traffic takes place on motorways, on which hitchhiking is only allowed on entrance lanes and on petrol stations. Most effective is asking lifts on petrol stations. In Poland, despite enormous development in the last two decades, still much more long distance traffic is found on one lane national roads. These roads usually have many places where hitchhiking by standing at the side of the road is possible.

Another difference is related with features that describe how the societies of both countries work. Since the start of car based mobility, both Poland and the Netherlands have known an active hitchhiking culture, just as certain other countries as for example Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium and the former Soviet States. There is another group of countries where an older hitchhiking tradition does not really exist, Spain and Italy being good examples. Generally the 1960s-1980s are regarded as the Golden hitchhiking era – by accidence the Cold War era but it has got pretty much nothing to do with that time. And yet it is of some importance. From the Cold War period I can only remember the final part since I was born in 1978. I’m from a generation which, in the Netherlands, wasn’t much interested in hitchhiking anymore. Car ownership had become very common. Students in the Netherlands were given free public transport within their country in the 1980s. Changes in the society have lead to people avoiding certain interactions that were once normal. Hitchhiking is a great example of this. People followed trends and hitchhiking got out of fashion and need.

The situation in Poland was a bit different. The Iron Curtain fell when I was 13 years old or so. Before that Poland was subject to a total different type of government as in Western Europe. There was socialism, and there was a plan-economy with five year plans. Basically, the government made all the decisions, and there was no free market. This lead to an enormous black market of products that were in demand, but which the government would not provide. Or not provide enough. Cars were hard to obtain for example. The cost of a vehicle compared to the income was much higher as in the west. And there were waiting lists of several years. In that context hitchhiking offered a situation in which people felt a bit relieved from the constraints of the limitations they felt. Having a car at hand was something that not everyone had, and so people were well prepared to share what they had. Photo: “A trip for a smile” (1971).

And then there is Germany, a big brother of both Poland and the Netherlands. At the merger of West- and East-Germany hitchhiking was perhaps more common in the former DDR for the same reasons as it was in Poland. When the Germanys merged, the Ossies went in big numbers to the west in their Trabbi’s and Wartburgs, or hitchhiking from Dreilinden and other places in Berlin. Germany is also the country where the development of motorways seriously started, under Hitler that was. Their Autobahn’s went to the east of Prussia, towards what we know now as Wroclaw and Kaliningrad. Germany is also the leading European country in the automotive industry. Germans are generally pretty eager to give lifts, and if they are not, they are always clear about it. Germans don’t mind me asking for a lift – and remain polite if they don’t want.

The Dutch are so much used to their wealth and the privacy their vehicles offer them (or so, they believe) that they are less eager to offer rides, yet asking for lifts on petrol stations works pretty well. The younger generation of Dutch drivers is a bit less eager to give lifts, perhaps because they are less used to it. Recently I was quite delighted after reading something somewhat related to this. Driving a car has not got the big status for young drivers anymore, as it had in the past! Young drivers even don’t drive longer anymore. Similar tendencies are observed in Germany and the United Kingdom. Hitchhiking as a common practice in Poland has existed until a few years ago. And I experience the difference today. I wait shorter and young drivers often pick up hitchhikers – much more as in the Netherlands. That is important, because many drivers in Poland are young, younger as Dutch drivers. Similar observations come from a more thorough and very recent study from some Polish hitchhikers. In that study they compare hitchhiking in Poland with Italy.

December 27 – let’s go!

This time I was lucky. I told my colleague – roommate that I was planning to hitchhike to Poland – towards Warsaw – on 27 December. After checking his agenda he told me, that he is driving to Berlin with his partner and another couple on December 27. He offered me to come along with them. I just had to show up in Arnhem right on time in the morning. This 27 December was an easy start!

Arnhem

They dropped me at Rasthof Michendorf Sud, right under Potsdam, on the E30 Amsterdam – Berlin – Warsaw – Mockva – Vladivostok. I sipped my thermos bottle tea, spotted some snow behind the little police station next to the petrol station, and went to the motorists filling up their cars. I felt a bit different – it’s different to “start” after just having travelled some 700 kms or so. I already don’t remember too well – Michendorf isn’t my favourite place. Many are driving to Berlin only from here, although obviously chances are much better with Polish, Russian and other Slavic drivers. After asking a few drivers, a German couple with a dog brought me just to the next petrol station, Am Fichtenplan. The station was more quiet, and sunset was doing it’s thing. There were some Poles not going the right way, and Germans not going to Poland. It was still 27 December. Hitchhiking on 27 December has always proved to be rather easy, one day after Christmas. The downside is that there is little traffic to Poland. Poles are either already at home, or out of Poland, but they don’t go there just after Christmas. That’s a few days too late to do so.

But there was one guy in a Jeep, Suzuki Samurai, who had problems with the engine. The car was also very full. But I could go along with the guy if I wanted. He was going to Plonsk, close to Warszawa. I looked around for a bit more, but as he was prepared to drive off, he let me take place in the car. I got packed up with porcelain and a backpack. My backpack we put in the rear of the Jeep, so and so fixed, and in the open air. It was a rainy day, but I wanted the lift and took the risk of getting a soaked backpack. The guy drove the national road to avoid toll on the motorway. He dropped me off right in front of my old friends’ in Trzciel.

Trzciel. Polish house from the 18th century

They hosted me a few times on the way to Poland and live right next to the national road – 300 meters. From the recently opened motorway they are 4 km away – but I found a problem to get to them from the motorway. The trouble with that is that when he gets back on the motorway to travel further, he will pay again and the sum of both payments is more than that of doing it in one shot. At least, to my experience. Maybe there is some easy solution – I don’t want to exaggerate the thing. In the evening we shared a local beer, Krakelingen (cookies from the Netherlands) and my traditional Oranjebitter.

 December 28

Next morning, December 28, I walked a tiny bit towards the national road. This road currently has the number 92, it is the former 2. Perhaps one car passed by. Speed of cars 80-120 kmh. But stopping would be okay, because there was a lot of space next to the road. Last time here, years ago, I had a lift directly to Warsaw after waiting 30 minutes. This time I waited one minute before a trucker picked me up. I had hope that he would choose the national road for a long way. The driver taking the A2 at Nowy Tomysl didn’t come as a surprise. The national road may be cheaper. But on that stretch it also means driving through one of the biggest cities of the country: Poznań. After 200 km or so my driver managed to find me a next driver, another truck driver. To do so he used CB Radio, a communication system for car and truck drivers. So for the next ride I had 0 minutes of waiting time. I got into the new truck, which was the one driving exactly in front of us. This driver was going to Błonie, a town some 30 km west of Warsaw. He dropped me at a bus stop in Błonie, on the national road 92 (or 2).

Błonie, Market Square

I stretched my thumb at the end of town – 7 minutes later I got a lift of some eight or ten kilometers to a bus stop where cars passed at 80-100 kmh and therefore small chances. A bus came, I decided to get in. I applied the “whatever comes first”-method. This method means trying to get a car, but taking public transport whenever that shows up. It didn’t take long before a bus appeared, so I flagged it down. I was expecting to be able to buy a ticket from the bus driver, but he didn’t take my zloty and told me to get into the bus. I wasn’t sure now what I was doing. Was I hitchhiking a bus? Was I using the bus illegally? Did the bus driver give me permission to use the bus without a ticket? I got off in Ostrów Mazowiecki, paid 6 zloty for a train ticket to Warsaw Sródmieście, waited 45 minutes and hopped in the train. The same train – for the word – I would have taken from Blonie had I decided to stop there.

December 27-28

The next day the journey continued to Białystok. But from Warsaw to Białystok I didn’t hitchhike. I didn’t travel alone either. My travel companion Katarzyna had joined. She calls herself Kaśka. We took a bus of the low cost operator PolskiBus. If booked well in advance through internet ticket prices are very low for this coach. So low even, that hitchhiking for the cause of saving spendings makes little or no sense. I didn’t write that hitchhiking doesn’t make sense. Saving money isn’t the only motivator to hitchhike.

PolskiBus.com

It had been seven years since I last travelled to Białystok. Longer ago I used to travel more often in the eastern province of Podlasie. We stayed a few days in Białystok. On the second day of our stay we practiced a bit of practical spontaneous hitchhiking. That would be much quicker as waiting for some infrequent bus. We had just completed a pleasant hike through fields, through the forest and in the town of Supraśl. This town was described to us as the most interesting place in Białystok by our hosts. However, it is situated ten kilometers from Białystok. Supraśl has a monastery where male monks reside. To the wish of Katarzyna we visited museum of Orthodox icons, most of them dating from the 19th and 20th centuries. Getting a lift from Ogrodniczki to Białystok merely required stretching our arm for a second or two. On the pic: an Orthodox icon from Supraśl.

A guy younger than us took us to Białystok and we headed for our hosts’ place. On the way we passed by the old railway station Białystok Fabryczne – an ugly, abandoned place now. But, with little doubt, once a beating heart of social life and public transportation in the northern part of the city. Time has changed. Cars are not only more convenient than trains; they are most of all much better for the development of the economy. The Holy <censored> Economy!

31 December

On the last day of 2012 we headed on towards the Polish-Lithuanian border region. Our destination was the home of friends where I last stayed some six or seven years ago, a wooden house, a few kilometers from the Lake Gaładuś.

Gaładuś Lake

As planned, we went by hitchhiking. On this journey most of the hitchhiking was planned several weeks in advance. The advantage is that good preparation is possible. For hitchhiking that’s only needed if time is limited. A disadvantage is that bad weather conditions can make a journey difficult and harsh. Often public transport can provide a (reasonable) alternative to hitchhiking – but not always. An example of this is our journey from Białystok to Krasnowo, a tiny village north of Sejny over a distance of about 140 kilometers. Buses on the last ten, 12 kilometers or so ride a few times per day. Although proper websites for planning public transport are available in Poland, there don’t seem to be pleasant connections for this journey. Now there are good connections from Białystok to Augustów, but that doesn’t mean that hitchhiking isn’t fun or can’t be interesting. Hitchhiking – an alternative for public transport or public transport – an alternative for hitchhiking?

Białystok

Białystok to Krasnowo, that’s 140 km more or less. Six or seven years ago I did exactly the same trip, alone. This time our starting point would be the same as the one previous time. Last time it took me 1 minute to flag a driver to Augustów. Two guys in a yellow Honda, the rear window too low to let me sit straight, and they speeded up to around 150 kmh. I was drinking a beer on the backseat. Believe me, I drink rarely while hitchhiking. I offered these guys cakes. They dropped me in Augustów right at the national road towards Sejny and further towards Vilnius. We took the same bus as I did last time to get to the edge of town. The situation had changed in the meantime as the road had been expanded. But the little spot where drivers could stop, actually a small side street on the national road, was still there. Photo: Augustów.

This time we waited a bit longer. I happily waved to all passing cars and trucks showing a sign saying Augustów. One driver eventually stopped in the tiny road. My notes mention a wait of 25 minutes. He took us to Sztabin, the tiny town just over the Biebrza River.

Biebrza River

In Sztabin we flagged down a car on the straight road in five minutes. The couple already inside dropped us right in the center of town. We had to walk out to hitchhike further on the road towards Sejny. There we had the second “long” wait of the day – 20 minutes of waiting and we got picked up for a lift of 20 km. On this spot as well as on the next drivers from smaller side roads gave us lifts. It’s easier for them to stop, and their curiosity might be more tempted. “Who is hitchhiking at the end of the little road I feel connected with? Maybe I know their friends?”. And so we were in Sejny.

Sejny, former dominicans closter

We found the way for the smaller road towards Krasnowo. Stretching thumb while walking, a police man told me to walk on the sidewalk on the other side of the road. A little later I got back on my spot, flagged down a car, and the driver stopped a few meters further, next to the police man, to ask for the way to Krasnowo. And we were dropped in front of the place we were going to.

Few days later

After a couple of days it was time to move on. Our next host was living in Meteliai, a village in the nearby region in Lithuania. I had thought to hitchhike towards the big old main border crossing (more or less via Sejny) but our host came up with an idea I hadn’t thought of. We chose that idea. The suggested way was crossing the border at the small crossing immediately north of the Lake Gaładuś. We had been there on foot already. Off we went. The day started with some light rain and a temperature of around +2 Celsius. Now the new border crossing is small and tiny – the road towards this crossing for the better part not hardened. On the photo: Meteliai.

After going an hour or so on foot in direction of our destination we reached the border. No cars had passed going our direction. Two had passed in the other direction. We could have tried a lift with those. We kept following our way over the smaller crossing. Another half an hour later we walked on the Lithuanian side when suddenly a car appeared. It stopped, almost blocking two other cars also going our way. During 90 minutes there was nothing and then 3 cars within a minute or two! Ninety minutes, but we were picked up by the first car! The driver was going to fill up his car in Lazdijaj, a small town, and we were lucky his favorite petrol station was right there where we could hitchhike further in direction of Seirijai and Alytus.

Now, it wasn’t the first driver to stop. We stood at a bus stop that was too far from the junction for my likings. The drivers were too fast already, but there was lots of space for them to stop. After ten minutes a woman appeared, trying to hitchhike a hundred meters closer to the junction. Another ten minutes later a bus appeared. The woman wanted to take it, but it didn’t go where she wanted. I also asked for a ride from the bus, but I honestly mentioned that I didn’t have Lithuanian money. All three hitchhikers stayed where they were, but now me and Katarzyna walked back to the junction, some 200 meters back, and a minute or two later a driver stopped. A second car stopped at the same time for the other hitchhiker. Our driver was on the way to Alytus, but he made a little detour for us, and he brought us to the front door of our host in Meteliai. Meteliai is the biggest village in a protected area called Meteliai Regional Park. The area is in Lithuania these days, but has been part of Poland before the Polish borders were changed at the end of WWII. We were lucky to be in touch with a guy who could let us stay for several days, and show us interesting places in the regional park. Inside the park are three rather big lakes [Meteliai, Obelija, Dusia) including the third biggest lake of Lithuania [Dusia].

Lake Dusia

Also there is an old forest where the only Lithuanian population of Sessile oak grows.

Time to go back

I and Kaśka crossed this forest on the day we left Meteliai. At the end of the walk, we reached the bigger road near Seirijaj. Soon a car with a couple of our age stopped, and we got a lift back to Lazdijaj. When we left the car I got a short glance at the legs of the lady, garnished by panties, and my male brain cells couldn’t help to analyze the glimpse as pleasant – even excitatory. We were dropped in the best spot to hitchhike in Lazdijaj in the direction of Augustów, Warsaw, even Amsterdam if I wish to exaggerate. Indeed, the second or third car, a big black Volvo driven by some kind of businessman, stopped. It couldn’t take us to Augustów though. We got in as the least we could get to was the Polish border. We decided to go along to Suwalki, where the driver was going, which meant making a detour. But then hitchhiking is free, so detours are like little presents or little extras. So we went over the regional road from Sejny to Suwałki, through Krasnopol and the northern tip of Wigry National Park. An important road for freight transport runs through Suwałki, the road connecting Warsaw with Kaunas, Riga, Tallinn, Finland and the adjacent part of Russia.

Wigry National Park

We were along that road, which was quite noisy, on a bus stop where the drivers of cars and even trucks could easily stop. But nobody stopped for a while. When we raised thumbs at a nearby crossing with a less good place to stop, we soon got a lift from a woman around our age or slightly higher. She took us to the central square of Augustów. It was nice to experience the road Suwalki – Augustów again after about seven years. I pointed Kaśka shortly at the forest on the horizon, the forest of the now well known Rospuda River Valley, without wanting to provoke a discussion about the attempts to construct a main road straight through it.

Rospuda River

Once, in 2001, I got a lift in that forest, when I asked foresters for the way into the forest, as I walked on a not very detailed map. They told me to jump in their Lada Niva, and brought me to a spot where I could go on with my mission. You know, I love the forest. Augustów wasn’t the goal of the day. Kaśka was going to take a bus here to Warsaw for which we arrived well on time. She alluded on finding a driver to take her to Warsaw or perhaps just to Białystok. We walked around the park, we hugged goodbye and she got on the bus.

My goal for the day was staying with some people in Macharce, a small village in the Puszcza Augustowska wood complex. The village is situated along the main road from Augustów to Vilnius, so I expected it to be quite easy to get a lift there. And so it was. I waited perhaps twenty minutes – with quite a few drivers passing by with an uninterested facial expression. Then I got a lift of my oldest driver of this journey. He could take me to my goal except for the last 2,5 kilometers or so. I just had to follow the asphalted road, he said. And that was right. I could follow the main road. After sunset, but the land covered with old snow, I walked some field tracks for a better experience of the countryside, and to stay away from the noise of the motorized vehicles on the main road. I think the road Augustów – Sejny looked busier now as it was in 2004. And logically it would be so.

I spent a couple of okay days in and around the house in Macharce to which I had invited myself. The male host (of the couple) used to be a forest guard in the Puszcza Knyszyńska (Knyszyński Forest) wood complex and my room looked like a little forest itself.

Puszcza Knyszyńska

In the living room several heads of Roe deer and Red deer were hanging on the wall, and the big teeth of a wild boar. Besides that a collection of butterflies and various other insects pinned on a board of styrofarm – as a classical entomological collection. The room was very dark at night, how it should be, at least in my opinion. Why did civilization have to destroy this in the bigger part of Western Europe?

 Towards Warsaw

At the morning I left there was a passenger bus further on the sandy road which connects the houses in Macharce. As I got near the bus, I saw that it wasn’t operated as a passenger bus anymore. It had been transformed into a mobile shop of the kind I know from my own country. I know them from my youth mostly, but they probably still run in small villages in the Netherlands. Anyway, it took me 10 minutes to get to the main road with cars passing at around 90-100 kmh. It didn’t hurt to stretch my thumb and after another ten minutes I reached the crossing of smaller side roads. Still most of the traffic passed by at a high pace. Nobody stopped, yet. A man on the way to the bus stop, 200 meter after the crossing, told me a bus would come soon. Otherwise it was quiet among the trees. A huge number of signs of local guestrooms and local tourist attractions, revealed the “green touristic” appeal of the region. A car appearing from the side road stopped for me and I got a lift to Augustów. My destination today was Warszawa and so I was 20 kilometers on the way.

In Augustów I walked out of town to the roundabout at the southern edge of the city. I could stretch my thumb there, but preferred walking another 20 minutes, until after the next crossing, where traffic towards Białystok and cars towards Warszawa split. During that walk there were some border guardians on the way, which asked me for my passport and the purpose of my presence. I got to the next crossing, which was also a roundabout, and I walked to one of those huge and ugly advertising objects that capitalistic Poland is “blessed” with. I peed on the lower part of the construction, drunk some thermos bottle tea and selected the sign Warszawa. I’ve prepared these signs all before the journey, and printed them at the office where I work. Photo: logo of Polish Border Guards.

The center of Warsaw was some 250 kms further, but the spot was great. It looked easy to get a long lift, but the chance is there that a driver stops to take you halfway, or much less than that. One can try to prevent that, e.g. by not thumbing when cars pass with plates revealing local or regional destinations. Anyway whatsoever, it took 15 minutes before a Lithuanian driver pulled over. In his Skoda Superb he would take me to the capital of Poland. It took perhaps one thirds of the length of the ride before the driver found out, or was curious enough to learn, where I was from. Until that point we had been talking in Russian and poor Polish, the driver and me respectively. This was a fast and efficient ride, which beat the pace and certainly the cost of taking a bus – although I would not say that buses are expensive in Poland. Hitching at 160 kmh on a Voivodship road was a new speed record for this type of Polish tarmac. I had imagined a ride over Ostrołęka –Pułtusk, but the driver took the way Łomża – Ostrów Mazowiecka and further over national road 8, through the Puszcza Biala (Biała Forest) wood complex, to the east of Warsaw.

In Warsaw I jumped on the first approaching tram without a ticket – because I didn’t have any – and got off at the stop Gdanski Bridge, right on the west bank of the Vistula river. With a couple of hours left to my appointment, I crossed the bridge and walked over the east banks of the Vistula River, opposite the city center. I took a few nice shots of sunset behind the old center of Warsaw.

Old Town in Warsaw

Nice shots? I think nice but I have not seen the results of making these photos yet! For a few more days I was in Warszawa, staying with Kaska again. The last day I made a big walk from the train station Janówek to Jablonna, through an interesting forest situated between these two places. My acquaintance Martyna received me well to a pleasant and comfortable house. It was time for the homeward journey.

 Bye bye Poland!

Since this story is about hitchhiking experiences in Poland during my recent winter holiday, I think it is fine to tell how I got home exactly. Martyna brought me in her mum’s Skoda Fabia to a bus stop. Just in time to buy a ticket, we said goodbye and I hopped on the bus. The bus took me to metro station Marymont, I took the metro to Wilanowska metro station. There I checked in for an overnight bus to Berlin (PolskiBus.com). Photo: Marymont metro station.

In Berlin I got off at the Zentraler Omnibusbahnhof (Central Bus station). That was where hitchhiking home would start, although I had hoped to get out of the bus somewhere close to the Polish border, on a parking next to the motorway. I didn’t, because the bus didn’t make a rest stop. There are some known spots to hitchhike out of Berlin near the Central Bus station.

Photo: Zentraler Omnibusbahnhof

A good source for hitchhiking spots is online on www.hitchwiki.org.  and it’s derivative http://maps.hitchwiki.org. However, I didn’t know the exact place to be. I got on a city train (S-Bahn) to Westkreutz and then to Grunewald as there is one of the best places to leave Berlin on thumb. At the A115 petrol station Grunewald (close to the old East- and West-German border checkpoint Dreilinden) I walked around and asked around for a ride for quite a while. I also asked the one Russian car, whom I communicated with in my chicken Polish. Most drivers were actually going into Berlin.

Now I’m also keen on our native birds, but I had not seen too many interesting species. Partially, because of the cloudy weather, and birds keep more silent then. It was exactly on Grunewald that I spotted Waxwings, a typical winter observation for Central Europe. To me the observation felt like a little present! Then I asked one driver and he was actually passing Michendorf, the first petrol station on the main motorway to the west of Germany, and after I got in he appeared to be able to take me some ten times further, to close to Koblenz exactly. From there I had 200 kilometers left. Not bad, although I consider another road – over Hannover and Bielefeld – a better one for hitchhiking home to Maastricht. I took the lift in the transportation van and the driver kept a pace of around 130-140 kmh. Photo: the Waxwing.

Koblenz, so we’re back in the daily reality and the hard to understand fears of Western Europeans.

Koblenz

And for some, their dependence on digital navigation systems and their inability to know what roads they drive, as such decisions are not made by them, but by their holy digital devices. Yes, I quite quickly got a lift to the petrol station Siegburg and as previous times, it took quite a lot of time to find drivers going towards Aachen or Venlo and willing to take me. It’s not just that many were driving different ways, have I mentioned that drivers in prosperous and densely inhabited regions tend to be so anxious, that they fear taking a stranger in their car?

But I got a lift from a pretty Dutch lady on the way back to Tilburg in the Netherlands. If she would drive the A4 via Frechen-Venlo or some other way, she didn’t know, because of the holy navigation system. But anyway, if not, it meant getting to around Eindhoven, which would be much better as staying in Siegburg, and the companionship seemed to be pleasant and so it was. I still wasn’t home – she dropped me at a petrol station on the A58 near Tilburg. An easy spot to get a lift towards Eindhoven or just the next petrol station (still before Eindhoven), where I needed just that little luck to get on the A2 to Maastricht. With a sense of realism, knowing the consideration of luck and likeliness, I accepted a lift in a brand new white car to the central station in Eindhoven. Without having to wait I just could jump in the next train to Maastricht and finally I checked in for the local bus to get back to my own little palace.

Maastricht, railwaystation

Frank Verhart

About Frank Verhart

Environmentalist, a nature lover and traveler, who likes Poland much. He graduated from the Hogeschool Larenstein, Velp Gld. (the largest “green” university in the Netherlands). In 2002 he worked for few months at Geobotanical Station at the University of Warsaw Geobotanical, dealing (among others) with land development project around the Białowieża.

Jedziemy autostopem“, Karin Stanek

 Foto: Vikimedia Commons, Tomasz Lipka, www.pkpk.wrotapodlasia.pl