Utrecht to Venice? 16 hours? Hitchhiking? No problem.

9am and similar to the last hitchhike I had to wake Klementina as we had to go buy all our snacks from town. Before we’d both had a busy midterms and so had no time to prepare anything. But it was ok we were professionals now.

However the 10am plan to leave for town as usual went out the window as Tina still had two laundries to do as well as email people and pack! At least I had done that.

10.30 am and with Tina having put a load of laundry on we were in town grabbing some sandwiches for lunch. It was open day on campus which means we got a packed lunch rather than the usual brunch. Thus we decided to have lunch in town and take brunch with us for dinner. Genius.

Whilst cycling around we were very happy to see the first emerging daffodils and other flowers. Spring was on its way and we were very glad of it too. We did the usual UCU thing of breaking unspoken language barriers and discussed the English names for flowers, snow drop (Tina’s favourite), daisy, bluebells and daffodils (with the extra fun factoid of being the national flower of Wales – so international!)

We got some things in Hema and I had to go to the V&D to get some super cool sunglasses that I had wanted to get for the prom but then they were an impulse buy and now, as I’d been thinking about them since then, it wasn’t. They will feature heavily in the upcoming photos. Realising we might miss the end of brunch, which dining hall are insanely mean about if you do i.e. no food for you if you’re one minute late, we had to rush through Albert Heijn. We made it. Dining hall guy locking the door when it was time to close so you couldn’t get in even if you wanted too. Meanies.

At 1pm, departure time, we were all ready to go. No. Obviously not. Tina still had lots to do so we met for the group photo and got our destination, but unfortunately it would be 2pm before we left. Our chances were high as we set off on the hitchhiking competition an hour behind everyone else…

Our plan was to go to Bunnik and walk to a service station on the A12 near there towards Koln. This was an adventure in itself as I had no idea where this place was and only information from google maps and hitckwiki to go on. It was especially difficult when the bus driver gets confused when you ask him if he was going near a petrol station. Luckily a kind lady on the bus understood we were planning to hitchhike and told the bus driver where to drop us and how to get to the highway. It was a bit of a trek but we eventually made it to the Texaco petrol station. We had to cross a train track on the way which was a little dangerous but we survived. Now to start the hitchhike. We prepared ourselves and approached the first car.

Tina did most of the talking and then suggested I should have a go too. “Hi, are you..”, I started to say. “We’re going to Arnhem, do you want to come?” he said. A little stunned by not having to negotiate, I said of course and called Tina over. Lifts secured Nichola: 1 Tina:0. Lift 1 – 3 Dutch Guys, Shooters (as Tina put them in our book, but I think they’d prefer to be cameramen). They were really cool and were filming an advert for some Dutch construction company. It was in the style of “Kids say the Darndest Things” which sounds really fun to film. We gave them the website for this so hopefully they will read this sometime – hey guys, thanks for lift, read on to see how we did ;). They dropped us outside Arnhem and on a road towards Germany. Confusing the sign to Koln also pointed to Utrecht, but this was because there was a roundabout ahead.

There were fewer people at this station, but we had the advantage of knowing which cars were German by their license plates. We decided to split, me with the Koln sign out by the road and Tina talking to the people who stopped. It didn’t take that long, probably 15 minutes. Tina called me over. She had found Lift 2 – German old couple who could take us to Koln. Nichola: 1 Tina: 1.

Here Tina decided to prove her excellent German skills she was raving about when we went to San Sebastian. Unfortunately her Spanish on the French/ Spain border was better. We weren’t that skilled at German and even couldn’t remember useful words like petrol station, as learning from previous mistakes, people have to drop you off at one before the town you’re getting to. After a fumble of language exchange we had been told Tankstelle and our message was clear.

[Our lovely German driver]

Arriving we were in for a surprise. A fellow UCUer who told us the grand news that this was a terrible petrol station and people had been stuck here before us for all of 30 minutes! Tina and I realised he was new to this – 30 minutes is nothing – you should try 6 hours whilst having to try and sleep in the freezing cold on a roundabout while you are only 10km from your destination, that is “stuck”!  We weren’t pessimistic though. The UCUer had already secured their lift and so it was just us and the station.

I asked someone if they’re going to Frankfurt? No. I saw a guy who looked a bit dodgy, but I thought I would ask anyway as he’d probably say No. Oh dear, he’s not saying no. But he’s not saying yes either? What is he saying? I eventually say its okay as I am understanding he can take us, I just don’t understand the finer details. I call Tina over. Are we really going with this guy? Apparently we are. We get in the car and he comes back with two drinks for us. Are they poison? We say “thank you” and start to talk map to him. Map is an international language everyone understands. He says he is going to Limburg which is a city between Koln and Frankfurt. That’s fine and we set off. Lift 3 – Rap Loving Nice Guy, Nichola:2 Tina:1. 

[After this I was told not to take any more sneaky pictures of drivers as I could tell he was a bit annoyed]

He does love the rap, and he also loves to drive a bit fast, but we are not fussed. We’re a little concerned about the juice, but when we see him drink his we are reassured and it’s good. I feel bad for thinking he was dodgy, but Tina enlightens me she thought similar so I don’t feel so bad. We get to Limburg and start trying to find our next lift to Frankfurt. We are happy as we know we are not an hour behind everyone anymore. We’re doing well. We ask a few people going into the shop, then Tina approaches some guys in broken German: “Entchuldigung, fahren sie vieleicht nach Frankfurt?”

They look confused and say something to each other in not-German. Tina perks up and switches languages. Turns out they said they didn’t speak German in Bosnian, but now they understand her. She persuades them with her Balkan charm to take us to Frankfurt. Lift 4 – epic Bosnian Guys. Nichola: 2 Tina:2.

Unfortunately I am not blessed with a Slavic tongue so do not follow what was being said, but I did know we were progressing well through Germany.  Tina talked to them and learned they were working in Germany and were now headed to Frankfurt to have fun on their day-off. They knew lots of people driving home to Bosnia for the weekend who could easily drop us off in Innsbruck – unfortunately they had all gone on Friday and not Saturday. Ah well, Frankfurt is not bad wither. We get out at Frankfurt and survey the area. I consider using the toilet when another surprise happens. The people who left before us at Koln were just arriving. We’re awesome. “How long have you been here?”. “5 minutes” we reply. We ask them where they were heading. Munich they say. We were heading to Wurzburg. I ask a lady filling up her car. She speaks to me in English, yay we can converse. She says she’s going that way but is not sure if it’s good for us so Tina brings over the map. They chat for a while. “Shall I ask these other people?” I ask Tina. There’s no reply so I go for it anyway. “Entschuldigung, fahren Sie nach Wurzburg?”, “Ja”. “Tina she’s going to Wurzburg!”. We thank the other lady and say our commiseration to the others. “It’s fine”, they say, “we have a better chance when you’re gone”.

We hit the road with Lift 5 – German Lady (we’re not very creative with names as we couldn’t talk to them to gain any other information..). Nichola: 3 Tina:2. We have the Tankstelle conversation, but then we see that it’s only 8pm and her sat nav is saying 11pm. Wurzburg isn’t that far away. Where is she going? I recognize that the hanging doll in her car looks like what my grandma brought me from Austria – hey, she might even be going to Innsbruck! We ask. “Munich”. A light bulb flashes above my head. I went to Munich on a trip round Lichtenstein and we came from Innsbruck, Austria, so it’s not that far between the two. We see the map and Tina gets the same brain wave too. “Can we go with you?”, “Ja”. Amazing. We feel a little bad as this is the exact lift the other team needed and they could have got it so easily as we we’re talking to the other lady. But it’s their loss. I try to have a little sleep, though we have been progressing at such speed through Germany that we have hardly had time to eat or go to the toilet. Part way through Tina asks if we can stop for the toilet. “5km” she says. Tina is in doubt: Did she say fünf (5), fünfzehn (15) or fünfzig (50). She sincerely hopes for the first. Turns out she actually said 50km so when we got to the McCafe Tina was bursting. We were very grateful for this stop and ate our pack lunch sandwiches as we set off again. Munchen bound.

During this time we receive the text from TripCo giving our current positions. We are winning!! We were gobsmacked, how could we be winning?! We looked at the map and saw the others must be at Nuremberg. We are quite ahead. We celebrate, but we are remain focused and with our eyes on the game keep driving along the A3.

At Munchen we are now on the lookout for Austrian plates on the way to Innsbruck. We ask a few cars and Tina asks a blonde girl. She is going in that direction, but not to Austria, but can take us to a better petrol station leading to Austria, we are happy with this and make the short trip round the Munchen ring road. Lift 6 – Blonde, Cute German Girl. Nichola:3 Tina:3. Tina comments that German girls are definitely cool. Here, this was our second woman giving us a ride – in France, we were hardly picked up by men, let alone women.

It is now quite late, around midnight, and we consider that this petrol station will be the one we’ll be sleeping at this evening. We eat a few snacks and check out the place. It’s quite big with some petrol pumps and then a car and lorry park to the side. There isn’t much incoming traffic so I decide to go see if any of the trucks could take us. I also saw a car with Dutch plates go over there, so I go after them, but they drive away too quickly. I ask a truck driver coming back from the cafe if he can take us. “Sorry, pause” he says. So no trucks for us then, we really are going to be sleeping here.

I go back and tell Tina the bad news. We are still trying though and Tina asks a few more cars. She calls me over, very excited. “Oh my God, guess where she’s going?”, “Innsbruck?”, “Ljubljana!” . This is ironic as this is where we plan to go in Slovenia after Venice. “Is it on the way?” “She can drop us off here” (Tina points to the map, we follow her finger from Ljubljana to Venice, doesn’t look that long.), “Looks good, let’s go!”.

Lift 7 – Slovenian Girl. Nichola: 3 Tina: 4. They speak in English to start but eventually switch to er… one of the Balkan languages? I decided to spend most of my trip sleeping in the back, so it didn’t matter. She has had a meeting in Munchen and is now driving back home. What a journey to take, especially when she won’t be arriving back till the early hours. For this we are a little glad as we won’t be sleeping outside for this time. They talk. I sleep. Tina learned that they’re lots of amazing places in Slovenia that need to be seen. They discussed how the euro-crisis is felt in Slovenia, why doesn’t Slovenia share the same Balkan mentality as the other ex-Yugoslavian countries and so on. Eventually Tina got sleepy too, but she felt bad to fall asleep while the woman needed the conversation to keep her awake driving in the middle of the night. I am told we’ve just gone through a really long tunnel which had the border in the middle. It was really cool, apparently. I missed it. But we were in Slovenia! So amazing! We never thought we’d be anywhere close to our destination at this time. We were very happy. Near the cross roads where we stop for coffee – poor girl she needed a lot on this journey – and Tina says there is a better junction just outside Ljubljana and on the map it is the direct road to Venice. Looked good to me. Tina makes arrangements and we get another hour of not sleeping outside. The woman decides to drive for us a bit further north of Ljubljana just so that she can drop us off at a petrol station exactly at the motorway for Italy.

We arrive and get out, it was surprisingly warm, we’d be happy to sleep here a few hours till the more likely being picked up time of 6am. But there are some cars here AND one of them has Italian plates! Our victim, an unsuspecting, chubby Italian is filling his car with petrol. While still thanking the Slovenian woman, still dizzy from the trip, we slowly approach him from the side. We ask, “Skuzi, Venzia?”, “Si”, he signals to the car. Unbelievable! We hug. Its 5am. We don’t have to sleep outside this night. We have our final ride to Venice. We will be there in an hour. It had all gone so well. Lift 8 – Italian Guy. Nichola: 3 Tina: 5. (I thought she only won by one, but turns out to be two!). We are excited we enjoy the ride, I sleep and we watch the sun rising. We get into Venice at 6am. The saying of the trip “If we had organized lifts ourselves, it wouldn’t have gone that smoothly”. Average speed for the trip – 90.5km/h (56mph). 16 hours.

But it wasn’t over yet we had to get to the hostel, the official end of the competition. We had to get a boat there from San Marco Square. We just had to find San Marco. We asked the driver and he pointed us in the direction. Unfortunately Venice is a lot bigger than I remember from the school trip I went on. So many streets, are we going the right way? It can’t be that far. Do I recognise anything? No. We ask a nun. She says to take a boat taxi. The guy there says its €6.50 to get to San Marco and we are better off walking there. We go back to where we asked the nun and see a sign for San Marco Square. We follow these for what seems like forever. Venice is a place you definitely need a local or a map for. We eventually get there very hot and sweaty. We don’t like San Marco.

We find the boats and are confused by which to get and how to buy a ticket. We try to ask an old lady. Language barrier. We just decide to wait. A boat arrives and we get on. €6.50 for two stops, a 10 minute journey, a rip-off. We have to go though. An hour after we arrive in Venzia we are at the hostel, 7am. Is there anyone else here? Any UCUers? There isn’t. We’ve WON!!!!

We have an awkward conversation with the receptionist where we say we don’t want to pay yet and wait for the others. We actually plan to couch surf as the place is €20 a night, although we don’t have a host yet. We collapse on a table. We discuss our epic adventure. We cannot believe what just happened. Everyone around us is eating breakfast. I pull out a salad and Tina with only one hours sleep the whole journey (her plan to sleep in cars failed) has a nap on the table. We await the others. We send our morning text and wait for the reply. At 11am we receive where the others are. The next team is 126 km away. We work this out to be Verona. Not that far.

The next team doesn’t arrive till 3pm.

[Our route]

UCU Hitchhike Competition Champions Spring 2012 – Nichola and Klementina. Spongebob 2.0.

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6 thoughts on “Utrecht to Venice? 16 hours? Hitchhiking? No problem.

  1. Thank-you Nichola. It was well written, with just a hint of wry hunour, I almost felt i was travelling with you. Looking forward, very much, to the next episode. Grumpyfizzgogg.

  2. Your crazy Nichola! 😀
    Swear you should like Hitchhike across space
    Like in that book
    I think it was called Hitchhiker Lost In Space

  3. Pingback: “Glowing Embers Lie Across The Sky” « 354 miles from home

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