Stockholm Archipelago – Boating and Sunsets in Sweden

We we’re in for a treat. Jonas’ local bakery had the title of the fourth best bakery in the world! Before we had gone to the supermarket to get some supplies for boating on the Archipelago latter. Here we saw for  real the Swedes ideas about buying alcohol. Supermarkets are only allowed to stock beer up to a maximum of 3.5%! If you want anything stronger then there is only one shop in Sweden, which is state owned,  where you can get it. Luckily cans of Rekorderlig (strawberry and lime flavoured cider) were below 3.5% so I could introduce Klementina later on.

We bought other picnic nibbles and now it was time to go to the bakery. Jonas bought some amazing olive bread, apple bread and croissants. In the shop Jonas told us that Swedes love queuing where I was a little offended about as that’s a British thing! Klementina and I also bought some nice Swedish pastries. We ate the bread with cheese and an amazing jam. It was all delicious.

[Klementina modelling the tasty olive bread]

[Klementina’s pastry]

[My custard pastry]

As normal we were rushing to get the T-bahn to central Stockholm. After this we needed to catch a bus out of the city again to where Tobias lived, the couch surfer who had organised the boating event on the archipelago. We arrived at the destination 30 minutes late after all the other guests had already been picked up and taken to the house. We had to wait for Tobias to come back to the bus stop, but now he had no transport, hence we continued the theme of the trip and hitchhiked from the road. We got a lift fairly soon from Lift 10 – Non-Swedish guy who went to Thailand. Nichola:3 Klementina: 6 Tobias:1. We were surprised to get this lift as Jonas had told us a story where he was hosting some girls who wanted to hitchhike to Norway and back, but no one picked them up for hours and in the end a police car did and took them home.

When we arrived we were amazed by the site that greeted us. Tobias’ house (well not really his as he was an au pair) was amid a forest and sat right on the edge of the archipelago, where you could look across and see all the other islands around you. It was beautiful. Tobias had managed to get quite a group together with couch surfers from Iran (Nona), China (Li Di), Hawaii and three Germans. Tobias himself is English and from Okehampton in Devon (the same county my university is, and my grandpa lives).

Up to this time I was curious what kind of boat we would be using and it turned out to be a rowing boat. We couldn’t all fit inside it and so there were discussions about whether people should just potter around in the boat as they wished or go with the original plan of rowing to an island, even though it would take two trips because of the group size. I tried to steer the decision and whether it worked or not what I wanted happened. Next stop that island over there! However we stayed in the group to go second, hence I ran over to the rocks and started to climb and explore. Klementina came too. Our group decided to walk around the bank to a closer pier to make Tobias’ rowing easier. We took the adventurous climbing route and the Germans took the more conservative one. Klementina said how this was a trait of theirs and they reminded us of Alex from campus.

[Our supermarket beer]

[My favourite picture]

We enjoyed a cheap supermarket beer and awaited Tobias’ return. Soon we were in the boat being rowed across the sea. It was great. Then we were on the island. What to do now? We grabbed another beer and explored of course. We thought no one else was on the island but there turned out to be others in the house there. We chatted and also chatted amongst ourselves too. Also learning more facts;

  • Tobias gets paid €350 a month as an au pair plus he gets somewhere to live and food as well. It sounded like a dream job as he was basically hired because he could speak English i.e. he could teach the children.
  • Chi Tea isn’t Russian, it’s Chinese.
  • The woods nearby contained foxes, hare, deer and – in the north – moose.
  • Not every 18-21 year old goes to uni – this is obvious, but we didn’t consider it as an option when talking to Tobias as he was our age and we were trying to work out how he had managed to live and do so many things that we listed on his couch surfing profile. We are very jealous of his life. We were also jealous of everyone else’s as they were able to travel whilst at uni, unlike at UCU.
  • “Hi” means shark in Swedish so there is a joke that some Swedes are in the sea, but there is a shark in the water and they are shouting “Hi, hi!” to shore, but the people on the shore just wave back!
  • Tobias had a good experience hitchhiking in France, which is in complete contrast to our experience.
  • The guy from Hawaii even more surprisingly was told it was illegal to hitchhike in the Netherlands and didn’t manage to get a lift between Delft and Bonn. Even crazier he was also told he had to sign in with a Dutch police station when he arrived. This might be true in Macedonia, but in the Netherlands? No.
  •  There are no public toilets in Sweden and you have to find a MacDonalds if you want to use one. Well there are, but you don’t want to use them, Tobias used one and found a plucked and skinned goose remains inside!
  •  It’s illegal to drink in public in Sweden, but no one cares. “In Croatia it’s very illegal.”
  • The UK and Sweden share all the same nautical terms because of the Vikings.
  • Klemenetina’s favourite question of the trip “Have you ever been to Bulgaria?” when she lives in Macedonia and they border each other!
It started to get chilly so we rowed ourselves back to shore. We then all venture into Tobias’ accommodation. It was really cool and like a tree house as you had to climb a ladder to get there. Here he had a special surprise for us as he was hatching chicken in the microwave! They were nearly ready to be born so when you shone a light through the egg you could see the chick inside. Tobias also said how beautiful the sunset was over the archipelago and we could believe that so Klementina, Nona and I decided to stay to watch it. It was so peaceful and nice to sit amongst all the nature and just take it all in. Especially as the next day we knew we’d be returning to UCU to a very hectic work schedule. Here Klementina made my favourite comment “How high up are we?” when we were sitting on a pier 30cm above the sea. I could see why she said this as we were around mountains and so you couldn’t tell it was the sea, it could’ve been a lake.

[Tobias’ home]

Nona was kind enough to offer to show us around Stockholm. On the way to catch the bus Tobias took us past the only Buddist temple in Sweden which was close by. We had excellent timing and caught our connecting buses by stepping off one and the next one arriving straight after. When in the city Nona showed us Gamla Stan (the main street), city hall and we walked along the port. It seemed such a contrast to the countries we’d been in and it felt a little boring. Perhaps this is because everywhere I had been this year was the Balkans and Central Europe so Stockholm just looked like London to me.  Hence not that exciting. Jonas had told us that the Swedish thing to do is to get Fika – which is what you do when “you go for coffee” i.e. have a warm drink and a little pastry. Klementina and I did this but it was insanely expensive. I spent €8 on a hot chocolate and a little cake.

[Klementina, Tobias and I]

[Klementina’s “fika”]

[My fika]

It was late so we thanked Nona, said goodbye and went back to Jonas’ place. Here we decided our plans for tomorrow to wake up early and walk into the city centre to see more of Stockholm and get our bus to the airport at about 11am. Our trip was almost over.

We also decided to watch a movie as Jonas had a home cinema system. He showed us a few Swedish films and we decided on “Let the Right One In”, as I knew my dad had raved about it and Hollywood had also done a remake “Let Them In”, so it must be good. I watched the very beginning but knew I would be falling asleep during and there I stayed until morning.

Advertisements

Ljubljana – How do you get there without a bus or train?

After waking up at 5.30am we get the 7am train to Trieste. However after this our plans for getting to Ljubljana stop. Hopefully there will be a bus into Slovenia from Trieste as it’s on the border but then again we thought there would be  a train between Venice and the closest capital city, Ljubljana too…

Tina snacks on some carrots and we take a little kip before we get to Trieste. On arrival we first go to the train information, who tells us that we would have to go back to where we came from AND change trains 3 times, taking 5 hours before we would get into Slovenia. It was extra silly as the station that would take us to Slovenia was only 14km away. It would make more sense for us to get a bus to that town, Sezana, and then the train from there. “The bus station is over there”.

[Trieste Station]

We check maps and ask prices for a bus to Sezena and Ljubljana. We decide to chance Sezena as this bus left before Ljubljana, but the Sezana bus was still 2 hours away. We kill time by trying to find the beach as it looked so beautiful on the way in. Unfortunately where we walked was more like a harbour than a beach, but we still enjoyed the sea.

Around the sea were some cars and so I suggested we should look at their plates to see if any were Slovenian or going in that direction. Most were obviously Italian. We first saw a guy exit his car and Tina asked if he was going to Slovenia, he was but he was also waiting in Trieste for his wife so he would also be a few hours. We thank him and walk along the car park some more. We see some more Slovenian plates and a lady inside the car pulling away. Tina knocks on the window and success! She lives in Nova Gorica but can drop us off at Gorizia on a road to Ljubljana. We jump in and forgive ourselves the €2.70 we lost on a bus ticket. Lift 9 –  Slovenian Business Lady. Nichola: 3 Tina:6. She tells us how she also went on exchange to Florida when she was at university. She loved it there, though as she was foreign she missed out on a lot of scholarships offered in her classes. I don’t think anyone ever regrets a year abroad.

We get dropped off at a petrol station – we’ve been here before, our hitchhiking tale was not over in Venice. Tina takes the pumps and I take the sign to wave passers-by in. True to Venice form in no time a truck pulls over and says he can take us. I call Tina over and off we go. Nichola:4 Tina:6. Lift 10 – Bosnian Truck Driver. We are quite excited by this lift as we didn’t manage to get a truck on the way to Venice, plus we had wanted to visit Bosnia afterwards but couldn’t due to time. He couldn’t speak English so Tina chatted to him. He explained the mystery to us about the Vignette. They have these things stuck on the windscreen that open the barrier and take money out of your account automatically when you go through. As a truck driver he has several, one for each country.

We must also visit “Postojnska jama” the caves we had seen on the way to Ljubljana the first time. He and Tina told me how in Yugoslavia there were many school trips to go see these beautiful things. Another thing he told us was that the road we were taking is often closed as it is a point where two air currents meet causing very strong winds that can even knock trucks off the road. It sounded very dangerous.


He dropped us off at Rudnik which is a big industrial estate outside Ljubljana. Here we decide to buy lunch and in so doing enter the biggest supermarket I have ever seen! It blew my mind and was not something I was expecting from little Slovenia. Among other things they had about four isles of cake and even more impressively it was full of different types of cake and not just the same type filling a whole section (Tesco!). All this cake meant we had to buy some so we ate it in the car park and texted Xena (our couch surfer) our location. We were only a bus ride away.

Here we learn Ljubljana buses are not our forte as we try to get on the first that comes but they say we need a special card, can’t use money and drives away. We then buy this card and wait for the next bus, however when we scan it a red light says were not allowed on. Luckily we bargain with the bus driver and he lets us get on without us having to wait for a third bus. We make it to the Filoza and meet Xena in the university where she is working at bar K16 there. We also meet her friend Natasha who shows us around the city.

We are blown away by Slovenia and Ljubljana. It is absolutely stunning. The scenery is gorgeous and Ljubljana has this small town feel not that it is the state capital of a country. Natasha studied architecture (alongside many of her other talents, studying Japanese, skateboarding, break dancing, belly dancing, playing violin, drums, recording with her band, though she hurt her foot so they had to wait a while for that. She was generally crazy but truly inspiring with what she has done with her life considering she was our age) so she tells us about all the beautiful Baroque buildings and other history of the city including;

Joze Plocnik is a famous architect who designed many of the buildings in Ljubljana such as Ursulinska Cerkev.

France Preseren was a composer and was in love with a girl Julija who was to become the unfulfilled love of his life as it would never become mutual. There is a statue of him in the city which faces a window where Julija used to live. A small statue of her is also there.

[Peresen]

The dragon is the national symbol of Ljubljana and is on their national coat of arms.

[Dragon Bridge]

[The castle reminds me a bit of Edinburgh castle]

Natasha then left us as she had to get to her Japanese class. Tina and I sat in the park and then returned to Xena’s flat to see if she had ideas for dinner, but she wasn’t there. In the end we asked her house mate for ideas, although we couldn’t find what she described. Our search for Slovenian food ended disastrously as we sat in a restaurant that said it served Goulash outside, however this was only at lunch time.  He gave us the menu and we ordered. Later we realised it was the same menu as the fast food place two doors down. We decided to not speak of this again and got some ice cream for pudding in another place.

We returned to Xena’s apartment and thankfully she was there this time. We chatted to her and she explained how that weekend was very important as there was a referendum being held in the country to allow gay marriages. Xena was at the front of the campaign in support of marriages and Tina and I agreed this was very cool.

We tried to look up trains and buses to Zagreb, but again it was ludicrous that there wasn’t more travel options. We decided to get up and have an early lunch the next day at a proper Slovenian place Xena had recommended to us. We’d then walk to the station and see what was going on. After we chatted some more, but I was falling asleep on the couch and Xena had to get up early the next day for work. We organised our sleeping quarters in Xena’s living room and slept. Tomorrow Zagreb, Croatia!

Venezia

As the next team arrive we have an exchange of confusion as they were not the team who was second on the text. They must still be in Verona. Turned out this couple, the organisers, had been stuck in Innsbruck (we were even more happy we went to Ljubljana then). We also had an awkward moment with the hostel owner as we had been waiting there for hours and using their internet, but hadn’t actually planned to stay with them. We’d used the internet to find a couch surfer, David. He wasn’t very impressed with our plans telling us it was illegal to use the internet without staying there? I’m sure it’s not.

We left as we were about to meet up with Paolo, at St. Marco Square, who had stayed over in Tina’s room for a MUN thing. The magic of the internet. We found him in the crowded square and explained we had to also go meet our couch surfer near the Academia bridge. We didn’t know where that was and with only a google map from Paolo we had fun trying to find it. David was also hosting some other couch surfers so it was a little more challenging as they were moving around too. We found David sitting on a well outside the Gallerie dell’ Accademia where the other couch surfers had gone to look at the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition. Tina said we must go there tomorrow, I said I don’t like fine art.

[On the boat to St. Marco]

Tina spotted “Grom Gelato” which she was very excited about, and as I said we needed to buy ice cream when we got there, we did exactly that. The other couch surfers, who were French, eventually emerged and we all had our greetings, including the kisses which you know exist, but forget about and are a little shocked as you think they are going in for a hug.

[The combination of our two hitchhikes – The San Sebastian Hotel in Venice]

We walk around the confusing streets enjoying the sun and chatting. We stop at a little cafe and get Spritzers, which are a traditional Venetian drink. It consists of white wine and a mixer such as Campari or Aperol. I wasn’t that taken as it tasted of wine, but Tina enjoyed it more. We chilled out by the canal and had a chat with everyone. 48 hours ago we were in Utrecht worrying about exams.

[Spritzer]

[David’s friend, David, Paolo, Me]

Paolo had to get the train home so after a stop at another bar to wait for the French to catch up we negotiated the winding street following the signs “Ferrovia” (train station). Paolo also enlightened us of an interesting linguistic fact. Venetian, is actually more similar to Spanish than Italian. Which is odd when Venice is on the other side of Italy to Spain. Who knows?

We hugged (and kissed) goodbye. Paolo was a really nice guy and I generally liked him a lot. He said we could stay with him next time we are in Venice instead of with some random people. This was really nice and, as Tina says, there are often cheap flights to Venice it wasn’t so implausible that she could be back. I’m glad that we met up.

After a hunt round the station for David we eventually found each other and got the train and bus back to his place. As we got off the bus we had an awkward conversation where the French wanted to buy food from a supermarket (and one was particularly adamant about it), even though David said he had food at his house we could help ourselves too. We said we were fine with what David had to offer and in the end so were the French.

When we got back David had to rush back to Venice as he had to go back to the bar, which left us to cook. Annoying when he said he would cook for us! Oh well I guess it would be up to me. He had pasta and some veg and so my student eyes could easily see a meal out of that. I raided the cupboards too that people had missed and also found some tinned sweetcorn and garlic. I did the usual frying everything in one pan and then put it on the pasta. It went well and everyone complemented me, including David who would have his helping the next day. This is a little odd to me as this kind of ‘recipe’ is just a way to get rid of all the veg you have in your fridge. Or I have some kind of awesome cooking skill I’m not fully aware of 😉

Tina and I then had a much-needed shower and promptly collapsed on the floor as when hitchhiking you do not get that much sleep. Especially with Tina only having had the one hour.

19/03/2012

We awake in the morning and have breakfast of cereal and chocolate spread. We try to impress the French with our Specaloos spread but turns out they have it in France and it’s a French company. My ideas of the Netherlands are shattered! The French are leaving today and so we head back into the city. Our plan was to get a late train that day from Venice to Ljubljana so we left our bags at the station for the day.  We got some pastries from Bar Pasticeria Rio Marin. I get a mini Pizza thing it was very tasty.

[David and Tina – waiting for the French guys who are taking forever to buy a sandwich]

We walk around but it starts to rain so we dive into a chocolate shop for shelter. The French’s train is coming soon so they have to leave and we say our goodbyes. Whilst there we see a way not to stack fruitand I get myself another pizza thing. We wander around a bit more and see Rialto bridge and also get a gondola ride for €0.50. Local knowledge.

[Chocolate shop]

[You wouldn’t know, but Tina is discovering her fear of Gondolas]

[David and I on the Gondola]

David appears to know everyone in the city. We see a smoothie place where he knows the people working there and decide we will have a smoothie as their tasters are so nice. We actually get a way bigger serving then we were supposed too 🙂 We also grab a few more gelatos along the way, I get Smurf flavour and Tina gets Pino Pinguino. They are amazing. David says he feels very touristy.

We also see a young art exhibition in a window, which had an egg made out of kinder surprise toys. We go in and look at all the art it was really cool. I get a bit disappointed by the descriptions as it is about the negatives of consumerism where as I would prefer it to be about being childish or something.

We need to go to the station to collect our bags and look at trains. It turns out no trains or buses go to Ljubljana at all so we have to get one tomorrow, €5 wasted on bag storage. This seems ridiculous when Ljubljana is a capital city and they are so close on the map. We discuss our options of trains, buses and hitchhiking. We talk to the train directors and we decide we will get the first train to Trieste in the morning, which is on the Italian Slovenian border and then get a bus from there. Our host for Ljubljana has also contacted us so everything is set for tomorrow.

This evening we are supposed to meet the other hitchhikers for dinner but haven’t heard from them yet. We are nearly on the train back to David’s when we get a message from them. They say to meet them in St. Margherita Square. David knows how to get there and has to pick some forms up from his old job on the way. He also tells us a story of how he hopes we aren’t going to a particular bar as the person there wanted to kill him. He was very vague. We didn’t ask questions.

We met the UCUers and went for dinner which was subsidised by €10 from the UCSA. Even for David!  We got told a tragic story of Mischa who had decided to hitch alone and without a map. It sounded very foolish and in the end he had to get a train to Venice. We exchanged lots more stories and we felt a little guilty that ours had gone so well. In hitchhiking competitions you either win or get stories and we had won so we had very little to say about this hitchhike. Our common response was “yeah last semester…”. They had all had problems with Innsbruck and now they all disliked it. I wasn’t pleased for this as I really enjoyed it when I went with the Explorer Scouts. Oh well hitchhiking makes your opinions, we now love Germany and hate France, it’s just how it goes.

David gets a call during dinner and coincidently it is the bartender he has history with. He wants to chat and David thinks he can sort things out with him so he goes off. He returns saying everything is fine and when we are done we can go over. It turns out to be a really cool bar with UV lights and signs from universities that have visited before. Tina and Eva get to making a UCU sign. I finish off the rest of the Bellini which was our prize for winning. We are glad to have David around as he gets us cheaper prices for all the drink, yay!

Now the unforgettable event of the trip comes along. The bar has a sign that says they play beer pong and we want to have a go. Gael and the bartender win over Sam and Keir (obviously), but then some Americans enter who want a match. Maggie is on the American side with her boyfriend and has the most annoying American stereotypical voice ever and all the mannerisms to go with it. They yell funny things at each other like “I’m thirsty, give me a drink”, which is funny at first but the Americans don’t seem to get that a joke does get old after you say it about 50 times. As beer pong was invented by the US and as the bartender owns the bar you’d think it would be a short match but it dragged on forever especially when they were down to one cup each. They argued insistently about the rules, with the bartender also being stereotypically Italian, punching the wall and swearing on his mother’s life that was how it was. This was a very visual thing, so is hard to describe, but essential it was a day you were happy to be European.

After this we said our goodbyes to the UCUers as we were leaving the next day and went back to David’s. On the bus David asked if we would remain friends with them when we got back to Utrecht, to which we replied “No”. Perhaps we would now smile at them when we see them but that is probably it. With hindsight we were too optimistic with this. There is no smiling – it is actually more awkward than before as you know these people, but you don’t say anything to them. It’s really silly. I think if TripCo has socials like they do at Exeter where everyone just meets up for a night then maybe our friendship could’ve continued.

David had a good night though and said it was the most fun he’d had in Venice in a while. He was moving to Malta soon to work at a youth hostel. We were jealous of his life, just moving where he wanted to and where the jobs were. Although he didn’t seem happy and he later blurted out why while Tina was in the bathroom.  He missed his ex so much. It was a little awkward as at the time I was just talking about getting the train tomorrow..

This night we got to sleep on the bed and not the floor, which was a plus. We had decided to get the second train of the day though and so at 7am we were off to Trieste. We had left David some Dutch biscuits as a present.

Phrases of the Hitchhike

  • “Entschuldingugn, kann ich etwas fragen Sie?” or “Fahren Sie villeicht sud nach..”- Tina’s more fancy German to my “Entschuldigung fahren Sie nach..?” those years of German really served us well…

Or not?

  • Tina to first German pick up “Vielen dank! Guten Abend”. Translation: Thank you! Good Evening. It was late afternoon. She meant have a nice evening 🙂
  • Most common answer to out hitchhike request: “blah, blah, German, blah…anderen Richtung…blah, blah” 
  • Word of the trip: Tankestelle (petrol station) – the simple words you totally forget. Evidence we didn’t know, Tina to the first lift “petrol stazion”. Perhaps a mix of French would help.

Other annoying word

  • We didn’t know how to say competition: and we still don’t. It’s quite hard to explain what we’re doing when we don’t know this.

Our major low point

  • Not being able to eat or pee as we were moving on so fast, as when Tina was desperate on the way to Munchen. A McCafe never looked so hospitable. As far as it goes not much of a low 🙂

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.

Utrecht-San Sebastian hitchhike: Post-Post-Hitchhike

Our initial plan was to go to the beach again, but Urzi and Chris were planning a bike ride so we joined in. It turned out to be a reasonably sized group of nine who came along. This included UCUers who had arrived that very morning and were heading to Barcelona the next day. This made Klementina happy as she now had people to travel with in order to get her flight to Brussels.

The hostel map showed a good bike route and we decided to take this. First stop was the far end of the swimming beach where some sculptures were erected over the sea. We took lots of pictures of us climbing the monuments. The tide was coming in so we could see the spray of the waves hitting the rocks. Klementina and some guys climbed down to play in the spray. They had a good time though at a cost. Klementina soaked her shoes, Chris got hit by a full wave and another guy nearly had his shoes stolen by the sea. Luckily they retrieved them, but the sea had the last laugh, claiming his socks.

We then decided to go up the cliff as the funicular was nearby. Klementina, Chris and I were not fools and got the funicular to the top, while the others cycled up. Funny thing is they still had to spend €1.80, so in the end only saved €0.90. The view was stunning and we took many pictures. Chris and Klementina found a ball and played volleyball while waiting for the others. It only ended up going over the side once!

At this point everyone was hungry so we decided to get food en route, asking locals for advice. We ate at a place with three courses and wine for €10. So it was very good, unless you are vegetarian. Spaniards don’t seem to understand vegetarians. They’re perfectly capable at making a vegetarian dish, but then they put some ham on top for garnish. This meant Klementina’s green salad had tuna in it, so she had to do with lentils. Mine was very nice though.

Klementina and others had to buy their bus tickets as their coach for Barcelona was leaving tonight. It was also en route so it was no problem. Our cycle included going under a cliff in an extraordinarily long tunnel which was very fun. “Maybe China’s at the other end”. Funnily at one point we were supposed to go straight over a roundabout, but we ended up doing 360°, who knows how. At the bus station, I luckily saw my bus company too and confirmed a €6.60 bus was leaving for Biarritz the next morning.

At this point however, Klementina realised she had lost her camera with €50 in the case, probably back at the funicular. So while everyone went to the hostel we went back to check. Luckily the man didn’t charge us for the funicular, but alas it was not there. Our photos from yesterday were lost, but at least we still had the ones from mine. Plus now we could see the palace we missed earlier. Not really a palace, it was more a stately home, but still pretty.

We watched some surf kayaks and decided, even though it was dark, we couldn’t leave without going in the sea. We stripped to our bikinis and stood in the waves. We didn’t swim though as the waves, if they were in Cornwall, you would’ve happily surfed. Another objective achieved, we ate the rest of our bread on the promenade, then headed to the hostel. Here we chilled and packed our bags for the next day. Until Klementina realised that she suddenly had to leave to catch her bus and so, with a hasty goodbye, she did so.

I had to sort out my transport, but luckily some people from my intro week family were taking the same flight to London, in order to fly back to the Netherlands. They decided on a time to get the bus to Biarritz and agreed to meet at reception at 7.30am.

Others along with Chris and Urzi had gone to the beach for drinks and as I now had eight beers (mine plus Klementina’s) from yesterday, I went along. I needed to get rid of them as you aren’t allowed glass in hand luggage. Luckily Ilona was leaving the next morning too so we went together.

We found Urzi and Chris along with a few others sitting in a circle playing ring of fire. Unfortunately we were to be interrupted by a guy shouting at us in French wanting a cigarette. We said we didn’t have one, but that wasn’t the end, he came to the beach and joined in our circle. We ignored him, but he didn’t like that. He picked up one of the bottles and threatened us. We jumped and he ended up stealing a bottle of rum.

Although it was on the beach of course!

This kind of ruined our evening a little. We decided to move to a new place on the beach and continue to play. Instead we watched the same guy steal a blanket from someone else. It was a little ridiculous. As some people were quite drunk we thought we should go back to the hostel. Unfortunately part way we realised we had lost Ralph and so me and Ilona stayed with the drunkards. However Ilona then also realised she had left her bag on the beach that contained her passport. So then I was left with drunkards, who were pretending to be Spanish whilst speaking Dutch. These weren’t the most favourable circumstances for me to be looking after them, when I really had no clue what they were saying.

An awkward ten minutes followed, but Ilona returned saying she couldn’t find it. Hence we went back to the beach to search. We had hidden some bottles in the sand when we saw some police were nearby, so I started by looking for these. I found one; Ilona came over and also discovered her bag. Phew.

We made our way back to the hostel, the drunkards harassing locals on the way and generally being annoying. Eventually we left them as they had run away twice and we had to get up early. A day of constant travel was ahead.

gf

Utrecht-San Sebastian hitchhike: Post-Hitchhike

We had our showers and then decided like everyone to head to the beach and stroll around town. I spied an ice cream shop and nothing goes better with the beach than ice cream. Even better it was Italian ice cream, but as usual no kiwi flavour (I had this once in Germany on a school trip and it was amazing). Instead I decided to have a multicoloured bubblegum flavour with a scoop of strawberry, it was very tasty.

As we walked through the streets I noted a coffee shop. I was a little bit surprised to see it there as I thought you only had them in the Netherlands. Apparently not. Strangely there weren’t many tourist shops for a surfing destination so when we saw a few I looked for a sew on badge to add to my collection ( I have a blanket which I started when I was about 13 for which I have badges from places I’ve visited and from scouts/guides. You’d think this would mean I have a lot but unfortunately they’re quite rare to find. It is quite impressive though). There were no Spain ones, so from this I gathered the Basque region, where San Sebastain resides, is not that keen on Spain. But they did have a badge of a flag that looked like the GB one, except the background was red, the cross was white and the diagonal was green. I guessed this was the Basque flag and this was confirmed. I bought it.

We went to the beach and it was tremendously beautiful, definitely picture postcard. We sat in the sun and had a little paddle in the sea. Here Klementina discovered the joys of a strong wave that pulls all the sand from under your feet. It even made her loose balance. We played this game for a bit and then we laid in the sand making sand sculptures.

After a doze, we went back into town where Klementina bought a bikini and in the process we stumbled across the Cathedral. Here I had another nap and some food. We thought we should head back as a group picnic was planned, but we hadn’t heard any information yet. We got back to discover nothing was going to be happening. Typical UCUers in last minute planning, or lack of it.

Klementina and I fancied some Basque food. Urzi and Chris told us they had had a great Basque lunch, three course meal and a bottle of wine for €10. We couldn’t pass that up and decided to go. Chris and Urzi decided to make their own dinner in the hostel kitchen. We went with them to the supermarket and got some beer. We were going to do something tonight even if the whole group had made no plans. Talk of drinks at the beach was on

When we had walked to the Basque restaurant we discovered it to be closed. However we’d seen a pizzeria on the way and had designated it plan B. We eventually found it again, but it was very empty with a dodgy man outside so we decided against it. We wandered around the streets trying to find good food and a menu we could understand. We came across a place with a huge menu and peered in. They had trays of food at the bar and the prices were good so we entered.

Everything was in Spanish so the restaurateur who spoke English came over. She explained the food was Tapas and that the restaurant was a wine bar. She went over the vegetarian options with Klementina. Though there wasn’t much, Klementina chose Gazpacho, artichokes and a type of lasagne. Then it was my turn. The lady said the favourite was a black pudding volcano. “Couldn’t I just choose things from around the bar”, I asked. “Yes”, she said, “Then you can see everything”.

Later I realised this was a bit of an error as I had cut myself off from all of the hot tapas they had. Never mind, we had a good dinner, I highly recommend it. When we got the bill we estimated €20, as each dish was €2-4. However we were happy to discover they’d undercharged us! Even better. We hastily left before they noticed.

We got back and Urzi and Chris were still cooking so we chatted for a bit and then went to play cards. Unfortunately we were about to get terrible news. Job – a UCUer – had been swimming in the sea, but hadn’t been seen for seven hours. The worst was expected. Everyone was going down to the beach to light candles. We said we would join. It was very moving and sad, but it was good that everyone had shown their respects and joined together. I hadn’t known Job but it was still a shocking tragedy and upsetting. We returned to our rooms and slept.