birthright backpacking breakdown

I find statistics fascinating. Therefore:

DISTANCE
17,490 kilometers
-or-
10,868 miles

DESTINATIONS

16 countries

Ireland
Northern Ireland
Scotland
England
The Netherlands
Belgium
Luxembourg
Germany
Poland
Czech Republic
Austria
Switzerland
France
Denmark
Sweden
Norway

32 cities
Clara, Ireland
Loughrea, Ireland
Dungloe, Ireland
Gortin, Northern Ireland
Glasgow, Scotland
Edinburgh, Scotland
Felixkirk, England
London, England
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Utrecht, Netherlands
Brussels, Belgium
Bruges, Belgium
Gent, Belgium
Luxembourg, Luxembourg
Berlin, Germany
Warsaw, Poland
Krakow, Poland
Prague, Czech Republic
Vienna, Austria
Salzburg, Austria
Überlingen, Germany
Kandern, Germany
Lucerne, Switzerland
Bern, Switzerland
Pontcharra, France
Paris, France
Hamburg, Germany
Copenhagen, Denmark
Charlottenberg, Sweden
Ås, Norway
Bergen, Norway
Dublin, Ireland

DURATION
May 16, 2012 – September 5, 2012
16 weeks -or- 112 days

EXPENSES
total: $1,650

TRANSPORTATION

hitchhiking lifts
125 total
91 men
23 women
5 couples
2 police (ha!)
2 forgotten

planes
Orlando – Dublin
Bergen – London
Dublin – Orlando

trains
Amsterdam – Utrecht
Brno – Prague
Arna – Bergen
London – Dublin

ferries
Northern Ireland – Scotland
Germany – Denmark
somewhere in Norway – somewhere else in Norway
England – Ireland

buses
London – Amsterdam
Gortin – Omagh

rideshare
Paris – Utrecht


ACCOMMODATION

couchsurfing hosts
23 total
18 male
4 female
1 couple

helpx host
Charlottenberg, Sweden

friends
Glasgow, Scotland
London, England
Utrecht, Netherlands
Kandern, Germany
Lucerne, Switzerland
Pontcharra, France
Ås, Norway

hitchhiking lift
Felixkirk, England

ferry port
Larne, Northern Ireland

Burger King
Cologne, Germany

camping
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Bruges, Belgium
Udevalla(ish), Sweden

 

the most accessible city

So, Gent. Land of Sarah Frecklesoup. I had heard tell of this Sarah Frecklesoup by a couchsurfer I had met up with in Orlando. The birthrighters decided we absolutely wanted to stay with her. She gracefully accepted my probably overeager couchrequest, and on Tuesday we found ourselves at her flat. Though to get there, we had to cram ourselves into an elevator that was definitely not made for three people and three backpacks at once.

We had a long, rainy day tea with Sarah Frecklesoup and another local couchsurfer. Staying with her was just as lovely as expected. She was our first official female CS host. We slept in the next morning and then set out to explore Gent. I can’t really say what I like about it, but I do, I like Gent. We had Turkish pizza, which was…an interesting experience. First, we were charged for water, which I realized would happen just as I had ordered. The woman didn’t speak English, so I didn’t rescind it, but I wish I had. Psh, €1.60 for water. Anyways, the pizza was definitely different from any I’ve had before. There were strange flavors, and my pizza was shaped like a boat, but it was good. For dinner Sarah Frecklesoup took us for Belgian fries. Belgian fries. So good. We had ours with mayonnaise and stoofkarbonaden – a beer and beef stew-type sauce. Definitely, definitely get Belgian waffles and Belgian fries (with mayo and stoofkarbonaden) when in Belgium. We ate our fries beside the river, until the sky went dark and the city lights came on.

Getting from Gent to Luxembourg took like six rides. I think the most so far, despite the relatively short distance. Our host here was a girl as well, but American. Like with Sarah Frecklesoup, I knew that staying with Ashley would be really comfortable as well as really enjoyable. She is excited about food. You can’t go wrong with people who like food. She made three meals for us over the course of two days – three absolutely delectable meals. And a cake. A carrot cake with green icing. And it was marvelous too. The latter was paired with watching The Big Lebowski, and stressing over Valerie being charged one thousand dollars for our Oslo-London tickets, rather than two hundred and change.

We had just one day to explore Luxembourg. Which, I think we all agreed was enough for us. Under the circumstances of this trip anyways. If I had loads of time there I am certain I could make good use of it, but comparatively to how long we are traveling, one day was sufficient. I really like the shape and levels of the city. There is a higher part and a lower part, lots of greenery, and lots of tall walls. One street in the lower city was filled with the scent of flowers. We followed a nature trail, saw the golden woman statue, we did not see something called ‘Bock’. I’m curious as to what that was, but it quite simply didn’t happen. Just like pizza in Luxembourg. Yes, sadly we failed the pizza challenge. Due to getting lost, countless construction obstructions, prices, and general group dynamics. I did get ice cream though, and I’m considering that an adequate substitution. Oh, and it wasn’t just any ice cream; one scoop was nutella, and the other ferrero rocher. Pretty good decision. Later we met up with Ashley and she bought us gromperekichelcher, aka Luxembourgish potato cakes. They were so good. Even to an anti-fried food preferrer.

On Saturday we should have gotten up and left early since we had an eight hour drive to Berlin. That’s what we should have done. But we had the promise of biscuits and gravy, a warm couch with loads of pillows and blankets, and a grey day outside. We didn’t leave until two. I have no regrets – the biscuits and gravy were worth every non-hitching second. Also, our relaxed morning with Ashley was really pleasant. Hitching days tend to be a bit much, but not so with this one. We made it as far as Cologne (we’ll round that up to one-third of the distance between Luxembourg and Berlin), but there we got stuck. ‘Oh, you can get to anywhere in Germany’, said our last ride. Mm, wrong. We waited until 9pm before Valerie and Christy made the decision to call it. Whereby we retreated to the twenty-four hour Burger King. But before that, sometime in our long wait, we were approached by a youngish guy debarking from a van. A fellow hitchhiker! His name was Martin, and he was from Slovakia. He had hitchhiked to France, then England, then back to France to spend time with his girlfriend. How adorable is that? Anyways, Martin was very friendly. He shared some of his experiences with us, and even tried helping us get a ride.

But back to BK. We totally slept there. The manager, I think, wasn’t especially enthralled with this fact, but he didn’t say as much. To be honest, I only slept between the hours of 4:30am and 6. The rest of the time was spent…reading, listening to music, talking, just staring into space…to be honest, I’m not really sure how all of those hours passed. But come morning we got back out and started fresh. Perhaps not quite fresh, but whatever. Close enough. We decided to accept a ride to Frankfurt, though this was backtracking for us. We just wanted as far away from that bloody traffic circle in bloody Cologne as possible. I think all of us slept a bit during that first ride. The second was with a forty-two year old Turkish man with very limited English and Valerie’s taste in music. He told us about fifty thousand bears near the black sea in Turkey while we listened to Lady Gaga, Stromae, and the like. Oh, and I forgot to mention that he was a truck driver, and therefore only had two extra normal seats. Christy and I took turns riding in the sort of loft above the cab. At the end of our lift, Mustafa presented Valerie with the CD that was our soundtrack. That was a good time.

We waited two hours for the next lift. Finally we gave up thumbing and started asking at the service station. Germany is definitely the loser for hitchhiking. We weren’t having much luck, and since it was getting late-ish on our second Berlin-bound day, we were feeling a bit defeated. I found a car that was willing to take two passengers, but couldn’t fit three. Immediately after I found an older couple that was willing to take one. A very rushed decision found our group dividing. Christy with the couple, and Valerie and I with the two younger girls. Then came the issue of where to meet up again. Christy said ‘Alexanderplatz’, and we hurried into our separate cars. Natalie and Linda were mine and Valerie’s chauffeurs. We had a nice ride – we talked with them some, talked amongst ourselves, slept. At one point they turned on an audiobook in German. It sounded to me just like an English book playing in reverse. It was during this ride that I realized, after two days of driving across Germany, that ‘Ausfahrt’ is a word, and not a city. I kept thinking as we drove past ‘man, you can get to Ausfahrt from any exit in Germany!’ Yeah…

Anyways, Natalie and Linda waited until we found a lift at the next service station. It was very kind of them, especially considering it took forever for the women to return to their car after agreeing to take us. These women drove us through Berlin, all the way to Alexanderplatz. It was well out of their way, but they insisted. It’s funny, I was thinking earlier in the day how hitching in Germany is entirely inoptimal, but after reuniting with Christy Lu and hearing her story (the couple paid for her lunch, for coffee and ice cream, for her toilet fee, and for her train ticket to Alexanderplatz!), and thinking back on the rest of our rides that day, I had to disagree with myself. It’s more difficult, it takes a different method than I prefer, but ultimately all of the people who gave us rides were very kind in various ways. It’s as though they don’t take the initiative to pick up hitchhikers, but once you are in their car, they take care to ensure you have what you need, and you get where you need to go. So, while hitchhiking in Germany remains my least favorite, I do still appreciate the people and the experiences.

valchren

Through Simon the Second we learned that hitchhiking in the Netherlands is illegal. There are apparently places where the police won’t bother you, and probably they would only tell you to move on rather than arresting you. But because of this we decided to buy the six and change train ticket to Utrecht to visit Christy’s friend Ruthie. Go us, for making the non-illegal decision. Though honestly, I was beginning to wonder whether we would ever actually hitch in mainland Europe.

Our stay with Ruthie was just lovely. From her teal and purple flat, to a phenomenal dinner, to the introduction to stroopwafels. She took us biking through town to a cafe. I was especially excited about this, because above everything else (yes, even more than windmills – of which I did see several within half an hour of arriving in Holland) the cycling culture here stands out to me. Walking through Amsterdam and seeing the vast span of bicycles whether parked in their very own bicycle parking garage, or biking down their very own bike lanes, or stopping at their very own traffic signals completely astounded me. We rode two to a bike – Ruthie and I pedaling, and Christy and Valerie sidesaddle on the back. Perhaps it was the company and the experience, but I definitely preferred Utrecht to Amsterdam.

We did get up and set out to hitchhike the following day. Despite illegalities. What can I say? I’ve acquired a taste for breaking the law. Not. But apparently it’s becoming a pretty common part of my life. Anyways, despite some flicking off, and general rudeness (the Irish still win for best hitchhiking culture) we did get a ride – and not by the police. The rest of the journey to Brussels we used the more direct route of asking for rides at petrol stations, rather than just thumbing. This worked quite well for us. I’m personally not as much a fan of that particular method, but it got us where we needed, so I won’t complain. Our last ride made a stop at a beer shop. It was pretty impressive. There were so many different types. If I liked beer it would have been like a candy shop. Actually, since I like neither beer nor candy, it was exactly like a candy shop. Ah, well, I was glad to have seen it.

Our host, Gregory (hailing from France), met us in the city centre. We were joined by two other resident (also French) couchsurfers. We visited a few bars before retiring to Gregory’s studio apartment. Between the three of us and our backpacks, all of the floor space was taken.

Waffles were on the agenda for our first day in Belgium. That and Manneken-Pis, aka ‘Little Man Pee’. This is the sort of national symbol of Belgium. A tiny statue of a peeing boy, which is routinely and ceremoniously dressed in elaborate costumes, occasionally pees beer instead of water, and has been stolen seven times. I was a little bit excited about seeing it, but then, it was a bit disappointing. Perhaps if he had been wearing a costume…Well anyways, the waffles were superb. I had some sort of chocolatey ice cream on mine. Besides that, we mainly just meandered about. For dinner we made pasta in a creamy smoked salmon sauce. It cost us under €3 each. Who said you can’t eat deliciously and cheaply while traveling?

After dinner we spent the evening at the home of Sophie, one of the other CSers we had met the previous evening. It was a nice, calm socialization in the midst of all of our travels. Sometimes It seems strange to be spending so much of my time in Europe in people’s flats or houses, but I am personally for it. I am of the opinion that traveling is about more than seeing landmarks or changing one’s geographical location. It is really refreshing to escape tourist cluttered areas in favor of a real home and people living their everyday lives.

We left on Sunday for Bruges. A city which I was particularly excited to visit. Dark comedies, anyone? In Bruges is probably in my top ten…fifteen, or twenty (well, as my dear Cassiopeia would say, it’s top ten worthy) films. We arrived fairly early, but had no place to stay. Following much waiting and discussion, we decided to camp. Illegally. Of course. Fortunately for us, Bruges boasts a lot of greenery. We walked towards the green blob on the map and found ourselves in a park of sorts. Following a sidewalk, every now and again upon seeing a particularly thick cluster of trees we would nonchalantly make our way in to deduce whether or not we could remain decently hidden. We made note of two places, and settled upon the second. To the right was a fair place, but to the left was a large enough spot that remained completely invisible from the path which lay mere feet in front of it. The con: in the center was a large glob of dog poop. And panties. But, better to deal with the above, than set up somewhere we would potentially be seen and bothered. Right? Eh. We set up in a smaller space just beside the aforementioned grossnesses. Come to find that it was actually human excrement. And the panties actually a handkerchief turned toilet paper. Sadly not an improvement. Anyways, we were very impressed with ourselves. Look at us roughing it illegally. Not to mention we finally put the semi-cumbersome tent to good use. I carved a mashup of our names, celebrity couple style, into a nearby tree to forever mark our presence.

We snuggled into our tent, had a group journaling session, played cards, then distinguished the lights. Relative solitude never felt so good. And sleep would be great! Until the rain came. Again. Really, first Amsterdam, now Bruges?! Rain is the bane of outside sleeping. I actually slept really well, but in the morning we found the floor of our tent to be mostly soaked. Well, at least where Valerie was sleeping. Throughout the day it became steadily more and more wet. Our solution was to buy trash bags and cover the floor. Which, may have been effective, but God decided not to curse us with another wet night. I think I’ve never thanked God so much in my life, as I have on this trip.

So we took Bruges in shifts. Christy and I went up the tower to see the view of Bruges. It was lovely, and well worth our €4. Also, the bells play a tune every quarter of an hour. We were at the mechanical level when it began, but we climbed to the actual bells before it finished, and it was just lovely. Bruges is my favorite city that we’ve visited so far. Partially because of the gorgeous medieval architecture, and partially something about the atmosphere. I just find it thoroughly charming. I am surprisingly fond of Belgium in general. That was quite unexpected. Though I definitely recommend skipping Brussels and going to Bruges and Gent instead. Gent being our next destination.