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26 August 2011

One More Day Enjoying Amsterdam, then Hitchhiking All the Way to Berlin

Days 75-76: Wednesday, 3 August 2011 - Thursday, 4 August 2011
I forgot my laptop charger cable in Berlin, so the battery on my laptop quickly ran out. I had to rely on using Paul's internet connection. As Paul had work to do, I explored much of the city on my own. I walked around, through the Red Light District and all the gawky tourists bouncing around coffeeshops.

I bought some souvenirs to bring back to Berlin, but I was also running low on cash. Unfortunately, my bank does not have an agreement with any bank in the Netherlands, so I couldn't withdraw cash from anywhere without incurring a $10 fee; thus, I just limited my spending and budgeted for the next day.

The city was manageable and had plenty of quiet pockets in which to escape the hordes of tourists. Pockets of serenity where you could just reflect while looking over a canal, and where bicyclists would actually yield some space to pedestrians.

I wandered around quite a bit, from east to west, checking in to an apple store to see that a laptop charger would cost me €70,-! I ended up south, having a late lunch at a Turkish cafe called Güllüoglu, which accepted credit cards :), and where I had the most delicious veggie burger I had had in my life!

Some rain showers had begun to fall, so I returned to the apartment, and Paul was there to let me in. Soon we decided to get some dinner at a local student-run restaurant cooperative called 'Skek. It was pretty upscale, but they offer a 30% discount for students, which we all got! There, while Paul and Annemarije got burgers, I tried something unique: Savory baklava. It was baklava with nuts, onions, and cheese, but also with a honey-soaked crust. It was still sweet but extremely tasty.

We returned to the apartment, because Annemarije had twisted her ankle pretty badly and desperately needed some rest. Paul had some evening meetings for work, so I took the opportunity to go out and explore the Amsterdam evening on my own. You could feel the evening coming on, as people walked around, rushing to and from restaurants, bars, and clubs. Loud canal cruises sailed around, blasting music for the tipsy tourists partying on the deck. There were also quieter boats sailing around, with a small group of people having a picnic on the canals. What a life!

I had been searching for rideshares back to Berlin, and there was a chance that I could ride with someone to Hamburg, and then I would find a way from there to Berlin. I hastily contacted a couple friends, but in the end, that didn't work out. I could have also taken an overnight bus straight to Berlin for €60+, but I decided to just wait until the morning and hitchhike back.

And so began my hitchhiking adventure. It was only my second time, and my first time thumbing alone, so I was slightly apprehensive. In the morning, I quickly looked up good hitchhiking points and found one in the small town of Muiden, just a short bus ride away from Amsterdam. It cost me €7,30 for the two buses out of Amsterdam, and along the way a nice guy on the bus saw that I was traveling and helped me with some advice.

I got off at the second Muiden bus stop and walked under the freeway and found a path that went alongside the freeway (luckily! I didn't write any of the directions down) about 1km until I came across a service station. The good thing about Europe is that there are gas stations directly on the freeways, and the best way to get rides is to just ask people who stopped at these stations and are going your way.

Going up to people and asking them for rides was my primary strategy, but for a while it wasn't working. I was being constantly turned down, except for some guys on motorcycles (one guy even going all the way to Berlin), but I needed my own helmet to ride with them. A few Germans would have given me a ride, but their cars were totally full.

After 45 minutes, I began to feel discouraged, so I walked to the highway itself and began just thumbing. It wasn't really working either, and two other German hitchhikers appeared. I walked back with them to the service station, but 3 people are too many to find a ride together, so instead of sticking with them I chose to ask people on my own, mostly just out of frustration. I saw that these two hitchhikers were asking people for rides "east" instead of rides "to Germany", so I just quickly walked to every car and asked if they were headed east. "No," "no," "no," "yes."

Wait, what? Yes?

I hopped in, and the guy, a middle-aged businessman named Jan, drove me about 30km down the road in his nice Volvo with leather interiors. He was a nice guy who was trying to score a last-minute deal for a vacation in Italy with his wife. He was talking on the phone using his car's speaker system, but also talked with me, sharing how he had no interest in going to the US because it was such a violent and un-socialistic place. I couldn't disagree with him.

I was let off at another gas station, still in the Netherlands, but now far away from any city. Jan drove off, and I asked the driver of the one car there if I could ride with him. He quickly said yes.

Wow, that was easy!

This car was a family of 3, two parents and a teenage daughter, who were on their way home from a vacation in northern Spain, driving from Schipol Airport. They were very pleasant to talk to and had a very welcoming vibe. The daughter was about to start studying at the university in Utrecht. They took me another 50km or so, letting me off at another gas station/rest stop.

It took me about 1 minute to find a ride at this stop. I had figured out to seek cars with German license plates, so I found two German guys who were willing to give me a ride. Ken and Carson (Karson?) were their names, and they were pretty cool. From Bielefeld, they had driven to Zandvoort as well and were returning from their long weekend in the Netherlands. We crossed the border into Germany with no problems (they were worried that the police might stop us near the border). They were cool guys, and they were helpful enough to bring me all the way to an autobahn gas station/rest stop near Bielefeld although it was slightly out of their way.

At the rest stop, there were plenty of cars parks and people coming and going. I organized my bag for about a minute before I walked over to look for a ride. I saw two other young guys who were hitchhiking, and actually I saw them getting into a van, so I just walked up to them and asked if they had space for one more. "Yeah" said the woman driving the van. She was the mother, and she was driving her two daughters (aged about 19 and 11) to Hannover. The two other hitchhikers were Moritz and Peter. We spoke in German the whole way, and in Hannover there was some confusion with the map and where she would drop us off, so she ended up driving a bit through the city before leaving us at a station on the autobahn heading out of town. The mother went to the bathroom, and I hung out for a minute with the teenagers. The mom came back and said, "hey there's a guy there with a van that's licensed in Potsdam, he looks like an alternative type, you should ask him for a ride"! So we did, and he was very happy to take us, except his wife was sleeping in the back seat, so there was only space for 1 person. Moritz and Peter graciously gave that space to me.

So the guy was named Peter, and his wife was Sonam, who is Nepalese. We spoke the whole way, mostly in German, and we got along quite well. There was an unexpected traffic jam caused by a road closure.

Sonam was particularly fascinated by my ability to speak German, and my lack of fear to just hitchhike around a foreign country (she was thinking of her 17-year-old son). They dropped me off in Potsdam, where it was very moist and rainy, and I took an S-Bahn into Berlin.

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