6 Dec 2008

Hitching to Helsinki

Posted by walterheck

Of course, I couldn’t not travel for too long. So I decided it was time to visit my old roommates Tiina and Duke in Helsinki. Since I am crazy, I decided that the 40 Euro all-inclusive return flight to Tampere was too easy and decided I would hitchhike instead 🙂
I am now sitting in my hut deep in the hull of the ferry that is taking me from Stockholm to Helsinki, where I will arrive tomorrow morning. Here’s a summary of some of the events of teh past four days:

I started out on Monday morning from my mom’s place in Zoetermeer. I took a tram to The Hague to get a good start from the malieveld hitchhiking spot. This spot is perfect for going anywhere from this area as it is the start of a highway that is very busy, but traffic is going slow. In this spot one can be much more selective for a ride than anywhere else.
Soon, I found a ride to Doesburg with a very nice lady who told me all about the companies she was running (one of which was a data mining/data warehouse company 🙂 ), the books she wrote during her “so-called mid-life crisis” that unexpectedly became best-sellers, teh fact that she grew up in Sittard attending teh same highs chool I did and loads of more stuff. We had soem very interesting conversations and when it was time to decide which way to take to the Oldenzaal border-crossing into Germany I decided to stick with her and do the last 100 km’s to Enschede on secondary roads.
That might not have been a good decision time-wise, but it sure was beautiful driving through the Achterhoek and Twente. One of the rides was from a guy who was working as a tech-guy in a cheese-wrapping factory wrapping a staggering 150.000 Kilo of cheese everyday. He was responsile fro keeping the production lines running, which had not been teh case for the last 48 hours. Some idiot in teh cleaning crew decided to aim a firehose on the inside of an important machine, frying all electronics inside. He also told me how he had been a private driver for some very rich man before, driving Audi R8’s, maserati’s, Porsche GT3’s and a 480HP Mustang. All pretty interesting conversations 🙂
There was also a Polish truck driver dropping me in teh middle of a highway crossing of two very busy highways. It left me with no option but to start hiking along a busy german highway in picth dark without any reflectors. Sure enough it took about 10 minutes for the blue flashing lights to show up. Quite a while, actually. I knew this was going to happen, but it was actually what I was hoping for. I played the “I’m so happy to see you guys, please get me out of here!”-card, which worked perfectly. They took me to teh next gas station, even giving me tips on where to stand and who to ask 🙂
There were more rides the first day, like the very Christian band member asking me question after question about religion, the tukker (sorry, non dutchies 🙂 ) that told me about his blue balls, courtesy of a Polish trucker, the highway patrol guy that felt sorry for me and gave me a ride instead of a warning (although still trying to be serious about me not walking on a highway 🙂 ) and many more which are kind of a blur 🙂
The first day I didn’t get as far as I had hoped, but it was a good and adventurous day (as any day of hitchhiking usually is 🙂 ). I put up my tent far after dark behind some gas station next to a Burger King drive in that was chattering all night long 🙂 I had made it to just after Osnabruck on highway 1, which leads all teh way to Berlin, past Bremen and Hamburg. A good starting point for my next day. I crawled in my warm sleeping bag and dozed of rather quickly (something not uncommon to me 😉 )

The next day I started early, at 6:30. I catched a ride with a guy heading to work. he turned out to be a Cobol programmer. Never thought I would find one of those in the wild 🙂
I was making nice miles, when I made the grave mistake goign with some lady who dropped me off in the middle of f’ing nowhere, in an impossible spot to get out of. It was only 70Km from the ferry to Denmark at Puttgarden. She dropped me off at 12, and i wasn’t on the ferry until 17:15(!) I don’t get frustrated very easily, but standing in that spot for 3,5 hours did the trick. At some point I decided to start catching cars in any direction, desperate to get out of that spot. Some fancy elderly lady stopped, repeating several times that she normally never did anything like this 🙂 It turned out that I was only 1 Km from a train station with a direct train to Puttgarden fro only 11,5 EUR. The next train was not coming for another hour or so, so I decided to head back to my spot trying to hitch out of there (catching a train would be admitting defeat, which I do not like 🙂 )
Sure enough, 1 minute before the time I had agreed with myself to head back to the trains tation, a girl stopped. She told me she had driven by 1,5 hours before and now felt _really_ sorry for me. She drove to a good spot, and with some more trouble I hitched my way to the ferry.
These ferries turned out to leave every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day. I decided to not stop on teh other side and just go to teh gas station taht was there on the terminal grounds. Soon enough I got to talking to teh pump attendant, who was bored out of his brain because his internet computer was not working. Funny sidenote: you cross a ferry and people prefer english over German. quite the switch when you have been talking German for a few days 🙂 You see, this gas station is special: every 30 minutes, a batch of cars speed by (Start of a highway) of which maybe 2 or 3 stop for gas. Sure enough, this was a ridiculously quiet night. It took me 4 hours, 10 minutes before that gas station closes to get a ride out of there. The guy picking my up was a hesitant prize winning Maine Coon-breeder (those are absolutely gorgeous cats). I think it was the look on my face talking about the cats that convinced him to take me. Unfortunately he didn’t have any cats with him as he had just dropped one off in Lubeck (“You were there at 10.30 this morning? really, I was there 2 hours ago!” GRRMBL…)
he drove fast and the gas station he dropped me off in barely an hour later was already halfway across Denmark. It might not be Sweden which I had hoped to sleep in that night, but it was already halfway to Copenhagen. Considering the day, that was actually pretty good. First I thought about continuing, btu I was really tired. The lady running teh gas station was just finishing baking fresh loafs of bread, so I splurged and bought one bread and a jar of delicious strawberry jam. I feasted on it and then decided to call it a night. Cold, dark but a warm sleeping bag.

The next day I “slept in” until 7 am and then got up fast. I had breakfast with the leftover bread and started asking for rides. Sure enough, the first try was a direct hit. A polish trucker took picked me up. He told me how his wife was at the hospital in Poland at that very moment giving birth to a daughter. He was visibly very moved, and I can’t say it left me completely untouched either. I guess this is the harsh reality of being a trucker. He took me to a strategically nice spot. That is, it looked nice on the map. It was a big gas station just before Copenhagen after the merge of two big highways. I was looking for a car to Malmo, just across the newly built bridge connecting Copenhagen and Sweden. Turned out, no Swedish cars stopped there, just traffic heading in to Copenhagen. I quickly realised that and just started hitching anywhere (ie. no sign at all). A friendly lady picked me up, telling me about motorcycle gang wars in Copenhagen and how she was so glad to live outside of it.
She took me deep into the heart of the city, telling me to catch a metro to the airport which is right next to the bridge. I did that and walked from teh airport to teh bridge (which is indeed right next to the airport, at the end of the parking lot). I thought this would be a difficult hitch since it is a border crossing AND a toll-road, but I was picked up by a mailman whose job was driving three or four letters and packages a day across that border. He didn’t pay toll so there was no problem there. He dropped me off on the other side at the first parking lot. I had seen a perfect spot for hitching right at the end of teh bridge so I decided to walk there. Sure enough, within about 5 minutes there was an extremly friendly Swedish border-guard who visibly had a hard time telling me i couldn’t be where I was. Fair enough, he was right. I decided to start walking back, extending my thumb while doing it. Almost back at the parking lot I was at a half an hour before, a car pulled over. We had some trouble figuring out which language to speak (Swedish, German or English 🙂 ) before I realised teh guy was dutch. Cool! Even better, he turned out to have lived with his wife less than 10 Km from where I grew up. He now lived somewhere in central Sweden, being able to take me over 400 Km in the direction of Stockholm. Yay!
We talked abotu many things, I slept through some. We had very interesting conversations about what’s right and wrong, evolving from his former work as a fingerprint expert at the police department. He is one of those CSI guys, as he described it himself. Without any detail, he told me he had worked on many prestigious cases in my hometown area. Interesting times!
He dropped me off in kind of a shitty place, so I decided to not show the Stockholm sign but just hitch to the next gas station. A bunch of short rides later, detouring through a small city I catched a ride with two younger guys who kept telling me how I was their role-model and stuff. They took me from a really good spot to a rather shitty spot 20 Km’s down teh road, so I decided to hitch back to the good spot and wait for a longer ride. Soon enough, I convinced a DHL-truck driver to take me to Stockholm. My final ride of this leg of the trip, yeah!
This guy was really cool. We had deep philosophical conversations about life, dreams and opportunities. Even our deepest principles about teh way we live oru life came up. In teh mean time, I got to be DHL-delivery guy. After a two hour ride, he dropped me in the suburbs within 10 Km from teh city center of Stockholm. It was 22:00 and I had no place to stay. Time for a plan of attack, you could say 🙂
My first thought was to find a host through couchsurfing. This meant first figuring out where the hell I was, then finding some kind of internet access.
I had to walk since I only had a credit card and no cash, which was teh only thing accepted at the subway ticket machines. It made no sense to get cash from an ATM for just one day in which I would probably only buy a metro ticket. So I walked until I found a pub close to the centre, sat down and looked for an unsecured network. I found one soon enough and checked my email, then put out a last minute request to teh cs group. I also checked boat times and found out there was no way I would be in Helsinki in time to see my buddy Duke perform 🙁 Not only that, I had to wait until 17.00 the next day without a place to stay (it was 0.00 by now 🙂 ). Upside: in the cs forums i found some promotional offer that got me a ferry ticket all the way to Helsinki for 0 EUR! Now all I needed to do was stay somewhere until next afternoon.
I had never been outside in the winter without a place to stay. I can say that it was interesting, but that was probably just because it was my first time. I wandered around, sleeping for a bit in an opening between to windows. Still outside, it was way too cold to sleep comfortably. I found a 24-hour McDonald’s with very drunk people in it that absolutely appalled me with their abusive behaviour against the staff. I sat there for a good while, then walked outside and somebody told me the central station was nice and warm. I tagged along with three drunk girls that were killing time by walking around until their first train would leave. We had some fun and ended up at the central station when it opened at 5am. Wooden benches in a train station have never been such an attractive place to fall asleep on 🙂
I slept until after 8, waking up every 15 minutes or so from the noise. Then I started walking in the direction of teh Silja Line terminal, looking for internet and a supermarket on the way there. Never found the internet access (wasn’t looking too hard either 😉 ), but found a supermarket for some cheap food. When I got to the terminal it was 11:30. I got my boarding pass and sat down, only to doze off moments later. I later moved to another resting area in teh terminal that was good for some sleep that I could actually lie down for 🙂
At 15:30 teh boarding for the boat started, and as I’m writing the final part of this entry it is only 1,5 hour away from arriving in Helsinki. Looking forward to seeing my friends there, yay!

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6 Responses to “Hitching to Helsinki”

  1. Walter, I can say I am very jealous of this adventure of hitchhiking. Such a fascinating story!



  2. Great story, Walter. Yeahhhhhhhhhhhhh
    Best Wishes,
    Lucas from Belo Horizonte



  3. cool or should I say koel..

    Be safe, stay warm, have fun!

    Can’t wait to read the story about your way back home!!



  4. Ah, dus daar hang je uit tegenwoordig! Patser, gewoon ff naar Helsinki gaan. Doe de Duke de groeten!



  5. Back on the road again! Good, I love reading these stories. Have fun and write about it to light up our dreary lives!




  6. Walter my friend! So pleased to hear you have put your travelling boots back on and enjoying exploring the wonderfully spontanious world of hitching again. Loved reading about your adventures – so pleased you have started blogging again!

    Lotsa love, M x