On the road to Amsterdam

The first success of the hitchhiking overwhelms you. No, it just strikes your head, your self-esteem level reaches the top of Everest, you boast of your success, canonize yourself and glorify yourself above the other hitch-hikers. And then (because life is that tricky kind of thing, whether you want it or not), you kiss German highways after falling from the same throne you’ve created for yourself. And everything comes to its place.

– Damn, we’re going to Amsterdam. Am-ster-dam. Amsterdam, you got it?

– I got it, two cars, and we are on the spot. We’ve managed to do this to Berlin, and we’re going to do the same with Amster.

In the morning, we took three bottles of tap water, had a breakfast, which consisted of cookies “Maria”, bought in Ukraine and after bid farewell to Sudhanshu we went to the hitch-hiking spot. Our guiding-site assured that there is no better location: we had to get from Berlin to Amsterdam for some 7-8 hours, maybe another hour more for waiting for the cars. That’s it, the kings of the road had already theoretically opened the door of some coffee-shop.

The website wasn’t lying – the spot was really cool. On the opposite side, there is a gas station, to the right, there is a necessary motorway, and there are plenty of places near you to accommodate even a semi-truck. Also, there was a bunch of hitch-hikers just like us; half of them also was going to Amsterdam. “Show some good manners. If someone goes in the same direction, but he got to the place before you, wait until he’s gone,” Roma told us.

In our direction, there were two guys. They were that kind of hitch-hikers who are not just standing with a cardboard sign, but also dancing in front of the drivers, following the cars and even have time to have a small talk with those who try to catch a ride on the other side of the road. In very familiar words, the ones from your own language.

Tymur and Dima were hitch-hiking from Kyiv. Somewhere on the half of their way they separated: Everyone had chosen a desirable city for himself. But God works in mysterious ways, and the way of hitch-hiking God is even more. In Berlin, they’d met again and travelled to Portugal, planning to get to the Amsterdam before. Tymur said that it was even easier to travel around Ukraine, and Dima emphasized that instead of Tymur, it would be better to take a girl with him because this is a significantly better match. All in all, back then they didn’t have too many options for matching, they only had added us to their sign by writing “two or all of us”.

After an hour or two, boys went to seek their fortune at the gas station, and we had become the full-fledged owners of the best spot in the area. The truth is that they were gone first. We’d managed to stop the first female driver. Before this, it seemed that women would be less willing to pick up two guys. Moreover one of them with the buzz cut. Well, you got it.

Karen was travelling from Berlin to Potsdam, where her parents are living. At the first glance, it may seem strange, but life in a small town is more expensive than in the German capital. Kind of a “city of stars”, a bunch of well-known and wealthy people’s homes. Some sort of a German “Koncha-Zaspa” (a district in Kyiv where the wealthiest people of the country live). A girl learns studies in an IT field but dreams of becoming a teacher. And while dreaming she is surprised with the amount of money our workers of educational facilities get (approximately 150 EUR per month). In a few minutes, it turns out that there are construction works on the road by which Karen had to lift us up to the next gas station. We need to change the route. That’s how instead of Hanover, we had to go to Hamburg.

The last yellow tape was used for a new sign. It wasn’t enough of it to finish the word, so Hamburg turned out a bit strange, but does it have any difference if you’re heading to Amsterdam? We were trying to get a ride at the exit from the parking lot for truckers. Cars were also passing by every few minutes. However everything was as usual: gesture I’msorry; gesture notgoingthere; gesture nofreeplaces. The latter is in particular annoying when the car is already next to you. You see a completely empty salon, imagining how cool it is to sit down there next to air conditioning, and moving at least somewhere. You imagine it and continue standing under the blazing sun, somewhere 40 kilometres away from Berlin.

Our Savior’s name was Martin. He’s a sales manager, who all the way asked us to teach him Ukrainian swear-words, in return, he shared some German ones. He hated with all his heart “Konica”, a Japanese company which the main products are cameras and tapes. You know, it’s like a professional conflict: because of “this Konica”, he’d lost a good client, and the level of sales began to fall. I didn’t admit that the last seven times my “Zenit” camera was with this manufacturer’s tape. And why should he know that?

Somewhere on the outskirts of Hamburg, Martin suggested that we can pop over to his place, to take off our bags, drink a few beers and rest a little bit before going back on the road. It was a period of time when the sun is still trying to burn your already red neck, so we didn’t refuse. After that beer, which Phil treated us in Berlin, Martin’s beer seemed to be incredible and made somewhere in paradise.  But everything went a little bit wrong; we didn’t have time to get to A’dam in one day. The first hitch-hiking night was waiting for us.

On our way from Martin, one of the drivers signalled us. We didn’t give a damn about this signalling. Walking down the sidewalk, we’ve decided not to pay attention to all those managers of our destinies. He signalled again. One more time. Drove right next to us.

– Hey, guys, aren’t you hitch-hikers?

– Hmm, well, something like that.

– Where are you going now?

– Amsterdam.

– I’m going in the other direction, but I can lift you up to the gas station on the highway that’s going to the Netherlands. Suits you?

– Are you asking?

Sam requested not to photograph him but allowed to leave his real name. During the university times, he hitch-hiked through the whole Europe three times. Now, after seeing the signs, which were fixed on the outside of our backpacks, he decided to help us somehow. The road took us around 15 minutes, so at the gas station, we’ve decided to talk a bit more. Perhaps just as a courtesy, or maybe as an understanding that without Sam, we would still have wandered around Hamburg in search of a way out. When it was an hour until the midnight, to meet Sam was a perfect option. Well, almost. Somewhere in the middle of the dialogue, he grabbed a piece of paper folded several times. Took a credit card. Split the powder into four “servings”. The first two lines he sniffed with a half-minute break between each other.

– You want some?

– Well, no… Thank you, not this time.

– That’s your right. I have no cash, but I can give you some, maybe you’ll be able to sell it. Maybe you can get some money this way.

– We appreciate this, but leave it for you, the money we have is just fine.

After this, we said goodbye to Sam. This is a rather strange feeling when a respectable and grown-up man unbuttons his white collar, takes off the glasses, wipes the sweat off his forehead and turns into a typical clerk bored with the world and his work. Into the white collar, who’s just fucked up, and who is waiting till the end of the day when he takes out his piece of paper and a credit card.

This station is unlikely to enter the top of our hitch-hiking spots, but there was everything we needed: a shop, a toilet, cold tap water, a shower and a place where we should meet someone. The romance of the hitch-hiking is that sort of bullshit that I advise you never to believe in. Well somehow romantically had passed the first half an hour. Okay, you’re buying yourself a hot dog for three euros and romance continues for another seven or ten minutes. Then you just start being obsessed with the thought about the next car. It’s like “Man vs. Wild”, but in this case it’s Roads. Or at least to cover a few hundred kilometres and sleep, while your friend in the front seat will be telling the same stories.

– Guten morgen!

I don’t know how we managed to shut down at the same time, but the desire to sleep worked out better than all the instincts of self-preservation. The German cops came to us around two in the night. Still, I don’t understand whether it was just an accident, or it was store’s manager, who was looking at us through the window, from time to time, and maybe, he had found some kind of danger in us.

– Your IDs, please.

– But it’s legal to hitch-hike at the gas station, isn’t it?

– Yes, you can. Where’re you going?

– Amsterdam.

– Any weed on your person?

Even if you’re guided by a minimal logic and even more minimal knowledge of the pot prices, it’s not difficult to understand the dumbness of bringing weed from Hamburg to Amsterdam. One more time. Hamburg, where it’s not legalized. Amsterdam, where it’s everywhere.

– No, nothing that’s forbidden.

– Open your backpacks; I will check your belongings.

I’ve never been able to pack things up normally, that’s why, from time to time, everything has been lost. And the fact that the cop somehow miraculously had found my toothbrush in the backpack even impressed me. He and his companion were impressed by the amount of the cookies “Maria”, which, I’ll make you a spoiler, was enough even to have a tea with, upon returning to Odesa.

– All right, here are your documents. Don’t bring hash to Hamburg.

– Deal. Maybe you can give us a ride?

– Not today, boys. Good night.

The cops left, and we thought that if we had taken the gift of Sam it somehow could change our route even more. “Don’t take any extra stuff with you, it will make your backpacks lighter,” Roma told us. So, we hadn’t taken.

Around three hours after the midnight, we began to doubt whether we will be able to reach Amsterdam this night. The Amsterdam cardboard was replaced by Bremen, which was much closer, but promised us at least some movement. Anton was sleeping again. I was sitting with “Bremen”, not expecting for anything, just holding it next to my shoulder and sitting on the pavement.

– Going to Bremen?

He appeared somehow quietly. He sat down next to me on the distance of two meters and started to eat his just bought hot dog. This question seemed to have so much of indifference that even this assembly line courtesy sounded disgusting for him.

– Aha.

– Hitch-hiking?

– Yep.

– Are there two of you?

– Yep.

– Let’s go, just a second, I’ll bring my car next to you.

The last thing I could expect that night was a minibus, where instead of the rear seats will be a huge bed with cushions and a blanket. I blacked out in a few minutes, and Anton was sitting on the front seat and talking to him.

Denis is an IT specialist. Remote work allows him to move easily between cities and countries. Recently he sold a house in Asia and bought a new one, this time in Egypt. All his spare time he devotes to kite surfing. Denis even works in one of the kitesurfing schools somewhere on the coast of the Netherlands. Denis was very surprised to find out that Ukraine still weed in Ukraine is still not legalized. He said that it’s quite strange. In the end, we did not argue. Well, “we” is too loud. I was still asleep, and Anton continued the communication.

Denis saved us that night, saving several hours of our travel and vacations. In return, we promised to put stickers with his kitesurfing school in Amsterdam and Brussels. Perfect deal, perfect match. The beginning of the morning looked as if it was ideal. We needed to cover lesser and lesser kilometres.

Then the road went on a little bit faster. We hitch-hiked not a very talkative German who initially couldn’t get where Ukraine was, then remembered about Chernobyl and told the whole way about his sister who was born on the same day the explosion occurred. Then there was the first stranger whom we found at the gas station. We asked to lift give us a ride to the route that led directly to Amsterdam.

– I know one cool place you will like.

– Super.

At the first sight, the place really seemed cool. It was really nice and beautiful. It seemed even cosy, however, within the next three hours nobody had stopped next to us. Today, we had to reach our goal. We walked along the highway, and then returned to the on-ramp. One more time we went to the highway. We had returned to the same place. Google showed us that in the small town next to us there was a gas station, from which we could catch a ride. “It’s better to move, at least somehow”, echoed in the brains. So, we moved on.

For five hours we were wondering around small German towns in search of at least a hint of how we can get to the other on-ramp to the highway. Gas stations were crossed out of the list: towns were almost dead considering the number of people on the streets. It wasn’t a surprise if you take into account the temperature that was keeping since the lunchtime. Two maps were bringing us to the same motorway. More precisely, to the bridge over it. For a moment, we even began to think of the easiest way of climbing down from there and looking for the safest spot to fall. However, this time, the instinct of self-preservation hadn’t failed us.

– We’re in a deep shit.

– In a very deep one.

We got stuck in the middle of nowhere. Nobody had stopped at our raised thumbs, nobody cared to reply to our questions. The city was dead not only from the heat. It was socially dead for us. Complete ignoring. It makes you angry and increased the excitement at the same time. Sooner or later we had to drive away from this place. Or walk away.

Google showed us a bus that should take us to another small village, from where, after one hour walk, we could get to the ramp-on. Now, there was another problem, we needed to find this bus. We sat down at one of the bus stops. Neither people nor buses. After sitting for a while, I decided to go and search for the other stops so that we wouldn’t drag all our backpacks. Somewhere around the corner appeared a pleasant lady, not an elderly one, but sufficiently mature. This granny looked as if she was about to get some food and stretching out.

– Sorry, ma’am, don’t you know how to find a 57 bus here?, – I gave a try to my English.

– There are no buses here. Maybe a shuttle bus?

– Well, something like that.

– So, yes, or no?!

– Shuttle bus, yes.

– Sharekhan ze doich?, – abruptly she switched on her German.

– Nein.

– English?, – the lady switched to English again.

– Well, it was in the beginning.

– Russian?

– Yep.

– И чего ты мне голову морочишь? (Why are you messing with my head?)

We laughed together. An unknown lady was born in Kyrgyzstan but has spent almost all her life here. For a long time, she couldn’t understand how I, a guy from Odesa, appeared here. She was even more surprised when heard about hitchhiking. It was like – to stop here is stupid. The town is really dead in the afternoon. The fact of the dialogue itself was sufficient for me, but after a few seconds, the lady explained how to get to the on-ramp. Even without jumping from the bridge. And even without shuttle-buses.

– Just go straight forward and pass two bus stops. Then there will be a new town. There you will find a gas station, a Chinese restaurant and a ramp-on to the highway, – she said in Russian.

Between ourselves, we called the lady Kyrgyzstan grandmother. For us, it was like the first coming of Christ. We doubted but followed her instructions. We had even more doubts when we reached some kind of a field, but we kept on walking. When the field was over and the woods appeared, I began to doubt myself. Maybe, the heat stroke me and there was nothing at all. Or maybe I missed something, which is more real. And we will be in the deep shit again. Only in a deeper one. Because here, the chances to meet somebody become lesser and lesser.

In half an hour we had seen the outlines of a new town. In a little while, the gas station was in front of us, and to the right of it, there was a Chinese restaurant. Traffic was very weak, but it did not scare us. We were looking at a place with food, something, albeit not as native as “Maria”, but as affordable as possible. An old man with a long beard came out of the restaurant after us. He wasn’t a typical German grandfather. No, this one lacked only a cool bike and an earring, and be on the road to some cool rock festival. OK, here we go. Let’s ask.

The second coming was due to Harord. He easily agreed to take us to the track but refused taking pictures. We didn’t insist. It was not a full-scale salvation, but Harord was able to kill so many doubts that we again believed in Amsterdam. Today. Twenty minutes later we drove through one of the bridges from which we were looking at the highway. In ten more minutes, we were at the best gas station in the world. There were only less than a hundred kilometres to Amsterdam.

The third saints who saved us were a young couple from Germany. They drove to the Netherlands, to ride a bike and have some rest. He studies political science at the university, and she is a physician who wants to work with cancer. We didn’t remember their names. Their image for us is an old orange Volkswagen (Scooby-Doo van), on the back seat of which we were driving to Amsterdam.

We had conquered the road for two days. No longer had we felt ourselves like stars of hitch-hiking, and we didn’t believe in a constant fortune. We just wanted to sit down somewhere and open a can of beer. It was not creepy or dangerous. It was unexpected and unfamiliar to us. We thanked Denis and Kyrgyzstan grandmother. For a short time, a road sign, with Amsterdam on it, appeared in the window of a van. We got here. Damn it, we got here.

Dmytro Zhuravel

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