Hitchhiking to Alicante

Hitchhiking to Alicante

Years ago when I was still studying in Poland I came to Britain for a summer job. After a few weeks of picking stick beans in the heart rural of Worcestershire it was time at last to enjoy my holiday. So, together with a friend, we decided to head to the south of Spain, to Alicante. To make things interesting we decided to hitchhike all the way.

Our trip started properly at junction 6 on the M5 (Worcester North) from where some locals gave us a lift to the M42. Here we met the first of the interesting personalities that we were to come across on our journey. A young architect took us quite a way to London. He used to hitch-hike himself including overland across Africa as well as hitching a ride back on a tanker ship from Cape Town to Europe. He was definitely a character.

By the end of day one, after various shorter and longer lifts, we arrived in Kent. We spent the first night in our tent in a field besides the M20 (probably at Jct 11 if I remember correctly).

Next morning full of optimism and anticipation we made a short hike to the approach road to the Channel Tunnel terminal and started trying to stop someone. I didn’t take too long before we attracted the attention of some security guards who explained politely that hitchhiking there was prohibited. After we put on our most miserable and saddest faces they agreed to give us a lift to Dover where we could catch a ferry. It wasn’t really what we planned but hey, when you travel the way we were, nothing is really ever planned.

So there we were, standing at the side of the road approaching the ferry terminal, when we spotted a happy bunch of people in a van. After a short conversation they agreed to give us a lift onto the ferry and then we were supposed to fend for ourselves. However before we reached France they agreed to take us as far as it was convenient for us (they were heading to the Czech Republic to visit family – it would have been the perfect lift if I had been heading straight back home).

And that’s how we ended up in the vicinity of Arras at some remote and depressing motorway junction. Luckily after no more then half an hour we got another lift, this time with a French businessman, almost to the outskirts of Paris to one of the big service stations where it is easier to find lifts with the long distance truckers. There we were about to pitch our tent again when we decided to ask the last few people if they were heading south of Paris (we really wanted to avoid being stuck in the big city). The second trucker we asked agreed to take us on. It was a bit challenging to communicate with him as he was Turkish and didn’t really speak English. Luckily we could communicate in broken German (which I knew a bit from watching German cartoons as well as A-Team or Airwoolf on German speaking channels when I was young). It turned out that he also had some limited English based on watching American action movies.

We spent the next couple of hours delivering meat carcases to various industrial parks on the outskirts of Paris but it was all worth it as we finally ended up at another big service station this time south of Paris on the motorway A10 leading all the way to Bordeaux.

After a short sleep we started asking truckers if they could give us lift in the direction of the Spanish border. It didn’t take more than 30-40 minutes before we arranged to travel with a German trucker heading south. However after an hour or so we realized that his English was limited and he was getting bored and kind of wanted to get rid of us. Luckily he didn’t simply drop us off in a random place but asked his fellow drivers over the CB radio if anyone who spoke English wanted to take some lost Poles towards Spain. One of the other German drivers agreed and we transferred at the nearest parking lot.

Our new host was a great, friendly guy. We spend all day with him crossing most of France. I love travelling on long distance trucks. They make steady progress, they are often much more comfortable than even the most expensive cars and you can look down at regular cars and drivers. In moments like this I sometimes wish I could be a truck driver myself.

We spent our third night en route south from Bordeaux at a massive truck stop. Before that I thought that such places existed only in America. But they do exist in Europe, just sometimes they are hidden off the main routes. You have to know where to find them.

The next day started early. One thing you quickly realize while hitchhiking is that truckers often start early. 5-6am is the norm, so if you want to catch the best lifts you have to get up early. Our friendly German driver took us to the first service station in Spain as from there on he had to make some local deliveries. The early morning drive from Bordeaux to Spain was quite a spectacular one as we crossed the vast pine forest of Landes shrouded in mist.

After saying goodbye to our German friend we started to look for the next lift. Initially we were a bit worried as the service station was quite small and quiet but we quickly spotted a truck with Czech licence plates and its driver agreed to take us all the way to Madrid. Yeah!! He was younger than us and it was his first journey of such distance. We spent a day progressing steadily across the vast landscapes of Northern Spain while cracking jokes and discussing Polish and Czech cartoons, rock music and other subjects.

We stopped for a night on the far northern outskirts of Madrid. Our next big challenge was to cross this vast metropolis. The hitchhiker’s nightmare. The Czech trucker had to wait for his delivery details so we said goodbye to him and started stopping passing traffic. It took us hours before we finally hitched a ride in a Spanish truck. Its Columbian driver assured me that he was heading to route A3 towards Valencia ( I asked him three times and even pointed out the number to him on my map) but of course he took us the wrong way. He was heading to the A4 towards Cordoba instead. As soon as we realized our “miscommunication” we asked him to drop us off at the nearest service station. Unfortunately it was an absolutely dead local station and it was siesta time. Damn. The only option was to use the local public transport and try to get to the correct side of Madrid. Something that every hitchhiker wants to avoid.

It took as the whole rest of the day before we got to the autovia A3 leaving Madrid towards Valencia and Alicante. It was already late but we still tried to get another lift. To no avail, two hours later we gave up and decided to spend another night on the outskirts of Madrid. We pitched out tent on the campus of a local technical university which, being summer, was virtually deserted. We did less than 40km in the whole day. Such is life.

Day six of our journey started early. It couldn’t be worse than the previous day. And it wasn’t. It took as two or so hours to get a lift but the first person who stopped offered to take us all the way to the coast, almost 500km away. He was a young guy who was heading there to inspect some properties of his dad’s. How convenient.

Driving from Madrid to Alicante we crossed a vast, empty and beautiful desert landscape. It really reminded me of driving in Arizona and other Southwestern states in the US. By mid afternoon the Spanish bloke had dropped us off at the gate of a campground where we were to spend the next few days before embarking on the next adventure, hitchhiking all the way back to Poland. But that’s another story. For now we just wanted to have some fun which we definitely deserved having covered 2500km in six days. On the road again

Wuppertal

Schwebebahn 1Many people may ask where the hell is this Wuppertal. Even more will ask what on earth is the reason to go there.

Well,you won’t find any ancient monuments out there. Not even medieval ones. Ok, let’s be honest, there are no real monuments at all in Wuppertal. It is just a middle sized city in Germany, not far from Cologne or Dusseldorf. Not really scenic or historic one for that.

But still, people from around the world keep coming there. And most of them come just to use its public transport.

At this moment you might think that I must be crazy. Nobody comes to London, for example, just to travel on the underground. Sure, people are fascinated by the Underground, especially the geeky types, but they usually see something else too.

True, but in Wuppertal they don’t have just an underground, they have something much, much better. It is called the Schwebebahn.

Trains run every few minutes and the single ride tickets cost just 2.50 Euro. And, as I already mentioned, on board you can always meet travelers from around the world who visit Wuppertal just to use the Schwebebahn. So what is all the fuss about? It is just a train. Isn’t it? Well not quite.

It is a unique and very scenic “hanging railway”. Its double-carriage trains run on tracks which are above the ground. The whole system (which is actually a single line only) has 13,3 km in length from which 10 km is 12m above the river and remaining 3,3km are 8m above the city streets.Schwebebahn 3

Sounds cool? Wait till you ride it. You will board the trains via one of the 20 stations which are located above the streets or above the river, which is fun in itself. Some might still say, it is just a shorter version of the Dockland Light Railway in London (DLR). Wrong again. The big difference is that in Wuppertal trains are actually suspended under the tracks. When you get into the train you can feel that the whole carriage is moving. But the best fun begins when the trains run between the stations. Especially on curves you can feel like the carriages are tilting outside due to the centrifugal force. And it travels really fast. Well, at least fast enough to properly feel all the forces. It is awesome. It is also probably one of the cheapest attractions in Germany (not counting its free motorways without the speed limits of course, but then you have to pay for petrol anyway)Schwebebahn 5

The most amazing thing is that this system is more than hundred years old. It was open by the German Emperor William II on 24 October 1900 and it is the oldest monorail system in the world. It was build to connect separate communities in the narrow industrial valley of the river Wupper. Then in 1929 those towns were connected to form the city of Wuppertal. So, some can say that Schwebebahn was actually the father of the city.

It is also considered one of the safest mode of transportation in the world. There was just one fatal accident during the whole 108 years of operation.

Apart from the Schwebebahn there is not much else to see in Wuppertal. It is a neat and tidy city (as one can expect in Germany) but quite a boring one actually. It is good place for a day trip from Cologne which is of course much more interesting city.

To visit Wuppertal take a train from Cologne main railway station and you will be there in less than an hour.

I recommend this trip to anyone with even vague interests in railways or industrial past. The suspended rail is a real toy for boys, but of course I still recommend this trip for the girls too. Especially the cool ones.

Have a nice ride!!!