A hitchhiking day for the ages in Germany and Switzerland
The day started poorly. I hadn’t shaved, my eyes were bugged out from a lack of sleep, and my new haircut makes me look like a psycho ward escapee; I wouldn’t stop for me either. Plus, there is nothing worse than waiting in the rain for a ride and then seeing two other guys show up to hitchhike.
Other hitchhikers! I always think hitchhiking is a dying art, but today I saw hitchhikers every step of the way, almost all of them with bad form or praying for a miracle, like Scraggly Mohawk Dude sitting in a dirty corner of the gas station with his dog. Usually when other hitchers appear we make very small talk and wish each other well, giving space. These two came over just to gawk at the freak with the American flag on his backpack. One stared at my “KALIFORNIEN NACH BASEL” sign for uncomfortably long before saying, “Is that a joke?”
I said, no, I am from California, and seeing that he was still flummoxed, I allowed, “No, I didn’t hitchhike all the way here from California.” The expressionless Neanderthal shrugged and wandered off, but the other stayed right next to me while he texted. A precious car approached. It appeared that we were together. I told him so, but he didn’t budge. The car passed, and I was steamed. It was 11am. Dinner in Switzerland was at 6:30pm. I was 550km (340 miles) away. I gave him the stink eye, raised my voice with an “Entschuldigung!” and the inbred finally sauntered off.
Sascha picked me up, wanting to practice his English. He said he once had 93 points against his driving record, the highest in the state of Hessen. I must have had an uneasy look on my face, because he assured me this was in his reckless youth, but when we came upon a car going 160kmh (100mph) in the fast lane, he flashed his high beams and yelled at the driver to “start moving.” Germany’s the best.
Then a kind Italian man and his teenage daughter took me into Switzerland. I could have gone another four hours to Milan with them, but I got out on the other side of Basel.
From Basel, an amazing thing happened. A man with three little kids in the car pulled over and shouted, in German, “Can you drive?”
“Can you drive?” He had a neck pain and could barely move his head, and in thirty seconds, after shunting the kids to the back seat and stiffly moving to the passenger seat, a perfect stranger was driving the family off into Switzerland. (This happened once in Australia. I was in Warrnambool, Victoria and a drowsy guy asked if I could drive to Adelaide, 500+ km away. Very fun. I don’t think either guy asked if I had a drivers license or whether it was valid abroad.)
The kids in the back seat seemed amenable to the situation, and by the time we got to the gas station rest stop before Bern, the man’s ibuprofen was working and he could drive again. However, as I took the keys out of the ignition, one of the girls in the back seat reached over to put her hand on the fob to make sure I wasn’t leaving with them, not fully convinced that daddy’s trust was worth giving.
An Algerian-Swiss couple who enjoyed California on their recent vacation as everyone in this cruel and harsh world does picked me up. I could only see half of the woman’s face from the back seat, but her beauty singlehandedly made me reevaluate all things Algerian. It almost made me forget the creepy Algerian-French guy from last week who drove me to Germany. When he asked where I was from, he did some quick word association in his head, saying, “California…sex!”
Then I had another remarkable ride. I was standing in the rain south of Fribourg when an old man stopped. He couldn’t figure out how to make the car windows go down so I could talk to him. He kept pressing buttons and shouting, “Merde!” (shit!)
Then he couldn’t unlock the door. “Merde!”
Then he couldn’t open the trunk. “Merde!”
I thought he might be just another dotty old man, but he looked dashing and had well-coiffed longish hair. Any old man with long hair has to be famous or up to something nefarious; I knew this would be interesting.
He said his name was Sylvain Saudan. My blank expression gave away my unfamiliarity, so he said with great portent that he could be found in the Guinness Book of World Records.
I couldn’t grasp everything, my French is swiftly wilting, but it was something about skiing down the steepest mountains all over the world and others dying while trying to match him. I later discovered that he is the father of extreme skiing, le skieur de l’impossible, un bon vivant avec la joie de vivre.
You know that beer commercial about the most interesting man in the world? Sylvain is that guy. Watch this funny interview that shows video of him skiing down mountains. In summer. On rocks. Sylvain is the man, the myth, the legend, and he lets you know it.
Unfortunately, he is 78 now and might not be long for this world because he drives like he skis. The two highway lanes were like a slalom run for him and cars honked at us several times because of near-misses. Merde!
The only other relatively famous person that has ever picked me up hitchhiking—less than 50km away from where I had been standing, too—was Fernando von Arb, guitarist for Krokus, a Swiss heavy metal band from way back when.
Sylvain left me at a dangerous place on the highway since he didn’t want to exit, so I quickly scrambled off before the police found me, and then the last ride up to Leysin was with a woman and her baby daughter. Women often give me lifts. I’m telling you, the Kent Foster face is irresistible even in its present, need-to-buy-a-razor, post-chicken pox, molten form. I got to Graydon and Terri’s BBQ fest an hour late, starving. Grilled sausages with sharp mustard never tasted better.
Germany is far and away the best country in Europe for hitchhiking, but Switzerland can be pretty good, too. The secret is to not get stuck in places of questionable safety to stand, because Swiss police will be all over you since they have nothing else to do.
If hitchhiking isn’t your thing, rideshare is the best alternative. These days blablacar.com is quickly taking over Europe from mitfahrgelegenheit.de since it is a free service for both drivers and passengers. I need to update my website about that and 500 other things.
A quick shout out to the godfather of hitchhiking, Jacob Holdt, who wrote a book about his experiences hitchhiking in USA that has inspired me to no end.
Speaking of great travelers, as I always say, I am a fraud of a traveler compared to my friend, Graydon Hazenberg, who pledges to blog more this year. He’s also pulling ahead of me steadily in the country count. He’s at 117, I’m somewhere around 105.
One last thing: lately I’ve seen that some email sent to me through the contact form has gone straight to my spam folder, so I might have missed it if you wrote me. It might make a difference if you include my name in the message. My name is Kent. Say my name! SAY MY NAME!!
Why don’t you stay with me? You can follow along with RSS, subscribe to an email feed, see what’s cooking on Facebook, pray that I’ll say something worth remembering on Twitter and if you are really slumming it, there’s always Google+. (I’ll follow you back!)
Kent – Kent – Kent
Funny, having grown up in Germany I never thought of Germany as being the best place to hitchhike. I always thought Scandinavians were far more accommodating picking up strangers. Of course, that was eons ago….
Well, I just hitchhiked from Germany to Hungary, and it wasn’t super easy, but OK enough.
Scandinavia is pretty good, I guess, but it just seems harder since there often isn’t much traffic, the weather is rarely good, and distances can be long.
Future (budget conscious) nomad here. Not opposed to hitchhiking by any means and I pick up all the time. However, more nervous about being the one hitching as a single female. I dunno, I think it’s that whole you-might-be-driven-into-the-wilds-and-savaged thing. Advice? Tips?
If you are already comfortable picking up hitchhikers, hitchhiking yourself doesn’t seem like a big step. You are never afraid something will happen to you then?
I do get what you mean, though, and it helps if you have some familiarity with the place you might be trying it.
Where do you intend to do this? I wouldn’t recommend downtown Stockton at 2am on a Saturday!
Let me know how it goes!