Journey to the European Frontier

It always amazes me how far you have to travel to cross the first time zone. Something so easily accomplished by plane, it feels great to have made it purely (technicalities aside) by hitchhiking. It can be tedious, it can be exhausting, and it can make you feel like a clown with all the people looking at you like your a tame bear doing some mildly interesting trick in the street.
But it’s certainly rewarding when you have the time. It’s free, the people who pick you up are almost bound to be nice, social people and you get local information you just wouldn’t get otherwise.

After a lovely week with Kejsa, Enea, Enxho, Alex and many others (Marcus the Obstreperous Ozzy made a cameo appearance halfway the trip) travelling down the coast of Albania, we went inland to the charming town of Gjirokaster, where me and Kejsa took the last day to do a solid Lennon & Ono impersonation in a very seedy hotel.

Hitching to Ioannina (passing by the legendary town of Lazarat), I met Diamantis Androitis, a Greek sailor who had time off from work and kids to travel a bit. He agreed to go with me to Thessaloniki, taking me on the back of his motorcycle. We spent time seeing the town, having late night jamming & drinking sessions with locals and me trying to learn the art of Begleri, which are Greek worry beads. The Greeks know a zillion sleight of hand tricks with them, everybody having is own vocabulary of tricks, and practicing during every moment of boredom is a great way to improve your skills as you’re hitchhiking. I also advised him to name his vocation in English as sailor, for his accent made it all too tempting to confuse seaman with semen.

After a rendezvous with lovely hostess Vicky (and recording a love song which a lovestruck Albanian requested from me in order to send it to his American love, only for me to find out that she had been ignoring his recent attempts at Facebook romance) at hostel Little Big House I decided to hitchhike to Istanbul. It is a notoriously difficult stretch to hitchhike, for the Greeks are suspicious assholes, the searing temperature combined with high humidity levels makes for extremely rapid dehydration, it’s a long stretch of about 600km and the Greeks are suspicious assholes. Furthermore, it is not very helpful (but worth mentioning) that, concerning hitchhikers, the Greeks are suspicious assholes.

I tried multiple spots, signs, and methods but I didn’t manage to make a single car stop in six hours of trying. I apparently got overheated and dehydrated enough to make me lose my appetite for almost three days. When darkness fell I resorted to sleeping on top of a derelict apartment building, trying again the next morning. From a gas station on the highway (an absolutely inadvisable stretch of hiking) I finally got a ride with a friendly old Azerbaijani who would pass by Istanbul.

Unfortunately, the holiday season made for a long wait at the border, and by the time I got dropped on the highway 20km from the city center it was 5 am. By the time I got a nap at the great apartment of Jessica and Caoimhe (pronounced Kweevah) next to Taksim it was 13:00. As the great Stan Lee once noted: with great persistence comes great financial durability, for I saved the 45 euro the bus would have cost me. Wouter 1, public transport 0.

The biggest city in Europe, city of the Turks, former capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and pivot point of the Silk road: this is a city I saw far too little of during my last visit. Odds are I’ll be here for a while. Enjoying the final station of the European leg of the journey. And badgering various authorities to obtain the multiple visa I’ll need. Güle güle!

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