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Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Odds & Ends of Hitchhiking Through Europe

Ends. I thought it would be odd to start with the ends. Though hitchhiking is certainly no means to the ends.

The city of Groningen in Netherlands has an official hitchhiking spot, or lifterschalte. It's a very nice spot too, with plenty of cyclists, and even boats passing by the adjacent canal. I waited here and, ironically, it was the longest I had to wait for a ride at any spot in the Netherlands - 1.5 hours.
The first driver that picked me up while hitchhiking from Berlin to Amsterdam drove 210 km/h on the Autobahn! I shared this ride with the charming Payman, who I met at the hitching spot outside Berlin. Turns out he has been hitchhiking for the past 11 years. He is a street performer and works as a professional mime. Now a German citizen, he was previously a refugee from Kurdistan who fled northern Iraq to avoid fighting in the army against his own people.

My third driver, Dan, on this same journey let me stay with him for one night. I got to meet his charming family, his wife Sabrina and 3 kids.

While hitchhiking from Warsaw to Berlin, two cars stopped for me at exactly the same time. One of them was a young woman. Of course I got excited - up to that point, I had only been driven by solo men. Unfortunately, as soon as she noticed the other driver, she pointed at him and drove away.
While hitchhiking from Rotterdam to Groningen, I got picked up by Joost, a university professor and world expert on floating structures for energy production, such as oil rigs. He is pioneering a project to build the first ever floating windmills. When I mentioned a groundbreaking (or wavebreaking?) tidal energy project in Canada's Bay of Fundy, he said he was a consultant on the project, and was just about to submit the feasibility report on it.

While hitchhiking from Netherlands to Paris, I encountered two other hitchhikers at a rest stop. They were in the middle of a friendly hitchhiking competition from Amsterdam to Lilles, with up to 10 other groups of students.

Later on that same journey I got picked up by Lien, a very interesting Belgian lady (my second ever female driver). She described the difference between Dutch and Belgians: Dutch people are very direct and blunt with their comments, easily offending people from other cultures, while Belgians are diplomatic while being nice. She likened Belgians to Canadians in this respect, attributing it to adapting to being situated next to major world powers.
By the way, wanna give hitchhiking a try? Here's a handy site to help you get started:

Odds. Now for some random and interesting European facts learned and experiences experienced of recent weeks.

After a failed uprising by the citizens of Warsaw to take back their city during World War II, the Nazis, as punishment, demolished every building in the city. Today Warsaw's old centre is beautifully restored and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Nazis built several bunkers in Berlin during World War II to protect its citizens from air raids, and to give their soldiers peace of mind that their families were safe. After the war all of the bunkers were destroyed as one way of discouraging another war by the 20th century upstart Germans.

In protest of serving for the Dutch army, my friend's father fasted for 3 weeks, only drinking water, before the army discharged him.

A large part of Netherlands is below sea level, blocked by dykes along the sea. The land is criss crossed with many canals of fresh water, supplied by rainfall and rivers, including the Rhine. All this fresh water is eventually discharged into the sea by pumps, a task once carried out for centuries by windmills. The administration tasked with water management in Netherlands, literally translated into English as "Battle Against the Water", has higher authority than the government.
Dutch people are good at water
The north of Netherlands is experiencing an increasing frequency of earthquakes, blamed on the exploitation of a large reserve of shale gas. My friend's mother is leading a community development initiative which includes construction of a house made of straw materials, more sustainable and resistant to earthquakes.

Holland is a region in the west of Netherlands, but the name is often mistakenly associated with the entire country. Holland does, of course, contain Amsterdam. Oh, and a lot of tulips.
At Keukenhof Gardens with Howie
Yes. Rainbow coloured tulips
Groningen was once deemed the friendliest cycling city in the world. Indeed, the day I spent walking around I had to watch out for cyclists, not cars, the entire time.
Bike parking outside a university in Groningen
Luckily for me, in many cities I got to be the cyclist. Thanks to the kindness of my hosts, or due to city bikeshares, I have ridden a bicycle in Syracuse, Vienna, Budapest, Warsaw, Berlin, Rotterdam, Kloosterburen, Nijmegen (actually, my friend Jasper rode while I sat on the rack on the back), Paris, and, most recently, Orleans.

In Rotterdam, I pulled off my most successful dumpster dive at the outdoor market. I brought a variety of fruits, vegetables and bread home, and cooked dinner for 4 guys in the house, which hosted 8 or 9 Couchsurfers every day.
Germany has a standard income tax of 45%. For every child, a family receives from the government 200 euros a month until that child turns 15. Unemployed citizens are eligible to receive benefits of 800 euros per month for a guaranteed 10 months.

On top of free university, students in Germany and Netherlands get a monthly stipend (also around 200 euros a month) to help with living costs (this was recently repealed by the conservative government in Netherlands). Canada, take note!

In Paris, I stayed in the centre in my friend's grandmother's chambre. It's basically a 10 square metre flat. There is a toilet, but, like a hostel, it's outside the flat and shared by other residents. Still, my friend says a place like this could rent for 500 euros per month!

Berlin is well known for urban exploring, which is the act of breaking into abandoned buildings. In its purest form, the urban explorer leaves no trace of his or her existence. I got to explore an abandoned children's hospital with friends.

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