During the winter of 2017, between the end of January and the beginning of April, I hitchhiked from Salzburg, Austria to Athens, Greece. Starting in a beautiful snow covered Salzburg on the 30th of January, and longing for Greece, spring and higher temperature, I had planned to visit one city in each country, for one week.
My plan was to arrive in Athens by the beginning of April, my final destination being the ‘Free and Real Community’ in the village of Aghios on Evia, an island close to Athens.
When I started my life as a digital nomad, I took the challenge to earn money while travelling, and earn it online. My dream was to be able to go anywhere, work everywhere and earn a living while doing this. For me, the best way to get to that situation is having the pressure to just do it, so I started with hardly any money.
This approach had basically two risks: running out of money and running out of energy, because of the constant pressure to earn money. For that reason, I had cut my journey to Athens in two parts. The first part was eight weeks, hitchhiking to Salzburg in December and January. Then a two-week break in the Netherlands and the second part, eight weeks as well, from Salzburg to Athens.
From my first online activities in December, I bought two flight tickets, from Salzburg to Amsterdam and back to Salzburg. And that was it. When I flew to Salzburg on Monday 30th of January, I had about five euro in my pocket. But, as always, money was on the way.
I had left my backpack and my yoga mat in a locker at the Salzburg University Library, to save the effort and money to take it to and from Amsterdam without needing it. Although officially forbidden to keep stuff in a locker overnight, after two weeks it was still there. Not without a formal and strict warning on the locker door, of course.
Tuesday morning I resumed my daily working routine. After buying breakfast at the supermarket and having a coffee at the university café, my wallet was empty. The rest of the week I had to get creative on food.
I soon found out that the nearby market had some stalls that presented food samples: special types bread, pieces of sausage and pieces cheese. By walking along these stalls three or four times, as unnoticed as possible and with a look pretending sincere curiosity, I gathered myself a lunch each day.
As I had experience with dumpster diving in the Netherlands, getting food out of supermarket waste containers was an option as well. After the library closed, at 9 pm in the evening, I walked a few hours to look for possible dumpster dive locations. Each evening I took a different direction, so I got to know Salzburg pretty well.
By Thursday, my total focus on food started to yield results. After having my lunch at the market, I hiked around the ‘Mönschberg’, one of the mountains in the middle of Salzburg that make your orientation for locations and directions absolutely difficult in this city.
Under the Mönschberg is the ‘Altstadtgarage’, a large car parking facility with a tunnel system. These tunnels it possible to pass the mountain underneath. After an hour of hiking around the mountain I ended up at the other side. I took the Altstadtgarage tunnel, which would bring me just around the corner of the University library.
Just before the end of the tunnel, I noticed a paper bag lying on the balustrade along the sidewalk. I checked the bag. It contained two fresh, untouched baguette sandwiches with ham, cheese and pickles. Probably, someone had put the bag there closing his or her umbrella or checking jacket pockets for a parking ticket, and had totally forgotten about the sandwiches.
This was my most luxury and extensive lunch in three days. It would take me until Saturday though, my last day in Salzburg to solve my food problem for a longer period of time.
After four days of cloudy and rainy weather, with snow gradually disappearing, the weather forecast for Sunday was perfect. So I would leave Salzburg on Sunday morning and hitchhike to Ljubljana, Slovenia. I finished working Saturday afternoon. At one o’clock the library closed and after strolling around the old city center for some hours, just before dark I went for my last mission to find a food container.
I went south, following the road signs ‘Villach’, a city on the border of Austria and Slovenia. This would be my route for hitchhiking from Salzburg. After I found the right location for hitchhiking, I walked back to the city center. After having checked at a Spar supermarket in vain, in noticed a ‘Billa’ supermarket.
I walked to the back to check for containers. Amidst stored cardboard, crates and plastic waste were two big black containers. Upon opening the first one, I directly saw I had hit bull’s eye. The container was loaded with an abundance of bread, pre-prepared luxury sandwiches, pre-packed salads, fruits and vegetables. This would not only be a luxurious meal for Saturday evening, but for several days.
I took what I would eat on a Saturday evening. As I would pass this place again on Sunday, I could take the rest I needed. I trusted the food would still be there and in good condition. With a temperature around zero, the containers were perfect refrigerators.
Walking back to the city center, I had mixed feelings. I felt grateful and relieved for finding the food, being able to eat as much as I wanted. On the other hand, I felt outraged, realizing the amount of food thrown away and imagining how many people could profit from just these two containers. I decided to take my time the next day to film the containers and the food, in order to publish a short video film on YouTube.
Sunday was a bright and sunny day. I arrived at the Billa supermarket early afternoon and found the food in the containers practically untouched. I took half an hour for filming and selected the most luxurious sandwiches and best organic breads to take with me.
Half an hour later I was at my hitchhiking location and with a view on the old castle of Salzburg, I had an extensive lunch before I put up my cardboard sign with ‘Villach’. On this sunny day, going south and with the snow gradually disappearing from Salzburg, I had the expectation to leave cold and snowy weather behind me.
After one hour along the two-lane road, I got a ride from a young guy. Florian just had graduated from the Salzburg film school and was very curious about my plans to build a European media network.
After a short but intense exchange, he dropped me off at a petrol station just before the ‘Tauernautobahn’, the highway to the south side of the Austrian alps.
I remembered that these alps were the separation between the moderate northern European and Mediterranean climate. So I was looking forward to passing them.
After half an hour at the petrol station, a car stopped with a man and two young boys. When the man went out for petrol, I walked towards him to ask if they could help to get to Villach. The man seemed to understand nor German, nor English and when I pointed at my cardboard sign, he nodded his head. He paid for petrol, got into his car and drove off.
Two minutes later, the same car came around the corner. Apparently, it had made a full circle around the petrol station. This time, the car stopped right in front of me. The oldest of the two boys told me in German that I could come with them.
Arif Zararsiz and his younger brother were returning to Villach with their father, a Turkish imam. Their father understood mainly Turkish, but Arif and his brother spoke German. They explained to me that when they told their father I was hitchhiking to Villach, the father felt the obligation to help me, according to what the Koran and the Islam teach about helping other people.
We had a very lively discussion about Islam in Austria, Arif translating for his father. Meanwhile, we crossed the Alps and contrary to what I had expected, it started raining and it became colder.
After one and a half hour we arrived to Villach, just before it turned dark. A petrol station with mainly traffic heading to Slovenia, some kilometres before the border.
Soon after Arif, his father and brother drove off to the Villach city center, even snow began to fall. Welcome to the south side of the Alps. And it became severely cold, making it necessary to cross the street and visit a MacDonald’s every 30 minutes. Standing at the MacDonald’s, looking to the petrol station opposite the road, I saw how the fresh layer of snow gradually became thicker.
After two hours I gave up. Hardly any cars at the petrol station, mostly local traffic, gave me the impression that I had to spend the night in Villach. Next to the petrol station was the ‘ARBÖ’, the Austrian national road assistance. With a small roof over the entrance door, just enough space for one man to sleep comfortably.
The first thing I heard the next morning was ‘Was Ist Dies Denn Jetzt? The first ARBO-employer arrived to work Monday morning and found a stranger under layers of cloth blocking the entrance to his office. After replied ‘Guten Morgen’ and moved aside so he could get into the building, he could see the humor of the situation.
A few minutes later, two more colleagues arrived. By that time I had gotten up and packed. I went in, told them how I got stuck in Villach and asked the for the toilet. When I came back, I got treated on a fresh cup of coffee and breakfast.
Totally warmed up and refreshed, I resumed hitchhiking around ten. After half an hour, a Slovenian man offered me a ride to Ljubljana. I got out at the petrol station on the highway near the exit ‘Ljubljana centre’. The last 5 kilometres to the centre I rode with an elderly couple.
I arrived to an icy and cold Ljubljana Monday afternoon, temperature just above zero. A new chapter to my journey. Still without money, but thanks to the Billa supermarket, with a food supply for several days.