After I hitchhiked to Athens in the winter of 2017, I flew back to the Netherlands in April. To take a break from travelling, to celebrate my mother’s 75th birthday and to give film workshops.
My idea was to have a four-week break and leave the Netherlands around 15th of May. Fly to Athens, ‘hopping’ some beautiful Greek islands, to Turkey and Cyprus, visit Istanbul and return to Greece. To finally end up in the Free and Real Community on Evia and make a documentary in the last week of August.
Whatever I did though, I did not manage to get the money for the flight. Booking a ticket moved further and further in time. It was only until June, when I celebrated my own birthday that I came to the realization that if I really wanted to get to Athens, I had to hitchhike the Balkans again.
On the 13th of June, with some reluctance and impatience I took the slow trail a second time.
Saturday 10th of June, I had invited family and friends to celebrate my birthday and to catch up with everyone. And to let them know I was planning a new stage, for which I needed funding, at least a plane ticket to Athens.
I had prepared a map with my travel plans and put an inviting jar next to it, so people could contribute. I imagined that the expenses of the party would be easily covered and a nice sum of money would remain.
It all went somewhat different than expected. Firstly, the funding barely raised the expenses for foods and drinks. What remained was around 2 euro. Secondly, I had an unexpected visitor to the party. Paul, a close friend from Zurich was in the Netherlands for some weeks and joined the party.
With a slight hangover I cleaned up Sunday morning. Despite my foggy thoughts, a clear image arose, combining the 2 euro in my wallet and the opportunity to ride to Zurich with Paul.
Flying to Athens probably was not meant to be. Instead, hitchhiking the Balkans again, with a head start from Zurich gained probability. If I could manage to get to Athens in two or three weeks, I had plenty of time to visit Santorini, high on my wish list for this trip, travel to Turkey, visit Istanbul and return to Athens by the end of August.
I sent Paul a message about his planning to get back to Zurich. He would go back the next Tuesday, which gave me two days to wrap things up in the Netherlands a little more quickly than planned and prepare my second hitch hiking adventure.
I realized I had to travel light. I had left my big green backpack in Athens, so taking two bags was maximum. I needed some sleeping gear though, so I arranged an inflatable sleeping mat and a quilt, to be sure to be warm and comfortable at night.
After a nightly ride on Tuesday, Paul and I arrived to his apartment in Regensdorf, a small town 15 kilometres from Zurich. We arrived just before daylight and slept until the afternoon.
Summer was about to start in Switzerland. I decided to take some days to explore Zurich before moving on to Salzburg. Paul had a mountain bike, not used for years, but still in good condition. After bringing the mountain bike back in operation, I had my first ride to Zurich Saturday morning. This I would do for five days, choosing another quarter Zurich each day.
This was the nice summer rhythm. To cool down from the warm city and the bike ride, I took a swim in the Katzensee every day. Around dinnertime I would return to the apartment and have dinner with Paul.
During the lunch before going to Zurich and when I returned, Paul had an online radio station playing. Warm and sunny summer melodies, one I liked very much and I became curious what the song was. Unfortunately, the music played nonstop for an hour, no DJ announcing the song. I checked the station online and searched the playlists. I tried several times, but could not find the song. Eventually, I gave up.
Friday 23rd of June, early afternoon. Paul dropped me off at raststätte St. Margrethen, the same routine like in January. To hitchhike from St. Margrethen to Salzburg, there were basically two alternatives: through Germany passing Munich and through Austria.
This time I got to explore the Austrian option. A first ride to Lech after half an hour brought me in the center of the Austrian Alps. Beautiful mountain tops, great meadows and clear river streams along the road. This was the Austria I remembered from the summer vacations I spent here as a young boy.
From Lech, an elderly lady brought me to Innsbruck and from there I got a ride to Kufstein. In Kufstein, only some 100 more kilometres from my destination I spent the night at the back of a petrol station. And I spent full Saturday morning to get away from this petrol station.
Eventually, a couple going into town for Saturday shopping, stopped and told me I was on the wrong location heading for the wrong direction. And they were so kind to bring me to the right highway entry, direction Salzburg.
Saturday afternoon, I arrived to sunny and warm Salzburg. A happy reunion with one of my favorite cities. After five kilometers from the highway to reach the city center, I immediately went to the ‘Volkspark’.
To my surprise, the alcove at the ‘Volkssauna’ building that had provided me with such a great shelter in winter, was boarded up and inaccessible. As it was summertime now, I didn’t worry too much about sleeping warm and dry. I hid part of my stuff in the abundant bushes and returned to the city center.
On walking back I noticed a sign with a list of summer activities in the Volkspark. Lots of children’s activities, for which large white party tents were put in place. And a sign announcing a dialogue meeting about the future of the Volkspark. The municipality of Salzburg called citizens to actively participate in the restructuring process of the park. The first meeting would take place on Thursday 29th of June.
I knew immediately why I was in Salzburg this week. This was the kind of work I had been doing in the Netherlands very intensively the last 15 years. To film the Volkspark meeting would be a wonderful challenge and probably a great experience.
After an intensively rainy Sunday, I took up my daily routine. Waking up and meditating in the park, where a large oak tree next to the Volkssauna building protected me from the rain. After breakfast, hiding one of my bags and my sleeping gear in the bushes and off to the University library, to work until early evening.
I ended every day with an evening stroll to the Billa, the supermarket I had discovered in January that still threw away large quantities of good and healthy food.
Thursday, 29th of June. I went to the Red Bull Salzburg ice hockey stadium in the Volkspark. Outside of the stadium a group of people had gathered. I looked for the official from the Salzburg municipality responsible for the dialogue meeting and got permission to make recordings.
The meeting was structured in exactly the same way I knew from my year-long experience in the Netherlands. Preceded by an excursion through the park, the meeting started with an introductory word from the mayor. Then presentations from the responsible professionals, about the different themes and interests around the restructuring of the park.
Then the participants split up in workshops and the evening ended with a plenary closure. It was exciting to attend the meeting, a mix of familiar proceedings in a totally different culture and language. I recorded it all and despite of most participants running home, I managed to interview two of the participants in my best possible German.
After the meeting, returning to my spot in the Volkspark, I immediately noticed that something was wrong. In the green area around the Volkssauna, the bushes had been thoroughly trimmed. My leather jacket, one bag with clothes and my sleeping gear were gone.
I immediately went to the police station to report it, but as they told me this was a case for the municipality, I had to wait for the next day to make inquiries. In would visit the lost and found department for several mornings, but no sign of my belongings.
To my experience, when a problem arises the solution mostly comes quickly and in a surprising way. After one night sleeping under the oak tree, a period of summer rains started in Salzburg. I had to find a good shelter and when I looked around in the park, I noticed the white party tents.
One of the tents was easy accessible in the evening and the materials, such as pieces of plastic and blankets stored in the tents served as a perfect and warm bed at night. However, I realized that travelling the Balkans with practically nothing was no option.
I had to take a break and return to Amsterdam. I combined this with a workshop I had to provide for in the last week before the summer holidays started in the Netherlands.
Sunday 9th of July, after spending one week in Salzburg and sleeping comfortably in a party tent, I hitchhiked back to Amsterdam. One leather back and a cardboard sign. That Sunday afternoon I was extremely lucky. I had a sign with ‘München’ and after one hour, a young fellow picked me up and told me vaguely he was going my direction.
It turned out he was actually going to Cologne, which was a 700-kilometre ride and brought me close to the Netherlands Sunday night. After a short sleepless night on a raststätte, and after six extremely short and pleasant rides on Monday morning, I arrived to Amsterdam Monday afternoon. I had done Salzburg-Amsterdam in 24 hours.
Sunday, 23th of July. Return to Salzburg. Travelling lightly, with only two bags. My leather bag for work and an old weekend bag, with just an old worn-out sleeping bag, some clothes and two sheets of plastic, in case of rain.
A quick ride from Amsterdam to Brussels. To Liege, then to Aachen and a late evening ride to Frankfurt. There, my first night in the open sky with only a sleeping bag. Monday morning, from Frankfurt to Munich and a ride from Munich to Salzburg. From Amsterdam to Salzburg in 24 hours.
In Salzburg, it was the yearly period of the ‘Festspiele’, one of the most important classical music festivals in Europe. Together with my daily routine of working in the library, my evening strolls to the Billa supermarket I enjoyed the ‘Festspiele’ atmosphere.
On one of the central squares an open air cinema showed all highlights of previous festivals. It was time to celebrate summer as well. Salzburg now knew a dry and warm period, so I could do without the party tents in the Volkspark.
I had abandoned my schedule to get anywhere around whatever time. I got back to the ‘one week in every country’ schedule. The circumstances had pointed out to me to travel lightly and moreover, take everything lightly.
And speaking of lightly, in the last week in Salzburg I couldn’t help but checking the song from Zurich again and again.
Eventually, I found it in one of the radio stations’ playlists and could look it up on YouTube.