From KL to Porto – Through Central Europe to Paris

My hometown Trzemeszno is quite small, only several thousand people are living here. A couple of factories, public schools and a church. I was able to catch up with friends, make use of local lakes and rest. My mom’s cooking is the best in the world and she likes to spoil me.

I prepare hitchhiking sign and walk to the main road. I show it to passing by cars and chat with drivers stopping at lights. It takes 30 minutes, but I find a great ride. Maciek is a truck driver going West. We stop at service station past Poznan and I swap cars. I want to visit my cousin in North Poland. Maciek and Alicja are visiting their family close to Szczecin, my destination.

Maciek tells me about OldTown festival he participated in. I’m fascinated. For a few days a thousand plus people live in a fantasy/post apocalyptic village. They have their own costumes, roles to fill in and tasks within a day. An amazing concept to realise your fantasies and play a character you want to be. Maciek and Alicja also participated in Dreamhaven festival where people are role playing in alternative reality game. The main game involves numerous prop, but many people just play cards, board or pen and paper games. People are testing their own ideas and enjoy company of other like minded players. It’s a great way to get out of the city in wilderness and socialise, while geeking around under the moon at the campsite. Some games are played for days.

Maciek and Alicja drop me at a bus stop, few km from centre of Szczecin. I enjoy a chat with a local girl, while waiting for a bus. I’m also thumbing passing by cars. I won’t succeed if I won’t try… my motto. I don’t wait long. Gosia is driving straight to city centre. She is telling me about her amazing job in Germany. Many Polish people work and live abroad, economic migrants, I was one of them.

My cousin is away working and I supposed to meet him the next day. I want to sightsee the city, but there is a huge craving I need to satisfy first. New Mission Impossible movie, ‘The Fallout’ is out in cinemas. I enjoy this series quite a bit. I rush to nearest cinema and get myself a huge box of popcorn. The movie is freaking amazing. Tom Cruise might be a psycho in his personal life, but he knows how to make great action movies. His stunts are breathtaking. I’m having a blast.

I’m leaving the cinema and walking towards the river. There is a festival in the city. I relax, listen to music and sightsee the area. There are fireworks in the evening, but I decide to skip it. The festival will continue and I want to experience it with my cousin.

Szczecin, by the river
Szczecin, by the river

I research local area and learn about Glebokie lake. I decide to camp there. I take a tram. It’s getting late, only few people are jogging and swimming. I find a quiet place and set up my tent. I go for a swim. The water is chill and refreshing, but it’s getting dark. I head to rest early.

My campsite by Glebokie lake
My campsite by Glebokie lake

I wake up, pack my tent and catch a tram towards Parc Kacprowicza. I’m lucky to find an outdoor theater. It starts to rain. I take advantage of the cover, sit down and read the book.

Outdoor theater in Parc Kacprowicza

An hour later I continue the walk towards the small lake Rusalka. It’s early morning, people are jogging, walking their pets, some just completed their night out.

Parc Kacprowicza

My cousin calls me and we discuss a plan for the day. He recommends me to see Blonie square. It’s very close, but first I want breakfast. I grab a snack in local shop and walk towards the town hall. It’s a beautiful building.

Szczecin city hall

Just behind it I find Blonie and a monument of the Polish pope John Paul II. This guy was really something. He influenced people on an enormous scale and made our country very proud. You can find his monuments all over the country, quite few streets and public buildings were named after him.

Szczecin, Blonie

I take a rest and enjoy the green square, while waiting for my cousin. Dominik and his wife Kasia pick me up and we drive shopping… to Germany. German border is 10 km West of Szczecin. Many Polish people travel there for work, shopping and vice versa. I soon learn that recycling in Germany works great. Most of the plastic and glass bottles have assigned to them value and discarding them in special selected points gives you back your money. Thanks to that it’s rare to see ‘money’ laying on the street. Perfect solution.

We are back in my cousins apartment and I’m hungry. I bought few bananas in German supermarket, but that only pushed my hunger away for a while. My cousin offers to cook and I soon taste some delicious chicken in a blanket. Yummy!

Dominik’s chicken in a blanket

My cousin tells me about Kasia’s sister birthday party they are going too. I’m happy to join. They put some fancy clothes, I grab balloons and off we go. It’s a windy day and I need to watch out. Luckily we get to the restaurant with no problem. We order drinks and food, the party is starting.

Diana’s birthday party

Few hours later we attend the festival nearby. Guys are excited about the fireworks. Truth to be told, I’m being surprised, It’s pretty spectacular. The core of the party is going out clubbing. I’m hungry again and so are my cousins, we grab a kebab and munch on the way home.

I haven’t seen Dominik for over 10 years. It’s the first time I meet Kasia. Now we spend time together and I’m having a blast. We have much more in common than I expected. We play board game, compete in sports with Xbox kinect and enjoy barbecue. There is lots of food and drinks. Dominik and Kasia decided it’s their mission to make me explode with the help of tasty sausages and a variety of meat. I accept this challenge, but get quickly distracted. A nearby outdoor table tennis table catch my attention. We have paddles with us, the game is on and I go frenzy. The game heats up, the adrenaline is pumping, I enjoy it a lot. Time pass quickly. Dominik and his friend Mateusz fancy a drink. We chill in their favourite bar. I hear many stories from my cousins life, it’s a great catch up.

Dominik

I want to continue my trip. Next day boys drop me close to the services on the motorway. The petrol station is busy and I don’t wait long. Adam is driving the truck to France. He drops me at petrol station off the Berlin’s ring road. I’m stuck there waiting an hour, it’s not the best place to hitch. I ask everyone… and discover undercover police car.

Polish truck driver Piotr drives to port in Hamburg. Another Polish truck driver?! Finding one isn’t difficult and I’m usually checking if one is around. I have higher chance of being picked up in comparison with any other driver. Solidarity, helping a fellow country man plays here a huge role. We speak the same language. Poland has also a history of hitchhiking so many drivers done it in the past. I doesn’t always work, there is a variety of people living in our world, but often it does. I ask Piotr to drop me at services close to the city. He helped me out and I have entertained him with my travel stories in exchange. We share smiles and part our ways.

I encounter 3 hitchhikers travelling together. They just dropped their luggage and are preparing lunch. We are having a chat. French/Israeli party travels to Amsterdam. Minutes later a car stops and Henrik driving to central Hamburg invites us to join him. Guys decline, they are looking for a longer ride. Henrik drops me close to the Hamburg’s underground. I already found a couchsurfing host in the city. I make my way to Yasir’s apartment.

My host is awaiting me and I receive a warm welcome. I have a shower and share the best watermelon in the world with my new friend. Yasir is very friendly and I soon learn the story of his life. After short rest and a chat, he proposes to sightsee the city. I’m surprised he wants to go out so late, but happily accept. Off we go. We pick up a couple of bikes and ride through the falling asleep city. It’s awesome! The city lights and quiet streets compliment the architecture of buildings along the canal. There are still quite few people in the city centre alone. We pass by a group of drunk guys. One of them has his penis out, he is pissing left and right, singing at the same time. His friends follow him unsteadily.

-Immigrants – comments Yasir.

I’m laughing, they are obviously local, I see a distaste on his face. Yasir shows me the area of city centre and points more interesting places I can visit during the day. He lived in Hamburg over 5 years and has a great knowledge of the city itself. A bit of history, interesting anecdotes and a lot of humour. Perfect guide.

Next day Yasir is working, it’s cloudy and rainy, but weather changes rapidly in this area. Not thinking much I walk straight back to city centre and lake. There is a film crew shooting, a bunch of tourist taking pictures and locals doing their own individual thing. The place that interests me the most is the city hall. It’s a beautiful building, decorated with numerous monuments and equipped with a spacious hallway.

Hamburg city hall
Hamburg city hall

I meet Karen, a student from China. We take some pictures, chat and quickly get along. She took a break from her studies in Munich, now she is sightseeing Hamburg and also couchsurfing. From word to word we start to sightsee together. We climb restored tower of St. Nicholas Church. It’s raining and the view isn’t amazing, but company is fun. Once back downstairs we realise we sneaked in without paying by approaching the staircase from the wrong direction. Sweet! We walk through the city towards the canal. It’s very different during the day. The storm is slowly disappearing, the rays of sunlight find they way through the clouds.

Sightseeing with Karen

We explore the area and continue towards the philharmonic hall located on peninsula of the Elbe river. It’s an unique structure, but what interest me more is a free entry to a viewpoint. It’s not the top of the building, but the view of the local area is pretty awesome.

View from Hamburg philharmonic hall

I part with Karen and run to meet Yasir. I meet him in the city centre, we are shopping together for curry and walk to his place. On the way we walk by Alster river and through the park with a rose garden. It’s beautiful.

Hamburg city centre
Hamburg city centre

We share a meal in Yasir’s flat. He is a great cook and I stuff my belly. He sends me off to have a look at colourful display of fountains in local park. The place is buzzing despite cold, it’s a free entry. It’s a decent show.

Yasir is a sport correspondent, he informs me about beach volleyball world championships in Hamburg. Poland is playing the first game. I wanted to leave Hamburg early morning, but I delay my departure and we are going to see the first game together.

While walking to the stadium I notice many plates with names on the pavement. Yasir explains it to me. These are names and life dates of Nazi victims who were prosecuted and deported or killed.

Paved names of Nazi victims
Paved names of Nazi victims

The entry to stadium is free of charge. We walk around and observe volleyball players warm up. Yasir have been here many times before and I get some background info on beach volleyball and stadium area.

Yasir

We watch together the first game of Poland against Russia. It’s a tense match and I enjoy it a lot. Finally Poland wins the first stage. I take the opportunity and ask for autographs. A cool souvenir.

Volleyball world championships in Hamburg
Autographs of Polish players

I say bye to Yasir and start to hitch. I catch a truck going South and find a Polish driver with a couple of hitchhikers at services close to Hanover. Together we continue towards Dortmund. Ada and Krzychu hitchhike to France for work. They will be picking grapes. We share stories of our travels. Witek, our driver, is very happy with the cheerful company. He gives us bottles of vodka as a farewell gift. It’s late and it’s not easy to catch a ride, I camp at services next to motorway.

I get up early and catch a truck going to France. I get out at petrol station close to Liege in Belgium. For hours, I struggle to find next lift heading South. I end up walking and hitching using small roads. I pass through some villages and observe local life.

Random village in Belgium

I decide to walk through centre of Liege and look around. I find some old buildings, a couple of nice viewpoints and an old school tram system. Usually I wouldn’t mind staying longer, but now I’m a bit anxious.

Pretty place in Liege

I walk to an exit and hitch on a local route. Michelle picks me up and delivers on the motorway to Luxembourg. I push my way through with a few smaller rides and early evening I arrive to Luxembourg City with a beer in my hand. My last driver treats me with a drink and delivers me straight to my friends address.

I meet Michal. My friend ensures I’m comfortable and after a meal we enjoy a walk through the city. He points to me the biggest attractions of the capital and suggests places to visit the next day. We take scenic Pfaffenthal lift down to the bottom of the Alzette valley and stroll through the streets back to his apartment. Luxembourg is a rich city, many people travel here from Germany and Belgium for work as pay rate is higher. Living here is also relatively expensive and displays in shops aim for high earners.

Shop display in Luxembourg

Michal is working. On the way to the city centre I pass by St. Joseph’s church. I love its architecture, it reminds me a small castle. The view triggers fantasies of treasure hunting expeditions. Are there catacombs full of falling apart bodies and relics of past secured by traps?!

St. Joseph’s church

I never learn, but I dream about it on the way to the Grand Duchess Charlotte Bridge also known as the ‘Red Bridge’. It is an excellent viewpoint with Alzette valley and railyard underneath.

Alzette valley

I continue through lively city centre. Numerous shops, cafes and restaurants are stormed by tourists. I walk by square with live music on and observe a wedding party posing to pictures. I sit down and let sun caress me with a warm touch. I take my time and relax.

Luxembourg city centre

I visit nearby Notre-Dame cathedral from 17th century. I like to look at stained glass windows. Since I’ve seen The Last Crusade Indiana Jones movie, they remind me of an adventure. Huge columns and beautiful arches second that feeling.

Notre-Dame cathedral in Luxembourg
Notre-Dame cathedral in Luxembourg

Grand Ducal Palace is located 100 m further. It previously served as city hall, but now it is reserved for Grand Duke and his family. I sit down for a momenta and listen to a girl playing guitar.

Next to Grand Ducal Palace
Next to Grand Ducal Palace

I’m looking for a good photo spot and I find one. The view from Adolphe bridge is pretty spectacular. I feel satisfied, I still have some time. I end up reading a book in a quiet park on the way home.

The view from Adolphe bridge
The view from Adolphe bridge

Michal finishes work on time. I grab gifted bottle of vodka, we buy some juice and snacks. Michal knows a nice viewpoint close to Mudam, the museum of modern art. We find our base on the blanks of an old fort. The view is indeed pretty amazing and the vodka is better then I expected. We share many stories and get smashed. We are having great time.

Getting smashed with Michal
Getting smashed with Michal

I leave Luxembourg early morning. Local buses are free on Saturday! I start to hitch in an awkward place close to the main train station. I want to find a lift to the services at the motorway. It takes me a an hour and I get there only to learn that not many trucks are driving during the weekend. Half an hour of thumbing and flashing my sign to departing cars pays off. Pierre and Alice are driving home to Lyon. They were on holiday in Netherlands. 500 km in a relaxed atmosphere with a single stop for lunch.

I met Tommy during my travel in Australia. We had a common couchsurfing host in Melbourne and partied together. I arrive to his flat in Lyon in the afternoon. He introduces me to his flatmate and we are off to sightsee Lyon.

We take underground to the city centre and walk towards the centre square. It’s a beautiful, sunny day and we are in a great mood. Suddenly Tommy’s expression changes and he approaches a young man with his friends. They are having short, but heated conversation. The boy Tommy spoke with was wearing a t shirt of a football club very much disliked in Lyon. Tommy warned him he can get into trouble. It might be silly, but some football fans could portrait it as a challenge.

Place Bellecour, central square in Lyon
Place Bellecour, central square in Lyon

Tommy wants to show me as much as he can before the sun will set. We take funicular up to Saint Jean Baptiste cathedral, it’s one of his favourite buildings in Lyon. We arrive during the siege. Tourists are storming in and out, taking selfies and enjoying snacks from a close by stands. The cathedral is partially closed due to mass taking place. I catch a glimpse of beautiful paintings and visit the sanctuary beneath.

Saint Jean Baptiste cathedral
Saint Jean Baptiste cathedral

The view from the hill isn’t breathtaking, but pleasant. Lyon has beautiful architecture, the landscape however is pretty average. We go down and explore old town with it’s tiny brick streets and labyrinth of households and corridors.

Lyon
Lyon

We go down and explore old town with it’s tiny brick streets and labyrinth of households and corridors. Tommy introduce me to traboules, alleyways and staircases linking buildings and markets.

Lyon old town
Lyon old town

We rent bikes and increase pace. There are many cycling paths in the city and it’s a great way to discover it. The river splits Lyon in half. There are quite few bridges over the river and many people are chilling nearby, sitting on blanks or in close by cafes.

By Rhone river in Lyon
By Rhone river in Lyon

We arrive in front of a huge mural presenting a bunch of famous Lyon celebrities. The wall painting is beautiful. Together with Tommy, we share a picture with chef Paul Bocuse.

With Tommy and Paul Bocuse
With Tommy and Paul Bocuse

We cycle towards the Lyon opera. It’s a massive building with numerous columns and statues of muses on top. I can hear someone performing outside, apparently that happens a lot. It’s very climactic place and I can easily imagine many people hanging here every night. Our next stop is the zoo, which is already closing when we arrive. I have enough time to look at flamingos.

Flamingos in Lyon Zoo
Flamingos in Lyon Zoo

We spend the evening chilling with Tommy’s friends and munching goodies of cheese board in one of the bars. We cycle back home, play computer games and relax.

Next day we drive to La Terrasse lake. It’s a beautiful place surrounded by mountains. The weather is awesome and we are excited. We start with a picnic and move to the beach once satisfied. The main attraction is a floating water playground. It’s quite big. Numerous structures can be climbed, many people is running loose and jumping into the water. It’s quite well organised, every half an hour a new bunch of people is let in to spread mayhem.

La Terrasse lake
La Terrasse lake

There is another attraction… a water catapult. A 100 kg of weight is dropped on the inflatable blob shooting a potential suicider high in the air and above the water. Let me show you…

'Enjoying' the water catapult
‘Enjoying’ the water catapult

My first jump is a painful experience. I didn’t expect the force of the impact and haven’t prepare myself well. I feel pain in my back and my neck. My landing was far away from perfect and a red bruise starts to form on my leg. We paid for 3 jumps and I don’t feel comfortable going for the second one. Tommy’s silhouette is flawless in the air. It motivates me to try and balance my next jump. I fail miserably. The weight and impact are a cruel puppeteer. I fell on my side and take a massive blow to my ribs that leaves me gasping for air. Once out of the water I surrender. I’m battered enough. I pass on third jump.

I leave water catapult and start to swim, trying to relax in the sun. Guys have different idea, they rented paddle boards. I need some time to regenerate my strength and enthusiasm, brutally ripped from my body. Some time later we que for water floating playground. I try to race Tommy to the highest structure and I’m quickly outmatched by him. I’m having blast swimming and sliding into the water. I try to jump down from the highest point, but slip unbalanced and fall in weird position. I hit the water with the side of my head. My right ear hearing is gone. Another 15 minutes of play drains me and I need help to get out of the water. My muscles hurt and I’m exhausted. I start to feel pain in my chest. The route back to Lyon is quiet. Everyone is tired and some are falling asleep.

Few hours by the lake left me damaged. Months of hitchhiking from Malaysia couldn’t do that. The water leaks from my ear and so is the blood. The pain in the chest doesn’t allow me to relax. I take some painkillers and hope for the agony to go away. I struggle through the night and wake up early. My ear is still blocked, but I feel rejuvenated.

Early morning I catch a bus to the services by the motorway. I’m lucky, the gate is open and I can access it easily. It’s not always the case. Sometimes I need to walk on the motorway hundreds of metres in a heavy traffic or jump through a fence. It’s always worth the effort. These are the best places to hitch.

Jean Remy is driving straight to Paris. He is a journalist who specialises in car magazines. He visited his daughter South of France, it’s a long road and he fancies a company. I’m happy to help. He is well rounded and share some interesting stories with me. Years ago there were many hitchhikers in certain areas of Paris thanks to poor public transport. With time Jean Remy noticed a positive change in the attitude of a public. There was more empathy on the road.

I use a local train to make my way to the city centre. My couchsurfing host is working and I have some spare time to sightsee places I haven’t seen before. I make my way to Luxembourg Palace and surrounding it garden with numerous statues.

Luxembourg Palace, Paris
Luxembourg Palace, Paris

There are many people around chilling and sightseeing. Parents try to control children who run around model boats sailing in a large water basin.

Luxembourg Garden
Luxembourg Garden

I walk through the city to Notre Dame. The cathedral is famous and the square in front of it is full of people from every corner of the world. Most of them are taking selfies. I admire the construction and detail put into this place. I have visited it previously, but still find it impressive.

Notre Dame cathedral
Notre Dame cathedral

In the evening I join Riadh in his apartment. Together with my couchsurfing host we explore the city and observe the night life. Riadh could easily operate tours in the area. The names of passing by buildings, historical facts, dates and interesting facts do not sink well in my memory. I’m hungry. I stuff my face with a symbolical French crepe. Riadh studies to become a doctor. I tell him about the lake and my blocked ear. He recommends me some drugs, I feel a lot better knowing what to buy. The pain in my chest increases, I think its my bruised ribs, a result of the water catapult.

Early morning I run to the pharmacy and buy some medicines. Riadh is leaving to work. I rest a bit and in a great mood I head off to see Elodie. She is a good friend of mine. We worked together in UK and quickly got along. She is cheerful and optimistic, a great company. I haven’t seen here for many years so I am excited to meet her again. I need some extra cash and use local ATM. A surprise, before I do anything, my card is swallowed by the machine. Luckily I have some cash on me. I enter a bank and learn from the staff that I can pick up the card the next day.

I meet Elodie. We are walking through streets of the capital, recall memories and share our stories. Elodie hasn’t changed and it feels like I’ve seen her a day earlier, the chemistry is there and we are having great time. We are hungry. It’s the first time I’m trying snails. Served in butter and with pesto sauce, they are delicious. They remind me meaty mushrooms.

Lunch with Elodie
Lunch with Elodie
Snails!
Snails!

I want to see Eiffel tower again from a close distance. It’s my third visit in the city, but this landmark is like a magnet to me. We use Paris metro and walk towards the tower. There are many people relaxing and socialising in the area. Quite few people are running around with bottles of alcohol and Eiffel tower miniatures, trying to earn an extra euro. We take some pics, sit down and relax. A while later I walk Elodie back to metro, she needs to go and I want to stay a bit longer. I’m so happy to meet her and promise to see her again.

Eiffel tower
Eiffel tower

I go back to Eiffel tower and walk around. I observe people taking pictures, dating, painting, rushing to work or getting smashed. I just enjoy the walk itself and the buzz. I want to see Arc de Triomphe located nearby, I continue to walk. Driving through this roundabout is one of my most vivid memories from my previous trips. It’s just that crazy and unique. I arrive before the sunset, it’s slowly getting dark.

Arc de Triomphe
Arc de Triomphe

I don’t stay long. I’m heading back to Riadh’s apartment. We catch up on our days and go to sleep early. Next day I want to be in Toulouse, 700 km South from Paris.

A)Trzemeszno B)Szczecin D)Hamburg F)Liege G)Luxembourg H)Lyon I)Paris
A)Trzemeszno B)Szczecin D)Hamburg F)Liege G)Luxembourg H)Lyon I)Paris

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