The journey started with a good dose of British racism. Security at the check-in desk at Harwich questioned 3 black passengers travelling together and asked to see in their bags. When one of the 3 asked whether they were being searched because they were black, the security responded by saying they do not profile like that and went on to make a loud point about searching the white man behind them. This effort was subsequently undermined when the 3 were stopped again at the passport check.

Now that we have got rid of the racist section lets move onto the Netherlands which has never been accused of being racist…but certainly does have a lot of water. Over half on the Netherlands is at or below sea level, a lot of this is in “polders” which have been reclaimed from the sea. Instead of hedges, they seem to have strips of water between the fields.

Utrecht

We arrived at the Hook of Holland port which, other than the windfarms, is nothing to really remember and made our way by train to Utrecht, where we were met by family friends. Utrecht is not somewhere I would go out of my way to see, but is a useful stop over point between Britain and the rest of Europe. There is about a day’s worth of stuff to do and if you’re lucky you might even get the chance to pay 25 cents for the McDonalds toilet. Surely it costs them more to employ someone to enforce than they make in revenue? You could instead use the toilet in the 5 star hotel across the canal for free.

The lonely planet Europe on a shoe string guide list 3 sights in Utrecht, all of which cost 7 euros or more. Even though we didnt look around much or go to the tourist office we managed to find quite a few free things to see, including the Cloister Gardens (next to the Cathedral). We were also told that there is a great view from the top of a department store, which unlike the Dom, does not cost 8 euros.

The canals in Utrecht are lovely and definitely worth a visit if you end up there, while the food is not as bad as expected. The same can not however be said for the service. This isnt some snobby British standards and ettiquette view point: the waiter simply tried to steal our change through the powers of awkwardness. Our meal cost 17 euros and we gave him a 20 euro note and he never returned for with our change. As Lucie was standing up to go and talk to him, he came over to us innocently asking “did my colleague never bring your change?”. Cheeky bastard!

Oh, and there are cats everywhere. It seems to be a symbol of status or something, maybe homeliness, to have cats (real ones that is and alive) sleeping in shop windows.

Hannover

Hitching to Hannover was relatively easy. For the first time ever I stood at an official hitching spot, with a big blue sign with a thumbing hand. This spot is located here –
http://maps.google.de/maps/ms?oe=utf-8&client=firefox-a&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Utrecht,+Niederlande&gl=de&ei=tyieTPacKYeRswb0xoDnDg&ved=0CB8Q8gEwAA&hl=de&msa=0&ll=52.081906,5.144284&spn=0.006039,0.013797&z=16&msid=117990639020912851794.00049118596f93d16fc43

Another first for me was that there were other people already there trying to hitch. They complained that this must be a slow morning, something to do with the bad weather they thought, as in the 30mins they had been standing there only 3 people had stopped for them! They ended up giving up and catching the train to their destination and we caught a lift within 30mins of them leaving.

Again another rarity was that quite a few women stopped for us and the person who eventually picked us up was also a woman. We managed to convince her to give us a lift after we told her we were going overland to India and she told us that her friends from Bradford had recently done exactly this trip.

Later in the day we caught a lift with a guy who worked for a shipping company and told us that if we ever got into trouble, we should call him and he would get “his people” to help us out. He later added that if he didnt pick up it was our loss not his.

We arrived to a drizzling Hannover and made our to our Couch Surfing host. However, upon arrival at her front door it became apparent that no one was there. After failed attempts to get in contact with her, we headed off for food, leaving a note for her. We returned after dinner and still no host, so we headed off in search of an internet cafe. Along the way we asked a man in a leather waistcoat if he knew where we might find such a thing. When we explained why we needed it, he tried to call her, swore repeatedly about her and asked us if we would like to stay at his place instead.

“Im going drinking for the next few hours though.”

So we found ourselves in a smoky bar, being bought numerous drinks by a man who turned out to be from a splinter group of Hells Angels (but would have to kick us out of his house at 10am as he needed to pick up his children). Many beers and bars later we arrived back at his house which was a mix of Burgundy leather sofas and childrens football toilet seats.

In the morning he took us to the best pastry shop and when we tried to give him this blog address  he refused – his generosity was about him repaying the amazing treatment given to him when hitch hiking through France as a teenager. “Nothing personal,” he said.

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