Romanian Wedding After Hitchhiking Through Five Countries
He explained that the wedding would have a sort of festival vibe, meant to be pretty traditional and apparently a weekend long of ceremony and celebration. I didn’t know the bride or the groom, but I happily accepted the invitation to join in on the fun.
I walked the streets of Berlin towards what I hoped would eventually become the outskirts and somewhere I could easily hitchhike from to get on my way. New jeans clung tightly to my legs, George’s friend had given them to me after seeing the deteriorating pair I’d been wearing, I was now getting used to these much tighter, but cleaner and less ripped pair.
I found an entrance to the freeway and stood with my “Romania” sign. I’d made the sign mostly for kicks, Romania was several countries and over 1,600 kilometers away, but I can dream. It did work to an extent, a beautiful Romanian girl picked me up and had never picked anyone up before in her life and only did so because of my sign. She was only going two exits after having done some grocery shopping, but at least it was a start.
The spot she left me also looked identical to the place where she’d picked me up, something out of the twilight zone, or more accurately something out of a big sprawling city. I opted for the bike path that followed the road, figuring I’d walk it out until I found an entrance to the freeway that was a bit more spacious.
I found a junky one and tried it anyway, but traffic was low and a cop came and told me I couldn’t stand there anyhow, so I kept on walking. Down some streets, through a tunnel, past a gas station and finally a short ride a little ways, but in another strange spot where I couldn’t clearly stand at the entrance to the proper direction. I was offered a couple rides to Berlin, not too helpful, but finally got picked up by a guy who sped along through a town called Dresden.
I tried hitching along the road and finally got to an on ramp again towards sunset and managed to get picked up by a woman who’d just been doing some shopping. Her English was not the best, but she was enthusiastic and talked to me in German as if I understood. She dropped me off at a gas station on the freeway and I attempted to catch a ride there at the exit for a while until it got far too dark.
I headed into the gas station for a coffee, to my surprise the same girl who dropped me off was behind the counter, she worked there. She smiled and wouldn’t charge me for the coffee, so I sat in a booth for a little while sipping on it deciding what my next move would be.
I headed back outside and stood under a streetlight for a while thinking I could thumb one last ride for the night, but the lack of cars and cooling air soon had me wandering into the woods. I found a place to tuck away and roll out my sleeping bag, calling it a night.
In the morning I was straight back in the spot again, “Romania” sign and thumb out for everyone to see. A car stopped, the girl again, just getting off work. I hopped in and we cruised as she talked my ear off with words I couldn’t understand, but a friendly vibe I could get on board with.
We drove for a good while and it started to seem like she was going well out of her way to get me to a better spot. Next thing I knew we were in Poland, not the way I’d planned on going, but there I was. She dropped me off the first gas station just over the border, smiled, and that was that.
I had to take a look at the map at this point to see how I’d been rerouted and which roads to take now, I’d originally seen going through Prague and all as the direct route. I worked it out and got to walking.
My first ride was from a Polish guy who spoke no English, but did speak Spanish and this is how we communicated. He got me to a truck stop where I then got a ride from a Polish minister who also didn’t speak English, but Spanish. While neither of us were to proficient, we managed to carry on a conversation while shooting down the road until he dropped me off.
“Hola!”, I said hopping into the next car that picked me up. This guy did not speak Spanish and looked at me funny.
“Hello”, he said, ah, he spoke English pretty well. We cruised along to the next town where we stopped briefly at his house so he could feed his dog. We cruised some more and I nodded out for a bit, it had been an early morning. He got us some chicken sandwiches and coffee before dropping me off several towns over.
Next was a ride in a neon green car, then a truck driver a little ways, then a ride from a couple who’s GPS spoke English, but not them, it had us looping around a town until they finally dropped me off and I managed to orient myself. Light rain began and I walked a good ways trying to get to a spot where I could hitchhike from again.
A young American guy picked me up and drove me a short distance as the rain picked up, then in the next town a young Polish guy got me cruising while he shouted on his CB radio trying to find a trucker or someone who could give me my next ride, but nothing came of it.
Once he dropped me off the rain was bucketing down heavy, I walked through it until a long haired guy scooped me up and got me further still. He dropped me off in a smaller town, I walked alongside the road, the rain finally halting, the countryside absolutely beautiful as I gained elevation and looked off to my right.
A woman picked me up next who spoke no English and stayed pretty silent, but she brought me right up to the border of Slovakia, another country I hadn’t expected to be going through. It seemed ghostly, the massive remnants of an abandoned checkpoint, with all the lanes the road seemed as wide as a football field and angled up and over a pass carved out of the mountainous terrain. All of this, and no traffic, no cars, no people.
I climbed up the hill alongside the road, excitedly thumbing the few cars that passed. They didn’t stop for me, they must have thought I was the ghost haunting this place. I reached the top of the road and saw the valley and signs of life on the other side below, the road narrowed and wound down the cliff side and I followed along it. At last a car stopped and let me in, although they were just going down the hill, but it saved me the walk so I was grateful.
I walked past some houses in this town, some small children stared at me, I guessed there were pretty few people walking through this place with a backpack. Towards the end of the houses I got another ride from a guy who took me to the next town to a train station, through the language barrier I wasn’t able to get across that a train was not my answer, but still I appreciated the miles he got me ahead.
I got back on the road walking and then caught a great ride from a guy who’s English was perfect, he was heading for Bratislava. It was dark by the time he picked me up, so it was great to get in all that distance when daylight was about to end my day in that small town with the train station.
He was a traveler himself and this was most of our conversation. He understood the nuances of hitchhiking and was happy to get me to the far side of the big city to a large truck stop. I tried hitchhiking from there in the street lights, but I became tired and ended up finding some trees to disappear in and call it a night.
I was up early the next morning and got my sign out, but quickly grew tired of standing around and opted to walk alongside the freeway. I cam across another hitchhiker who was doing the same, he was on his way to Greece to “join the movement”. I let him hold his position and walked past him, cars would see him first and I’d just have to wait. So I figured, but I ended up getting picked up by a work truck that just took me a short distance to the next ghost border, to Hungary.
I noticed another hitchhiker up in the distance, but just as I was getting close, he got picked up, so I took his spot there and also got picked up pretty quickly by a trucker. We didn’t share a common language, so I ended up catching up on some sleep as we cruised along to the town he was heading for.
I got picked up quickly there by a Hungarian guy who kept saying I was strange for not paying my way and instead slowly hitchhiking. He was nice though, a scientist, he got me a ways to a gas station just before hitting the ring road around Budapest.
Light rain had kicked in, I stood at the exit of the gas station thumbing cars as they passed. A few hitchhikers got dropped off and they came up to me, one was the hitchhiker I’d seen before heading for Greece, the others were a couple heading for Bulgaria. They said they’d wait for me to catch a ride and then take the spot. Instead I could see them approaching every car and truck in the lot with the advantage of the cute girl’s smile and so forth, but essentially getting to everyone before they got to me.
I stuck it out, the rain got heavier, then lighter, and mostly back and forth. Eventually they came back to chat again and see how I was doing, I told them they could take over the spot and they I was going to walk alongside the freeway and try to catch a ride that way. They seemed somewhat surprised, being that it was probably illegal to do so and traffic would be moving quickly, but I figured I’d have a better chance than where I was now.
I walked and walked and navigated the road making sure not to make a wrong turn and wind up in the heart of Budapest, I was going around it, perhaps I’d visit the city one day, but not today. Cops eventually did find me and managed to tell me I could be sticking my thumb out on the road and they wrote me up, asking me some questions about my address and I gave them inaccurate answers and kept walking. The walking they didn’t seem to mind. Over bridges and along narrow shoulders, caught up in the high rise freeway system without catching a break.
After much of this I at last came upon a gas station. I got my bearings a bit and camped out at the exit waiting for some kind of ride. A truck paused in front of me and I didn’t hesitate before hopping in. There was temporary confusion, he didn’t know where I was going, and I didn’t know where he was going. He started yelling at me in one language or another and there was more confusion until he finally hopped out of the truck and came around to my side and fixed the mirror, doing what he’d been trying to tell me to do.
Once we started moving he was all smiles and we somehow choked out a conversation pretty slowly, but getting things across eventually.
He dropped me off at another truck stop along the way. It was getting close to sunset, I saw a truck with Romanian plates parked and held up my sign to the driver, but he shook his head. I headed for the exit again to thumb rides and did so for a little while. A trucker who’d been talking to someone else nearby flashed his lights at me and I went over to him. He explained that he was heading into Romania, but not for another two hours and if I didn’t get a ride by then, he’d take me.
I headed back to my spot with my sign, but feeling much more comfortable knowing I now had a fail safe. I even turned down a ride I was offered an hour or so later that was just going a town away, and soon enough, he flashed his lights again and I head over and up into the truck.
We shot down the road as night’s darkness took over, soon hitting the Romanian border where our passports were checked. We were held up for quite a while as he waited in line for gas and took care of some other things. I nodded in and out of sleep as we continued through the night from there.
We stopped at a tiny place in the middle of the night where he got us a couple bowls of soup, I realized I hadn’t eaten in a while and was extremely grateful to snack on the soup and bread that came with it.
Finally, just as the sun was coming up, we reached the point where we were going separate ways, I thanked him and was on my feet again in the rain. I walked for a while until a French guy picked me up who’d been driving all day, all night and now all morning. He called his brother who I spoke to on the phone so he could play translator.
He dropped me off in a little city, I ended up walking across the whole thing in intermittent rain. The city was full of stray dogs, broken roads, ditches and completely under construction. This kept me entertained for the long walk across it. Once across, I was able to get a ride quickly to the next small town, and from there the rain was clearing and I got another ride quickly to a turn off getting closer to the little village I was aiming for. A horse drawn cart passed me up, but after that the very first car to come stopped and picked me up.
Suddenly I was speaking Spanish again, the common language found with this Romanian guy. He took me all the way to Olteanca, which wasn’t all that far at this point, asking me dozens of questions about New York City and other parts of America.
I was really happy to take my pack off after the long trip, share stories with new friendly faces, fill up on food and then get a big nap in. Shortly after I woke up, George and Luis arrived from there flight into the the nearby city of Bucharest.
We all slept best we could, come morning there was more running around, a giant pig being spun around and cooked, beer here and Romania’s version of moonshine being passed around liberally, they called it Palinka.
I took a walk with some people gathering flowers in a nearby field for decorations and the like. After that it was more coffee, beer, palinka and we were all marching towards the courthouse where the bride and groomed signed their names and made things official as we all crammed in to watch it be so.
At some point things seemed to slow down and empty out, but just by comparison, many people remained and a group of us all marched into the fields with drink, joints and stories into the darkness. We stumbled back lost finally finding home again and carrying on more until sleep had to be the thing.
The morning came and we were tearing everything down, sipping coffee for consciousness. Another great meal and those who remained were sorting out their transportation issues, some sorting out their next destination entirely. I was waiting for the dust to settle knowing I’d land on a wagon to one place or another that would get me going towards Istanbul, my next destination to see a great friend who was living there.
Luckily, the beach they chose was on a river, the other side of which was Bulgaria and there was a border checkpoint and ferry right there. This would be my next move, on to Istanbul, but for a little while I was happy to enjoy the beach and topless women running around, beer and hand and friendly faces sitting in the sand with me, in the thick of another adventure.