After 1 month hitchhiking around Morocco Graceie and I decided to get the cheapest flight to Europe and from there hitchhike to Istanbul to catch our long flight to New Zealand via China. It cost us all of 30 Euro each to fly 4 hours from Marrakesh to Barden Barden, near Stuttgart, in the south of Germany. We almost missed our flight however after thinking it was at 8pm for some reason and printed out our boarding pass but didn’t look at the time. At 1:30 we looked and realised our flight was at 2:45 with check in closing at 2:15. After packing in 2 mins we got the fastest taxi to the airport arriving at 2:00 with 15 minutes to spare!
So we arrived in Germany just after dark and had to start hitchhiking because the airport closes at night. It was raining and there was almost no traffic so not a great start. Somehow we did get a ride with a really friendly German man who kindly went out of his way to drop us at a service station. There in the pouring rain we pitched our non-waterproof tent and set up our waterproof tarp over the top to keep most of the rain off. Dinner was a shock. In Morocco you could eat for just a couple of Euro but here in Germany there was nothing under 8-10 Euro so we didn’t have much of an appetite.
The next day we got up and dried out.
It had stopped raining for a bit so off we went. That day we got 5 rides that carried us over 1000km and arrived in Budapest, Hungary the next morning. Our top speed was 220km/h on the smooth German and Austrian roads where you hardly feel a bump at 200km/h. Every driver drove at least 170km/h at some point in the ride. Our last ride was through the night with a guy who had already driven hundreds of Km’s that day before he took us 400km, and then he was spending the day with his family and driving all the way back again. It’s scary how many tired drivers there must be out there doing over 150km/h. We saw at least 4 bad accidents just in that one day.
In Budapest we found a hostel for 2.5 Euro. The cheapest yet! And walked along the Danube River opposite the parliament buildings. To this day it’s the most beautiful city I’ve been in with the lights reflecting off the water. Just stunning!
The next day we went across the border into Serbia with an American diplomat but after he dropped us off near Belgrade we never got another ride. Eventually we gave up and went with someone into Belgrade itself for the night. It’s an interesting city. The people are very friendly but they also don’t look as happy as the people in other countries. They certainly got the bad end of the breakup of Yugoslavia and people seemed disappointed as if they had been robbed. There was even a building in the centre of town that had been bombed and just left there to finish falling down. They do have the best free bus service around the city however and it’s a lovely walk at night along the Danube.
Hitchhiking in Serbia turned out to be impossible. We stood on the outskirts of Belgrade for most of a day before retreating to the train station for an overnight train to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. Sofia is a lovely city near some small mountains. There’s lots of massive communist buildings and statues and a really fun park in the centre of town where we met up with a few couch surfers. The city was very quiet as it was the orthodox Easter and everyone was on holiday. We loved it so much we spent an extra day in Sophia, but then we had to continue to Istanbul for our flight.
In Sophia we found a good place to hitchhike and got a ride with a Turkish truck who offered us a ride to Istanbul. At the Turkish border they told us to walk through and meet us on the other side. We waited for 7 hours from 11pm to 6am without sleeping for them to pick us up again but they never showed up. No idea why. We hadn’t slept at all and were completely wrecked but eventually we found a couple of rides through to the metro station in Istanbul.
From there we made our way to a couch surfer that we had organised to stay with. Graceie and I had met here 3 months earlier and we had now done a full circle of Southern Europe and Morocco together.
When we went to catch our flight we checked the time but went to the wrong airport instead! Terrible mistake as the 2 airports in Istanbul are on opposite sides of the city. Luckily it was late so little traffic and we had given ourselves some spare time. We explained our predicament to the boss of the taxis and he found us his fastest driver. Istanbul is a HUGE sprawling city and it took us 45 minutes driving at 160km/h to get to the other airport just in time to check in! The airline was China Southern and our flight went to Auckland, New Zealand via Umqui in Tibet and Guangzhou in Southern China. No one had probably ever taken this particular route before as the airline knew nothing about the fact we needed a visa to do the changeover onto the domestic flight in China. Luckily after lots of talking and some help from a lovely Chinese lady we were allowed into China to catch our ongoing flight.
When we got to Guangzhou we realised they had given us a 24 hour transit visa, thus allowing us out of the airport. We had 3 hours and after changing some USD to Chinese Yen we caught the Metro to the first stop and got to walk around in China for an hour! It was a busy street with street food everywhere. Shops selling T-shirts for $1, food, markets, big neon signs, everything you could imagine you would see in China. It was just a glimpse though and sadly we returned for the remaining 9 hour flight to Auckland with hopes of returning someday.
The jet lag in Auckland was horrific and we couldn’t get out of bed until 5pm the next afternoon.
This saw the end of my first around the world trip, 6 months backpacking in Europe, and started Graceie’s time in New Zealand.