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PostPosted: Sun Dec 08, 2013 8:42 pm 
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On March 26th, 2012 we boarded a metro train leaving Paris and rode it to the outskirts of the city. There we walked to the highway and caught our first ride. It was a young man who would be heading to graduate school in Mississippi soon. He took us just a few miles down the road to a rest stop where we found a stop sign decorated with various destinations and dates. Paris to Moscow, Paris to Warsaw. We didn't write ours but if we had it would have said Paris to Istanbul. Thomas works as a translator and was living in Paris for a little while. His girlfriend at the time was studying in Beirut so they contrived to meet up in Istanbul as a halfway point. I came to visit Thomas and ended up going along with him.
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Our second ride was a tour bus driver. They aren’t supposed to give rides but he saw our sign for Deutschland and offered anyway. He had just dropped a band off in Paris and was heading back somewhere so the bus was empty except us three. He told us stories of having to pay off border guards in Russia with Evanescence merch.
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Entering Germany it became harder to get a ride. That area in particular of Germany would end up being the hardest place in the whole trip. Finally a guy driving a custom van came by and picked us up. When you see someone driving a crazy van, you have certain expectations as a hitchhiker. The drivers seem to be aware of these expectations, because when a van like that doesn't stop for you they really put a lot of effort into miming an apology as they pass by. His sound system was incredible.
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The sun went down with us still loitering outside a gas station. Hitchhiking at night is not a good idea. Luckily one of the dudes who worked there gave us a ride when his shift ended. He was from Kazakhstan and dropped us off in town.
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The next morning. This guy worked for the Pirate Party, the Internet Political Party in Germany. There had just been an election and the Pirate Party did way better than anyone thought possible. He was on his way to a (pirate) party to celebrate.
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Then we figured out how to hitchhike in Germany. Sticking out your thumb is no good, but if you ask people personally for rides at gas stations it's usually an instant ja. We would approach with our map out, do a little "sprechen sie englisch?" indicate where we were headed on our map, ask if they were going that way too and then ask for a ride. We had an exhilarating run of this working with the first person we asked over and over again, including the couple pictured above.
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These were two Swiss Kung-Fu masters who were heading to a big tournament. Along the way, a car full of the Italians from the same dojo passed by and leaned out the windows and slapped our car and yelled insults. We fought back, I remember someone throwing a water bottle but I can’t remember if it was us or them.
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We got dropped off in Tübingen, a small old college town. Because it has no industry they say only one bomb fell on it in WW2, and it was by accident. The Welcome sign told us that it is actually a sister city of our hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan, which was surreal to see. Thomas had been hosting people on his couch in Paris and one of them was a guy named Theo whose family lived in Tübingen. Thomas messaged him up before the trip and he asked his family and they were down to have us. Above you see Theo’s Mother showing us around. They were incredibly welcoming; gave us a room, lent us bikes, cooked us meals, even though Theo - our connection to the family - wasn't even there. It was hard to leave and I think even then we resolved that Tübingen would be the one place we would make sure to return to on the way back. We sent out couch surfing requests to Lintz, Austria and got back on the road.
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A businessman who lived half the year in Cincinnati and half in Germany. He told us how he had two passports, one dirty and one clean. He thought the youth were too selfish.
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Jovan, a Serbian truck driver. We approached him at a rest stop as he was cooking his lunch. He didn't speak English, but agreed to give us a ride after his meal. While he was eating, we were approached by undercover German drug police. They checked our passports and searched our bags, making us take out our tent and everything. When they walked away, Jovan mimed shitting into his hand and throwing it at them. On the road, he had us call his daughter who spoke English. Above you see him showing us a slideshow on his laptop of his family, pointing out children and grandchildren.
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This was a guy who worked on some kind of laser machines. He liked punk rock and was pretty quiet.
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We got stuck in a bad spot on the wrong side of the highway for a while. By this time we noticed that girls weren't picking us up so when they would pass we blew bubbles at them. (Tübingen had a bubble factory we visited). Herman could tell we were screwed and came to help. He was in sales, driving to a conference, but ended up going out his way for us and dropped us off just outside Lintz, Austria.

To be continued, next time: Lintz to Istanbul.


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 08, 2013 9:55 pm 
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Awesome. This is great. Any clips of sites you saw? I'm seeing lots of car gifs. Gimme some sightseeing so I can escape from my brain.

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 08, 2013 11:10 pm 
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This is awesome! I'm on the edge of my chair.

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 09, 2013 9:13 am 
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Radness. Can't wait for the next chapter, dude!


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 09, 2013 9:41 am 
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Seems as though kg was definitely spirited away. Wow! What a road trip.

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 11, 2013 8:38 am 
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Badass, man. Badass.


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PostPosted: Thu Dec 12, 2013 6:26 pm 
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Location: spirited away
PART TWO!

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Lintz: It’s a good sign for a city to have young people hanging out and talking in groups. Our couchsurfing host turned out to be a great dude named Andreas. As we were first getting to know one another, I noticed that Thomas was boldly making the kinds of jokes that we would make together. It turned out that Andreas had a similar sense of humor and we got on really well but I realized if Thomas hadn’t initially been himself so openly we might never have found out how similar we were. In Lintz I had a fling with a girl who had done an exchange in high school and studied in Texas. Her friends there smoked fake weed they bought off the internet and tried to get her to shoot a gun. The way it feels, the three days or so we spent in Lintz might as well have been a month. On we went to Budapest.

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A photographer/metal worker named Mikky and his son Noel. He had actually been in Detroit recently. He took portraits of us.
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This guy was Hungarian but worked in Austria. Going into this trip, we knew very little about the gypsies. This guy told us that the gypsies in his neighborhood were all buying samurai swords on the internet and getting into fights with them at bars. He said even though they’re cheap, they’re still swords.
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These guys didn’t speak English but they seemed to be father and son. It was raining and we were stuck at a gas station. They waved us over. We bonded over both having Fisherman’s Friend with us and swapped flavors.
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A French pornographer. He didn't want to give us a ride until he heard Thomas speak French. He talked about how the internet really ruined things. He was worried about his son being able to find pornography on his (the son's) cell phone. I asked him if he’d seen Boogie Nights, I think he had and liked it.
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This was Richard, a Serb who bought cars in one country and would sell them in another. He warned us about Romania. He said the people there lived in trees. He really helped us out, dropped us off in Budapest late at night. Budapest was really beautiful, a day and a night and then on towards Cluj Napoca, Romania.
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A Hungarian police officer and his daughter. There was no room up front so I chilled in the back.
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A bunch of co-workers driving to the airport to go to a conference. Everybody was drinking beer.
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A tour bus with just one Romanian family on board. They said they’d been skiing in Italy (“a lot of good powder there” one said, as he mimed sniffing something up his nose). They missed their flight and decided to take a bus back. I asked one of them what he was studying in college and he said “sex, sex and sex!” They dropped us off outside of Cluj Napoca, which turned out to be a University town. On the bus we couldn’t figure out how to punch our tickets properly until a Portuguese girl named Ana helped us out. We ended up hanging out with her and her friends during our time there.
The outskirts of Bucharest were populated with numerous packs of stray dogs. I remember being cold coming into the city in the morning, trying to find a bus or anything to move on. We were pretty scared but ended up laughing uncontrollably at the thought of the stray dogs constituting a political force in the city and having to negotiate with them.
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In Istanbul we met up with Thomas’ girlfriend and used Air BnB to stay with an actor named Umit. His English wasn’t great but he was one of the funniest people I’ve met. He was on a weekly soap opera, and we got to watch it with him in the room. We asked him what was going on in the show but he didn’t seem interested “Woman loves man…” waving his hand “very complicated!”
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We got into the habit of eating Che Kofkta (sp) every morning, a bean paste with lettuce and lemons in a wrap. Tasty shit. Months later we found out it was actually raw meat. Oops.
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We went from Istanbul to Bursa and then to a small lake town called Iznik. Iznik appeared to be devoid of anyone close to our age. There were only 2 bars, and since drinking is frowned upon they were hard to find and no one drank visibly. Everyone (every old dude) was hidden upstairs in a windowless room. It was us in our early 20s with a girl the same, so we got some looks and at one point the owner came over to stress that he had our back, which we took for good service at first. Then he said “No, you don’t understand. I’m...Trying...To….Help….You!” looking mostly at Karen. We left soon after. I went back to the hostel while Thomas and Karen tried the second bar, which I regretted hard the next day as it turned out to be full of young folks. We all hung out the next day though. A girl and I got a Turkish to English dictionary and did our best with it. Somewhere there’s a video, maybe on the internet, of me trying to read out loud the back of her Turkish novel she was reading. We were a real novelty there, people asked to have their pictures taken with us a lot. We were sitting on a dock and a group of young girls behind us started shouting out English words at us. “Ice cream! I love you!” That night we met the people from the bar and drank and made a fire on the beach. We sang our national anthems to each other. Late in the night a few of us went to a closed down restaurant. For a moment the mood was really serious as a guy told us how scared he was because he was soon going to do his military service at the Iraqi border. We left to go sleep while the dudes were still awake waiting for the 'Night Woman'.

Next time: The Mafia, falling in love, Albania etc.


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PostPosted: Thu Dec 12, 2013 6:35 pm 
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I want animated GIFs in books and for this to be a book.


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PostPosted: Thu Dec 12, 2013 6:50 pm 
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This is amazing and is making me want to do some serious traveling/hitchhiking.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 21, 2013 11:16 pm 
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Part Three!

Big cities have a strong gravitational pull. Once you get close they are easy to fall into but getting out of them can be terrible. So we took a bus from Istanbul to Edirne.
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Octai, our first ride now heading back west. His job had something to do with phones. He bought each of us a coca-cola when we stopped for gas. He dropped us off at the border. The Turkey/Bulgaria border was a series 4 or 5 check points. Crossing it on foot took many hours. By the last few check points the guards know you have already been checked so much that they don't take it very seriously. The last one asked us where we were going to and we said “Plovdiv” and he said “Aaah! Many beautiful women in Plovdiv!” and gestured an hour-glass with his hands, laughed, and waved us through.

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Two Turkish ex-Air Force officers. One of them lived in London. They met two dudes outside of Plovdiv at a gas station. Seemed a BIT ODD, but we had a cool political conversation about the EU.

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Bulgarian television.

Plovdiv is a university town, recommended for sure. We met our couchsurfing host Teodora. We hit it off and had a big dinner with lots of drinks at a restaurant. Teodora’s boyfriend asked me how I felt about The Jews. There were a lot of gypsies in Plovdiv and we started to learn about their situation. At dinner they listed off the characteristics of the gypsies: lazy, very musical, darker skinned, happy in a simple way despite not having much, thieves. The same old bullshit but on a different group. "I make it a point not to discriminate against people based on race but stealing is just in their blood." She did say that the best Bulgarian TV Show (called Glass Home) had introduced a gypsy character. She also said she had a gypsy friend but that she wasn't ‘really a gypsy’. Teodora and her boyfriend invited us to come to their parents cabin for the weekend. We hitched hiked in two teams up to a city called Troyan.

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We took the bus to the outskirts of Plovdiv. While waiting for a ride we saw a guy riding a bicycle straight down the center of the highway. Above, a man whose father was a music teacher. He liked auto racing.

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A cell phone tower ranger driving up in the mountains to fix something. He liked rock climbing. He asked us if we’d ever heard gypsy music. It was really abhorrent techno pop. He didn’t like it either but said the videos were basically porn. We spent the night at Teodora’s parents place then all drove up the next morning to the house in the woods.

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Very green, very beautiful countryside.

Onwards to Macedonia.
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The first thing we noticed getting in this guy’s truck was that the seatbelts didn’t have anything at the end. They were more of a sash. He showed us how to wear them and said “For Police!” Later he finished a thing of cigarettes and tossed the empty box out the window and turned to us with a shrug and said “Bulgaria!”

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This guy had just won an award for designing a really excellent chair for classrooms. He was driving a truck full of the chairs. I can’t remember the mechanism now but at the time it seemed really clever.
I don’t have videos for all our rides and missing here is a good one I remember. The guy was a border police officer on his way to work, which was perfect for us. He stopped by where his sister worked to show us to her. The attention of being a novelty can be fun.

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This was the nicest car that ever stopped for us and it had three other people in it. A beautiful young woman who spoke many languages. The driver, a somewhat burly guy but well dressed. A stout henchmen of a man with a recently broken nose. He introduced himself as “Peter” which the others made fun of him for. “Yeah, there’s our friend PETER!” They didn’t speak to him as if he was their friend. When we asked the driver what he did for a living he chuckled and said “You will forgive me if I do not answer this question! I am a bon vivant! I enjoy life!” and everyone laughed, including us. They were the only people who took us over a border in their car. Normally we would get out and walk and meet up with them across.
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Hitchhiking tests your luck. If you leave an hour later, your entire trip might be different. Once into Macedonia, we hit our worst run ever of not getting ride. When there are only a few cars going by you can’t help but put mental pressure on the ones that do pass to please please just pick us up. So when they inevitable don't, you get mad. We were at our most frustrated when the guy above picked us up. The sight of his car stopping brought intense feelings of relief. He was Albanian, which made sense later because Albania is the greatest place to hitch hike.

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Our prior ride had dropped us off on the highway so we were kind of in a weird position but these two young dudes picked us up. The driver did logistics for the U.S. Military in Afghanistan. They dropped us off in downtown Skopje.
Our couchsurfing host there was a great guy named Filip. At some point we realized we all played Heroes of Might and Magic as kids so we torrented it and played it together one night. Walking around we passed a holocaust museum. We asked if the gypsies were represented in the museum but Filip said the Jews didn't want them in there.
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The guy who made this sculpture changed his mind halfway through about whether or not he should be wearing glasses so it came out looking like someone you’d find in the cantina bar in Star Wars. Filip himself is an artist and was bummed at how nepotistic the public art scene was there. In Macedonia you can't sell alcohol after 7pm or so. Filip took us to a speakeasy in a mall after the rest of the stores had shut down. He also recommended that we stop by a lake town called Ohrid on our way to Albania so we did.

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Ohrid.
That night we tried to camp out along the lake but couldn't find a spot so we found a hostel. We met two girls who were running the place, Claudia and Helena. The real owner was hardly ever around (we later found out he was having some kind of trouble with the police) so the girls held it down while he was gone in exchange for staying for free. The Hostel had a real freewheeling vibe that we locked into immediately. We met a crazy guy who was half Russian half American and had tried to hitchhike to North Korea. He wound up being held in a border prison. He said another guy there was from England and claimed to be an economist. He had 80 euros in his pocket and said he was going to use it to restart the North Korean economy. The Russians called the North Koreans and asked what they should do with him and the North Koreans said “Shoot him.”

Claudia and I connected. Everybody went to a bar downtown, we hung back outside talking. I had the feeling talking to her that words were just coming out of me on their own. Inside I played it cool, perhaps too cool, and left without seeing her. Late into the night back at the hostel we ran into each other and she asked me if I wanted to go down to the lake. We spent the night in the grass. The next morning as we split up it sort settled down on us that we wouldn't see each other again. It was a strange moment. We spent two more nights in Ohrid. The third night we all really connected as a group. Helena and Thomas were both seeing other people but there was something happening there too. She wrote me a goodbye note with her email, and we left.

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Uhh better be a weirdo and sneak a photo of her and Thomas.

Next time: Our buddy Frank, a Croatian island, back into Western Europe.


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 22, 2013 2:28 pm 
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kgsullivan wrote:
Teodora’s boyfriend asked me how I felt about The Jews.

How did you handle that particular conversational gambit?

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 22, 2013 4:50 pm 
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This is amazing!
I don't think I could ever do this, i'd be too scared.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 07, 2014 1:03 pm 
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sarahalyse wrote:
kgsullivan wrote:
Teodora’s boyfriend asked me how I felt about The Jews.

How did you handle that particular conversational gambit?


i was pretty drunk and overconfident in my ability to articulate ideas so i basically like did a take down on the whole idea of asking a question like that, about affixing one dumb opinion to massive and diverse groups. ultimately though i think it was too complicated and if i could do it again i would have just sad "I love Jews."


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 07, 2014 1:03 pm 
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sorry my gifs died. im working on the final part and a new way to host them all together nicely.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 07, 2014 1:06 pm 
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I can create an FTP account for you on my crappy site if you need someplace to stow them temporarily while it gets worked out. I have like 497 GB of storage that I'm not using.


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