"It's cold in winter in Europe, maybe I'll try to go somewhere warm. Morocco? Yes. Actually, from there I could go south to a few countries. I know, I could go to the whole of West Africa!"
So there was my plan: to head South. And here's the story of how it went.
First stop, Cati's place in the Bavarian countryside. Got to spend some good quality time with one of my best travel friends. Made some money cleaning a rich man's house.
Next stop, Prague. Hitching there meant I could experience the countrysides of the Czech Republic. I walked for a while and the pain of my backpack was completely outweighed by the beauty of the scenery. On my last ride into the centre, I bumped into another hitchhiker for the first time in my life. We got to the city together, met his Syrian girlfriend, then discovered some sights together. What a lovely little international group that was!
I had two hosts during my stay: Lydi, an anarchist living in a kind of organised squat and trying to change the world; and Anna, an artist in every sense of the word (painter, drawer, pianist, guitarist, singer...). Two very interesting, and very different, people!
My first full day in Prague started in the square famous for the revolution of 1989. I started by circling this square. How do you circle a square, you may ask?! By walking up and down continuously for more than an hour, Eugene the Ukulele in hand, looking at every corner and every step whilst fighting for courage to sit down and play some music. I sat down, eventually. Fear: overcome!
One minute felt like a lifetime. Two minutes felt like ten lifetimes.
"I should just get up and leave. I'm not good enough. This is silly."
After what felt like 10000 lifetimes (some maths for you to do there), an old man bent down and threw some coins into my case. His old, bloodshot eyes looked into mine and he mumbled something I couldn't hear. He made me think of my Grandad at home.
There I was, singing and playing 'Let It Be' by The Beatles (from my hometown in England), in the huge public square famous for the revolution of '89, with someone just like my Grandad giving me some money. That moment will stay with me forever.
Vienna was next. On the way there I got dropped off by one man on the emergency lane of the highway. The cars were going so fast I knew I would be there for a long time. But within ten minutes somebody screeched to a stop just ahead of me. He was a happy man and his name was Paul.
Busking in Vienna didn't go too well. It was too loud and busy to find a good place to play. I gave up and spent my time with my Couchsurfing host Nicki. We walked to the top of a hill and saw a foggy view of the city, then got lost in the night in Schoenbrunn Palace Gardens and had to listen to an ordinary woman secretly practicing singing opera.
Whilst hitching to Salzburg I met the man who is responsible for 90% of the world's agricultural knives (he was so rich he bought me a luxury breakfast), a woman who looked very much like Barbara Streisand, and a skydiving instructor called Gurt.
Salzburg is definitely one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. I took more pictures in this small town than I take in months anywhere else! My CS host Katrin (one of only 319000 people from Iceland - pretty rare to meet one come to think of it!) took me out in the evening with her friends. We drank beer, lots of it.
Lake Chiemsee was next. I had been told by every German I've ever met to go here. I was a little late in the year though... the weather was rainy and foggy; I couldn't see a thing. On the up side, a stayed with a man called Luke who was a real-life version of Bear Grylls. He gave me a knife and a survival book as a souvenir.
I was supposed to be going to Innsbruck after that, but I was let down by a CS host last minute. I changed my plans and headed to Zurich but had nowhere to sleep so went to the airport. But then I got a message off a guy from CS called David, originally from Nigeria. He picked me up then a few minutes into the ride home said:
"Some people get scared of black people, you ok though? You sure?"
I only intended to stay for one night but ended up staying for four. David and his friend Roland showed me the true meaning of Nigerian hospitality.
David explained to me how hard it was for him when he first moved to Europe alone. Nobody said hello, nobody even looked in your face;
"It doesn't hurt to say hello. It doesn't cut your skin. There's no blood. It's just a word"
I completely agree with him. In the "rich" countries of the world people are scared of each other. It's so apparent coming from a place where people have no possessions to a place where people have "everything".
"She gonna visit Africa and hang with the people. She don't want no hotel or car, she gonna see the real place."
When I left, they both woke up at the crack of dawn to drop me off at a good hitchhiking spot.
"You sure you gonna be ok? If you still here later we will pick you up."
"No, no, don't be silly, I will be ok, stop worrying!" I replied.
Then I was stood there in a highway service station at rush hour with two big Nigerian men jumping and excitedly giggling;
"If you got that, that... that heart, then you gonna make it! You gonna make it!!"
After that, Nigeria was made a definite on my list for Africa.
I hadn't made it yet, there were still two big countries to get through! That will be in my next post...