A hitch-hiking day that could have gone so easily…

We started our hitch-hiking day from Florence to Bologna full of optimism. In theory nothing should have gone wrong: we’d checked the hitch-hiking spot on Hitchwiki, worked out how to get there using the city public transport and hoped that the 100 km journey would go like a dream. We arrived at the motorway toll-road entrance and assumed our positions right behind a “no autostop” sign but in a perfectly safe and visible place. One car passed, then another one, and another… We stood in the baking sun for about 40 minutes still praying that the next car would be the one.

Some cars pulled up and asked where we were going, but it turned out that they were all going in the opposite direction. As we were speaking with one of those drivers, a police car drew up. They spoke some English, asked us to show them our documents and after a brief conversation they told us to move. However, we couldn’t find any better place, as right before the toll road, there was a massive roundabout diverting traffic into many different directions. We decided to try a petrol station which was behind the bend, hopeful that people who were going north, would stop there to get some petrol and pick us up.

Eventually a young woman pulled up. She wasn’t going north, she wasn’t even driving to the motorway but she offered to take us to a town, west of Florence where we could try our luck. We got in her car and learnt that she also used to live and study in Barcelona. It was such a relieve to finally be able to speak to somebody in problem-free Spanish. She worked as a pedagogue and had a couple of children herself. We spoke about her experience in Barcelona and the economical situation in Italy and Spain, which she summed up by saying that in her profession she can’t really complain about the lack of work. I guess she was right, I’ve been teaching for three years now and haven’t had any problems as of yet.

We said goodbye at a petrol station which opened onto a mountainous road north of Pistoia, a medieval town famous for its vineyards. We stood there for a while and watched heavy grey storm clouds approach from behind the mountains. The wind was strengthening and we were progressively getting more worried; it was around 5 p.m. and we were still 80 km away from our destination, where our CS host was waiting for us.

At some point a car stopped and a family got out. They asked us where we were going and offered to give us a 20 km lift. They didn’t speak English but were eager to get to know something about us so we exchanged some basic information in Spanish and Italian. Then we spoke about politics. Their 12 year old daughter was very opinionated about Berlusconi. It often happens when we hitch-hike in Italy that people like to bitch about Berlu. Another topic is usually football; it’s easy to say a lot without speaking a common tongue. Naming some players, some teams then expressing our opinion about them by gasping or puffing at their performance is usually enough to break the ice.

The 20 km lift passed so quickly that we didn’t even notice when we had to wave goodbye. We were on the road again, waiting for the first drops of a downpour to fall on our heads. At one point the rain became so heavy that we had to put our rucksacks under a nearby tree and try to stop cars squeezed under an umbrella. We must have looked pathetic, but obviously not pathetic enough as none of the cars that went past stopped. Suddenly, we spotted an inter-village bus approaching us. We tried to wave it away but the driver stopped anyway. We told him that we were hitch-hiking and had no money to pay for the bus fare but he took pity on us and let us on without a charge.

We went on, in a nearly deserted bus that had just two other passengers and stopped at some God-forsaken places, where nobody was waiting for the bus to come. As we were going past one of those stone-cut villages, a local drunk got on and we didn’t really understand much of what he was mumbling in Italian. We learnt that we were going to Porretta, though, which was supposed to be a tiny hot spring resort. The bus chugged along and arrived at the centre of town, which we had to get ourselves out of.

We found a perfect spot outside a town museum, located somewhere in the outskirts. Our next driver happened to be an old Italian man. After the first Berlusconi driven conversation, he told us he had visited Poland which he loved. He remembered Toruń for its medieval architecture and massive carrots which he hadn’t known existed! He told us he’d been a vegetarian for 16 years and only this year he switched to veganism. All for the love of animals, he said.

He left us on the outskirts of a town called Vergato, which was almost completely destroyed during the Second World War. It was now the early evening and we were less then 40 km from Bologna. The next people who picked us up were a couple of men. One of them spoke a bit of English and told us about some lovely pilgrim walks in the nearby hills. He pointed to the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca, which sat atop one of them overlooking the city of Bologna. They weren’t driving directly to the city centre but left us in suburbia around 5km away. Then with a mix of English and Italian we asked for some directions and followed a Romanian guy all the way to the centre, where we met our great host Pietro.

With Pietro, our host in Bologna, Italy

The 100 km hitch-hike didn’t go as smoothly as we had expected it to, but we made it in the end. And this is exactly what we love about this way of travelling. If we’d taken a coach, we would have reached Bologna within 90 mins but we would have never spoken to so many people, seen so much of the countryside and learnt so much about the local history. Sometimes the more difficult it gets, the more interesting it is and a short trip can turn into a day full of unexpected occurrences.

written by: Ania

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Follow our 2 month hitch-hiking trip across the north of Italy and the Balkan Peninsula:‘The Balkan Peninsula by Thumb 2013′. It’s happening now!

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About Hitch-Hikers Handbook

hitch-hiking, backpacking, budget travelling, travel writing, travel photography
Gallery | This entry was posted in Italy, The Balkan Peninsula by Thumb 2013 and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to A hitch-hiking day that could have gone so easily…

  1. Paul Moore says:

    “Sometimes the more difficult it gets, the more interesting it is and a short trip can turn into a day full of unexpected occurrences.” Well said, Ania. This is exactly what hitch-hiking is all about :)

  2. Paul Moore says:

    In fact, this is what ‘life’ is all about :)

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