Way back in October 2001, I was living in Sweden with my girlfriend Erika. The winter was coming and we decided that a move to Spain might be a good idea.
So, we hitch-hiked from Sweden to Spain, via Denmark, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Italy and France. In Prague, we were joined by my best friend Graham, who I had left Australia with the previous year. This story is a snippet from the Italian leg of our journey.
Verona, such a beautiful old Roman city, with a mini colosseum, castles, narrow cobbled alleys and ancient city walls. I shan’t neglect to mention the famous balcony riddled with love graffiti, whereupon a once love struck Juiliet pined for her Romeo – or so the story goes. We’d spent a couple of days in an ancient and very catholic hostel where pasta and red wine were served every night by people in black robes. Absolutely no hanky panky here thank you very much.
The weather was also rather good, and somewhat warmer than the Austrian Alps where we’d been sleeping in our tents surrounded by patches of snow. So naturally, one of the first things we did to pass the time in Verona, was find our way up to some olive groves overlooking the city. Here we sat in the sun eating assorted cheeses and meats and drinking red wine. You can imagine the drunken cackling when Graham picked an olive straight off a tree and tried to eat it. Very nice fögel bajs.
November the 25th, 2001, 7am. Somehow we managed to drag ourselves out of our beds. The night before was a late one on the red wine by the fire. We packed up our gear, showered and took the bus to central station without tickets. From there we took another bus (apparently) heading out of town. Somehow, we ended up in another village though, and took the return bus back again. Walked and walked and walked.
Finally we propped ourselves up at another bus stop and started hitching from there. Two black guys were cruising around, one was huge and round like a beach ball, the other tiny, with massively oversized clothes. Even his shoes were too big for him. Eventually they homed in on us and came over and introduced themselves, as it turns out that they were American. Nice guys that they were, they jumped on a bus with us, accompanied us to the right spot and pointed out the motorway. Here we found an entry ramp and began hitching.
Hitchhiking in Italy works like it does in most other countries, but there was one thing that I had never seen happen anywhere else. If we didn’t like the look of the spot, Graham would split up with us and hitch a little further away. We weren’t too sure that there would be many people out there willing to pick up three. We’d also take turns hitching, so that one of us could have a break. I was taking a break and Erika had her thumb out when a car pulled over.
Erika walked over and had a word with the driver. Suddenly they took off. Erika told me that they had asked if I was with her and as soon as she had said yes, they were gone. A beautiful blonde haired, blue eyed girl standing on the side of the road, and Italians thinking with their dicks.
Finally we did get a ride though. A happy, smiling Sicilian with a baseball cap and a sporty BMW. He could barely speak a word of English, but we figured out through the universal language of grunting and wild gesticulation that he was going to Bologne and could drop us in Modena on the way. Great! When hitching, ANY little ride is like Christmas, if only to break the monotony and discomfort of standing in one spot for hours at the beginning of winter.
During the ride though, I think we all began to realise that our enthusiastic driver was possibly missing a few cards from his deck. Sure enough, the perfect hitching spot – a large service station on the highway at Modena whizzed past and before long we were heading in the opposite direction to that which we desired. Abruptly, our driver, who had about as much personality and intelligence as a nodding dog in a back window, pulled over on the highway just before Bologne and dropped us off. Highly illegal. Now we had to hump along with our heavy packs as quickly as possible and get off the highway before the police drove past.
After jumping a few concrete highway barriers and making our way through secluded nests of discarded syringes, we asked a bloke for directions, followed a parallel road and walked for what seemed like miles. It was getting rather cool and the twilight was coming on fast as we located a small service road leading straight to a highway toll station on the motorway to Modena. It was the perfect spot, but hitching after dark can be a daunting prospect if it’s cold and rides tend to be unlikely.
Despite all this however, a small white delivery van driven by Super Mario himself soon pulled over. I swear it was him. He was even sporting the large trademark “beer filter” across his top lip and a little cap. Graham, bless his cotton socks, jumped into the back with the cargo (also illegal) while Erika and I sat in the front with Super Mario and tried to find somewhere to put our feet with his large stack of porn magazines on the floor.
Super Mario was great. Very friendly, and fervent much like his pixelated counterpart. He took us all the way to a highway services at the south of Milan in the direction of Genova. He also stopped along the way and bought us all coffee. There is always one good bloke who makes up for all the dipshits in the world.
I don’t know what the hell was going on in Milan. But there were police everywhere, pulling cars over, driving up and down the road, talking to people etc. We hung around the services for a while, then decided to head out into the fields to put the tents up and crash. We sidled out of the services trying not to look conspicuous and had just about managed it, when a police car started heading for us.
The lights were pointing directly at us and he suddenly picked up speed. We took to our heals and headed straight down a back alley into the slums. We managed it okay, took a few random turns here and there, and through the gaps in the dwellings, we could see the police car driving up and down ostensibly searching for us. We can’t have been of the highest priority though, because that was the last we saw of them that night.
After a frozen night, we awoke in a field around 6am and I had a momentary heart palpitation when I saw two guys walking around with shotguns nearby, evidentally hunting pheasant or something. We packed up in the freezing cold, fingers and toes numb, our breath clouding around us and were glad when we made it back to the services and had breakfast and hot coffee in the cosy caffeteria. Out we went hitching again, keen to make up for all the stuffing around of yesterday. The hordes of cops still cruising around didn’t even blink at us and seemed not so threatening in the daylight anyway. At least 2 hours later we had our first ride of the day.
The woman who picked us up in her van could speak English, German and French on top of her native Italian, so communication was not a problem and after an uneventful journey, she dropped us at a services in the hills overlooking Genova and the turquoise Mediterranean beyond. “This is a tricky spot”, I thought to myself as I surveyed the scene. There were two stations, one on either side of the motorway joined by a walkway underneath. There was no grass to be seen, just rocky cliffs and carparks, so nowhere to camp either, but that would be alright. It was a prime hitching spot, with plenty of room to pull over, lots of visibility and besides, it was still early in the day, not to mention it was much warmer being so close to the sea.
We treated ourselves to some very nice pizza and coffee for lunch, went through the underpass to the services on the other side heading in the direction of Genova and Nice and started hitching. It turned out to be a long wait. In fact, seven hours later, we were still there. It wasn’t completely uneventful though. A young lady working in the service station was cruising around “shaking that thang” so Erika dubbed her “pasta arse”.
Around about the same time, two of the bowser boys started shouting at each other (as Italians do) and soon broke into a bit of fisticuffs. We have no idea what it was about, but it certainly afforded us a little entertainment to break the boredom. It got a little out of hand when one of the guys grabbed a sledgehammer and chased the other who disappeared, then returned a few minutes later with a pinch bar to even up the score. It was on again, but eventually petered out when one of them drove off cursing and gesticulating through the window. We had a good laugh over that one. Old Pasta Arse didn’t even flinch.
Suddenly, it started raining. Not just a little drizzle either, it really rained. So like homeless bums the three of us had to retreat into the underpass. There was simply nowhere else to go. It rained all night long too. We cooked up some food over Graham’s little burner. It was cold, but not so bad in the sleeping bags. I finished a book I had been reading, and at one stage Erika and I had a bit of an argument over some little bit of insignificance probably brought on more by our situation than anything else. I was strapped for cash and things were looking pretty bleak. I couldn’t help but feel a little less than human as various people would walk past and look down their noses at us. This was a little taste of what it would possbly be like to be homeless.