It would be a lie to say that the last seven countries have been a blur. Only Denmark, Sweden, and Norway went by quickly enough to be referred to in smeared visual terms. By contrast, I had a leisurely 5 days in Austria, receiving lessons in classical guitar and Viennese botany from Marie and David.
That’s the same number of days I spent in Sezze, Italy with my girlfriend, Valentina, where I lived up to my Oregonian roots and brought bad weather with me. As apparent penance one day, after a rainy hour in line at the Vatican, a guard stymied us for making a wrong turn and we had to go through the entire queue a second time. But our reward came after the 537 steps up the cupola of Saint Peter’s Basilica: a seagull’s-eye view of Rome. And another treat awaited me back in Sezze, where Valentina’s mom taught me how to make pizza from scratch (as I repeatedly slipped and fell while trying to climb the language barrier).
The Czech Republic came at a slower pace, with over a week for the moonlit admiration of Prague’s Gothic castle, a karaoke duet of “I Got You Babe” with my bearded host Clabbe, and an interesting stowaway as I hitchhiked out of the city with a van full of Swiss students – a drunk homeless man climbed in after me, parroting my words as “great, tanks” with blind confidence.
But Germany received the bulk of my time, with 3 full weeks for its exploration. Using hitchhiking as my sole means of intercity transport meant plenty of over-120mph autobahn moments, two instances of drivers who spoke only German, and one example of me trying to be cool but accidentally scattering cigarette ash like confetti all over the inside of a car. (Note to self: don’t succumb to peer pressure.)
Germany is more like the United States than any other country I’ve visited. Lots of new buildings, car-filled highways, and big discount grocery stores. And what people say about Berlin – that it’s surprisingly cheap, covered in graffiti, and full of colorful counterculture – is all true. I stayed in the west side of the city with an Indian CouchSurfing host named Shivam, and with other guests from every corner of the world I enjoyed sunny rooftop picnics, a professional living-room violin concert, and late nights in Berlin’s open-starting-at-2am dance clubs.
My one night in Denmark was not nearly long enough. But I did have time to walk along Copenhagen’s waterways, thinking about my Danish mormor and morfar as I passed by all those pristine sailboats, and to see the infamous hippie-haven anarchist island, Christiania, with its proud signs enforcing the absence of photography and EU laws within its limits.
Hitchhiking up the western coast of Sweden was a difficult task; as it turns out, Swedes are just as fearful as Americans when it comes to hitchhikers. Even hitchhikers who play ukulele. But eventually I scored a ride to Gothenburg with a local man who, at 60 years old, told me he wanted to stop working soon so he could travel like I am.
Finally, my only stop in Norway was Oslo, the most expensive city in the world. That fact translates into $16 falafel pitas and $4 grocery-store Cokes, but also prime opportunity for street performance. If you ever want to feel really poor, try “busking” in Oslo for an hour. There, college students and old ladies can afford to give the equivalent of $10 for hearing 45 seconds of an unfamiliar song during their afternoon parkside strolls.