After the Ruzinov Concert I spent a few happy days joking and playing in Bratislava with my Slovak and Polish friends from Krakow. I completed my travel circle by passing through Vienna once again to visit and say goodbye to my Bulgarian artist friend, Kosta Tonev. Once I left Vienna I was on my own again. I had a few more days to catch my flight from Frankfort back to Costa Rica, so I arbitrarily picked a town to hitchhike to half-way between Vienna and Frankfort. That town was Regensburg. Regensburg was the best random choice I could have made, but the trip there proved to be my worst hitchhiking experience ever.
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It started fine. In accordance with hitchwiki.org again, I had taken a bus to a gas station at the farthest possible Western point of metropolitan Vienna. Within an hour a nice middle-aged lady took me to rest stop on the highway south of Linz. From there it got more difficult, and almost 2 1/2 hours passed before a young hippie, professional juggling couple picked me up. They said they wanted to take me because I had a guitar, so I must be an artist like them. Hippies.
"We are sorry, artist. We must go south, but can take you to Wels where there is a highway to Passau border to Germany. It is late."They seemed very apologetic about having to leave me alone at sunset by the highway. There wasn't much to look at: the gas station, a rundown hotel and a large parking lot full of trucks with license plates from all corners of Europe. A typical highway rest stop.
I had a small sign with "Passau" written on it. I brandished it like a sword at the automobiles as they stopped at the pumps to fill up. It was far easier than standing on the side of a highway and I felt positive despite it being almost 8 o'clock at night. Several people were already offering me rides. Unfortunately no one was going all the way to Germany. An hour passed in front of the station and the streetlights light up. It was officially nighttime.
Time to ask truckers. This idea quickly went south as practically all of them had turned off their lights and gone to sleep. The cars that remained in the parking lot were full of sleeping families and various boxes. Most of them bore license plates from Slavic countries, The Balkans and Turkey. Austria sits on the border between what many people refer to as prosperous Western Europe and poor Eastern Europe. The parking lot was in the middle of Austria but felt like one of the many eastern borders I had crossed on my journey.
It was a parking lot of tired transients with no fixed homes: truckers, immigrants and a lonely hitchhiker. It was cold and late, so I went inside to spend my last saved Euros on a cup of coffee at the all-night cafe. The bartender and gas station staff were all Bosnian and Croatian. The two girls who sat down next to me were Romanians who were "just working" in Austria. Where were all the Austrians? Wels stood at the foot of a mass wave of immigrants working in France, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium while secretly waiting for their free days to return to their families and culture in Romania, Serbia, Ukraine and Turkey. My quick little European joyride felt quite insignificant in comparison.
I slept fitfully for 3 hours in the booth. In the early morning light I got a ride from a man who spoke neither German nor English. I tried my Serbian-Slovak-Slavic mongrel language. His eyes understood and he showed me his Croatian passport. He was going all the way to Frankfort to work so, yes, he could drop me off in Regensburg.
I will miss "Eastern" Europe.