Category Archives: Hospitality

Moneyless Home-Country Walking

“Hello, my name is Robin and I walk through the Netherlands. I do this because I don’t want to go faster than my feet can bring me and because I want to discover more about the culture that I grew up in. To dive deeper into Dutch culture and into myself, I also choose to not bring a phone, computer, bank-cards or money, and instead to completely rely on people’s goodwill for food and whatever else they want to share.”

For a little over three weeks I walked through the Netherlands, from the west to the east, from the city where my house is at (Amsterdam) towards the German border. And it was fabulous: the things you learn, the people you meet and nature that you reconnect with. Most of the nights I slept in forests, of which there are surprisingly many around, falling asleep in my hammock around sunset and waking up by birds before sunrise.

After three months of money-less travelling in Portugal last year and now these three weeks of walking in my home-country (of which people said it would be “impossible”) I am getting better adjusted to it: the hunger you can feel sometimes, dealing with desires of the things you want and surrendering to whatever life brings you, at any given moment. And the funny thing, the more I experience it, the more I actually want it, because of what you learn from it. As such any experience is neither negative, nor positive; they are just life. And as such they are equal to the joy you feel when people give you food, invite you for a coffee or take you in their homes.

People’s responses are equally worth it. Some envy me, others think I am crazy and again others simply reject my life, seeing it as a threat to theirs. “Why don’t you go home and make money instead, you’re a fool!”, was one of the most extreme responses that I received. Most people though have a lot of respect for my decisions and thanks to them (and the occasional dumpster treasure) I’ve enjoyed breakfast, lunch and dinner at fast-food restaurants, exclusive hotels, lunch-rooms, as well in the intimate spheres of people’s homes, after variations of the introduction on the top of this post. And so far I’ve never ever really had, what you would call, ‘hunger’.

Every step I take is another challenge, every step is one that carries me further towards life and at the same time one that brings me closer to understand the self. And it ain’t over yet. This country has a lot more to explore. When I don’t know yet, but this is to be continued… from the place I left it – but I am sure that by then we will already be further.

Worth The Wait

The cars go about their own lives, the people in the metallic boxes do not see me and just follow their own routes. Unconcerned about this guy who smiles kindly to them and waves occasionally. “What does he want from us?” their eyes seem to say.

Some wave back, bringing their hands up to their shoulders and shrug, but the only ones that actually do stop are locals who have nowhere to go but who are kind enough for a chat. “He probably needs help,” is what they think.

There are times when you are totally surrendered to a situation. That you know there is nothing else to do but to wait and to do nothing. Nothing. You can only do nothing to change the situation. Feeling pressure is futile, it will only make the situation harder to digest. Pressure only stays in your head, making your thoughts repeat in circles. To resign myself and fully accept the situation as it comes to me, is the only option I have to stay healthy, and positive.

Also on this day, while waiting to cross the border to France and my last rice cookie is behind my teeth. I chew it slowly until it has disappeared fully. I think about eating more. The roadhouse in front of me, next to the petrol station in the Catalan Pre-Pyrenees twenty kilometers before the French border where I have been now for nearly 24 hours, is about to close in some hours.

Shall I just go in and ask for some food? No, I decide. Last night they already gave me a baguette with cheese and a large cake that I used for breakfast. If they would like to give me more, they will offer it to me, as they know I am here, and what I am here for.

I slept well. A wonderful night I had and I look back, full of satisfaction. I arrived here at the end of the afternoon after some fantastic days but I could not find a car to pick me up. Behind the petrol-station in a small wood was the perfect piece of land for my tent. Moreover, it was full moon and thanks to the light that a full moon gives, the view over the mountains and the river that flows towards Barcelona, had been great.

Now I am walking back and forth the rest-area. I’ve been awake for more than eight hours now and I don’t think much. Instead I do my walking meditation: I put my attention to the movements of my body and my breathing. Rest settles over me like a warm soft blanket and the trust remains, that everything will be fine, even though people ignore me and my almost empty belly.

While walking I leave the luggage behind at the outlet of the pump and decide to sit on the rocks in front of the restaurant, without illusions. I keep myself quiet, am not even sticking my thumb up anymore. Until I suddenly see two guys walking towards my luggage, inspecting it, picking up my bag, and starting to walk away with it. I laugh at this interesting situation: would they like to also take me if they know I belong to that luggage?

Unfortunately not. They excuse themselves in French. They thought that the luggage was left behind by the motorcycle club who had just been here. “But maybe you can take me across the border?” I ask. They say that our roads are not the same and leave me standing behind, puzzled a bit. They drive away with two French cars. In the second car I see a free spot, besides a beautiful girl smiling at me and who gives me a curious look. Another story that is not supposed to become one, I say aloud to myself. And I sigh.

Then after half an hour a Dutch car arrives. Let’s check the state of solidarity, me being from that country as well. He goes the other way. “Otherwise, I would definitely have taken you,” the man says kindly enough and sincerity speaks from his eyes. So I will have to hold on, but for how much longer? Will I sleep here another night, but this time feeling hungry?

More than one hour later, yet another Dutch car arrives, this time with a caravan. Is this it then? Is this my ride? Will I finally be crossing the border? A woman gets out of the passenger door and walks into my direction. Beside the caravan we have a chat. I explain to her who I am and why I’m here. And this is when the miracle happens: she is fine with bringing me across the border, “If my husband is so too”.

And he is, although they “normally don’t take hitchhikers”. I hardly know the joy I feel, after nearly twenty-four hours of waiting and I walk back to the woman, telling her the good news of her husband agreeing, and she looks at me and says: “We first wanted to have dinner at the restaurant. Would you like to have some food too?” How could she tell?! I hadn’t even old her anything about my way of traveling, apart from the hitching.

Half an hour later I’m in the car with them, cheerful and with a happy belly. In the end they decide to take me to their holiday-home further into France, situated within an incredibly beautiful rolling countryside, while during the ride I share stories about my journey without money, and living with what people give me. I will not forget their response: “Perhaps others think so, but for us you are not a bum. What you do, more people should undertake. “

The next day, after some local wine, nice conversations and a good night’s sleep, they put me on the road in direction Toulouse, and they give me some bread for on the road. I also get a jar of peanut butter to go with it. Peanut butter, how much I had been looking forward to you in the past three months! How I have been yearning to have your taste in my mouth and your energy in my body! So yes, everything does come your way, and the peanut-butter was definitely worth the wait.

Roaming Around Portugal

Green hills, spectacular sunrises and sunsets, smashing views over cliffs and dunes, great food and a wonderful culture. I thought I was going to be here for two weeks, but Portugal already has got me going for eight.

I was on my way for the Third European Hitchhiking Festival but I got stranded in the north of Portugal, just over the border with Galicia in Spain, for my own private festival: a weekend of learning, re-finding myself (after a couple of really intense hitching-days) and getting inspired by new experiences and understandings of life.

And that understanding is what kept me going for the past 8 weeks, having experienced some of the most beautiful rides in my life, and the warmest hospitality. I also went on an exploration of nature here, as I followed a hiking-trail for about seven days along the coast in Southern Portugal. It was wonderful to be away from people for such a long time and to be so close with nature.

Ever since I arrived in Portugal I also have lived with zero money, receiving food from restaurants, snackbars and people. Sometimes you don’t even have to ask, and it just appears in front of you! I have been very greatfull to learn how traveling without money works. And I can assure you: it ain’t the easiest way, but sure it is the most rewarding.

Roaming freely

For more than a year I was looking forward to this month. The 7th of August 2009 was going to be the best hitchhiking day this year, I had this feeling in advance, but in reality it turned even better than expected.

First of all, I picked up a fellow traveler from a petrolstation rigth behind Krakow in Poland, 24 hours after a non-stop travel from Amsterdam. Being completely tired, only two rides further we were invited by a Polish family for bed and dinner.

Some days later and many rides and crazy adventures including a round trip through some Ukrainan mountains to get to the rainbow festval, we arrived for the 789 festival in Odesa just in time (3 at night), thanks to numerous people, including a zen driver and two angels.

Things didn’t stop amazing me during this trip. I did not have any real plans, and so a week later I found myself back in Berlin, at a house that resembles the casa in Amsterdam very much. After having spend 10 days here, making new connections and helping to sustain the community, I now plan to go south again by tomorrow, heading to Italy. And who knows what is next.

Life really is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

Back in Amsterdam

City of bike-lanes and water, my small town, I am back in your streets again, smiling. It took me five years and some months, but I am surrounded by ‘my own’ four Amsterdam walls and roof-top. Por fin! Yes!

I am back loving it, I feel this is where I (well… for the moment at least) ‘belong’. There are no palmtrees here like in Barcelona, and the beach is pretty far away (1,5 hours by bike…!) but it remains one of the better places in Europe to live. And what matters most: I feel at my place and happy here.

From where I live (for now, it’s a temporary place for half a year), I bike to the center in 15 minutes. At the same time it is on the edge of town, close to the Amstel river. It takes me five minutes to be in nature, cycle along the riverbanks, to feel space or to wonder around in the forest.

So, you know how it works: feel free to come along and please stay as long as you want. Just send me a nice pigeon before you come and clean the dishes when you leave.

Fainting in Romania

From a bike in Romania, back by plane to Holland. Happy I was, cycling from village to town, over mountains and rivers, coming to places where no sane traveler would ever come, finding myself on that same very day, just after sunset, bleeding and scratched, fainting and screaming for help.

Three weeks ago, I was in this small town close to Sibiu in the Transylvanian region of Romania. It was a marvelous day, with great blue sky, big white clouds and a warm sun. I was cycling just by myself, enjoying one of the nicest tours of my life, while my travel-partner was out on a museum-day.

As I was cycling through a beautiful countryside with hills and greens, I realized yet again how priviliged I was. Passing through the numerous small villages where hardly a stranger ever comes, I was greeted by many. I waved back and asked how to avoid the high hills, as I explained I am from Holland and that I like flat land.

But these events soon turned differently and my laughing turned into crying. A man send me up a different road and an hour later I had to walk up a hill with bike in hand to find my way home. Seeing the sun going down, my pace increased as I went down the hill on the other side.

I lost track when a big hole in the ground appeared in front of me. Breaking turned impossible to avoid falling so I jumped high and landed well. But I couldn’t avoid falling as I landed in yet the next hole and I had to dive, away from the bike, towards the ground.

That hurts.

I deny the pain and get back up the bike again, only to faint 3 seconds later. I look for help when I wake up and spot a horse with some people slowly driving away from the scene. I call out for them, without result.

Thanks to a stranger that appeared, a taxi driver who was his friend, some villagers and an older lady, I got to a hospital an hour later with my travel-partner and our hosts who were able to locate me after a phone call and a long search. The doctors took away the pain and told me to get straight back to Holland.

Three days later we were on a plane, a particularly funny event when you know your travels are over. At the hospital here they explained me my collar-bone was dislocated. No operation was needed. All I need to do is rest and relax…

Bonestructure

Breakfast in Romania

The main question tourists ask here in Romania is: “Who was the real Dracula?” For us the question rather is: “What do people have for breakfast and where?”

In Turkey they eat tomatoes and cucumbers, a boiled egg, feta and bread. In England they serve baked beans and scrambled egg, and in France you find croissants and chocolate breads. But we looked and looked while in Romania for two weeks now and still don’t know what to eat for breakfast and where.

Walk around in any random town other than Bucharest and, really, you will have a very hard time finding a spot to have breakfast – even bakeries are hard to find. So what do we have for breakfast? After a morning in Sighisoara looking for breakfast we stopped at a place for tea, coffee and… pizza.

Hey Stranger

Have you ever been on your own wondering in a town, a city or countryside? Imagine being lost and somebody comes up to help you out, explaining your route or maybe offering some water, tea or a ride.

Imagine this feeling. You’re lost, insecure, uncertain, maybe stressed out, not knowing if you will find your way again. Unsure maybe if you will have a place to sleep tonight, and just when it gets dark, suddenly a stranger appears and helps you out.

While traveling I depend on the help of these strangers. I hitched over five thousand kilometers, and waited for strangers to pull over and to give me a ride at least eighty times during this trip.

Equally I was also dependent on strangers for a place to sleep. I never stayed at a place where I was a customer, using money to get a bed.

But I still did the accommodation thing the ‘easy way’, through Couchsurfing and other hospitality exchange networks I was able to stay with people who offer their place and hospitality for some days and nights, sometimes for more than a week.

Knowing there are always strangers who can help gives me the feeling of never actually being lost. Knowing how to trust these strangers gives me a lot of confidence: there is always someone out there who will bring you further. In fact, the more ‘independent’ I make myself, with money  and taking up the consumer-role for example, the more fragile I actually may become as I may forget how to trust strangers.

Before this trip I used to think I was more independent if I would be able to take care of myself completely. It would give me confidence not to have to go and ask anyone for anything, but to have all the resources at hand myself: my map, my food, my fuel, my car, my money.

Now I know the world works better the other way. If you know how to make yourself dependent on strangers, while traveling, you have more confidence and your needs are less.

no-strangers

Plus, the feeling when helped by a stranger is something you may remember for a lifetime. I still remember clearly – though ten years ago – how an Irish farmer helped me out as well as two of my buddies while hiking in the South of Ireland and a storm was about to fall over us. He helped us down the hill where later in a hostel we learned a rescue-team was looking for some other people who were lost in those same hills.

Strangers can leave a deep impact on your life. Independent of how small it may be for the one offering help or giving something, for the one in need it leaves a deep positive mark.

And all this reminds me of one good song of a band formerly know as Moondog jr. “Shall I let this good man in?”

Breathing Istanbul


Children playing everywhere, families in the parks eating fish that the men just caught in the Bosphorus strait, busy markets and streets, and smoke of waterpipes all around you. Istanbul is not only a very beautiful city, but foremost a very active one with a lively outdoor culture. It breathes life in every corner you find.

You don’t have to go far to discover this, to sense the Istanbul atmosphere. Its people are very alive pretty much everywhere. Within a minute that I walk out of the door of my new place I can easily find someone smiling, a shopkeeper saying hello to me or people speaking to each other. Children look very happy all the time and sometimes don’t stop laughing; so full of life they are.

Although things are not easy for all living here, the Istanbul atmosphere enables most to enjoy their lives and that of others fully. It is an incredible place with real life happening all over, people surviving from as little they have, and a touch of magic if you look deeper.

An easily accessible place with a lot of activity and magic is the Bosporus riverside. Here you’ll find many boats, people fishing, families barbecuing and big waves playing at the shore with children who scream joyfull back at the splashes of the water.

As I went for a long walk along the Bosphorus sea I observed how people here experience an ordinary Sunday afternoon. I have seen them taking one of the dozen ferries, relaxing in a small harbor and fishing all over the shore, barbecuing their fresly caught fish, and sitting on one of the many terrasses, enjoying their waterpipes, having some fruit and playing chess or backgammon.

Though, I am taking things fairly easy here as it is such a huge place that I can easily get lost and find myself too overcrowded with input and impulses. There is enough to do and extremely a lot to explore. No need to hurry at all, Istanbul has so amazingly much to offer that it would be a waste to race through it. Let’s first breath it.