Category Archives: Travel

Istanbul Golden Horn

A scenery view of Istanbul Golden Horn and the Topkapi Palace

Istanbul is a city I love very much. I lived there six years ago for a little while. I could never get enough of it. In fact I love it so much I just started a new website about it. So far it only has a couple of posts, but there is many more to come. Find it at Naar Istanbul

This photo I took whilst from the Asian side on a ferryboat, facing the Golden Horn. At the background you can see a tower of the Topkapı Palace.

The Value of Money

A woman asking for money in Kiev, the Ukraine

It was a long time I had not touched money. If not for the couple of times I just had to buy some cat-food or else kitten would starve, it was easily over a year. But suddenly I was feeling the touch of money. I smelled it and it felt crispy.

I was unsure what to do with the bill of 20 euro my friend Rene had given me. I was staying with him in Lyon, France, and it was my turn to go to the market to buy the veggies and fruits for the house. I thought it was good to let go of the idea of not using money, and to experiment again to use it; to get a sense of what it would do to me.

And to say the truth, I thought it would be fun. But instead I was hit by doubt and uncertainty: I simply didn’t know who to give the money to, from whom I wanted to buy the food. Maybe this woman with the nice smile, or that guy who is old? In other words, I wasn’t looking at the quality of the food, but I was judging the quality of the person.

Up and down the market I walked for some time before I finally decided to settle it and to ‘just buy something’. They were apples and I gave the market salesman the money – a piece of paper – looking at him with a weird glance in my eyes, as if I was still in doubt this was the right guy to give the money to, as if he was the one who would “deserve” it.

I ended up spending the whole 20 euro, and I came back home with a trolley filled with fresh foods. I was happy using money again, it made me feel better. Whereas living money-less was fun and interesting at first, at the market in Lyon I came to understand it was now limiting me: I had become a slave of not using money. And like this I came to understand the value of money: it is not what it resembles, but what it does to you.

September 2011. The story in Dutch is available at http://geldloos.nl/verhalen/de-waarde-van-geld.

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.

Recap Portugal Trip

Yep- that's me walking

Oh Portugal. How much I loved hitching, cycling and hiking on your roads, your dunes, and cliffs. Wild nature, and wonderful people. Amazing hospitality and what an experience to do all this without money! Just going around the bars and restaurants asking for left-overs, and many times the food would just appear right in front of me. Eating fruits of trees and finding veggies all along my path, and people inviting me over.

From North to South, literally from the furthest border to the most opposite side, by walking and hitching and staying over in Vila Nova de Cerveira, Viana do Castelo, Porto, Espinho, Mira, Coimbra, Talasnal, Tomar, Lisboa, Seixal, Alcácer do Sal, Carvalhal, Sines, Porto Covo, Vila Nova de Millfontes, Almograve, Odemira, Zambujeira, Azenha, Odeceixe, Rogil, Aljezur, Sagres, Salema, Lagos, Silves, Benafim, Vilamoura,  São Brás de Alportel, Tavira and Vila Real de Santo António.

Highlights are numerous, and I am still writing my stories. But one of my personal favourites was Vila Nova de Millfontes, the second town on my unplanned hiking trail. I arrived in the morning, after walking for 6 hours by moonlight over the highest dunes I had ever seen. Coffee and breakfast was given by a nursery, and lunch was provided by some Bulgarians with a restaurant. But my path was blocked by a river and the bridge was far, and I wanted to cross in a more traditional fashion. So I decided to wait at the harbor for a local to bring me across by boat, which happened, without much waiting involved. His ex-wife was Dutch, and so he liked me. My first time hitching on a boat!

Crossing the river

Recapping my experience, I finally had time to publish my photos. Not all of them, as I lost half of my photo-collection after being deprived from my computer, money and phone in the beginning of my way. But that reality was not as bitter as it may appear, as that triggered a set of events that changed my perspective on life tremendously. Ah, where life brings you when you simply surrender and trust!

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.

Somewhere in Portugal

Hundred-and-fifty people and amazing fun in Paris two years ago, just over a hundred in Odesa last year (a lot harder to get to, see video) and non-stop hitching adventures. The ones gathered are hitchhikers, first-timers and hardcore travelers. Nice reunions of friends and contacts, of people who share-alike.

Both times I helped (un)organising the events. And this year again I do my part, setting up the website hitchgathering.org and helping out with communications and outreach.

I am not so much of a scouter and both last years the location of where to meet was pretty much left to the last minute, literally. And again for this year, we have no clue yet where to meet, except for “somewhere” in Portugal. Fantastic, and perfectly alligned with a hitchhiking attitude.

It ain’t easy for people to embark on quite a big trip to Portugal if they never hitched before, and especially if people have to hitch through Spain (which can be a bit of an adventure). So there is a challenge for many of us to inspire and motivate them.