Don't Even Go There—Travel Writing for the Rest of Us

Even if the world is your oyster, you can still chip a tooth on its shell. While travel magazines feature exotic locales of breathtaking beauty, we expose sites so depressing that no traveler this side of Edgar Allan Poe would venture there without a tub-load of tranquilizers. Take Las Vegas (please) and the $5.99 all-you-can-eat buffet line at Sam’s Town. That's the world we explore at Don’t Even Go There.

On this site, we tell of places we’ve visited but wish we hadn’t. We reveal vacation plans gone awry and relate horror stories from the road best abandoned. These true stories reflect where we’ve chosen to go. We only have ourselves to blame. We rarely needed to exaggerate—the truth really is stranger than a Dan Brown novel.

Don’t Even Go There: travel tips for those of us who aren’t escorted by security guards, pampered by wealthy benefactors, or provided a generous per diem. This blog is for seasoned travelers and armchair tourists who want the real world first-hand and head-on, with all its drama, horror, and humor. You’ll laugh at us, cry with us, and decide to stay home more often.

18 October 2009

One Thumb Out and Two Thumbs Down

Here is another story from our many, many hitchhiking adventures. This true story proves once again that even knowing the lay of the land can’t always protect you from the unimaginable. Sometimes, you’re just on your own. That’s the thrill and the beauty of traveling: you never know how the journey will end until you reach your destination. —MB & JS
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Germany has an excellent train system—its cabins are neat, its passengers are polite, and its trained crew are ruthlessly efficient. But for adventure and economy, you might consider hitchhiking. Unlike hitching in the US, thumbing a ride in Europe is still a fairly safe and viable travel alternative . . . most of the time.

To get anywhere in Germany by car, you have to take the Autobahn, the nation’s souped-up interstate highway. Traveling on the Autobahn means never having to say “Geschwindigkeitsgrenze,” which is a lot of syllables that mean “speed limit.” Drivers on the Autobahn average 100 miles an hour, regardless of the weather. Accidents, when they happen, involve everybody. There’s no such thing as a fender-bender in triple-digit driving.

Did you see that car just disappear into the distance? That was us once.

For obvious reasons, pedestrians aren’t allowed on the road itself, which limits hitchhikers to entrance ramps, rest stops, and the prize of them all: Tankstellen (gas stations). This law, however, does not limit hitchhikers’ success stories.

Experienced hitchhikers—like us, the ones who live to retell the tale—have fond memories of their time on the road, but if you are among the faint of heart, you might want to dig deeper for train fare. Hitchhiking is not without its inherent risks, which goes double for hitchhiking on the Autobahn (picture trying to score a ride from the pit stop during a NASCAR race). While you can get lucky and reach your destination in record time, you might also end up on the ride of your life. All you know about your host is that he or she had the decency to pull over and open the door.

We’ve been lucky. Hitchhiking has taken us to brave new worlds. We’ve ridden the waves of centripetal force in the back of an empty dump truck skidding around sandy corners on a Turkish mountain byway. We’ve sweated bullets while bumping along in a gas tanker marked EXPLOSIVE. We’ve crawled along a road in an old pick-up going slower than we could have walked. We’ve been left at the side of the road in the middle of the night with nowhere to sleep but among the trees. We’ve even been picked up by the driver of a stolen car speeding toward the border.

We’ve been honked at, faked out, and passed up by caravans of Brits when our sign clearly read “London.” We’ve been given a lift by the Dutch Highway Patrol when stuck at a crossroads and nearly arrested in Austria for soliciting a similar service. We’ve been put up for the night, invited to parties, introduced to artists, taken to breakfast, and seduced by married women. Some of our greatest travel memories started with a long walk and ended with a ride to remember.

Which brings us back to Germany’s Autobahn. It was the setting for our scariest ride ever—a few hours that forced us to review our past, repent our ways, and swear off hitchhiking for weeks.

It was late at night. That was one problem. We’d been drinking. That was another. But we somehow scored a ride going all the way to our destination. Silly grins. High-fives. We got in the car. The next thing we knew, we had entered the stratosphere. We had unknowingly booked passage for a pre-dawn flight in an Audi rocket cruising at 150 miles an hour through a fog thicker than Egyptian cotton.

Our fingernails dug into the upholstered leather seats. Our hearts crawled up into our throats for protection. Our breath came in quick spurts, as if our lungs sought to remind us we were still mortal. The driver straddled the center line to keep safely away from the Soft Shoulder of Death. We’ve never been so glad not to see another car. At a Tankstelle stop to refuel, we actually fought for the right to sit in the back seat.

We made it home in record time, but with damaged nerves and soiled underwear. It was a ride we’ve never been able to forget. Not even with alcohol.

Little Known Fact: Germans find it offensive if you join your index finger and thumb together in the “OK” sign. Don’t do it!

Lessons Learned: When hitchhiking on the Autobahn, you get to ride in some of the highest-performing automobiles in the world as they try to exceed the speed of sound. Hitchhiking isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve got more time than money, there’s no better feeling than seeing a car slow down and pull over, especially if the wind is blowing and the pavement has spent the last two hours sending shivers through the soles of your feet. You’re living on the edge, balanced precariously between hope and despair, safety and danger, life and death, a rock and a fast lane. You’ll probably be fine, but don’t say we didn’t warn you.
How We Saw It
Blight-Seeing: 1
Communication Breakdown: 4
Customer Dis-service: 3
Discomfort Level: 4
Grunge Factor: 1
Inactivity Guide: 5
Rent-Attainment: 3
Spontaneous Consumption: 1
Fun Fraction: 2/5
Vibe-Rating: 3

If You Won’t Listen to Us
Nearest Airport: Most traffic to Germany still goes through Frankfort Airport
Native Population: 82,500,000 (Germany), not that you’ll meet them all on the Autobahn
Normal Attractions: German history, culture, art, museums, and of course, the automobiles.
Final Point of Interest: Twenty years of debate and study haven’t proven the Autobahn any more dangerous than other roads.

2 comments:

Always a mom said...

I enjoy reading your posts about travel. As one who used to travel the world for a living as a Flight Attendant, I of course love to hear travel stories. I have been to Frankfurt, Germany and the funny thing is that all I can remember about the city is that when I went to eat dinner in one of the restaurants there, I was amused to find that patrons are allowed to bring their pets inside while they dine. There is something sad about the fact that this is my only lasting impression.I would like to go back to Germany someday, I hear that Garmisch is nice.

Mark Bloom and Jason Scholder said...

Here's the thing, Always a mom: Garmisch is indeed nice, but so is the Black Forest. Berlin is an amazing city, but the German Alps can take your breath away. So where do you go if you can only pick one place to visit? The answer is: it doesn't matter. There are restaurants that allow pets all over the country.

Thanks for reading our little stories. Remember that they're all true! We are sorry we didn't get to see pets in a restaurant. Imagine what we could with that story--guinea pigs digging into the spaetzel, chihuahuas lapping up the sauerbraten, and all those parakeets!