I felt like the most popular man in Belgium when all three of the first three cars that passed, pulled over to help me hitchhike. After that first car I didn’t get very far before I was back in the rain. I had reservations at a hostel for the night but first I had to hitchhike there and, drenched in rain, the pessimistic sky made my chances of making it in time feel bleak. All of that changed with what happened next.
I was standing there in the rain. Thanks to my first ride I was 20 kilometers further from Antwerp and closer to Amsterdam but I was also suffering unsheltered from the weather at an unfriendly and low trafficked hitchhiking spot. Before Uri pulled over in his big wheeler I was stuck watching car after car pass me by. The unrelenting rain, penetrating my orange gore-tex jacket and reaching my optimism, showed no signs of breaking but the lights on the 18 wheeler that just passed did. I climbed up the door in full gear to be greeted by an unfamiliar accent with a wide smile. Sitting uncomfortably with my back pack jammed between my legs in the front of his truck we pulled back onto the freeway.
Even when speaking broken english, Uri was a talker. We talked about how many languages he speaks. Uri made it a point to teach me the word for apple in Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, German, and Slovakian. He also educated me in which eastern european countries have the hottest girls. And for those of you who might want to know, Uri said in order from best to last; Ukraine, Poland, Russia and Hungary. He is from Ukraine though…soooo maybe find a second opinion on that. 40 minutes into our conversation we pulled over at a rest stop.
As required by European law, truck drivers must stop driving and rest for half an hour every eight hours, or, that’s what I thought he said. I offered Uri my bag of potato chips. He refused to take them and strongly patted his belly. Then, he thrusted a large apple into my hands.. I patted my starving belly and accepted. We got to talking about his hometown in the Ukraine and from what I understood, he lives above the Black Sea near the coast where the weather is pleasant and the girls are beautiful and everyone loves vodka. He started the engine and we were on the road again. 80s music replaced our home sick conversations and the rain began washing away the visibility.
Sitting high above the already small European cars on my mega-comfortable trucker’s chair I felt like the king of the road. Uri carried me two hours and 160 kilometers closer to Amsterdam until we reached his stop. He shook my hand firmly and we said our goodbyes.
If you were wandering where I went and the way I went, here it is.
I took a train from Gent to Antwerp (about €8). From Antwerp I hitchhiked to within 20 km of the border between Belgium and Holland. From a stop near the freeway I got in with Uri and we drove around 75 km until we reached Rotterdam.
My journey with Uri is only half of my hitchhiking story. The second half I’ve decided to keep for me. So to make a long story short, I found myself with a press pass to a soccer game because of the incredible person who picked me up.