The friend I was hitch-hiking with was fast asleep however this was not an option for me; having managed to communicate through signs and basic words how much I love coffee, our two joyful lift-givers pulled into a service station as we crossed the border to buy me my first Italian coffee of the trip, how could I refuse? Leaving my friend sleeping, I followed them into the service station impressed by the fact a barista was serving proper coffee at this time of night. We threw back our double espressos and headed back to the lorry, but not before one of the drivers had bought an Abba CD from the shop, excitedly exclaiming “look Abba, English, sing!” Back in the cab, on the motorway towards Milan with the music blaring, we were singing along finding an unusual way of communicating and it wasn’t long before my friend woke up most definitely not thankful for the music!
At this point we were 68 hours and about twenty lifts into our trip which had begun in the UK in Bradford, West Yorkshire on Sunday morning, where five friends had set off hitch-hiking to the continent. Before splitting early on in the trip we had quickly looked at a map and decided to head for Lake Garda, Northern Italy; we wanted a beautiful place to swim and it seemed a good choice. Having briefly all met up at a service station on the outskirts of Lyon, France on the Tuesday evening and eaten some broccoli - the only hot food still being served - we split once again into two groups and continued on our way, counting on the kindness of strangers as yet unknown who would assist us in arriving at our destination.
We waved goodbye to the lorry drivers near Milan a few hours before sunrise. As they drove away with the cab windows down and Abba playing on repeat at full volume we wondered who would be giving us our next lift. We didn’t have to wait long to find out and I was soon sleeping comfortably stretched out in a camper van driven by two Spanish men taking humanitarian aid to Romania. I woke briefly, pulling back the curtain and glimpsing a sunrise which completed the stunning Italian vista we were passing through. The next time was when the camper van stopped and one of the men shook me awake a big smile on his face ‘Verona!’. Alongside a main road into the city, there were many cars heading in the right direction however most were driven by business people on their way to work, would anyone stop and give a lift to two weary travellers carrying rucksacks who had not changed their clothes, washed, or eaten properly for a couple of days? The answer was yes, someone would stop and soon. A large car smoothly pulled over to the side of the road and a man wearing a suit jumped out and opened the boot so we could put our rucksacks in. He dropped us 20 minutes down the road in the centre of Verona and drove off excitedly, wanting to tell everyone at work what had happened to him that morning!
On arrival in fair Verona we found a park and slept in the dappled shade of a maple tree for a few hours before enjoying the sights of the city and sampling delightful Italian ice cream. Hearing from our friends who were some way behind us we decided to hitch to Lake Garda and meet them there. We all met up at the South of the Lake in the early hours of Thursday morning almost four days after leaving Yorkshire. We pitched the biggest tent we had and all fell asleep in an exhausted, happy heap. Over breakfast the following morning we were excitedly recounting our hitching adventures when my friends mentioned they’d been driven a significant distance by a wealthy Greek man who on parting had given them 40 Euros to enjoy themselves in Italy. Full of gratitude we used that money to take a bus north to the less touristy and breathtakingly beautiful area of Lake Garda. Here we ate pizza and drank beer at the lake edge before throwing off some clothes and running into the clear, refreshing, sparkling water shouting “we got here for freeeeee!”