susan abroad!: Cambridge RAG Jailbreak 2013: Hitchhiking from …

Last weekend, I had quite an interesting weekend, to say the least after all, it involved hitchhiking from Cambridge, England to Warsaw, Poland in less than 24 hours, using zero money. Curious? Read on (although I must warn you, this is VERY LONG !

so unless you have nothing better to do, or are simply procrastinating on that essay like I’m doing… ;)) xx On January 25-26, I participated in Jailbreak , an event organized by Cambridge RAG (Raising and Giving), whereby 150 teams of two have 36 hours to travel as far away from Cambridge as possible without spending any of their own money (Teams are allowed to spend any money they raise within the 36 hours on travel) Many, if not most teams choose to do collect as much money as possible in order to buy a plane, train or coach ticket out of England, while others try their luck with finding a corporate sponsor for a long-haul flight. My partner and I decided to do Jailbreak the traditional way that is, hitchhiking as far as we can without spending a single penny! I have never hitchhiked before in my life neither had my partner and to be honest, hitchhiking was something I had never considered ever doing either!

So we really had no idea what to expect… As soon as we started, we ran towards motorway entrance, collecting about 10 on the way (just in case!) before being picked up by someone who took us the rest of the way to the motorway entrance ( Ride number 1 ). Then, the real hitchhiking began!

Standing at the side of the motorway me in a Pikachiu onesie, holding a sign; my partner wearing a Canadian flag like a cape! we soon caught a ride with a lovely woman (and another Jailbreak team!) to Stansted Airport ( Ride number 2 ). It was quite funny actually, to find ourselves at the airport just over an hour after Jailbreak had began, even though it wasn’t our plan at all to go to the airport and beg for a free flight!

So instead we ditched the airport, and caught Ride number 3 with a very interesting taxi driver interesting since he dropped us off at the side of a motorway junction! Yes, he left us at the side of a busy motorway definitely illegal as well! Thankfully we were saved in about ~30 minutes by Ride number 4 , and we were super lucky as well, since the driver who picked us up was going all the way to Dover!

Yes, it had only taken 4 rides , and we were on our way to Dover! It seemed so real at that point to be at Dover, with all the ferries looking to cross the English channel! I’ve been to Dover once before, and it seemed a lot more beautiful than what I had in my memory (although I have to say, again , I feel slightly underwhelmed by the white cliffs!).

Once at Dover, we weren’t quite sure how easy it would be to hitch a ride onto a ferry, but it turned out to be very easy indeed the second person we asked, actually! Ride number 5 was a lovely Englishman who had worked in Silicon Valley, and was now happily retired in France. Like me, he was also a bit of a languages nerd, speaking at least French and German in addition to English, and definitely dabbling in some Slavic as well haha x We enjoyed some lovely fish and chips and mushy peas on board.

We were the very first Jailbreak team to leave England, so that was quite exciting! Very soon, the ride was over, and our very lovely ride helped us find Ride number 6 a wonderful Scot, now living and working in Herford , about an hour south of Hannover and enroute to… Berlin!

ahhh we were heading to BERLIN; I don’t think I could describe to you how I felt at that point!! Once in continental Europe, the borders and countries all started to blur in fact, there was a good 30 minutes or so where we weren’t quite sure whether we were in Belgium or the Netherlands! (hashtag EuropeanProblems?) We whizzed through France, and then Belgium, and then the Netherlands (my first time in Dutch soil, actually!) before finally reaching good old Deutschland five hours after disembarking from the ferry. Our driver dropped us off at a gas station at around 20:30 CET near G tersloh (chances are you haven’t heard of us we hadn’t either!), on the Autobahn to Berlin. & That was where my impeccable German skills came into play; nside the gas station, the third person I spoke to (I asked all three in German!) agreed to take us through to Berlin!

Yay! Ride number 7 was a German who worked in the Netherlands, and only came home once every two weeks to his family. Just before 1:00, we were dropped off at a desolate gas station, on the ring road around Berlin.

It seemed that our luck had finally run out for the day, as it was late and not many cars or trucks came by. We thought we were the only ones there, until we found another hitchhiker resting there for the night, and what a coincidence too, as he was also from Canada!! What are the chances of that?!

We chatted to him for a bit; he was awaiting a morning ride with one of the sleeping truckers to Prague. It seemed that we might be stuck there until early morning, when we too could catch a ride with a trucker. There were license plates from Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria…

who knew where we’d end up? However, to our surprise, a trucker who was still driving for the night did stop by and it agreed to take us with him! So really we were only waiting at the gas station for 90 minutes or so, because Ride number 8 was taking us to Poland!

It was my first time ever sitting inside a big truck, and I must admit, it was pretty cool 😀 Our Polish trucker also gave us our first glimpse into the hard life of a trucker they work for 4 or 8 weeks at a time, only going home to see their families for 1 or 2 weeks before heading back onto the road. They eat, sleep, live in their trucks. It kind of breaks my heart, but a man’s gotta do, what a man’s gotta do, right?

He dropped us off at a gas station on the Autobahn about 500km to Warsaw. We were supposed to catch a ride with one of his other trucker buddies all the way there during the entire ride, he was so amazingly nice and had called SO many other truckers to see if they could take us! unbelievable how nice he was!!

but since we couldn’t find him in the large, cold and dark parking lot, we headed into the station and very quickly hitched another ride. Ride number 9 was with two Poles who worked in Germany, and were driving home to see their families. Again, German was our lingua franca, so as a MML student, I was quite happy to have some German practise 🙂 They dropped us off in about ~100km, and we quickly found another ride (well, relatively quickly for about 5-6 in the morning?!).

Ride number 10 was again with two younger Poles so English was the language of communication this time. Similarly, they drove us along another ~100km or so, but we again quite quickly found another ride. Ride number 11 was with a Polish trucker, who worked the Germany-Italy route and was now heading home to see his family (after 8 weeks!).

We spoke German with him, although to be honest, we both were asleep most of the ride, having not slept at all during our journey! It was very nice of him to not mind us doing so 🙂 By now, it was light, and we were only about ~100km from Warsaw! WAY TOO EXCITING haha.

Catching our last ride to Warsaw took a bit longer than the other ones, but we did eventually find two VERY NICE Poles who would drive us all the way to Warsaw! I emphasize the very nice part simply because we basically did not say a word to each other we didn’t speak any Polish, whereas they didn’t speak English or German. I’m actually surprised (and very grateful, of course!) that they took us, so lots of thanks to Ride number 12 xx We arrived in Warsaw at about 9:30 CET.

All in all, it took us less than 24 hours to get from Cambridge, England to Warsaw, Poland hitching 16 rides along the way and spending not a single cent! AH CRAZY. We were hundreds of miles ahead of everyone (well, in the land race, anyways!) but it seemed like such a waste to not continue on, considering we still had 1/3 of the time allotted left.

We really wanted to head southeast into Ukraine, but worried that we needed visas (which we don’t btw now we know!) so we decided to just try another ~200 miles or so and get to Terespol, at the Polish-Belarusian border before calling it a day. We found a very nice English-speaking couple at the gas station, who tried very hard to help us! They attempted to get us on the correct road leading to Terespol so we could try our luck and hitch a ride.

Unfortunately, I think Ride number 13 might have led us in the wrong direction instead. So there we were, stuck in some random part of Warsaw, and if we wanted to continue any further, we had no choice but to… spend money and take the metro to the correct part of Warsaw where we needed to be! (Thanks to the nice Pole who pointed us in the right direction!

x) We had collected about ~ 10 in Cambridge enroute to the motorway entrance, to be used in emergencies, and I guess this was it! We spent the equivalent of about 1.50 on metro tickets, which was the only money we ended up spending on transportation on the trip so I think it’s fair to say we spent the least out of any Jailbreak team?! Once we left the metro, thanks to a bunch of young, English-speaking Poles who pointed us in the right direction, we eventually found ourselves standing in front of a traffic light, right before you turn off onto the road leading to Terespol.

It was quite interesting, and quite heart-warming too, to see so many of the drivers who couldn’t give us rides encouraging us (or at least giving us some hope!) by giving us a thumbs up, or waving, or at least acknowledging our presence instead of just ignoring us! But about ~30 minutes later, we found Ride number 14 a super nice older man, who spoke amazingly perfect English! (I was quite impressed, to say the least! Considering his age, he definitely wouldn’t have had many opportunities to learn English!!) He was so friendly and happy and I think all of his energy just rubbed off on us 🙂 It’s unbelievable how far out of his way he went to help us.

His GPS was directing him to go in an opposite direction just minutes after picking us up, but he kept going and going and going, leading us out of town and on the road to Terespol!! ahhhhhh! Not only did he go way out of his way, he also asked all the drivers at the gas station where he dropped us off if they were heading to Terespol, knowing that we were pretty hopeless not speaking any Polish!

Alas, no luck, so we waited and bid our time at the gas station 🙁 For once, we seemed really out of luck unlike in Berlin, there were plenty of people coming and going, and there was only one road leading out of the gas station (to Terespol!!) so we didn’t quite understand why no one would take us! Our efforts seemed pretty futile at that point, so we decided to be a bit more active instead. We decided to walk onto the next gas station, and perhaps wave our sign around along the way.

Along the way, we stopped at a bus stop instead trying our luck with some more legit hitchhiking; literally, standing by the side of the road holding up our sign saying Terespol . I was feeling pretty desperate at this point, simply because we were simply not having any luck at all (which was strange, because all the cars are heading in ONE direction, and it’s the direction to Terespol!!) The cold also wasn’t making our day any easier! In maybe 20-30-ish minutes (although trust me, it felt like FOREVER standing in the freezing cold!) we caught a ride with a lovely Pole who, despite speaking no English, agreed to take us all the way to Biala Podlaska, which was only 40km from Terespol!

Ahhhh yay for Ride number 15 ! x It was quite nice driving through the Polish countryside, all white with snow. It seemed really different in some way, although, I don’t think it had fully sunk in at that point yet that I was in Poland !

At around half two, we arrived in Biala Podlaska. We headed inside McDonald’s to warm up and get some food and I have to say I was quite impressed with Polish McDonald’s! (we will end up making four trips to McDonald’s during our short stay in Poland haha) Not only was the food significantly better, in my opinion, it was also much cheaper. Yum x We didn’t stop too long, and very soon we were again outside, braving the frigid Polish winter, standing at the side of a roundabout hoping someone would take us the rest of the way to Terespol!

Again, similar to Warsaw, we did get quite a few sympathetic gestures from the drivers who couldn’t take us, but we did catch a ride with the loveliest Polish man who, although we didn’t know it at that point, would really become our lifesaver and guardian angel! Ride number 16 was with Marcin , a young Pole who was born and raised and still lived in Terespol! He spoke absolutely perfect English, having spent a year and a half working in Ireland!

Way cool 🙂 Like I said, he was super nice, taking us to the border and then to the train station! and on the way there, he also called a friend to see if he could get a postcard for us (which he couldn’t, since it was late Saturday so everything was closed!)So like I said, Marcin turned out to really be our hero . He took us to the train station, and went to buy tickets for us (saving us from trying to do so without speaking a word of Polish!).

However, he found out that the last train from Terespol to Warsaw had left for the day, and while we could catch a train from Terespol to another town, and then transfer onto Warsaw, he didn’t think it was quite the best idea considering we don’t speak Polish he was worried we’d get stranded somewhere in Poland! awh 🙂 It was about 16:30 by then, and there would be a train from Biala Podlaska to Warsaw at about 20:09 he thought this was the best option, and he offered to drive us all the way back to Biala Podlaska. This is what I mean when I talk about selflessness he had offered us a ride on his way home from Biala Podlaska, and now he was going out of his way to take us back?!

And it gets better . Considering there was still about four hours until the train, he invited us into his home! Ahhhh!

To be honest, I think this was the most amazing part the journey there’s nothing like truly experiencing a country’s culture, until you’re in the home of a local! It was so sweet of him to do, really! His mother made us tea and offered us Polish sweets 🙂 We also got Belarusian chocolate!

Chocolate from Belarus!! Whaaat?! I’ve kept the wrapper and I think I’m going to keep it forever who knows when, of if EVER, I’ll get Belarusian chocolate again?!

I didn’t even know they made chocolate in Belarus haha :$ x Marcin also let us use his laptop to book early-morning 9:25 flights out of Warsaw back to London. It’s a shame that we came all this way and couldn’t stay any longer! But Monday classes and supervisions and lectures were calling… 🙁 There is really no limit to Marcin’s kindness, because as he did not have a printer, he trekked all the way to his friend’s house to print our plane tickets out for us!

Then he drove us back to Biala Podlaska, and we chatted in McDonald’s for just a bit longer before heading to the train station. Really, we didn’t know how , or even if , we could thank him! This man gave us a lift from Biala Podlaska to Terespol, and he could’ve very well left there there, and let us find our way to the border ourselves that was fully expected of him from us.

But instead, he personally took us to the border, and then helped us buy tickets at the train station, and when he realized what had happened, invited us into his home, gave us food, let us buy our plane tickets home and then drove us all the way back to Biala Podlaska. I just feel so grateful and lucky to have been the recipient of such kindness. I actually don’t know if I can think of a better example of generosity and selflessness.

So at 20:09, our train left Biala Podlaska for Warsaw but first, Marcin had to come onboard one last time to make sure that we knew what we were doing and where we were going! What a man xx So that concludes our crazy Cambridge RAG Jailbreak 2013 adventure! We made it all the way to Warsaw in less than 24 hours with spending a single cent , and then eventually made it 200 miles further to the Belarusian border 🙂 We didn’t quite win the land race though (a team got to Lviv!) although to be fair, considering we had about 12 hours left when we reached Warsaw, we could’ve definitely made it to Ukraine too, if we had know we didn’t need visas!

But then again, we wouldn’t have met Marcin otherwise, and it was just so amazing to have met him, and to know that yes, there are such good people in this world. xx So we spent the night at Warszawa Centralna haha not a fancy hotel, but the central train station! Too cheap to afford a hostel 😛 We had a nuit blanche ; hitting up McDonald’s twice until it closed at 2a.m., then practically froze to death in the 20 C train station for two hours before we warmed up in a caf that opened at 4 a.m.

At about 6, we decided to make the most of our short stay in Poland’s capital, and ventured out into snow and freezing weather to take a quick stroll around Warsaw’s old town before taking the bus to the airport and our Ryanair flight home! (It was my first Ryanair flight btw, and I was pleasantly amused to say the least not as horrifying as I thought it would be haha x) Pictures of Warsaw coming up in my next post 🙂 Since this one was so text-heavy, the next shall be full of pictures!


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susan abroad!: Cambridge RAG Jailbreak 2013: Hitchhiking from …

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