Random Adventures In Europe
9 January 2016
Over the past decade I have been to 18 countries. Within that decade I have lived in 5 countries. Within those travels I have trekked to opposite extremes. The two opposite extremes were Seattle and Serbia as each are incomprehensible to one another in extremis. The countless impressions obtained over the past 10 years are intensely vivid and graphically emotional. All this IS underscored By the fact that I was a stranger through most of it. I was the quintessential outsider both observing and participating. Each new destination, be it a country, city, state, town or village manifested into an unknown and mostly unexpected experience. I have two travel tales from Europe to share. The first was during an attempt to hitchhike from Budapest to Vienna. The second was when I attempted to hitchhike south along the west coast of Portugal.
The first intense experience was when I attempted to hitchhike from Budapest to Vienna after an 8 hour overnight train from Belgrade. Though I began my attempt at the crack of dawn, it would take 8 hours before anyone would give me a lift. I did get a lift taking me no further 25 kilometers outside of Budapest. I was dropped off at a truck rest lot next a travelers hotel, which as I observed on this particular day, was mostly used by couples to have sex. For another 3 hours I was stuck in the middle of Hungary. Truckers refused to pick me up. Sunset was underway and soon night would fall. It was January. I knew that I was doomed. A Czech van driver who had parked to talk on his cell phone noticed that I needed help. He was headed to Brno via Slovakia. He gave me a lift to Bratislava, Slovakia. I took a public bus to the rail station. I inquired about train tickets to Vienna. That cost 10 Euro. I then asked about the price to Marchegg on the Austrian side of the border. That was 5 Euro. I didn't have one Euro on me but exhausted and determined to reach my bed in Vienna, I manufactured 5 Euro by playing the lost American tourist who needed help getting to Vienna, where my plane back to America was waiting for me. The train conductor inspected all tickets as the rush hour train was packed before we reached the Austrian border. The train stopped at Marchegg. I stayed on. Just as I had suspected, there were no further ticket inspections. I stayed on through Vienna getting off at Stadlau which had a U-Bahn connection straight to my place.
There were my long distance hikes in Andalusia, Spain and in Portugal. In the latter country, I had a serious encounter with the Republican National Guard (GNR), which is that country's national military police for domestic repression. A couple of days before I had attended the World Music Festival in Sines. At that festival I got to see Shangaan Electro for the first time. It was one of four concerts which I have seen which made my jaw drop. (The others include Nitzer Ebb (1990), Laibach (1992), Kraftwerk (1998). After the festival I decided to head back south to Algarve. My only choice was to hitch from Sines down to Sagres.
I was able to get a lift from Sines to Vila Nova de Milfontes. I spent the night on the sand dunes of that town. The next morning I attempted to hitch and for 6 hours had no luck. At one point a car pulled up and some men stepped out. One of them recognized me from the festival in Sines. He told me that he and his friends were heading to another festival in Porto das Barcas and that I was invited to join them. I readily agreed as I was fed up of waiting 6 hours for a lift and I was feeling a bit lonely and was keen to meet new people. I got into the backseat and we were off. We went about 75 meters crossing the bridge over the Rio Mira when a wailing siren and flashing blue lights came from behind. The driver of our vehicle pulled over. Two plainclothes men came to the car. Each of them went to both sides. They violently opened the doors and snatched the driver and front seat passenger out of the car. They were slammed against the car and were roughly searched. They the officers yanked both passengers sitting on each of me out of the car and searched them. Finally I was snatched out, thrown against the car and searched. They went through my backpack and found a recently expired passport.
"Are you from New York?", one asked.
I replied in the affirmative.
"Where's your passport?"
I handed them my passport. They searched through it and noticed that there weren't any entry stamps. The reason for that was that two months earlier I had obtained a new passport in Austria. However since it was new, it didn't have any entry or exit stamps. I was aware that this could be a problem. For a new stamp I would need to leave the European Union and then return for a new entry stamp. I thought about going to Serbia which is not in the EU. However, after my last adventure traveling from Serbia to Austria via Hungary, I decided it was worth the risk. Besides, if the authorities questioned the lack of an entry stamp, I had a lock solid alibi.
"How come your passport doesn't have a stamp?", the GNR officer asked.
"I flew into Paris. They didn't stamp my passport." I replied.
"That's impossible! They must stamp your passport!"
"No, they really don't stamp my passport. In fact, I've never had my passport stamped when I've entered France."
"That's strange because we do. You're coming with us. We have to check."
The Portuguese men who had picked me up were free to go but I had to go to the station. To their credit, they didn't assault me nor did they even use handcuffs. I got into the backseat and we drove back to Vila Nova de Milfontes. Observing the two officers I realized that they were Portuguese and that this was not going to be a very difficult situation. Moreoever, I was certain that a provincial police outpost in Portugal would be unable to get in touch with Paris and verify when I had arrived or not. More importantly, it was true that the Immigration police at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris did not stamp USA passports. I knew this fact personally. As much as the electronic concentration camp has been erected, it's not complete and there are plenty of loopholes to take advantage of, if you know of them and are quick enough to exploit them.
Still, Portugal was for nearly 50 years a fascist dictatorship. Old habits are hard to break. Still compared to my encounters with the Spanish police, the Portuguese police were more laid back. At the station went the following scene.
"OK. Tell me how you got here. Where did you come from? Where did you land? How did you get here?"
"I arrived in Paris May. I then flew to Vienna...."
"Why did you go to Vienna. What did you do in Vienna?"
"I had a Spoken Word performance. I am a poet and performed it in Vienna."
"OK, ok. From Vienna how did you get here?"
"From Vienna I went to Bratislava. From Bratislava I flew to Malaga, Spain. I then went along the coast of Andalusia. I then took the ferry from Ayamonte to Vila Real."
"When was that?"
"In late June. I still have the Ferry receipt. That has the date on it.
"Ferry ticket is not a valid proof of entry."
They then made me wait. Instinctively I knew that they were going to let me go. A year prior I had overcome my fear of the police in Austria. I took the book Moby Dick and quietly led. To my astonishment they even went to the FBI website to see if I was wanted. My reading pleasure was rudely interrupted by the following nonsense.
"Oh!" The same officer exclaimed. "You're wanted by the FBI!"
I looked up from my book and glared at him with an expression of bored contempt. "No I'm not. I'm not wanted by the FBI." I answered with an air of certainty the way a cruel adult smashes the creative fancy of a child with a large imagination.
"Oh yes you are. You're wanted by the FBI! Come and look!"
I stood up and looked at the screen. There was a mugshot of a random Black man who simply had a similar skin complexion to mine. I couldn't hide my disgust. I sucked my teeth, gave a dismissive gesture of my hand and then sat back down. The two officers chuckled and giggled to each other. It was clear that these cops were bored out of their mind and I was their object of amusement to help make the clock move faster in the tropical summer heat.
The other officer was searching for me on Facebook. He was disappointed that there wasn't a trace of me on it. This vindicated my refusal to go on Faceless Book and to generally avoid Soulless Media. It also made me realize how the masses have been suckered to give up their privacy. The authorities have access to whatever people place on the web.
I noticed that both officers had cigarettes. I had a craving for nicotine and asked if they could give me a cigarette.
"Do you like Portuguese or American cigarettes?"
"I like Portuguese." I replied
"In that case, I will give you American cigarettes". He offered me Marlboro. "You have to step just outside this office door in the courtyard."
"I'll keep in sight. Don't worry, I won't run away." I replied facetiously.
"If you do...", he rapped his knuckles on the window to this office door to a sticker which read:
Trespassers will be shot.
Survivors will be shot again.
I definitely got the message. The officers announced that they had contacted the FBI in Washington, DC and were waiting for a reply to see if I was clear for release. I was shaken that the authorities in Portugal would actually run a background check on me with the FBI. Naturally the check came up empty. I was released. By the next day I had managed to make it to Lagos instead of Sagres.
The three case studies written above are simply a drop in the bucket that I've had in the entirety of my world adventures.