During military service every soldier, sailor or airforce cadet received one free ticket a year, to go to anywhere of his (always his, back then) choosing: a destination either in the U.K. or in the country where he was serving. I was in an “Intelligence Corps” camp on the Dutch border north of Aachen that year, 1957. My mother was starting her decline towards her death from cancer, and (if recollection serves) she was in hospital or the least already very unwell that summer and told me, in our correspondence, not to get a ticket home but to go somewhere else. Not knowing how very sick she was — I was not properly informed till later — I looked at the map and chose one of the furthest places I could find in West Germany: Lindau am Bodensee (Lake Constance) in the very south. I had two weeks between arriving there and the return journey, and planned to get as far south as I could, maybe even as far as Venice.
This was an inspired choice. Hitch-hiking was easy and safe in those days, and the whole of those two weeks I had no problems of any kind, except for one occasion, and except for time: when I finally arrived in Venice I knew it was risking lateness to try to hitch-hike back to Lindau, and resorted to the trains. But every day before that I set out, walking to the end of the town or village and finding a good spot to stand, my thumb raised. I normally slept in the least expensive hotels I could find (prices were anyway very low in the 1950s) and ate large breakfasts and suppers and very little in between, other than beer and bagels. My only luggage was an over-the-shoulder bag.
My route I remember, the actual overnight stops not so much.
I first went west on the north shore of the lake and then over the German/ Austrian border. The Alps would have been getting closer all the time. From the province of Vorarlberg I went over the Arlberg pass into Tirol and by about day 4 was in Innsbruck. This I do recall, for I ‘splurged’ some of my money and stayed at the best-known inn, the ‘Goldenes Dachl’ (Golden Roof),
The next day I hitched to the small town of Bruck (halfway to Salzburg) and there, after a beer, walked to a good place for hitching on the road leading south over the Grossglocknerpass to Heiligenblut and then to Lienz in Western Kärnten. I knew this was a risk because this is a toll road over the most famous pass in all of Austria. — After about three hours I realised I would have to make some kind of adjustment: so I walked back into the town, found a (maybe the only) stationer’s shop, and bought a Union Jack, which I attached to the back of my over-the-shoulder bag. — Within quite a short time, I had a ride.
From Lienz I hitched west over the Italian border and, I recall, stopped for the night in a small place called Innichen/San Candido. This is in the German/Italian South Tirol and my German was easily understood. It is in the Dolomite region and is very beautiful as well as very strange!
Somehow (bus? train? hitching?) I travelled south to Venice, where I do remember it was very, very hot; I did not have much money but could afford some of the pieces of coconut on sale in the streets — very cooling! — I spent the night at the railway station, waiting for the next train to Milan; and in Milan I changed trains and took the first that was going north to Chur (Switzerland) — one of the most picturesque train journeys in the world! —and then on to Vaduz (Liechtenstein). I do remember being miffed at not getting a Liechtenstein stamp in my passport! From there hitch-hiking back to Lindau was easy.