The first things I learnt on my trip across Europe were that 1) French people don't like the English, and 2) French blood banks don't accept English blood. I found both out in Paris, just hours into my journey.
I'd spent years working at a brokerage firm in London and one day decided to change my life. I wanted to have an adventure, and connect with people along the way. It was something of an epiphany, inspired by watching the film The Motorcycle Diaries, about Che Guevara.
Starting out underneath the Eiffel Tower, I intended to travel to Moscow's Red Square with just 5€ per day to my name – I was to rely entirely on the kindness of strangers to get me there. The journey started in the middle of a rain storm in Paris, when I decided to head south towards Barcelona. But everyone I approached for help walked away from me before I could explain my mission.
After six hours of being ignored, I saw a blood bank and decided that selling my blood was the only way forward. I was rejected for that, but while I was in the queue, I met a student called Pierre who was catching a train to Toulouse that afternoon. I told him what I was trying to do, and when I asked if he could help, he offered me one of his student-rate rail tickets; once we arrived, he even gave me a bed for the night at his uncle's house. After so many knockbacks, it felt like meeting an angel.
The next day, Pierre gave me a lift into Toulouse town centre, where I caught a ride to the motorway edge with a retired American painter, who also bought me lunch on the way. There, I hitched a lift to a strange border town filled with brothels. It was the middle of the night, and no one seemed to be about. In the local petrol station I met a Spanish man who didn't speak English, but was fluent in Italian. I rang a friend back in the UK who spoke Italian, and asked him to explain my story to this guy, who turned out to be a DJ. He gave me a lift to the Costa Brava. This was all in the first 48 hours of my trip, and by this point I wasn't quite sure what I'd got myself into.
After 12 days of travelling, I arrived in Munich, where an old woman invited me to her house for a tea party. There I met a bi-sexual, nudist swinger who invited me to stay the night at his house. It was a brave decision, some might say, and soon after we got there, he started showing me pictures of himself and his friends naked – it was all very weird.
The next morning, he suggested we go out for a picnic. He took me to a nudist park in the centre of Munich and said: "Leon, let's get naked!" I was like: "Frank, I thought we were having a picnic." He replied: "We're having a naked picnic!" I politely refused to strip off, and it ended up with me fully clothed and him totally starkers, eating lunch together in the park. Frank was just one of the many weird and wonderful people I met on my travels.
After 30 days on the road, I reached the Russian border at Riga, only to find that the guards there wouldn't let me in. I had two options left: to give up and go to Latvia, or try another border, 60 miles north. There was no question after all this effort; I travelled straight away.
When I finally arrived at the other border, at 2am, I was met by Kalashnikov-wielding soldiers who asked me what I was doing there. I had to explain the whole thing once more to two unamused, armed men. It took 10 hours to convince them to let me through– and in the end it was football that sealed the deal.
It turned out that both soldiers were hardened Manchester United supporters, and once we started talking about the Premier League, they slowly began to smile. I'd never been a Man U supporter, but after those 10 long hours, I became the team's biggest fan.