Pickup 6 – guy who is happy we are not his daughters… Here we get our first lecture on how dangerous it is for girls to be hitchhiking in the night. (In this light, his friend, a middle-aged man, offers us to sleep over at his place.. just so that we’re safe).
“Aren’t your parents worried?!!” Answer: “No, they’re envious.”
He drops us at a route towards the A 27 (the promised highway to Antwerpen). In no time (thumbs out, hey look, there’s a car stopping) comes Pickup 7 – no distinctive features man. He took us to the ‘promised land’- a gas station on A 27, and he even raised our morale: “You can get further than Antwerpen on this road”.
Pickup 8 – truck driver who challenged Tina on her dining hall fruit collection.
He was taking potatoes to Groningen (NL, north) but oddly, he was travelling Eindhoven – Antwerpen (BE) on his way. Oh, and he often travels to Bordeaux – just not tonight, of course.
We were now on a petrol station in Antwerpen (which was good as we didn’t have to repeat our 5pm text again at 10pm with ‘Eindhoven’). Ironically enough, here Breda was a popular destination.
The place also turned out to be crazy suspicious. The cashier to us: ‘You speak English? Don’t go to the sides! I can see you on the cameras! Stay in front, there are no cars on the sides!’. .. even though we had seen ten blatantly going that way to pull over. People coming out of there were also suspicious, all of them buying beer. We think the cashier had a vendetta against us as after people left the shop, they were especially unfriendly. We already started feeling the stereotype that Belgians are strange.
But then – Pickup 9 appeared: geeky couple, heading home to Gent. They were really nice, felt sorry for us and mostly talked among themselves. They left us before Gent, and reacted strangely surprised towards our peppernoten present.
Here, we soon get picked up by Pickup 10 – German who can’t use his smart phone. He was a chef for a film crew on his way to Calais, heading to Newquay to film German love movie. He decided to change his route in our favour, upon our “polite” suggestion. He was from East Germany, Leipzig, to be precise – next time we hitchhike there for the best Weihnachtsmarkt in Germany according to him. He nearly messed us up as we missed the last petrol station. As Tina was asleep and the German guy had no idea what was he doing, here we arrived past Lille, joy.
Luckily, even though obviously no one uses the petrol station we walk to a roundabout and, an amazing non-English speaking French guy – Pickup 11 – stops by. He so sincerely explains how to get to Paris, but we don’t believe him. Tina convinces me to go with him, and I remember we passed a turn for Paris on the way into Lille, so all is not lost. A confused, language-barriered conversation follows, in which we learn that petrol station (pronounced “stazion”) is not understood, but is mistaken for a train station (of course). The French translation, we learn, is ‘station de petrol’ – no wonder he didn’t understand!
In any case, he managed to take us to the main Paris petrol station, 10km from Lille.
It was now night and our original plan of sleeping in a service station was halted as this one was not open. However, there was a man working inside. He was very willing to help us. The two best ways he could help us was either to open the door for us, or to ask people in French to give us a lift. He missed realizing both points. His ideas of helpfulness were to offer us sweets and bread, and to not open the door. Several cars stop by, but all were from the ‘bad family’ type – the ones with many kids who tend to occupy back seats. We also had a short-lived hope of getting an epic lift by some policemen; but French policemen did not turn out to be what we think of policemen.
Even with the influx of English on the world, the French government is doing a good job keeping it out of France. Here people spoke either no-English, or broken Anglo-French, which was more French than Anglo. On our part, we both were slowly remembering some phrases from our learning-French past, and found out a new important word: hitchhike=autostop.
It is now freezing outside, and the shop worker is stepping up his game – at 6am he can give us a lift with him to Lille and pay our train ticket to Spain. In case we didn’t understand him (because his English is not the best, you know) he repeated this several times with intermittent lectures on how dangerous autostop was. We then proceeded to enlighten him on how he could help us more. Maybe we could go inside? Again, we are told we could go to Lille at 6am. Tina says: “If we are not dead by then.” at this point, the penny drops. But, he explains, his chief (think: boss) wouldn’t allow it. Then, we brought out the Sad Face. He finally says we can stay in till 5am when his chief arrives, but we’ll have to hide in the kitchen. I don’t know what the French are doing in their kitchen, but this looked oddly like a bathroom full of showers. Ultimately, we resign to taking a nap on the bathroom floor, which wasn’t bad as it was warm and clean. The worker comes back to ask if we are doing okay in the kitchen and brings us a fresh baguette (:P).
After a really restful 45 minute sleep we emerge out of the kitchen and back into the cold. (Before this, we had a trip to the toilet, as ironically, the door to the toilets was locked and we were not able to use them during our stay). Outside, a sense of dejàvu occurs as we scanned the empty horizon for oncoming cars. “I can still take you to Lille at 6!” We secretly hope we get a lift by then.
Then, an English car arrives. Pickup 12 – the ultimatum guys. We are excited to speak English again. Yet we realize these three rough, suspicious-looking men are not English – they’re speaking a strange language that even Tina doesn’t recognize (meaning it was not Polish or Russian or Slavic.) “Oh well” says Tina, “I don’t care even if we end up in Romania in a chain of woman trafficking, at least, we are moving.” Later we ask them where are they from. Answer: Romania.
Although they had an English car, their English wasn’t that great. So I am surprised at their topic of conversation “Do you believe in God?”. You would think a less philosophical topic would be chosen when you can hardly communicate what you are doing at a petrol station at 5am! We tell them we want to go on the A10, across Paris, towards Orleans. Tiredness prevails and we fall asleep.