…And we fall asleep.
It is over an hour to Paris so taking a nap is fine. We awake to ‘This is the entrance for the highway (although it says A4 and we want the A10). No one can stop here, so I can take you to the bus station’. Sounds like a clear ultimatum. He is another women hitchhiker lecturer and if there was an exam on this topic we would definitely get an A. He tells us we should take the bus as it is safer and there we can see all the maps of the area. Between us we agree the bus station is a better spot than by the wrong highway. We arrive at Eurolines bus station 8am, Paris. It is cold, dirty, unfriendly and smelly, with empty arrivals boards and many buses departing to Utrecht! We try to find the drop off point for the coaches but people are unable to provide us with this information and we spend an hour circling the complex.
We ask a taxi driver for information about how to get to the A10. After explaining us all the options – bus, train, tram – of how to get there that we have, he finally comes to terms with the idea of hitchhiking and becomes Lift 13 – I shouldn’t be doing this I have clients a.k.a amazingly nice helpful French guy number 2. He gives us a lift to the start of the way to the A10, Portire Orleans. We hitch unsuccessfully for 20 minutes when we see his lovely face appear on the horizon. He stops and again gives us a lift to the entrance of the A10 even though he is supposed to be taking his paying clients somewhere else.
We arrive at the most ideal hitchhiking spot one could ask for. Multiple traffic lights, a sharp bend for slowing and we can see the A10 above from where we stand. Brilliant – we can get a lift in no time. Unfortunately we had forgotten a crucial feature when assessing this spot – it was in France. French people are snobbish, insensitive, incredibly mean drivers! Not one for two hours gave even a hint of consideration of giving us a lift, with us knowing full well they can’t be going anywhere else but the A10. Expressionless, guilt-free, blanking faces were given by all, enforcing our negative French stereotypes. We decided to be more aggressive with our tactics and move towards the highway. Eventually a taxi driver pulls over: “A dix” he says “Oui, Orlean?” “Oui”.
Lift 14 – a crucial mistake. “The petrol station for A10 is 13km away and so I will take you to A ‘cease'” What follows is a messy exchange which consists of “Ah dix, Orlean”?, “Oui Ah six, Orly”. As we travel we see the exit for Bordeaux pass by and fade into the distance. Here we realise this will be disastrous and see ‘depressing phase two’ of our travel on the horizon.
We end up at a petrol station on the A6 towards Orly airport with no one there going to Orleans, nor to A10. Crucial decisions now have to be made: we can get to the A10 entrance but we have to walk and hitch from the road (remembering how well that went in Paris) or stay at the station with slim chances of people going to Orleans. We take the former and translate the confusing direction of ‘gauche’ (aka turn left).
Result? Hours of strolling back and forth and trying to untangle the labyrinth of roads around us. I conclude that the A10 to Bordeaux is below us – so close but so far. We move to a roundabout where we discuss hitchhiking tactics of will people cut across a lane to stop for us, Klementina – No, Nichola – yes.
We persevere but nearly give up, sitting down on the cement desperately holding up the sign with growing hatred for the French. “A dix?!” we hear a French guy yell at us. He is on the opposite side of the road going in the wrong direction, so our risen hopes droop again as he disappears behind the roundabout. As we turn to discuss our plans we see a car stop by, cutting across a lane. Lift 15 – amazingly nice French guy number 3 – the guy who asked us ‘A10’. He turns out to live nearby but he happily takes us to the A10. We ask for a petrol station and he agrees. Little did he know (but we did) that it was 13km away. At this point desperation outweighs being nice.
He drops us off and he enjoys his cup very much. (Everyone of our lifts… well, almost everyone, got a cup with my great artistic skills employed in the form of a Sponge Bob sketch and a ‘thanks for the ride’ note. We added a food bonus – filled them up with Dutch peppernoten). The elusive A10 was ours! Time, 2pm (!). From now on, a positive turn comes about (which was definitely overdue!).
‘Hi’ calls a guy from the side of the road. Klementina jumps at the chance: “Excuse moi, direction Bourdeaux?” After struggling to reply in French, the driver hopefully asks “Do you speak English?” “Of course!”
Lift 15 – Australian ruggers with a new car from Paris. They were great company and a joy to have a lift from, noting that they don’t normally pick up hitchhikers. They were on their way to Montpellier… near Spain, on the seaside. Thoughts race and hearts beat faster as we conclude this could be near San Sebastian. Frantic search of the map, however, tells us that it is to the east of Spain and our San Sebastian is on the west coast. At least they can take us to Orleans.
Tragically, in Orleans we realize we had left our beautiful signs behind. Our hearts sink. After this point… we don’t really know what happened. But our guess is, something so monumental that our brains had blocked it from ever being remembered. Anyway, we get a lift to Tours from Lift 16 –who knows who that was? At Tours we meet another UCU group of three, we exchange tales of tragedy. As Tina proposed to go to the toilet, someone taps me on the shoulder and asks me if we wanted to go to Poitier. No signs necessary here. The team of three looked annoyed, we feel a little bit guilty, but nevertheless we hop in the car, taking the place of an also annoyed Jack Russell. We stop feeling too guilty as Lift 17 – ‘do you speak French? No? I don’t speak English either’, a Jack Russell, Mum and a son smokers – were in fact asked to give us a lift in Tours, but had declined. Most of the trip we slept. We wake up at a sunny petrol station outside Poitiers. A very unceremonial goodbye with Lift 17 as we sit down to flip the map over(!) and make a new sign. Poitier petrol station was full of weird Gothic looking kids who were definitely not going surfing in San Sebastian.
We decide to have a decent meal before it gets dark and we end up on a lonely highway again. Tina had ratatouille and me, a goat cheese and spinach tart, which when I put it in the microwave to warm up, noticed there was a fly inside, who miraculously survived the microwave blast. Whilst eating we asked a middle-aged woman where she was going. “Saintes”, she replied. Excitement rises, she seems keen. “I’ll just ask my husband”, she says. We hurriedly finish our meals in the prospect of a lift. “No, he doesn’t want to”, she gets back to us. Great.
We decide to split: Tina taking one side and me the other. Not much time passes when Klementina runs over: Yay! Guess where they are they going?! Bordeaux! She hastily stares at my bag and tells me to make it look like I have little stuff. As I approach I see we are getting into a minivan (!) of Lift 18 – sophisticated son and mother. We learned from previous mistakes and formalize our plans to the pair: “Could you drop us at a station before Bordeaux?” They understand and most of the trip we sleep.
Arrival in Bordeaux! The service stations are getting nicer as we’re getting towards Spain, though the French really need to sort out their public toilets. One side of the service station is dead, so we go to the other. There we come across another UCU pair, but what do you know, it’s the Ikea couple. Our spirits rise as we consider that maybe we’re not doing as badly as we first thought. “This service station is horrible”, they say, “we’ve been here for an hour and a half”. We retreat inside to ask consumers there if they would give us a lift, as James and Tessa are patrolling the outside. No one does, the couple must have got there first. We see another UCU team arrive – the one from Tours. The service station was getting a bit too crowded. We head outside to see Tessa and James leave. Good, the petrol court is ours.
Not long after, Tina calls me to come over; she’s been talking to some truck drivers. Tina keeps talking to them in broken English/Polish/Russian. We get told to put our backpacks under the truck. I ask Tina where are they going..but she doesn’t know. In her excitement over a lift she had forgotten to ask them. ‘They seem to be going in the right direction’. Just in case, we try to make sure and hand them the map. They point to the place where they’re going, in Southern Spain. They pass their finger along their route, and guess where they are passing? San Sebastian!!! Lift 19 – Polish truck drivers who love coffee shops. They offer us Polish beer and we readily oblige. We smile from ear to ear, as we enter the coziest truck ever. We chat about the status of Eastern Europe and the plight of EU. We toast to our final trip, while they are interested in our pictures. “This is the most perfect lift to end our trip!” We have deep conversations about politics, history and languages and can’t wait to reach our hostel shower and sleep in a proper bed. .. and not a ‘kitchen’.
But the theme of our trip prevails: as we approach the Spanish border, the co-driver pulls out his sat nav and tells us .. he is actually not going to San Sebastian. ! He asked if we want to be left at a petrol station or at the border. We conclude sticking to a petrol station would be the better option. The driver is wary of our decision, but we convince him. So thus we watch our perfect lift drive off into the night…
If you’re interested;
B- Ikea Utrecht
I- Before the Spanish Border (near Hendaye)