Utrecht-San Sebastian hitchhike: Post-Post-Hitchhike

Our initial plan was to go to the beach again, but Urzi and Chris were planning a bike ride so we joined in. It turned out to be a reasonably sized group of nine who came along. This included UCUers who had arrived that very morning and were heading to Barcelona the next day. This made Klementina happy as she now had people to travel with in order to get her flight to Brussels.

The hostel map showed a good bike route and we decided to take this. First stop was the far end of the swimming beach where some sculptures were erected over the sea. We took lots of pictures of us climbing the monuments. The tide was coming in so we could see the spray of the waves hitting the rocks. Klementina and some guys climbed down to play in the spray. They had a good time though at a cost. Klementina soaked her shoes, Chris got hit by a full wave and another guy nearly had his shoes stolen by the sea. Luckily they retrieved them, but the sea had the last laugh, claiming his socks.

We then decided to go up the cliff as the funicular was nearby. Klementina, Chris and I were not fools and got the funicular to the top, while the others cycled up. Funny thing is they still had to spend €1.80, so in the end only saved €0.90. The view was stunning and we took many pictures. Chris and Klementina found a ball and played volleyball while waiting for the others. It only ended up going over the side once!

At this point everyone was hungry so we decided to get food en route, asking locals for advice. We ate at a place with three courses and wine for €10. So it was very good, unless you are vegetarian. Spaniards don’t seem to understand vegetarians. They’re perfectly capable at making a vegetarian dish, but then they put some ham on top for garnish. This meant Klementina’s green salad had tuna in it, so she had to do with lentils. Mine was very nice though.

Klementina and others had to buy their bus tickets as their coach for Barcelona was leaving tonight. It was also en route so it was no problem. Our cycle included going under a cliff in an extraordinarily long tunnel which was very fun. “Maybe China’s at the other end”. Funnily at one point we were supposed to go straight over a roundabout, but we ended up doing 360°, who knows how. At the bus station, I luckily saw my bus company too and confirmed a €6.60 bus was leaving for Biarritz the next morning.

At this point however, Klementina realised she had lost her camera with €50 in the case, probably back at the funicular. So while everyone went to the hostel we went back to check. Luckily the man didn’t charge us for the funicular, but alas it was not there. Our photos from yesterday were lost, but at least we still had the ones from mine. Plus now we could see the palace we missed earlier. Not really a palace, it was more a stately home, but still pretty.

We watched some surf kayaks and decided, even though it was dark, we couldn’t leave without going in the sea. We stripped to our bikinis and stood in the waves. We didn’t swim though as the waves, if they were in Cornwall, you would’ve happily surfed. Another objective achieved, we ate the rest of our bread on the promenade, then headed to the hostel. Here we chilled and packed our bags for the next day. Until Klementina realised that she suddenly had to leave to catch her bus and so, with a hasty goodbye, she did so.

I had to sort out my transport, but luckily some people from my intro week family were taking the same flight to London, in order to fly back to the Netherlands. They decided on a time to get the bus to Biarritz and agreed to meet at reception at 7.30am.

Others along with Chris and Urzi had gone to the beach for drinks and as I now had eight beers (mine plus Klementina’s) from yesterday, I went along. I needed to get rid of them as you aren’t allowed glass in hand luggage. Luckily Ilona was leaving the next morning too so we went together.

We found Urzi and Chris along with a few others sitting in a circle playing ring of fire. Unfortunately we were to be interrupted by a guy shouting at us in French wanting a cigarette. We said we didn’t have one, but that wasn’t the end, he came to the beach and joined in our circle. We ignored him, but he didn’t like that. He picked up one of the bottles and threatened us. We jumped and he ended up stealing a bottle of rum.

Although it was on the beach of course!

This kind of ruined our evening a little. We decided to move to a new place on the beach and continue to play. Instead we watched the same guy steal a blanket from someone else. It was a little ridiculous. As some people were quite drunk we thought we should go back to the hostel. Unfortunately part way we realised we had lost Ralph and so me and Ilona stayed with the drunkards. However Ilona then also realised she had left her bag on the beach that contained her passport. So then I was left with drunkards, who were pretending to be Spanish whilst speaking Dutch. These weren’t the most favourable circumstances for me to be looking after them, when I really had no clue what they were saying.

An awkward ten minutes followed, but Ilona returned saying she couldn’t find it. Hence we went back to the beach to search. We had hidden some bottles in the sand when we saw some police were nearby, so I started by looking for these. I found one; Ilona came over and also discovered her bag. Phew.

We made our way back to the hostel, the drunkards harassing locals on the way and generally being annoying. Eventually we left them as they had run away twice and we had to get up early. A day of constant travel was ahead.

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Utrecht-San Sebastian hitchhike: Post-Hitchhike

We had our showers and then decided like everyone to head to the beach and stroll around town. I spied an ice cream shop and nothing goes better with the beach than ice cream. Even better it was Italian ice cream, but as usual no kiwi flavour (I had this once in Germany on a school trip and it was amazing). Instead I decided to have a multicoloured bubblegum flavour with a scoop of strawberry, it was very tasty.

As we walked through the streets I noted a coffee shop. I was a little bit surprised to see it there as I thought you only had them in the Netherlands. Apparently not. Strangely there weren’t many tourist shops for a surfing destination so when we saw a few I looked for a sew on badge to add to my collection ( I have a blanket which I started when I was about 13 for which I have badges from places I’ve visited and from scouts/guides. You’d think this would mean I have a lot but unfortunately they’re quite rare to find. It is quite impressive though). There were no Spain ones, so from this I gathered the Basque region, where San Sebastain resides, is not that keen on Spain. But they did have a badge of a flag that looked like the GB one, except the background was red, the cross was white and the diagonal was green. I guessed this was the Basque flag and this was confirmed. I bought it.

We went to the beach and it was tremendously beautiful, definitely picture postcard. We sat in the sun and had a little paddle in the sea. Here Klementina discovered the joys of a strong wave that pulls all the sand from under your feet. It even made her loose balance. We played this game for a bit and then we laid in the sand making sand sculptures.

After a doze, we went back into town where Klementina bought a bikini and in the process we stumbled across the Cathedral. Here I had another nap and some food. We thought we should head back as a group picnic was planned, but we hadn’t heard any information yet. We got back to discover nothing was going to be happening. Typical UCUers in last minute planning, or lack of it.

Klementina and I fancied some Basque food. Urzi and Chris told us they had had a great Basque lunch, three course meal and a bottle of wine for €10. We couldn’t pass that up and decided to go. Chris and Urzi decided to make their own dinner in the hostel kitchen. We went with them to the supermarket and got some beer. We were going to do something tonight even if the whole group had made no plans. Talk of drinks at the beach was on

When we had walked to the Basque restaurant we discovered it to be closed. However we’d seen a pizzeria on the way and had designated it plan B. We eventually found it again, but it was very empty with a dodgy man outside so we decided against it. We wandered around the streets trying to find good food and a menu we could understand. We came across a place with a huge menu and peered in. They had trays of food at the bar and the prices were good so we entered.

Everything was in Spanish so the restaurateur who spoke English came over. She explained the food was Tapas and that the restaurant was a wine bar. She went over the vegetarian options with Klementina. Though there wasn’t much, Klementina chose Gazpacho, artichokes and a type of lasagne. Then it was my turn. The lady said the favourite was a black pudding volcano. “Couldn’t I just choose things from around the bar”, I asked. “Yes”, she said, “Then you can see everything”.

Later I realised this was a bit of an error as I had cut myself off from all of the hot tapas they had. Never mind, we had a good dinner, I highly recommend it. When we got the bill we estimated €20, as each dish was €2-4. However we were happy to discover they’d undercharged us! Even better. We hastily left before they noticed.

We got back and Urzi and Chris were still cooking so we chatted for a bit and then went to play cards. Unfortunately we were about to get terrible news. Job – a UCUer – had been swimming in the sea, but hadn’t been seen for seven hours. The worst was expected. Everyone was going down to the beach to light candles. We said we would join. It was very moving and sad, but it was good that everyone had shown their respects and joined together. I hadn’t known Job but it was still a shocking tragedy and upsetting. We returned to our rooms and slept.

Utrecht-San Sebastian hitchhike: The end is near

The driver is wary of our decision, but we convince him. So thus we watch our perfect lift drive off into the night…

We would like to have finished our journey here, but it’s just the start of our ‘depressing phase #3’.

Another UC couple is there – Wouter and Willem are sitting in desperation in front of the gas station. “We’ve been here for hours”, they greet us. They have given up hope but we, still warmed up by the beer, are optimistic about getting a lift. This time the gas station is open.  We propose the policy of ‘we ask one car, they ask one’. They are having none of this and propose they get the first lift since they’ve been there for hours. We then talk, exchange stories and fill the night with laughter. They’re convinced girls get picked up more easily, but we argue against – they know French and that is far more helpful. Few trucks and cars stop by, but drivers are mostly just settling down for the night. The morale gets lower as the night gets longer and Willem decides to take a casual nap directly in front of the door. We finish our chocolate and crisps as we usually do in desperate situations.

Casual

Wouter gets more aggressive and asks every truck driver, but no luck. Tina suggests she goes next (as she’s a girl). She talks to a driver in Spanish (?). He patiently explains to her that his company is worried about ‘seguridad’, thus he can’t take us. Tina throws a sad glance at the huge, empty seats in the truck. We return to our desperate poses outside the station, looking pretty pitiful, homeless and like moneyless students. After thinking for a while, the truck driver turns to us: ‘OK, dos (2) si’. He gives a more elaborate talk where he mentions something about 5k – I am wary of this figure and ask Tina to clarify with him. From what we get, he tells us he can leave us in Irun, which is in 5k from the centre of San Sebastian. We consider what’s better: at the petrol station, 35k from SS, or somewhere 5k from SS? We choose the second (which was Crucial Mistake #2). Me and Tina realize we can’t just leave the guys. We flutter our eyelids and Tina shows 4 with her fingers and says pleadingly: ‘Pero no somos companeros’ (But we’re friends) and makes the Sad Face. After another short speech in Spanish, he says: Vamonos! We ask: ‘Dos?’, he replies: ‘Todos!’ (everyone). Lift 20talkative Spanish truck driver, breaking his company’s rules. Our driver went over to talk to a driver of an identical truck, as one of the guys exclaims: “If he’s going to ask that man, he has already said no to me” Apparently Lift 20 has excellent persuasion powers himself, as the other driver did take the two boys – maybe he used the sad face. We were happy to be seeing the back of the station, getting closer to San Sebastian.

Surprisingly, at 2 am, on a Sunday, the small town of Irun wasn’t a very lively place. After wandering around and deciding where is best to hitch, we ended up at a road leading to San Sebastian via the highway. Off of this was a roundabout where police were conducting a drug and alcohol check. We weighed up pros and cons of whether people would stop if there was police nearby. It didn’t really matter though, as there were no cars passing by. Klementina goes over to the police and asks if this is a good spot. They say it is, so we continue sitting there, happy that it’s not cold at all. A local passes by and tells us “when the police leave, they’re going back to San Sebastian”. We get excited, as not only will we make it to SS, but will do so in a police car. Of course, as usual, this is not happening. Tina checks with the policemen and they claim they’re from Irun. Looks like we’re not sleeping in a bed tonight.

However, the policemen do suggest we might have more luck in the centre of Irun, which is 5k away from there. (Aha! This is the ‘5k to the centre’ the truck driver was talking about. To the centre of Irun, not of SS!) We agree to walk as it wouldn’t take too much to improve our situation. After a long walk in which we discuss English jokes and why they are (not)funny, we come to a new roundabout. We set up there, right next to the sign pointing to SS, and true, there are a few more cars here, but still not a decent enough amount. We consider tactics and conclude that four hitchhikers is scaring the drivers, so the boys stay to try their luck and we sit by the exit lane… snacking. By this point, it has become extremely cold. Fewer and fewer cars are passing. Klementina and I think this is not working and everyone is tired as 3:30 is drawing near. We agree we should call it off for a while and have a sleep. But where? Klementina attempts to get into some buildings nearby – all locked. Plan B: in the middle of the roundabout there is a subway with a bit of grass and some benches. “Looks like we’ll be real hobos tonight”.

Resting by the Road

The other three opt for sleeping on the bench as the grass is wet and will draw most of your heat. I agree this is true, but I don’t think I can sleep sitting up. So I place my towel on the ground and borrow a few of the boys’ card signs and try to sleep there. An hour passes and I awake to my hand completely cold and numb. I move it and feeling rushes back, phew. I see Klementina stirs as well. She says eight cars have passed since she’s awake – we should get back to the road. We wake up the boys – Willem is fast asleep as if he was in his bedroom, not on a freezing park bench. We start to hitch, this time me and Klementina, with new tactical positions. It’s not working out though, so we suggest the boys, instead of sitting by the side, to go and check lift opportunities on the nearby car park.  10 minutes later a car pulls up and says he can take four! Fantastic! Tina grabs the backpacks, I run over towards the park and call the boys. No answer. I can’t see them either, so I rush frantically trying to find them, but I can’t. I return to Klementina – the lift has gone. Thanks boys! If another car stops we’ll leave them! Tina goes to call after them. UCU! BOYS! HELLO UCU! (we don’t know their names).Nothing. What if they found a lift and they left us? We get back to hitch. 15 min later the ball and chain show up round the corner. I still don’t know what they were doing.

Another car pulls over and I rush again: San Sebastian?! Nope, it’s not a lift, it’s worse. The man claims they’re police and we’re not allowed to hitch here. Our jaws drop: “but the police at the drug check told us to come here!’’ Did they? The men are less stern now. Regretfully, we had to give in: if there’s a good place you can suggest, we’ll go there. But they can’t think of anywhere. “Take a bus”, they say. We can’t! They say something and go back in the car. I think they said ‘unlucky’, but Tina claims they said ‘good luck’. They drive off and we discuss what we should do. Rebelliously, we decide to stay in the same spot. Now we’re a bit more wary of the people in the approaching cars; perhaps the police will do a circle and come back to check if we’re gone.

Another car pulls over. Yells of excitement come from Tina, but she has to convince him to take four of us. Luckily we’ve had two days of practice in persuasion now, so he agrees.

Lift 21the knight in shining armour. Again, our story is not over here. He can’t take us to the hostel but can drop us ‘2km, maybe less’ from the centre. It’s good enough for us – we walked 5km earlier. We get dropped off near a train station. We asked locals for help to get oriented, and walked to the main road. Here we pulled out our SS map, kindly given by Google to us. With a little help of scissors and tape, it showed all the road names and was about a m2. Yet we didn’t need it, as Wouter had a smart phone and we were happy to follow his lead. We chatted and walked. and walked, and walked…

“This is definitely further than the 5km before. Where is this bridge we’re trying to find?” Obviously, Spaniards vastly underestimate distances. Eventually we got to the bridge and celebrated with taking photos. We were impressed by the surfable waves on the river, let alone the massive ones on the surf beach. San Sebastian was beautiful!

We decided to head to the hostel, our beds were calling us. Maybe we end this here? Nope. We arrive at the hostel to find out that we could not get a room at that time. But we can sleep in the lounge. Begrudgingly, we traipse over to switch on the light. but we quickly switch it off again, as we see the room is full of other sleeping UCUers. There are two couches free: Wouter grabs one, and Klementina the other. We go chat in reception  and come back – Willem had stolen Klementina’s sofa. Now we only get chairs to sleep on – so comfy. We both decline this option: I decide to sleep on the floor and Klementina goes back on the short sofa at the reception. Luckily, the reception has provided us with blankets (Tina is excluded from this luxury). I take one and then we sleep.

I wake in the night and there is still a spare blanket so I take it. Tina also wakes in the night.. to see a team who arrived after us getting a room! Dicks! Later – Willem steals my blanket! Bastard!

In the morning, Klementina had a nasty talk with the receptionist lady. Remember the couple who got a room before us? Well, that was the last available room! We now have to wait till 1pm, she told Tina. When the two of us greet in the morning, we’re both a little annoyed. “Have you put your name down on the list for a room at reception?” we get asked. Now we’re even more annoyed! I go, as Klementina is scarred by her previous interaction. Turns out we have to doss around in the hostel till one. Willem is still sleeping.

We grab some breakfast and at one we get our key and that shower we’ve been longing for. Our room is full with UCUers, which is nice. We head out to start enjoying our two days in San Sebastian before taking our separate ways. Klementina: Barcelona -> Brussels. Me: England -> Budapest. We grab a celebratory ice cream and lounge around on the picturesque beach. We had made it!

Utrecht-San Sebastian hitchhike: The joys of France continue

…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.

The Sad Face

    

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 15Australian 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 16who 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.

Two parts of Lift 17

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 18sophisticated 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 19Polish 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;

A- Utrecht

B- Ikea Utrecht

C-Eindhoven

D-Gent

E-Lille

F-Paris

G-Orly

H- Orelans

I- Before the Spanish Border (near Hendaye)

Utrecht-San Sebastian hitchhike: The first night survived

Pickup 6guy 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 7no 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”.

‘The promised land’

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.

The Crazy Suspicious Worker

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).

     

Our Mascot Spongebob

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.

Utrecht-San Sebastian hitchhike: It begins..

1pm – Tina is not ready and we are late for the photo – but we still make it in!

1pm+ something – we take bus 4 to Utrecht Centraal station.

Here we get the brilliant idea to get the number 7 bus rather than the tram, as the stop is a bit closer to Ikea (our first destination). Eventually we get to Ikea after the bus taking way longer then the tram would have. On the bus we met another UCU (University College Utrecht) couple which was the first sign of our plans going downhill (we assumed Ikea would be ideal as it was a Saturday so there would be lots of people there shopping, plus when they were putting stuff in their car they would be easy to talk to. Plus Ikea is right next to the motorway). To add to annoyance the couple also got a lift straight away as the girl could speak Dutch and neither of us could. Ikea was very crowded and annoying with lots of families – it wasn’t the great plan we thought it to be. A lady then told us to go to a roundabout – that we didn’t find – but a man told us how to get to the highway.

      

Pickup 1hitchhike organiser guy, women and a child, German. They took us to the highway entrance but there was nowhere to stop so we had to go somewhere less ideal. We got out and walked to a nearby petrol station to try our luck. Here Pickup 2he loves peppernoten – knew how to say ‘how are you?’ in Macedonian. He took us to a really good spot. We wanted to go to Breda but we hastily decided to jump in with Pickup 3Turkish guys – to Eindhoven. Tina said “It will only add a couple of hours” – massive error! Four hours later we are still in Eindhoven having made no progress. It turns out no one in Eindhoven is going near Antwerp, plus it was dead. However if we wanted to go to Germany we would’ve been set!

Luckily, a lone Dutch hitchhiker suggested we could go to the airport and then proceeded to get a lift straight away. What a great idea, why hadn’t we thought of this earlier? No sooner had we thought this then a lady, Pickup 4ex backpacker – was able to divert her plans to take us to the airport. How lucky were we?

First impressions? Surprisingly dead and where are all the arrivals? We decide to have dinner, suddenly a ton of people had materialised in arrivals. Good, we thought, here is our chance. However people at the airport are there to pickup their family and friends and are not interested in hitchhikers. Maybe standing by the car park exit was a good plan? Which turned out to be a good plan as we got to talk to every car – that was full of family. Why do people decide to have kids! So after a unsuccesful chat with a plane full of people we are still at Eindhoven airport with disastrous prospects of having to sleep in the terminal. We went to sulk by the roundabout.

Presto! Pickup 5party boys – can take us to Antwerpen as they live there, however not tonight as they are going to a party. Still, they can take us to… somewhere too traumatic to talk about.

Fast forward.

Pickup 6guy who is happy we are not his daughters.

Exeter Social, Exams and Excitement

The “Exeter Social” went really well, though not as many games were played as wanted. I guess the Dutch don’t feel it so necessary a thing before going out. Apart from that we all sat around and chatted and it was pretty much like at Exeter. The Pimms went down just as well as it did when I showed my family. I’m sure Pimms could do a good deal in export as even the complicated people who don’t really like alcohol enjoy it. The next morning people complained to me how their head hurt and how they weren’t going near Amaretto again, but also how they had a really good time. It was an unquestioned success. I would defiantly like to do it again.

This was actually my last time going out as Exams were on the horizon. It is not fun and I am definitely not used to having classes whilst revising for exams. It was a hard slog as I had two exams on the Thursday (Maths and Lifespan Developmental Psychology) and on Friday, Social Psychology – the former two being straight after each other. There should be some kind of rule about not allowing exams of such different topics to be next to each other. Even I, who I guess should have had much practice at transferring between maths and psychology, cannot – in fifteen minutes – make the switch properly. Logic and numbers to factual and essays does not work.

Luckily the maths went quite well so I wasn’t too traumatized by it. However Lifespan was particularly hard and I have learnt that multiple choice is also not one of my strong points. Especially as I marked the answer on the question paper and then wrote the letter on the part to be handed in – and when I checked back, these two wouldn’t match up. I guess it’s just an extension of the schoolboy errors that drag my mathematics grades down, such as putting plus when you mean minus. At the end of the class the teacher gave out the key to the multiple choice. I got 19/30 so in Exeter this would be a 2.1. However he had set this mark as a C which is a 2.2 (i.e. a grade lower). Stupid conversions.

However the Social Psychology exam on Friday went much better and I was pretty confident with it. His multiple-choice was much nicer and far less specific. Plus there was less material in general to cover. I’m also glad linguistics was a few weeks earlier as in the winter having three exams in one day is going to be horrendous.

Klementina and I planned to go to the bar for end of exams but in the end we only went for a bit. I hadn’t packed anything for the hitchhike and my ten days away so I was doing this. This also included planning a vague route and trying to find a whiteboard in town, but failing and so using a plastic sleeve instead. This worked quite well as a whiteboard so a tip for budding hitchhikers: a plastic wallet with some white paper inside and a whiteboard pen is far cheaper and just as good as a proper whiteboard. We also bought loads of food and so when I had finally packed everything, the food bag was bigger than my actual bag.

Most of the evening was spent making a map of San Sebastian courtesy of Google maps. This was so when they announced the hostel address the next day we could run to the room and mark it. Then when we were dropped off randomly in San Sebastian we would know vaguely where to go.

We set the alarms so we still had time to go to town again, as Klementina hadn’t gone to the supermarket as she forgot she had a meeting yesterday and she needed to get money out. The big adventure was drawing near and it was starting to get a bit surreal.