Auto Stop

Yesterday we left Paris for Bourges, France. We said au revoir to our comfy flat in Suresnes–Longchamp* and hopped on the T2 tram to Porte de Versailles. There we switched to the T3 line and continued on to Cité Universitaire, where we took the RER B to Massy-Palaiseau, and then finally the RER C to Chemin d’Anthony. Simple right? Right. But after that things did become a bit more complicated… We had to walk for about an hour to get to the highway from the train station. It shouldn’t have taken that long, but we really weren’t sure where the highway was, we didn’t have a proper map, and the 30 kilos of pants and shirts that I was carrying in my bag slowed us down. We finally arrived at the highway sunburnt and sweaty around 1.30 and began hitchhiking. We had our signs out and our thumbs up, but after standing on the on-ramp to the highway for 20 minutes, we realized that the cars were just driving too gosh darn fast to stop for us there so we decided to walk back a little towards the local streets. But before we made it back to the street, we heard a whistle. A van had stopped and the driver was calling to us. We had our first ride! He said that he could give us a short ride to a better spot – a big ol’ round-a-bout that led directly to the A10, the first road we needed to take to Bourges. We made one quick stop along the way at a petrol station and that’s where and when I decided that it would be a good idea to take a nice big drink from our water bottle and then refill the bottle in the bathroom sink. Have you ever been to a petrol station that DIDN’T have a bathroom? …..I have. (I like to refer to this event as the ‘First Mistake’) We got back in the car and the nice man drove us quickly and recklessly to the “spot”. It turned out to be a super tough spot to get a ride. Cars could not stop without pulling completely off the road and on to the “sidewalk” and we were there for almost 2 hours. Finally a clever driver figured out a solution to this car-stopping-dilemma when he came to a complete stop inside the traffic circle without a care in the world. Gotta love French people. So we climbed into his tiny car and we were happy to be leaving that awful circle behind us. The driver was a young kid and he drove really fast, which IS nice if you want to get some place quickly but NOT so nice if you want to get some place safely. We flew down the highway at breakneck speed with the stereo blasting French reggae music, weaving in and out of the lanes. Even though Thea and I were kinda secretly wishing that we were anywhere BUT in this car, we were still disappointed and surprised when we exited the highway after only 15 minutes. We were still only about 30 km south of Paris and it was almost 4 in the afternoon. We had both pretty much given up all hopes of making it to Bourges that night, and now we were just hoping to make it to some place where we could get some more water. He had dropped us off at an exit in the middle of nowhere. We tried to hitch one more ride out of there but after an hour and a half we were still waiting and there was very few cars driving past us. Then we ran out of water. We decided to leave the highway and walk towards a spot about a kilometer away where we could see a bunch of cars parked. We figured they must be there for a reason, and just like the old expression says, “Where there’s reason, there’s water.” Well, there was no water. It was just a bus stop. No stores, no bathrooms, nothing, only a couple of houses another kilometer down the road. I decided it was time to do something that I had though about doing so many many many times before, to knock on a door and ask for water. I left Thea with the bags and I started walking towards the houses. They were fancy houses with gates and walls, there was no way for me to sneak around the back of one of them and look for a hose. I spotted a man standing in his driveway and I walked up to him and asked for water. He didn’t speak any English, but luckily the “help me I am dying of thirst” is an easy point to get across without language and he took me around the back of his house and filled my water bottle. I walked back to where Thea was waiting and after a few seconds of discussing our situation we decided that it would be a good idea to give it one more try getting out of there that night, so we walked back to the highway and gave it another shot. We stood there for another hour with no luck and so finally we decided to give it up for the day. We had spotted some trees off the highway next to the tollbooths and so we pick up our bags and headed towards them to set up camp for the night. We spread out a plastic tarp on the ground, hung another tarp from the trees to make a little wall, took out our sleeping bags, climbed inside them, took out our laptop, watched an episode of the Sopranos and then went to sleep.

Day 2
We had set the alarm for 6 a.m. but somehow we slept until 7.30. We woke up fast, packed up even faster and we were back on the highway hitchhiking in less than 15 min. We realized that this was going to be a good day when we got our first ride within 10 minutes. A fellow named Christophe picked us up. He was on his way to Orleans, about 70km south on the A10. He was great guy and an interesting person to talk with. He was the perfect ride – he even stopped at a petrol station for us so we could wash up and get some food and water! We talked mostly about chocolate. He was in the chocolate business. He told us about the different grades of chocolates, why some cost more than others, what the process of transporting the beans and processing the beans is like. You could tell that he really enjoyed his work and we asked him for his card. So if you ever yourself in the Paris area and you are in the market for some high quality chocolate, we strongly recommend checking this place out. Oh yeah, we have our own chocolate guy now.

Well, after driving for 40 minutes and talking chocolate with him, or as we call it, cholking, he dropped us off just south of Orleans on the A71. Now THIS was a great spot. So great in fact that we took a short break from hitchhiking, had a little picnic on the steps of a pizzeria, washed up in a bathroom before hitchhiking once again. It was surprisingly slow going and after trying to get a ride for over an hour with no luck, Thea tried the oldest hitchhiking trick in the book. She adjusted her shirt ever so slightly to show off just a bit more cleavage, and sure enough, the VERY NEXT CAR stopped and picked us up. Works every time. A nice young French businessman was driving, he spoke very little English, but somehow we managed to talk a bit and he drove us another 50km or so before dropping us off at the absolute best gas station a hitchhiker could ever ask for. Rest Stop Heaven. Café, gas station, shop, toilets, showers, you name it they had it. It was like a small rest stop village. We sat in the shade at a picnic table, ate bread and butter, drank some coffee from the cafe, relaxed and got mentally prepared for hitchhiking the last 50 km to Bourges. It took an hour or so before we were ready to try hitchhiking again but we didn’t have to wait more than 20 minutes until we got our next ride. Two young French kids on their way to visit a friend in the south of France picked us up. They told us that they were driving all the way down to Montpellier, and Thea and I immediately decided to abandon our plans of going to Bourges and to travel another 200 km south with them to Clermont– Ferrand. A ride like this was too good to pass up. We were in the car for almost two hours, it was super duper hot in there, but it was so worth it. They dropped us off just 9km outside of the city. We were close now. I left Thea with the bags again and walked off the highway to see if I could find a bus to the center, but not only could I not find a bus, I could not even find a person to ask about finding a bus. We needed one more ride. It didn’t take us that long to get one, we only had to wait 20 min for the last car to pick us up. This time it was an elderly man who lived in the center of the town. You could tell that he enjoyed speaking English with us and he told us a little about the history of the town, a little about his life and he pointed out the places that we had to visit while we were there. He dropped us off right in the center. One last time we picked up our bags and began walking, but this time we were looking for a café. And that’s where we are now, in Clermont-Ferrand, at Café Manga, drinking coffees and cokes, online and trying to find a place to sleep for tonight. We have sent out a few desperate couchsurfing requests, it’s been about three hours and we haven’t heard back from anyone yet, but we are not worried. We are confident that everything will work out, we both live a charmed life. But still, and this is directed mostly to all of you time travellers or fortune tellers out there, but if by chance you happen to be reading this post, and the date happens to be May 11th, 2012, and you happen to be living in Clermont– Ferrand, please, PLEASE send us an email. We really need a place to sleep.

* Coincidentally , “Longchamp” was also my nickname in high school.


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