Hitch-hiking – the reality of France – waiting for a lift!
The first thing you notice about hitch-hiking is that there is invariably more hiking than hitching. The second thing is that the universal constants, for which you have come to rely upon, no longer apply. Your rucksack starts off at a comfortable weight but with every step it gains a pound or two until it is ends up being of fearsome mass; the warmth of summer, which started as a pleasant uplifting balminess, mutates into a claustrophobic, sweltering furnace; the clear air, so pure and fresh, becomes clogged with dust which adheres to the sweat and forms channels of grime.
Before we had even achieved step one and arrived at the port we were beginning to lose the romance of the enterprise. We went more time waiting than we did riding.
It could only get better.
The crossing was brilliant. We could put the rucksacks to one side and peer over the side for a first glimpse of France as the choppy sea lurched us up and down and sent spray up into the air. We felt the adventure had really begun.
We rapidly found that hitching in France was similar to that of England. Motorists were probably put off by the two mountains of baggage as much as the two grimy kids sitting on it. We did secure three lifts but probably ended up walking nigh on as far during which time I discovered that my fashionable desert boots were no longer as comfortable as they were at the beginning.
We retrieved the map and did some precise calculations. We could see from our rate of progress that St Tropez would probably only take us three years to attain. Wisely we decided to set our horizons a little closer to reality and thought Le Havre sounded just as romantic as St Tropez – and had the bonus of not being quite so hot. While our rucksacks afforded shade from the sun they were proving a trifle cumbersome to lug about.
Making that decision was a relief. We no longer felt constrained by time. We settled in a very pleasant Youth Hostel with cooking facilities, toilets, showers and more importantly a table football machine and record player. It had big trees and benches in the courtyard and a small town with market place and market. They kindly allowed us to camp in the grounds at a much reduced rate.
We put up the tent, with the open front facing a wall, dumped our rucksacks and headed off into town. We soon discovered we were royalty.
Our long hair gave us instant status. All the French kids had short back and sides. Clad in their leather jackets and tight jeans they were in awe of us with hair touching our shoulders. We were Rock stars without guitars. When we walked past they would step out into the road to let us by and shout ‘Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’ as if we were Lennon and McCartney out for a stroll.
We soon made friends and they proceeded to teach us all the prerequisites of learning a new language. By the end of the first evening we knew more swear words in French than the whole of the rest of our French repertoire.
The second mind-blowing experience was the market. There were whole stalls dedicated to bread and cheese.
Now I know that in this day and age that is not surprising but back then it was revolutionary. In Britain we were still quite post-war and conservative. Bread to us meant white sliced, a bloomer or, if you wanted something more exotic, hovis. Here there was black bread (black bread for heaven’s sake) brown bread, huge loaves, French sticks, bread with holes in, bread with bits in, bread with nuts on, crusty bread, soft bread and orange bread.
Cheese in Britain was cheddar. If you really wanted to be extraordinarily adventurous you could hunt out red Leicester, maybe a bit of white Gloucester or even gorgonzola or stilton. But this array was from a different planet. There were huge cheeses of all shapes, colours and smells. You could find the stall from the other side of town if the wind was blowing in the right direction. There were cheeses with holes in them!
Now I had always seen those pictures of the moon as a cheese and never cottoned on. I’d never seen cheese with holes in before. It was a revelation. Those drawings were based on real cheese.
Foss and I discovered that we could actually purchase wine and beer without any questions being asked.
Then the circus came to town and performed in the town square with jugglers, clowns and a strong man who could bend iron bars. He put on these bracelets with great sharp daggers that were pointing at his armpits so that if his arms bent he would be stabbed, and then lifted this great barbell above his head. It was all very outlandish. We didn’t get things like this in Walton on Thames.
So we had cheese, yoghourt, bread, wine, beer and with a lot of entertainment and extraordinary differentness thrown in.
What with the local girls, who seemed to find we long-haired Englishmen every bit as exotic as we found their food, we seemed to have everything we needed.
Thank heavens we’d got fed-up waiting for lifts!