30 kilometer's east of Paris is a place called Bussy St. Georges. It looks like this:
Bussy St. Georges, one of the world's most artificial suburbs, happens to be precious to freewheeling ramblers, the kind who would never pick it as a place of residence. This is because right next to this peaceful, cookie-cutter nowhere, runs the freeway. On it is the first convenient service station for hitch-hiking east. Old habits die hard and since the mid Nineties, when I thumbed my way down Europe's highways, hitch-hiking has been my sport. All I need is a nice day in late March, an equally adventurous partner, and a coveniant station. There it is, in the distance.
How does one get there? How does a couple, traveling with two suitcases weighing 49 kilos in total, two backpacks and a guitar get there? It takes making a quick tactical plan, then climbing down.
then schlepping the goods to the pumps.
Sounds difficult? it was, but it was worth it too. As soon as we hit the station, and I mean instantly, we were approached by Bertrand, a French businessman in the scaffolding industry. Bertrand was on his way to Austria on business. He asked if we would be his chauffeurs. Would we mind driving him to Germany while he works and naps in the back?
No problem, Bertrand, just hand us the keys to the Mercedes.
We were delighted. Our flight was to leave the following evening from Frankfurt airport. A direct lift (well, not quite a lift) across the border was a gift. Add to this the lack of speed limit on the German highways, (Itka just loved going over 200 kph) and the German dinner to which Bertrand treated us when our roads parted by Mannheim, and you have two happy campers.
This was the easy lag of the trip. The gas station in Mannheim turned out to be a tougher nut than the one in Bussy St. Georges. We had to roll our stuff through the dark countryside to get across the freeway and head back north (Bertrand's route took us a tad too far south),
then got a lift with a Greek truck driver who spoke little English or German and ended up on the wrong road,
then got trapped in a derelict station in the Rheinland, where I tried to amuse us by attempting to pick out a goofy toy dragon, chosen by Itka, out of one of these impossible machines. Didn't work, and our hitching luck ran out. By 1:00 AM we were still there and decided to take a cab to the nearest town: Bingen on the Rhine.
We got a nice hotel in Bingen, but still enjoyed a nap the following day, in the shadow of the old castle in Oberwesel. Even the mixture of rough travel and easygoing travel can be exhausting. It's baffling, how I made it through five years of penniless travel during my early twenties. I did it, though, and it benefited me in two ways:
1. I know where the pretty places are.
2. I really appreciate boar done in truffles and a perfect Riesling, served in a castle overlooking the Rhine, now the I can have it.