Hitch-hiking Tour de France

I kept notes in a little pad during this spur of the moment trip to France in 1995…

 

This is the edited and typed version created in August 2005, 10 years after the events in these memoirs. Then posted here on my website in August 2011...

I just happened to keep notes during this particular adventure...

The Hitch-hiking Tour de FranceThe trip to France was a spur of the moment thing a couple of weeks after I turned 26. I hadn’t known my friend Richard all that long and it was his idea that we go away. I never had any money in those days but Richard had offered to pay.

It was less than six months after the big upset of finishing with my girlfriend of five and a half years. It was a bitter end to that relationship and I still wasn’t accepting how hard it had hit me. The week in France was great for refreshing my mind and getting a clearer perspective on my problems.

While editing this version I could see just how fond of drink I was in those days. It seemed strange to me while editing it in 2005, as a practical teetotaller. I also smoked roll-ups amongst other things and had less confidence in myself but was much more reckless. A lot can change in 10 years! Even my name had changed, from Victor Waine to Victor Taylor in 1999.

So The Hitch-hiking Tour de France is basically a journal of what happened on my nine day journey - the first couple of days were with Richard but most of the time I was on my own.

It’s just a personal record but I don’t mind if other people read it… At gunpoint if necessary.

Extra Notes, Aug 2011:

- I took some photos using Richard's camera but unfortunately, if he ever got them developed I never got to see them or get copies...

- I'm not a teetotaller and do drink again, and smoke occasionally, but nowhere near as much as I did back then.

- I found some old bits from the trip, such as a French fag packet, so have scanned them and stuck them in the pages at the relevant parts.

The map picked up from somewhere and used the whole trip

DAY 1 – June 30 1995 – Friday

Posted here on: August 5th, 2011

 

We’re on the road! (The M1.) Heading due South. Everything is going smoothly enough so far. We’ve just been picked up by a man who’s going to South London. It’s a lovely hot day and Richard is chain-smoking in the front passenger seat. I want a fag but there are no ashtrays in the back of the car. I’ll improvise by folding some paper into a tray shape… What a brilliant plan when I could have just opened a window.

We’ve got a long way to go, with stupid Country and Western music playing on the stereo.

o-----o0o-----o

We’re on a ring road of the M25 and have been waiting for over half an hour. The heat is merciless as it melts our reddening bodies. Flies and the hope of getting a lift are our only friends. Sweat drips from us and the sun beats down relentlessly as, one by one the vehicles continue to sweep past…

We will surely end our days on this lonely island.

o-----o0o-----o

By some miracle, after an hour or so, a man in a van stops to give us a lift. Suddenly, as we’re about to jump in, a young dread-locked man and, presumably his dread-locked girlfriend appear out of nowhere to cadge a lift from the same man.

The man says OK so Richard jumps into the front seat while the couple and I climb into the back to sit amongst sacks and bags of who-knows-what.

On the way I attempt to make conversation with the couple but they seem to be shy. Ahh, young love. There isn’t much of a view here in the back of the van so I don’t know where we are but, we should be on our way to the M2 where we will have to get another lift to Dover.

o-----o0o-----o

We got another lift and here we are in Dover.

We’re trying to get a lift from any truck driver willing to take us because it’s £25 each on the ferry. We (Richard) might end up paying it if we have to but for now we wait, with our thumbs up. At least it’s cooler now and we’ve got a bottle of Pepsi Max…

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A copper has moved us up the road a bit to a legal spot for hitching and informed us that truck drivers are only usually allowed to take one passenger. Still, we shall try…

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Nearly two hours later - we agree to try for a lift separately and to meet each other in France, having only had one offer of a lift from two folk in a transit van.

The people in the van said they would check to see if they have to pay extra with passengers and, if not they would take us both. This they had said to Richard while I was further up the road.

After they pulled off I’d walked over to find out what they had said. Richard had begun to explain when he realized that he could have told them that we (Rich) would have paid the difference if they were required to pay extra – so he ran after them, nearly being killed by a coach but didn’t reach them in time.

Let me be the last one to call him an idiot.

o-----o0o-----o

So here we are, looking over the docks and car parks having bought two ‘5 Day Return’ ferry tickets with a discount of £10.

The time is about 21:45. Everything is beautiful: The clean air; the light gray-blue sky; the cries of seagulls; the little figures walking below wearing green luminous jackets; the ferries drifting away…

Our ferry is due to leave at 22:15. I go to the toilet but as I sit, my peaceful pleasure is interrupted by the announcement for us to leave for the ferry! I have to rush but thankfully we’ve made it on to the small bus that is taking us to the boat.

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We are now sitting in a quiet part of the ferry – The Pride of Dover – gently swaying with the motion of the craft as Rich quietly sings and plays his guitar.

Outside it is black.

DAY 2 – July 1 1995 – Saturday

Posted here on: August 5th, 2011

 

You could buy 'One Year' Passports in 1995We are sitting on a wall, on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, waiting for a lift at about 1:30, French time. We’re a bit tired. We’ve got an apple each and I’m eating mine in the ‘slice it with a knife’ fashion.

There’s hardly any traffic and we wait for approximately one and a quarter hours, then we accept a lift from an English van driver who is going to Boulogne.

It appears that because of his work, he travels the same route every day. On the way to Boulogne he offers to take us back across the water if we meet him one day… Say, next Saturday, the Eighth of July.

We say, “Yeah man! Wicked!” This will save us from having to go back to England on Wednesday with the ‘5 Day Return’ ferry tickets.

---

The man, Gary, dropped us off and we are continuing through the night, walking as we hitch…

Finally, after 3 km of countryside and not getting a lift we scramble over a small fence, down a grass bank in the dark. The intention is to sleep in a field. There are a lot of thistles. Across the way we can just see what seems to be the dark outline of, maybe a farmhouse.

As it’s too dark to set up the tent, that we haven’t tried out yet, we settle down on the fly-sheet. The thistles aren’t very happy with us and make sure we know. We have a roll-up each and lie back, gazing into the starry heavens.

What utter peace I feel lying here.

There’s a falling star! It burns in a marvellous streak of colour to silently break into nothing. An ambassador for the wars in my mind.

o-----o0o-----o

The Tabac, which lasted until Day 9I awake in the wetness of dew, finding Richard already awake and packing. We share a carrot for breakfast and see that the farmhouse was actually the skeleton of an old barn.

Another kilometre on up the road we stop and wait for a lift at a crossroad junction, hopefully to Paris. Across the road from us are a few shops that aren’t open yet as it’s still quite early.

When the shops open we buy some bread, cheese, milk and loads of ‘tabac’ which all go down a treat.

All in all we wait for two or three hours, trying to look French, until we get a lift to… Paris! The French man who picked us up speaks as much English as we speak French, so here we are – three silent people heading for Gaye Paris!

o-----o0o-----o

We are dropped off 2 km from Paris because the man who gave us the lift is continuing South. Maybe we should have stayed with him?

After fifteen sweltering minutes we get a lift into the city from a black Frenchman named Eric.

We arrive at midday, making it a twenty four hour trip from Nottingham to Paris. We wander around and then sit outside a bar to have two beers each. Afterwards we work out that they had cost £15!!

After that catastrophe we walk to the Gare du Nord train station. Rich has gone walkies trying to find the Information Centre and Bureau de Change. I’m left sitting here on the floor of the huge train station watching various people of various cultures but mainly watching women.

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Quite a while (fifty minutes) has passed. I have been hassled by a woman begging money for her baby. It seemed like a con to me, but who knows. I said, “Imposseeblé”. Also a young man tried to sell me drugs. At first he thought I was Italian, which I found quite flattering. Perhaps I have caught the sun a bit.

I am enjoying all this immensely.

---

Rich returned and left again. He’d been in a queue waiting for information and then he went to get some French money.

Now we do a spot of busking in the Metro and I discover that not only can I play the wooden whistle/flute that I bought with me but I can also do it in front of strangers. We make about a quid and, knackered, catch a tube train to a bus stop and a bus to a campsite.

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Without paying the campsite fee we set up tent next to another tent occupied by three young ladies… and promptly fall to sleep in front of our tent for a bit.

o-----o0o-----o

It’s beginning to get dark and a heavy thunderstorm has begun!

We dive into the supposed safety of the tent but soon the tent is soaked and battered by the rain and we have to vacate.

We decide to abandon the tent there because it’s crap.

We end up under the shelter of a veranda next to some lockers.

Here we chat and sign language with an Italian called Davida.

Later, two of his friends have joined us: Mathew (“Maitew”) and a quiet one whose name is unknown to us. They have been to a Rolling Stones concert that can’t be far away because we can hear the music slightly and fireworks as the concert ends.

Richard has decided that what with the rain and things, enough is enough and he will be going back home tomorrow…

He goes for a shower and then I do, after which Rich and Davida take it in turns playing the guitar while we all sing songs. I’m having a fantastic time. We drink a bit of beer. I fall to sleep first.

DAY 3 – July 2 1995 – Sunday

Posted here on: August 5th, 2011

 

In the morning we catch a bus with the Italians back to the Metro station where we part. Rich and I go and draw some of his money from a cash point and then buy some chicken and bread from a market. We eat, after being wished ‘Bon Appetite’ from a passer by and catch the train back into Paris, luckily without having to pay and arrive back at the Gare du Nord at midday.

Rich has bought his ticket back to Calais. We have split our provisions and gone for a short walk. We sit outside a shop where Rich has bought a bottle of coke. We drink the coke and say our farewells.

Rich has gone back to the train station and Blighty while I walk further into Paris. It’s the lone wanderer from here…

o-----o0o-----o

As I walked, another storm gathered and I have taken shelter outside a book shop as it absolutely throws it down. I need a toilet badly. I must defecate but have found no WCs…

The rain eventually stops and I’m moving on with no idea of where I’m going but thinking of trying to get to the South West coast sooner or later.

o-----o0o-----o

I manage to have a ‘merde’ eventually by getting change from a train station shop and using one of those tardis toilets at a cost of 2F. After that I have a leisurely, very long walk through Northern Paris and rest at the Arc de Triomphe.

I walk a bit further and another storm comes so I shelter down in an entrance to the Metro.

While down in the Metro entrance I put some socks on because my feet have become sore. While I’m about to put the second one on, having only undone the lace on the trainer, a middle aged man wearing a tuxedo and bow tie and pissed out of his head sways over to babble something in French about my shoe lace (“cord”?). I tell him I don’t speak French and he slowly, carefully ties the lace for me. He staggers away, turning to bow to me. I bow back and he leaves.

I untie my lace and put my other sock on.

I decide to go back to the campsite which isn’t all that far away from here. This is better than heading for the motorway as it’s about 17:30 and at the campsite I can be sure of shelter, shower and shop. The tent will probably be even more unusable by now.

The rain stops after about an hour and I walk back the way I came.

o-----o0o-----o

Half an hour later I arrive at the bus stop where I can catch a bus to the campsite, just in time to get under it’s shelter before the slight rain turns into another downpour.

Five minutes later the bus is here.

There’s something wrong with the bus doors. One of them keeps closing. The driver investigates as I board the bus. This bus company has a system with fares so that if you have your ticket already you slot it in a machine behind the driver’s cabin. I think he assumes this is what I’ve done because we pull away and I haven’t been asked for the seven or eight Francs!

Yesterday Richard and I had caught the 10F bus which took us all the way to the campsite but it turns out this bus doesn’t. So after getting off I have to walk in a few circles before finding the campsite.

---

The tent is dead.

I go to the campsite shop and buy two big bars of chocolate and a can of strong lager called 8.6 due to it’s alcohol content, which altogether comes to 20F.

Then I go for a wander around the campsite and sit on the steps of a vacant caravan situated at the back of the campsite to eat and drink.

I notice that these caravans have sliding windows that can be opened from the outside…

“I’ll be warm and dry tonight!” I think.

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Once rested and refreshed I go for another wander and end up visiting the tent of two lads from Denmark who are camped next to the dead tent. They are called Allan (“Ellen”) and Kill and I spend an hour or two with them. We drink beer and listen to such things as Nirvana and The Doors on their little stereo. They are great company. It pisses it down again while I’m in their tent.

o-----o0o-----o

It’s dark and I go back to the caravan at the back of the site. The one I investigate appears to be unused…

Once inside I discover a world of comfort and amenities! I dry my damp towel and clothes on the heaters overnight and sleep in perfect comfort under a quilt, catching up on the sleep lost over the past couple of nights.

DAY 4 – July 3 1995 – Monday

Posted here on: August 5th, 2011

 

If the clock here in the caravan is correct it’s 12:30.

To help me on the journey ahead and, to my eternal shame I’m stealing a miniature torch; the alarm clock; chocolate from the fridge; a knife; a small pan; a sleeping bag; a 1.5L bottle of ‘Limonade’ and a pen.

It’s raining again outside. I’m in one of the two bedrooms with the curtains drawn. I’m having a fag, then I’ll have a shower here in the caravan and then I’ll pack and hit the road, Jack.

o-----o0o-----o

After a very long walk to South West Paris, stopping for a while in some lovely gardens, I catch a metro the last few Kilometres for the A10 out of Paris. On the Metro is a young lady who smiles back at me. When we arrive at the last stop on the line and get off I try to find out the whereabouts of the A10 from her. She doesn’t know but we both try our best to converse with each other and she gives me a cigarette. When we part I walk off in a direction, hoping it’s the right one… It is.

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There’s nowhere at all at the beginning of the motorway where one can stand and hitch. So I walk uphill along the left side of the motorway, in a little gap between the crash barrier and a very tall concrete wall that seems never-ending for about 2 or 3 km.

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Eventually, I see a bridge over the motorway where I could escape but I need to cross the motorway to get on to it.

Crossing the motorway takes me about five minutes because of waiting for a gap in the speeding traffic.

When I do run across my body is bowing forward and the weight of my backpack sends me headlong over the crash barrier at the opposite side of the road – I land in a heap in some grass.

A bit of risk to your life (and surviving) is exhilarating.

I cross the bridge but stop halfway to admire the view of Paris from this high vantage point. On the other side I find myself in a village/suburb called Meudon. From here I find a turn off, or turn-in-to, rather to the A10 where I hitch for an hour or two…

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I’ve had no joy getting a lift. I did get offered a lift to East France but because I’ve planned to go to the West coast I turned it down.

So I go into Meudon to find somewhere I’ll be able to sleep. Eventually I find an area of woodland behind a small industrial site. After a bit though I decide to try hitching again and walk the km or so back to the ‘turn-in-to’ to hitch for another hour.

Still no joy.

In the end I’ve returned to my sleeping spot. I read some of my book, The Undivided Universe by G. Munro and crash-out with unusual insects for company.