Hello from France! Before we begin, do you know the best French song ever? I have it right here for you! How convenient! It is by Les Rita Mitsouko and it is called “Marcia Baila“. Without exaggeration I have watched this video over 100 times since I was told about it last week, it’s so good. Let’s call it the indisputable apex of French culture:
I had a long, crazy day hitchhiking from up in the Swiss alps down to the French plains. The end of the story is that I have found myself in a destination I didn’t intend, Strasbourg, France, sleeping with two attractive twenty-year-old French girls named Chloe and Anais (of course!) who wish they had English-speaking boyfriends.
Just getting to Strasbourg seemed improbable. At dusk a young French guy dropped me off in a wretchedly bad spot well off the highway because his GPS told him to. I swear, almost no one knows how to work their GPS, and I am in a lot of cars. Fiddling with the GPS while driving has to cause more accidents than being on the phone as it requires more concentration. Worse, a generation of people are losing their sense of direction in their capitulation to GPS. I will now step down from my soapbox.
So there I was in a gloomy village south of Strasbourg in the approaching dark. I didn’t know where to stand to try and continue because no place was safe from the swift traffic. Walking up or back down the road looked pointless. I saw no evidence of a bus service. I didn’t know what to do, so I practiced yelling French obscenities. After that was exhausted, I stood next to the road, lost, and for some reason inexplicable except that once in a blue moon the travel gods smile down on us hitchhikers, there was a lull in the traffic and a guy in a BMW stopped in the middle of the street and motioned for me. I wasn’t even standing with my thumb out.
He was a Moroccan-Frenchman named Said and he saved my hitchhiking butt. He was getting off work and for reasons I never understood, he stopped in the middle of the road and offered me a ride. He took me to the Strasbourg train station though it might not have been his destination. He was pleasantly surprised to have a Californian in his car, showing off the American music on his iPod. He loved American music, he said, though he couldn’t understand a word of it.
The beginning of the story—I’ll make it quick; sorry to jump around. Think of it as Pulp Fiction for hitchhiking—is that Roof-san left me at the end of the village in Les Diablerets, we man-hugged to say goodbye, and before he was able to turn his car around, a Spaniard had stopped for me. I always like that validation of hitchhiking where friends can bear witness. What I am glad he didn’t witness is that I got stuck at the bottom of the hill in Aigle where some cars stopped, but they weren’t going my way, and it ended up being a long and slow slog getting out of Switzerland. Standing in the steady drizzle didn’t help.
It was a funny coincidence that a few days ago I visited a friend in Zurich who was about to visit Salvador, Brazil, and then when I hitchhiked out of Zurich I got a ride with a guy whose wife is from Salvador, Brazil. Then yesterday Roof-san played his band’s song, “Mauritius Girl” and then I got a ride from two Mauritius girls—women, I should say—along with a husband, from Basel up past Colmar, deep into the Alsace region.
I don’t know France well. I have been to Germany countless times, but France is largely terra incognito for me. At the highway gas station there weren’t many cars, and most ignored me with gusto, so between cars I soaked in my rural, bucolic surroundings. If I had to describe France in one word, it would be languid. I just looked it up and I am using the word wrong, but the land has a lazy, time-worn, sensual, unhurried feel to it. Maybe bucolic is the best word. The feel is almost hypnotic.
The Mauritians led me to the young French guy afflicted with GPS Syndrome to Moroccan Said to sleeping with two French girls. I guess I should clarify my prepositions. I slept with two French girls in the same dorm room. See? Not an A-level story. Everyone thinks that because I travel a lot, the road is nothing but kicks, man, like it’s all one long Jack Kerouac novel. It is just as often hitchhiking in the rain and sleeping fitfully in squeaky dorm beds.
My destination was Nancy, a random town I picked because I had never been, it was close to the wedding this weekend, and I found a cheap Airbnb place I had paid two nights for. But once in Strasbourg I learned I missed the last train to Nancy. I checked Eurolines for a bus and blablacar.com for a ride, but I ended up stuck in Strasbourg. On a whim I checked Airbnb (thank you free train station wifi!) and was shocked to see 49 listings under $20 in the heart of the city. The vast majority are from Tom’s, where I paid only $12 plus a persnickety Airbnb fee of 15% or so. Normally on Airbnb when you make a booking the host has 24 hours to get back to you, but if they have dozens of listings, I knew they’d be very quick to respond, and he needed only 10 minutes or so. Tom’s Fair House is partly a hostel, but with so many properties, I didn’t grasp the whole operation and I wasn’t curious enough to ask questions.
I didn’t mind paying for two cheap Airbnb places for the same night since it was due to my own inefficiency, but the point of the story is to not assume cheap accommodation options don’t exist in big cities. Options that include pretty French girls are rarer, yes, but you never know, which is one of the main points of traveling, the serendipity.
Why don’t you stay with me? You can follow along with RSS, subscribe to an email feed, see what’s cooking on Facebook, pray that I’ll say something worth remembering on Twitter and if you are really slumming it, there’s always Google+.
Aaww, maaan! haven’t checked out your posts for a while and now catching up I see you’ve been through my hometown Strasbourg last summer, and while I was there too ! That’s too bad, I’ve been a fan of yours for years, used your website as a mine of travel info countless times ! And I’ve slept late quite a number of times, laughing my ass off reading your many many adventure stories !
Oh well, I’m sure or passes will cross someday.
Take it easy Kent, keep on living the high life !
I’m sorry I missed you! I went through Strasbourg twice. It looked like a pretty cool town to me!
Thanks for following along as much as possible; I know it is hard to always do.