Monday, October 26, 2009

Down and Out in Paris - Home to Preston

And then Waseem tried to hitchhike with a Motorway Servicing truck using a stolen motorway sign, saying "Direction Paris" and we were apprehended and the sign returned to the authorities. The man was very kind and dropped us at the motorway service station.
Here we were whisked northward after not much waiting by Nicolas and Celine. They dropped us in Tours at the busy central square, where we went to buy food from the supermarket. A quarter of an hour later we found ourselves at the edge of the town forming a one-two combination of Waseem with his thumb and me with the new sign. Kangny, an artist from Paris, whizzed to a halt and we almost didn't spot him and then seeing him dashed up the road to jump in. The drive was still quite a long one to Paris, but he was going all the way and could drop us in the St Denis region where we were to meet Muhammed and the rest of the rap group. So we relaxed and talked, the landscape mellowing as the sun set and the broad flat french fields accentuated the endless rhythm of the car speeding along the autoroute. Waseem called Muhammed and it seemed things were difficult for them to get accommodation for us as their apartment was very full with 5 staying in a 3 bed apartment, and what with all their music things it was difficult to find space for us. But they were going to sort something out so we remained hopeful. Kangny offered me a coffee but it didn't help, at this stage I felt abject and was finding it hard to keep chatting.
At 10.30 we arrived in Paris. Kangny took a photograph of us with our sign, saying "Paris", and we said goodbye to him and went into a nearby cinema to change. Here Waseem called the rap group, and we got some awful news - they had no accommodation for us. We had travelled all the way from Spain to reach them and they had let us down. I was actually drunk on fatigue, and quite enjoying the feeling so I didn't get cross and neither did Waseem. We both resolved, however, to go back to England as soon as possible as we had had enough.
It all called for a kebab, so we strode over to the eating area, skirting the Stade de France as we did so. Suitably sustained, I popped into a bar to use the toilet and widdled into the hole keeping well back with my flip-flops. And I then held down the flush button. This was not a good idea, as a cascade of water plunged down into the sunken bowl and splashed up over the lip onto my sock-covered toes. So I had to wash both the flip-flops and my feet, and when I came out and made a joke of it to the man at the bar he laughed and bought me a drink. I called Waseem over and we had a drink together, but when I returned the favour and bought him a drink and one for me I was shocked to find it costing 6 euros for a Ricard and half a lager. They also new a hotel with a free room, lucky as France were playing football tomorrow at the nearby Stade de France, so they walked us around and dropped us off there.
The next day when we emerged over an hour after check-out time, we went to the Internet cafe and booked a bus to London and a bus from London to Preston. Calls to home and to cancel my card concluded business and so we decided to explore Paris by bus, first traversing the extensive multicultural areas of the north and north-east, and then taking a bus to the centre (jumping off for 10 minutes outside the megalopolous Louvre building) and back, descending from the bus at the international bus station. We we were lucky as there were seats still left at the Coach desk, but while we were waiting I heard a shriek and there running towards me was a familiar face yelling "Helloooo Thooomaaasss!". It was Rachel, who you may remember I stayed with in Heidelberg and travelled to Munich with. An incredible coincidence, she was travelling back to England too, after a time surfing on the west coast of France, and was very brown. She had stayed the previous night on the banks of the Seine, literally, in her sleeping bag!
So we all travelled back together n the 10pm bus from Paris. There was an incredibly funny snorer on the coach, and at Calais we had our passports stamped to the pleasure of the customs officials. On the boat we sat on deck and gazed around the immense blackness for the short crossing, not feeling too cold. Then we were back in England and soon after, in London where we said bye to Rachel who was getting a different bus to Preston. We left at 7am and when we were out among the fields it was clear that England lacked the brightness of the European countries I had visited, things were dim or even dreary. And perhaps because of this the landscape emanated colour and made me feel glad to be back.
And back in Preston we found Rachel again and after 10 minutes there was mum too. I was home. We drove Waseem back to his Preston home and mum took me back to Simonstone where food and home cooking awaited.
Well, that's it, here is where it all comes to an end. In all I had travelled for 10 weeks, covering some 10,000 kilometres mainly by hitchhiking and had visited 12 countries, alone and in turn with Rachel, Kieran and Waseem. Not bad really if you also consider it had only costed £140 per week, a price massively inflated by the hotels and hostels we had been forced to use due to the lottery of hitchhiking. But then again, it wouldn't have been the same if I and we had planned things. Nothing that I did was planned anything more than a week before, and even then was only accurate to within a day or two and to a region. Only the one way plane ticket I took from Manchester to Brussels was genuinely premeditated - everything else was either whim or reaction. But that was the beauty of it and why I would recommend it to others.
But if you try it, you must remember that you are a drifter and have your wits about you, not for your safety but for your sense of your self. It is uprooting and alienating, so make sure you are willing to fight for who you are and have a clear sense of what you want out of it. Honestly, I travelled out of panic, out of having most of my goals in life fulfilled and of having lost direction, and so when I look back at the difficulties I experienced, such as loneliness or sleep deprivation, I only wish I had more of a clear reason to persevere. If I had, I think I would have got more from it and have been a better person too. It was good, yes, but for me it was not in fact brilliant.
So now, it remains to say thankyou to mum and dad for giving me the money was a graduation gift and also thankyou for my travelling companions for being good friends. I hope you have enjoyed it as readers. I am sorry for finishing it off so late. And well, I shall hope to see you around the planet sometime. If you need somewhere to stay you can of course come and sleep on my couch anytime and if you are hitchhiking I will pick you up. I would have to! I am in debt now so I don't have the choice.

Monday, October 5, 2009


At 2pm our bodies were exhumed by that grim autospsy techician, the conscious mind. I felt like the fluffy dough of my thoughts had been mixed with asbestos-laced concrete and melded together with super-glue, and the physical pretences of my bipedal frame were as loose and fragile as an inwardly exploding tower block. Mr Wasim was also suffering much as I, our dentist chair faces abused by the aneasthetic of utter exhaustion, hanging around the jaw badly tailored. And as we moved back to the petrol pump, our abused selves somehow formed an agreement to coordinate movements, if only to deliver us to our hitching post like a pair of stringless thunderbirds, our dead-weight torsos riding magic legs.
A quick visit to the pharmacy of the petrol station's coffee bar and we were out there again, soliciting lifts. And we were lucky very quickly. Yvonne and Simon welcomed us into their car and we were off north in their very nice BMW. They dropped us at a petrol station to the south of Poitiers, just as night was circling above, spreading its black wings over us. Quite a bit of can't be bothered soliciting later and two excitable young ladies, Chloe and Camille, picked us up and dropped us in the middle of nowhere on an obscure road connecting to the autoroute. This was bothering as it was now 2am, so we dropped into a place behind an electircity station to sleep, but the heavens opened and drenched us and we fled off along the autoroute to find a service station, with a pair of road signs as tobbogans (down the motorway verge) and umbrellas for our heads. Our predicament was now extremely obscure, cars and trucks honking at our masked faces staggering up the hardshoulder. Five kilometres of this bleak winter weather and we spied an alternative, a vast and bizzarre recent construction, a grand and enigmatic mini-city known as Futuroscope. Clambering the fence, we wanted for nothing more than dryness and warmth and after a few staggerings around the sodden eerily empty plazas, by triangular buildings and monstrously zany archways, we came accross a hotel of quite incredible pretensions but realistically low prices. Sixty six euros and a room for two.
In the morning everything was wet, ruined like scribbled phone numbers from the night before. We were smelly, and I went down to pay, had my coffee and washed it down with a cheekily dispatched conversation to practice my french. I endeavoured to express joy at my "small" coffee being actually really big, only to confuse the waiter into thinking I wasn't satisfied. Very droll, and we got there in the end.
So off we went, and leaving my credit card somewhere lying behind in the hotel, we drifted motorway ward once more.