Hitchhiking in the Sun (and the Rain)

I am not quite sure where the rest of my Summer went, as is the case every year of course, and now I find myself sitting in my room in Innsbruck having attended my first lecture this morning.

Just over a month ago I travelled through Switzerland. It was brief, but notable. I spent one night in Zurich, going on a short tour of the city with my couchsurfing host. The next morning I went to Lausanne and explored for the day. Switzerland is so expensive that I felt like I couldn’t even afford to go to the toilet! Usually I just go in McDonalds or Starbucks, but they have coded locks on the doors; such sacrilege! So I bought iced coffees, in exchange for toilet codes, staying for hours afterwards to use up as much of their internet bandwidth as possible. Food-wise, I got by on a loaf of bread, one tomato, and a mozzarella ball for the day. Buying anything in a cafe would probably have resulted in bankruptcy. It was therefore an utter pleasure to stay with a friend whom I had met in the Sahara Desert at the beginning of the year. I was in Vevey, the home of Nestle, which explains why there is a giant fork in the lake, and that I wasn’t actually hallucinating. I was treated to a free yoga session, having completely forgotten just how good yoga can be, and then indulged with traditional Swiss absinthe (I had no idea it originally hails from here). And it was infinitely more delicious than the vile toothpaste stuff I tried in Slovakia. There may or may not have been some Swiss red wine and chocolate, I can’t quite remember…

At this point my Interrail pass expired, so I needed to start paying for travel again. This was a horrific experience for me, since a 45 minute train journey to Geneva put me back by £18.50. My next stop was Annemasse, to stay with a friend I had met whilst volunteering at Chisholme earlier in the summer. I stayed two nights there, as opposed to the usual one, which was much appreciated. We hiked in the Alps together, ate picnics, sunbathed by the lake, and had small dinner parties. They made a proper French cheese fondue especially for me, even though this is something they would only ever do during the winter.

My last stop before heading back to Scotland would be Arles. I had found a car-share from Geneva to Marseille and got dropped off in Salon-de-Provence to stay with a final couchsurfer. He was rather stressed upon our meeting, as he had given me his wrong phone number nor did he have mine so we had no way of finding each other. This was no dumb couchsurfer however, he looked up the last couchsurfer I had stayed with, contacted them and had my number within a matter of minutes. We walked around, saw Nostradamus’ house, and a fountain covered so entirely with moss that it looks like a tree. There was live music in the streets and people sitting outside drinking beer. It was a beautiful atmosphere. In the morning we visited the most amazing caves which have been uninhabited for centuries, but were originally built entirely by man. We had fun imagining what all the different rooms would have been for, who would have lived in them, and whether the holes in the windows served their usual purpose as windows or were used for passing pizzas.

A cheap bus journey later and I had made it to Arles! Exhausted I slept all afternoon and woke up in the evening, ate food, and fell asleep again watching the new Tron. I was staying with a friend from Uni and her girlfriend, and we spent our days exploring unknown territories. We walked along rivers, ended up under busy bypasses, ate sushi, strolled through a necropolis, and often gazed upon the amphitheatre. Arles feels like you’re in the middle of a Roman empire crossed with narrow and cobbled Oxford streets with endless colour and vibrancy akin to Spain, or perhaps the Mediterranean. It is a wonderful place to visit and explore, yet even after a few days of walking the same streets I still have no idea how it all fits together and how anyone gets from A to B. We also went on a little day trip, visiting a castle on top of a mountain surrounded by expensive shops and cafes. We didn’t actually go into the area with the castle, because one had to pay (alas, no trebuchet for us). Instead we climbed onto roofs, picking almonds and figs from the branches above our heads and watched as the tourists went by below. We found some other small cliffs to climb in the area, and as a reward were granted by the most astounding views. Having just missed a bus, we decided to try and hitchhike back. Whilst walking on the gloriously sunny day we came across a prickly pear. Remembering having eaten them before with my mum I decided to try and get some with my Swiss army knife. Never again! We were inevitably prickled by tons of prickles. But thanks to the tweezers on the army knife, we were to live another day. And it didn’t even taste that great! In fact it tasted awful. On my last night we had a little party, where an esteemed chef loved my baba ghanoush and I chucked a bucket of water over my friends head (ice bucket challenge thing). We danced until late, singing along to lots of classic 80s and 90s tunes.

And then I left. I took a train to Toulouse, from where I caught the Megabus to Carlisle via Paris and London. In my three hour layover in Paris I set out to find the Eiffel Tower which was devoid of tourists at half seven in the morning. I then found a cafe to have some petit dejeuner, and it was terrible. The croissant was burnt black on one half and raw on the other, and the rest of it was just as disappointing. For the first time I travelled through the Eurotunnel which involved getting on and off the bus several times to have passports checked and luggage scanned. I was surprised that the Channel is crossed via a train and you simply sit inside your vehicle without much room for leaving and walking around. A day and a half later since leaving the south of France, I took the bus from Carlisle to Longtown at 5am. From there I did not have the stamina to wait for the next bus, another 4 hours away. Instead I started walking thinking that I would be able to hitch a ride. It took a while, but as soon as it started to rain I was picked up. So I definitely recommend hitchhiking in the rain – people feel sorry for you.

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