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Notes from the home of the hitchhiker

Should I say bye to my gloves?

Neon sign in France displaying Laboratoire
I looked in watery eyes of my mother for the last time and started to walk towards Czaplinecka Street. We were saying goodbye to each other once or twice a year, as I lived abroad for quite a while. But this farewell was different, we could all feel we wouldn’t see each other for much longer, probably years. It was a warm day, very warm for Christmas time. The sky was scattered with dark blue clouds. Standing near allotments, at the place which I used for hitchhiking hundreds of times, I felt stressed like it was my first time. I didn't feel like that for the last ten years, since I decided to make my first hitching trip abroad. After all, it was a kind of the first time. I'd never been going to the other side of the Atlantic yet.

After fifteen minutes I got a lift straight to Poznań, where I stayed for two days at Kasia's place. She was a good friend from my uni times, whom I hadn't seen for about two years. It was nice to be back in Poznań, I lived there for six years and so many good memories were connected to this city. From Poznań I reached Paris in about thirty hours, popping in to Metz on the way for a coffee and chat with Yannick and Caroline, guys I met half a year earlier. Hitching was excellent. Sometimes I didn't even do anything and people came and asked me where I was going. Long winter night was not an obstacle at all, high visibility vest did the job.

In Paris I stayed with one guy from Brittany called Lilian who was my ex-housemate and a good friend from Galway, the city on the Irish western coast, where I lived for the last three years. On the next day another naturalised Galwagian joined us. Miki was on his way back from Christmas holidays at his parents’ place in Catalonia. Three crazy bastards together again. The next morning welcomed us with a massive headache. Yeah, we’d had some fun! Luckily hangover didn't kill our appetite. In the evening we prepared a big New Years Eve feast and went sightseeing nighttime city after. To a party organised by Lilian's friends we got by city bikes, as there were problems with public transport. It was fantastic feeling to ride a bike at 2 a.m. in Paris. On New Years! People were greeting us with Bonne Année, all tipsy and cheerful. The next day Miki went back to Galway and I stayed with Lilian for a few more days, chatting about all the great time we had in Ireland and wandering what our future would be. Lilian was back to his career as a model maker for one of international companies. And I? Where was I? I was back to my career as a vagabond? It sounded strange but I loved to think this way.

Lit street sign in France directing towards Post Office
On Wednesday evening I said goodbye to my friend and went to a service station on the motorway A6, where I got by suburban train. Around midnight, after a few fruitless hours, I decided to have a nap. The wind was freezing cold, but in a hidden place, in a warm sleeping bag I felt comfortable enough to have a few hours sleep. After morning coffee I went to a toilet for a wee, where one man standing beside asked me: ‘Where you headin to?’ Familiar accent. Paddy! It was so typical, they always need to chat, even in a loo. Good craic! He dropped me at a péage* from where I quickly got to a station near Auxerre. In a short time two more hitchhikers arrived. One of them, a guy called Balladin, easily found a lift for two people. So we were sitting together on a back seat of a small car and we had the same aim - Montpellier. We were jumping fast from one service station to another, from one car to another. It was slower when I was alone, my French was definitely not good enough. All day long we had a heavy rain pouring from grey sky and around Avignon I could finally spot some first stars. Our last stop was forty kilometres before Montpellier. I get off a car and felt a blow of warm air smelling with pines and herbs. Mediterranean! Should I say bye to my gloves already? I asked myself.

I arrived to Montpellier in the evening after thirteen hours and seven hundred and twenty three kilometres. Not bad. I said goodbye to Balladin and shortly after met with Marie, another friend from Galway. Nostalgia for that place brought us both to an Irish Pub the next day. I was chilling out in Montpellier for a few more days with Marie and her housemates. I was wondering how my travel would be, as I couldn’t feel I really started. Everything felt very familiar. I was visiting friends, hitching in European countries, which I knew nearly by heart after years of thumbing around. The only difference was that I’d never hitched in the south of Europe in that time of the year before. It was sunny and warm all the time in there, unbelievably warm for January. Almost whole France was behind me, was all the cold behind me as well? I’d hidden my gloves inside my backpack, but not too deep, not yet. Just in case.

* Péage - short from Gare de Péage, a toll station on French motorways.