Flying to Luxembourg, landing in Reykjavík for a quick stopover with a brief pillaging of the salmon samples was becoming a regular event. We were becoming seasoned travelers on this trans-Atlantic fight. We recognized all the flight attendants, as I’m sure they recognized us, which led to even better drinks and snacks service.
Landing in Luxembourg, we knew where we were going to claim our bags and quickly moved through to the terminal exit. Once outside, I went to the hedges where we had buried our pipe and a small stash. I looked both ways to be sure no one was watching and retrieved it. We flagged a taxi and went straight to the Kockelscheuer campgrounds. Setting up our tent, we collapsed into our comfortable little home for an evening of revisiting our plans.
We were on our way to the Israel Rainbow Gathering! Our plan was to hitchhike down through France, through Italy, take a ferry to Greece, and then another to Israel. Of course, there would be stops along the way to take in some of the sites. A kind of introductory tour of Southern Europe. I’m not sure how we managed to sleep as we were both excited to be on our way, but we did.
Thumbs in the wind
The next morning was cool but sunny as we packed up and started down the road, “thumbs in the wind.” We apparently hadn’t learned to pack less, so we were still lugging our huge backpacks, like turtles, carrying all our perceived necessities with us. Cars continued by us as we hoped one would stop. It seemed quite a while passed before we were picked up for a short ride. Then we were back on the road, sticking our thumbs out again. It took several rides to get to the border.
Although the “Schengen Agreement” had been signed and borders were open, France was slower to let go of the old ways, still guarding the passage between countries. Passports were not checked, but cars had to creep through the checkpoint. We, of course, asked to stop as we needed to get that French stamp on our passports. Our ride obliged, and after a brief stop, we hopped back into the car, which took us only a little further before dropping us off. We waited for the next ride, thrusting our thumbs out at the passing cars. No one was stopping. We hadn’t traveled very far in all this time and were beginning to wonder if hitchhiking would work in France.
We debated briefly if our finances were sufficient to afford a train ride through the country versus melting in the sun in hopes of catching a ride that never seemed to come. A long walk brought us into the city of Metz. The evening was approaching quickly as the shadows sprawled across the urban landscape of concrete and glass. Following our map, we found the train station. The railway system won the debate by checking the prices and weighing the time we would gain traveling by train.
In France, the reality of traveling is that all roads lead to Paris. Nothing would take us directly south without a long detour passing through Paris. We found a bench, stacked up our packs and Miss Guitara, and waited for the next train to take us to the most southern route.
The day had transitioned into evening, and most of the commuters had already returned home, leaving the station eerily vacant, echoing with the creaks and groans of train cars coupling and uncoupling. We snuggled together as the temperature dropped and the evening became night. The train eventually arrived, and we boarded, packing our gear into the hard seating of a booth.
Night-time 3rd class train
The bright lighting showed the starkness of the steel and plastic interior adorned with the occasional scratchings of untalented artists. We watched the station slowly fall behind us as the train’s clackity clack rhythm began to accelerate. Soon the only thing we could see in the windows was our reflection superimposed on the night sky. A man opened the door between the cars, entered our car, and walked through to the next. We tried to get comfortable and get some sleep. We were tired.
I had no idea if I had been asleep for minutes or hours when the conductor entered the car and asked for our tickets. I opened my fanny pack and pulled them out, handing them to him. He looked at them and punched little star-shaped holes in them with his hole punch, said, “Merci,” and handed them back. While this happened, I noticed another person sitting further up from us in the car. They got up and left before the conductor finished with us. I asked Donna, who was also waking up if she wanted something from the diner’s car. “Water,” she said. So, I went to find the diner’s car and water.
Smokey and crowded
We were in one of the economy cars, the cheap seats. The next lowest was the car behind us, baggage. Walking on a moving train is a little strange as it rocks ever so gently from side to side. Bracing myself, I touched the windows and walls to keep balanced as I made my way through the different cars in search of the diner. I walked through sleeper cars which had little rooms with four fold-down beds. There were loud snorts and snores coming from many of them.
Occasionally I would pass someone in the hallway staring out the window, smoking a cigarette. I finally reached the diner car, smokey and crowded with people chatting and drinking coffee. It was the most people I had seen on the train. Train food isn’t cheap, but I was a little hungry. I purchased a bag of potato chips, a Pepsi, and a water bottle and returned to the car with Donna. We split the chips and Pepsi stashing the water away for later, and tried to fall back to sleep.
Sleep was difficult and minimal, with the bright lights in the economy car of the train never turning off. The rhythm of the gently swaying train would eventually lull us into slumber. The night dragged on with waking moments as we passed through Paris, stopping briefly to pick up passengers and drop others off before continuing south. Hours passed, and the darkness slowly gave way to the dawn as the countryside and villages were no longer colorless shapes passing our window. Bleary-eyed and sore from the hard benches, we noted that we should purchase sleeper bunks the next time we took a train through the night.
End of the line
The French countryside was lush and green, but the villages and towns we passed were a dingy grey. It seemed to me that after being built, that was the end of taking care of them. Now the buildings were on their own. We were nearing our destination of Nice, (rhymes with geese), which was the end of the line in France. I leaned over to Donna and whispered, “Happy birthday!”
“Thank you,” she replied.
“So what do you want to do for your birthday?”