Heidelberg-Paris Tue March 20

Woke up at 6. Had slept less than 4 hours. Packed my stuff, stole some breakfast and left. It was cold outside, but more still-early-in-the-morning-cold than today-you’ll wish-you-weren’t-born-cold. It was only a short walk to

Woke up at 6. Had slept less than 4 hours. Packed my stuff, stole some breakfast and left. It was cold outside, but more still-early-in-the-morning-cold than today-you’ll wish-you-weren’t-born-cold.

It was only a short walk to the spot recommended at hitchbase.com and it was a nice walk through a park full of sculptures and over a simple suspension bridge over the river.

Pictures from Heidelberg here.

It was written that “all traffic leaving Heidelberg passes this point”. And indeed it did. I wished it hadn’t. The highway entrance was way too busy and there was no space for cars to stop. First I thought the website must have pointed to another place further down the road so I followed the highway for a while till I understood I was stupid and went back. Between 7:25 and 7:29 I gave this place a chance, thumbing 109 cars who passed by, them wondering what kind of moron it was that tried to give them a serial crash in their ass. Perhaps this place is two green thumbs up at noon, but in rush hour it’s definitely a red thumb down.

There was also another place mentioned on hitchbase and I walked around the whole area searching for it but found nothing that fit the description. On a map I saw there was no point in going down the highway, so instead I tried to find suitable spots upstreams. At 8:03 I started thumbing at the best place there was, and after 15 minutes and 100 cars I took the tram to Mannheim.

In Mannheim I took the tram to “Sandhofen” and walked to the first highway entrance after the place where the westward autobahn breaks away from the North-South-one. I like to get to those spots where my highway has left the others; then I know that I can join any car that stops.

Mannheim – levelled by the war and rebuilt by Americans – was supposed to not be as pretty as Heidelberg. But I found it’s Northern part very charming, although I have met little understanding for this opinion. At 10:45 it was sunny and I stood at the entrance which was narrow and curved and thus a bad place. I was therefore glad that car #8, a young middle-eastern looking man, picked me up and gave me a short ride after only 2 minutes.

The next entrance was much nicer. Not so many cars, but those that were had plenty of time and space to pick up a hitchhiker. It was sunny and windy and 10:55. After 37 minutes car #26 stopped. It was a woman who once a week went to the hospital in Trier to give art therapy to cancer patients. She described herself as the “hippie type”, having hitchhiked herself in the past. I think that former hitchhikers are overrepresented among those who pick up hitchhikers. Some people think hitchhiking is dead; that no one picks you up anymore. But apparently it will always be possible as long as there are ex-hitchhikers driving on the roads. But if fewer people hitchhike today, then perhaps it will be less easy 30 years from now. But I think that hitchhiking culture will always be alive and kicking; that is the impression I get from the online communities. It is after all the ultimate travel experience; more exciting, more scenic, less expensive and with more meetings between people than when going by train and bus. (Although I would really like to try inter-rail once.)

She let me off outside Kaiserslauten, where I went to the nearest entrance. Technically it was a nice spot, with many cars and plenty of space. But I had no idea as whether the traffic here was of the right kind; I had a feeling that cars entering here were just going from one part of the city to the other. It was half-cloudy and windy and 11:57. After 8 minutes car number 26 stopped. It was a former truck driver who had had a traffic accident and couldn’t drive trucks anymore since his injured hip prevented him from sitting down for long times. So now he was on pension and was on his way to a computer firm that would fix his computer so he could watch more movies.

As a former truck driver, he knew my needs and let me off at big service area. It was sunny and I spent 10 minutes asking 12 different drivers if I could go with them to France. Two middle-eastern-looking men asked me what I meant with “Frankreich” and I said “I don’t know, how do you say ‘France’ in German?”

Then I got tired of asking people and just went to the exit and thumbed. After 13 minutes and 17 cars the two men from before stopped and asked what city in France I was going to and I replied “Eventually I would like to arrive in Paris, but any city in France will do”.

Did you hear that? “Arrive in Paris”. It was probably my Oxford-class ability to use the proper preposition that convinced them of my harmless nature and they picked me up. As I sat in the backseat of the car flying to Paris I suddenly realized that I was now doing exactly what I had been dreaming of for a long time. I leaned back and enjoyed the ride intensively. Then I fell asleep.

When I woke up we had a little chat. They were Tunisians living in Germany and they ran a company – Euradöner – which produced an impressive 32000 kilo kebab a day. I was hoping they would give me free kebab vouchers for all their stores in Europe, but they didn’t. But I don’t give away games either. But I got a Euradöner ball pen. Now they were going to see customers in France and the ride was so fast that I triumphantly sent a message to Thibaut that I would arrive in Paris well before 5 pm. But when we had only 30 km left they stopped at a gas station and bought heaps of road maps and made a thousand phone calls to find out exactly how they should pass Paris without getting stuck in a traffic jam. Ironically, this stop consumed the last hour left before rush hour, so when they finally started driving again we had quite some company on the road. They let me off near Orly airport and I walked into a restaurant to ask how to get to Antony. The staff were very enthusiastic and helpful and gave me lots of directions and I tried to follow them all. When I got lost I asked a Chinese man who kindly walked me all the way to a bus stop.

On the other side of the bus ride was Thibaut. Thibaut was an exchange student with me in Waseda. His Japanese was superior to mine, but we had one class together, “Japanese Government” with Hiroko Kudo, an excellent course in my opinion. But we met quite often in Hoshien, the “European dorm”, where he lived and where we played the very first embryo of “Seigo”. That time Thibaut got upset by the abundance of airplanes, which made the first player to discover airplane technology (me) a too great advantage. Since then the airplane kana have been replaced with ship kana, making the game a bit more balanced. And a hundred other changes have been done as well.

We took the RER to his home and ate baguettes with Nutella and drank hot chocolate. Then he had to go for volleyball training; since he is playing at quite a high level I wouldn’t like if he skipped his practice, and he wouldn’t have done it even if I’d like him to. I stayed at home and had dinner with his family. This was the first time I actually visited a real French family. I have hitchhiked to Paris three times before, but each time slept in hotels. (Or in my friend Siri’s au pair pad which was technically in the home of a French family but since she hid us from her employers I don’t know if I can count it.)

We ate smoked salmon, pasta, avocado, creme fraiche and wine from the Loire valley. There was also a Jesuit priest invited for dinner. It was the first time I met a real Jesuit priest and he gave me a flyer for a pilgrimage. I should have repaid him with a flyer for my game but I forgot; they were so absorbed by a discussion of the deteriorating devotion of French youth.

While waiting for Thibaut to come home I laid down on their big comfy guest bed for a brief post-dinner nap.

The feature picture is stolen :p

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