#1 I’m off: journey through France

Nantes – Aix-en-Provence

On this rainy morning of July 10, 2017, I’m heading off for my trip hitchhiking around Europe and Asia. After moving goodbyes, my dad drops me off at a gas station on the highway to Bordeaux. I had feared this moment:

“Bye Dad, see you next year!”

“Be careful on the road!…”

That’s it. There’s no turning back now. Anyway, I hardly have time to give it any thought. Within two minutes, I manage to find a driver willing to help me out. Mickaël and Luca are chemistry researchers travelling back to their workplace in Pau. They can take me all the way to Langon, a small town between Bordeaux and Toulouse. I’m taken aback: although I was pretty confident in making my way south quickly enough, I didn’t think I would pass Bordeaux with the first car.

With a laminated map of my route and my good mood, I approach drivers at the gas station to find a ride. A few people say no, but I quickly meet Alexis who tells me he will gladly take me to Montauban near Toulouse. I am delighted! My strategy seems to be working and I’m only meeting kind people.

 

 

Alexis teaches social anthropology at the University of Poitiers and his favourite cultural area happens to be India which I will explore during my trip. We have a nice chat about travelling, ethnology and India that he has visited on numerous occasions. We are so caught up in the conversation that we end up missing the exit… My driver proves all the more helpful and turns around to get me closer to my destination.

Mathilde, a friend I met while living in Germany, lives in Montauban and offered to put me up for the night. I’m not going to have to use my tent tonight!

On the following morning, Mathilde takes me to a gas station where I can continue my journey. Today’s goal is to reach Aix-en-Provence. My long-time friend François will put me up for a few days. A kind couple from Toulouse first take me a few kilometers further to a better hitchhiking spot.

 

 

Indeed, it takes me only a few minutes to find the next car. Another couple on the way to Nîmes agree to give me a lift. After a short break between Montpellier and Nîmes, I make it to Aix-en-Provence with a last car.

It’s 2:30 : in only one day and a half, I’ve covered 1000 kilometres and spent less than 2€! A promising start… But first of all, let’s stop for few days in Aix-en-Provence.

Aix-en-Provence/Marseille

I’m staying for a week at François’ place. It’s a good opportunity to catch up but also to discover a part of France still unknown to me. Even though it is still the same country, Aix-en-Provence provides a sharp contrast to my hometown. Tremendous heat, orange-yellow houses, never-ending buzzing of the crickets: I’ve made it to the south of France.

Aix-en-Provence is a picturesque small Provencal town that you don’t need much time to explore. We therefore go on several occasions to its big neighbour: Marseille.

 

 

Marseille is astounding in many respects. The second biggest French city is built on a hilly terrain: a panoramic view is awaiting visitors who walk down the stairs of the Saint Charles train station. Marseille swiftly gives me the impression of being a miniature world. Its cosmopolitan dimension is undeniable: you come across people from all over the world. The atmosphere is festive, humane, and genuine.

 

 

Given its ideal location along the Mediterranean Sea, Marseille has plenty of bathing spots to offer. François shows me for instance the Anse de Malmousque, a rocky cove south of the Vieux-Port.

 

 

We decide to spend our last day exploring the Calanques National Park near Cassis. Its numerous cliffs and coves along with the crystal clear water make it a natural gem you will struggle to leave.

 

I’ve really enjoyed the week discovering the area, yet I start feeling the need to continue my journey. Next stop: Italy.

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