1. Zaragoza

    It was cold. The tent also managed to collect all the mouisture from our collective respiration, and deposit it on our faces in something akin to Chinese water torture. Still, we had survived unmolested, and packed up our camp in good spirits.

    After a brief, triumphant wait outside said overpriced Hotel, we were picked up by two Nigerian church guitarists, heading to Tudela proper. After a brief breakfast (we need to cut down on the cheese), we began out favourite pastime of hiking across town. Being a Sunday, there was very little open, and almost no traffic. Excellent hitching conditions then!

    At the edge of town, a kindly (or so we thought) man picked us up. Not speaking a word of Spanish, I thought we were being taken straight to Zaragosa! We were instead dropped at the service station from hell. Of the two or three drivers an hour who passed through, all were grumpy and gruff with Ollie, and we began despairing. For fun, we walked a few km to a nearby, utterly deserted village, and then immediately retraced our steps to the service station.

    After 4 short hours, Ollie managed, through much persistence, to persuade an old Spanish couple to ferry us to Zaragoza in their swanky new Merc. It’s always slightly worrying when someone lays down a large towel before letting you sit in their car. Our most awkward lift yet, and I helped Ollie out by falling asleep.

    In Zaragoza at last, we managed to find a youth hostel. What a place, €17.50 a night and very tight free live jazz! We got a little drunk, and went in search of dinner, which we found in the shape of €8.50 for three courses and a shitty bottle of ice cold red wine. We returned to the hostel for more Ron y Cola (apparently coca means cocaine) and more seriously smooth jazz. Everyone here is trop cool!

    tl; dr The whole of Europe appears to smell like hot poo.

    P.s. Ollie says “The novelty of the smell of my walking boots has worn off. The smell itself has not…”

     

  2. Los dos Entran España

    As I write this, I am hunched up in the smallest tent in the world. It is, by name only, a two man tent. A tent for two very good friends (pause). Anyway, today we began late, Roman had promised us a lift to Spain as he was going there for petrol (everything is cheaper in Spain he says). So when he awoke, at about 12, we set off for Irun.

    The actual crossing into Spain was uneventful, as simple as driving over a bridge. There was a very sudden change of language, and the heat seemed more intense. In Biarritz, you really get a feeling of the old 1960’s chic of suited men in Lambourghini Muiras, crusing around with blonde femmes in tow. As soon as you enter Spain however, this changes. You see apartment blocks and washing lines strung between council flat balconys. Muy diferente.

    Anyway, we hiked for about an hour to the edge of Irun, and (fairly quickly) caught a lift with a Frenchman (ironic huh?) who dropped us in Panplona. We pulled another large walk out of town, and caught another lift with a proud Basque nationalist (I nearly sparked him off on a separatist, anti Spain rant) to Tafella. From there to the outskirts of Tudela with (get this) 3 Moroccans, who dropped us at a Hotel and bought us a coffee. The Hotel itself cost €53 for the night, so we decided to save money, trudge into the nearby pine forest, and finally inaugurate the tent. We pitched in the dark, polished off our remaining supplies for supper, and bedded down for the night…

    tl; dr Tents R Kool

    P.s. Miles says “Camping isn’t so bad really…”

     

  3. Biarritz

    So, this is it. The end of France, and says Miles: “I am sad! It’s been amazing to speak French and be understood, I have a newfound love for the language”

    Anyway, Spain is quite literally on the horizon, and all of its sights, sounds and smells await us. As for our last Jour en France, what a story we have to tell…

    From Langon we tried the autoroute towards Pau, but to no avail. We decided that we weren’t leaving enough space for the traffic to stop. We hiked across town (as per usual), and tried the national route towards Roquefort.

    Before too long, we had out first lift, little did we know what was coming our way. The gentleman’s name was Albert, and he was the Chief Fireman of a small village. He asked us if we had eaten, and we explained that we had. He let loose with some rapid fire French, and after he’d finished, Miles informed me that we were being taken for lunch!

    Sure enough we stopped at a cafe that was so French that it looked like it hurt. We were treated to an amazing meal of Margret de Canard et Frites, (accompanied by much Bière and Rosé of course).

    French began making less and less sense with the sun on our backs and our heads full of alcoholy goodness. I smiled and threw in the occasional d’accord. It came as quite a shock when, upon returning to his car, Miles then informed me that we were going to Albert’s house to try some 15 year old unlabelled Cognac, powerful stuff!

    At this point it seemed like Miles was in his element, from where I was sitting he appeared to be communicating with ease (he later admitted that he understood less than half of what was said), and we learned of Albert’s service as a fireman in Paris at age 18, and his motorbike travels across France. He then sent us on our way with two bottles of Vin (a sweet white and a damn fine red), and a map of the area that looked like it had spent several generations in his family. We were astounded by his generosity, and hitched out of Captieux feeling like (slightly drunk) kings.

    We went to Mt. de Marsan with an apprentice winemaker with a penchant for the Who. From there to Bayonne we travelled in our first white van, with a man who sold lawnmowers for football pitches. In Bayonne, an ex model turned English teacher took us to the other side of town. A French ‘Waste Disposal Engineer’ (a binman) in a 26 year old Peugeot then took us to the far side of Biarritz.

    We were buying bread, when luck struck again! A car laden down with surfboards pulled up beside us. Inside were Jim, Julia and Roman. We piled in and explained our plan to push on to San Sebastien. They suggested we stay in St Jean de Luz for the night, and offered us their floor to crash on. We gladly accepted!

    Suffice to say, we made new friends last night, over vodka, gin and home-cooked bolognese. Yesterday, we truly did taste the milk of human kindness and experienced the kind of generosity and hospitality only found when you least expect it. We’ll miss you France!

    tl;dr French people are nice

    P.s Miles says: “Ollie writes these posts by hand and then forces me to write and post them on his iPhone, someone save me, I am trapped!”

     

  4. Bordeaux

    We awoke again at dawn’s crack (see what I did there). The weather was miserable; gloomy and rainy above our vista of long haul trucks, Tarmac and depots. We trudged down to the péage (toll booth for the Autoroute) and duly began our thumbing (pause). This rapidly became another bad one, barely any cars, cold, wet and demoralising. After a few hours of waiting and a few more of barely concealed rage, we tried our luck for a lift across Niort, succeeding with a lovely family who dropped us at the other side ‘not far’ from the autoroute. French directions being what they are, we hiked a few more km down a very straight road and whistled for a cab and when it came near, the licence plate said fresh and there was dice in the mirror… anyway, we went through Bel Air and on to the next péage entrance.

    Once there, our luck was in. We were picked up after just 15 minutes, by an advocate on his way home to Bordeaux. Finally! It felt like we’d spent days trying to get to get to Bordeaux, but man it was it worth it.

    Let me just say, Bordeaux is beautiful. In some ways it is one of my favourite bits of the trip so far. It seems like a city of two halves. Once you cross the bridge from Stalingrad and pass the incredible facade on the other side, you find yourself in the middle of a thronging, pulsing city. The buildings create canyons of dark streets and everywhere you look, architecture has let itself go mad.

    Once we reached the ring-road (also called “Le Ring”), we tried our luck again, and again struck gold with Matthieu, a vigneron, who took us all the way to Langon, a good 20 minutes out of his way!

    In Langon, we procured wine with minutes to spare (€2.11 and still good!) and bartered a hotel room down in price considerably (swag gaff too!).

    All in all, probably our most successful day so far. Bordeaux, we will meet again…

    tl;dr Bordeaux is where its at!

    P.s. Miles says “One of my wisdom teeth is coming through”

     

  5. Niorts

    Well, Le petit dej dans Le Mans was nothing to write home about, but I did anyway (postcard should arrive about Friday mum). Pretty soon it was time to get the hell out of dodge, so we decided to sample the local municipal transport system, and got the tram out of town. €1,40 for a journey, bish bash bosh!

    As we had already discovered, but clearly forgotten, hitching out of a big town is hard. So we walked south, 3km down the Mulsanne straight, and caught a lift to Ecommoy. Then the group who showed us the Hostel in Le Mans turned up at the roundabout out of Ecommoy. They positioned themselves in front of us, thus poaching any potential lifts. Fortunately however, they were three and we were two, we changed our tack and headed for Chateau du Loir - 10 minutes and we had a lift before them, bish, bash, bosh!

    From there we walked through the village and managed to grab a lift to Tours with an extremely French bloke, and experienced French driving at its most creative. After that, two quick lifts to Poitiers and Niorts saw us hitching at the entrance to the péage to Bordeaux in the fading light. Then the inevitable happened.

    We had avoided it for a few days, but it had our number. That Englishman’s best friend; rain. Lots of it. With only a few choice words of protest, we donned much waterproofing gear and trudged towards the local truck stop hotel via a shop to pick up more Bread, Cheese and Wine (even the cheap wine here is good). We feasted like (outcast) Kings, watched truly weird French TV, and went to sleep with the room smelling of damp socks. Bish, bash, bosh!

    tl;dr Pretended to be race cars, got wet.

    P.s Miles says “Goats cheese flavoured crisps just taste mouldy”

     

  6. Tuesday

    What a hell?! Did we already mention a learning curve? Today we learned so many lessons that it’s hard to explain them all. It was a beast of a day.

    We awoke in the same place we fell asleep (thankfully), an hauled our asses down to Ouistreham ferry port at the crack of dawn to try and cadge a lift off the lorry drivers. It was the most demoralising experience in Ollie’s recent memory, I was just very cold. It was so cold that neither of us could remember what warmth felt like.

    In the end we gave up, and headed for Caen on foot. Just outside Ouistreham we met Jack (his spelling), who duly took us to the north of Caen. After a short (by which we mean very f***ing long) walk to the south side, stopping on the way for the first of many lunches of Pain et Camembert. We finally arrived at a petrol station just outside Ifs, and began what we thought was hitchhiking proper, with Bordeaux on our sign and a smile on our faces. We were still there 5 hours later. We had learned our second lesson. Hitchhiking is impossible. At least it seemed that way - one does not simply hitchhike across France.

    While we were trying out hardest, another group appeared at the petrol station, and promptly got a lift! It turns out that approaching people who’ve already stopped, and asking them in person is much more effective. We had a lift to Falaise within minutes. From there it was amazing, country roads, glorious sunshine and several lifts that took us all the way to Le Mans.

    Now I’m sure Le Mans is a perfectly nice place, but my memories of it will always be of near defeat. We rolled in (courtesy of Sylvia, an amazingly chatty Italian woman with no vowells in her second name) at about half six.
    We looked around for a hostel but hostel there came none. We walked back and forth through Le Mans about three times and were on the brink of giving up. In the event, we would have probably been homeless for the night. But then, like a bolt from the blue, I heard something. Something like a word. Lower and more guttural than the French around us. It sounded like English. Without looking, I shouted out to the voice. Lo and behold it was another hitch group, who gave us the location of a secret hostel. A hostel that, purely by dint of it being open and cheap, was better than all the swanky hotels in all of Christendom.
    We collapsed in our bunks and the day was done. It really showed us what a “stroke of pure luck” really looks like, and when in a situation like we were in, they can come in real handy.

    tl;dr hitchhiking is hard

    P.S. Miles says “F*** you, Hotel Ibis”

     

  7. So that’s day 1 down. It was an odd start, an the learning curve is steep. We left Southampton on the road out of Swaything and made our first mistake. Having never hitchhiked before, we chose the worst spot ever. After about 45 minutes, we were given some advice to move on to a lay-by further on. Another 45 minutes and we got our first lift. From a woman named Conchita, who ended up being amazing and going out of her way to drop us right at the ferry port, where we found some friends! Group 49. We spent the ferry journey with them as they went about scoring a lift all the way to Bordeaux. Lucky. We on the other hand were stuck. There was no chance of a lift out of town, so we found the cheapest hotel we could. And dined like kings on Go Bars, dates and old white bread.. In all, a great start. Up at 5 tomorrow to press on. Until then, bon nuit.

    P.s. Miles no habla el español, mais il parle un petit peu de français!

     
  8. No chance of a hitch so we found the cheapest room that was open….

     
     

  9. The outset

    So this it is. A hearty breakfast down, and we’re on the road to Swaythling with a view to Portsmouth. I feel like its the start of something. Which is good, because it is. 1900 kilometers to go. 

    Last night I panned out like so many other times: A mad dash to the co-op for more mixer. Basically, as Miles is leaving his uni halls to hibernate for easter, we felt it would be a good idea to eat all the remaining food and drink all the remaining booze. On reflection, it was a good plan. 

    So hopefully we will make it to Portsmouth at least. 

    P.S. Miles is very proud of his shoes.

    Much Love.

    Miles and Ollie

     

  10. Nearly there…

    So, Uni has broken up for Easter. I’m sitting in my Halls room, and it’s eerily quiet here, there’s usually 400-odd people in this building, but I think it’s just me left… Spooky….

    On the plus side, this means I can be as loud as I want, so my window is wide open, the sun is streaming in, and i’m listening to some huge tunes while I pack, here’s a selection for your delectation:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJF1l4JF5Aw

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4buLDT4-p0

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqpS74OLvqw

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZGLgEr7Ijs&ob=av2n

    Seriously, I can’t think of anything better than knowing i’m on the brink of an epic adventure with my best mate, and best of all, it’s for a great cause! I’d like to add my personal thanks to anyone who has donated to either of us, I’m not quite there yet, but there’s still time!

    Here’s the compulsory indestructible phone (I think i’ve gone even more basic than Ollie on this one):

    And here are all my belongings for the next two weeks:

    Huge love, and watch this space!

    Miles x

    P.s - I wasn’t bored in the video Ollie put together, I was concentrating really hard!