Friday, April 24, 2009

Easter Weekend Hitch hiking et cetera stories

We had a very beautiful, if stormy, French Easter Weekend. It began with the sprawling, bustling, amazing market of Millau. The markets in France, as covered in this blog previously, are something to make you you drool with food-lust, scratch your head in wonderment, and generally fascinate you by the culture on exhibit. The market in Millau, on a blustery Friday morning before Easter was no exception of course; in fact the impending inclement weather and holiday perhaps made it all the more bustling with much more hustling than usual. There we bought our rations of whole wheat bread, the strongest goat cheese we have ever tasted (packaged in perfectly suitable black disc form), and various other vegetables that would help propel us through the labrinthe of Montpelier, and the strange sprawl of Nimes.

But first we had to actually get to Montpelier; a good 120 KM away from where we stood looking at the ominous rain cloud drifting slowly over the mountain behind us. Sometimes when you hitchhike you feel like your thumb is an amazingly minute detail compared to the power of an atmosphere created by inclement weather or, adversely, the immense beauty of an area. When it rains, you want to think people will be more inclined, due to pity, to pick you up but it is not so. Instead people seem ever the more quick to careen past you, either just to get home or to not have soaking wet, somewhat odorous travelers in their car. We were lucky on this day though (for not the first or last time) as we managed one ride all the way to Montpelier from a kind young man named Francoise. He was traveling to Montpelier where he lived and went to school for an apparent job interview, having been visiting his family for the religious weekend. After 2 hours of stunted conversation, and traffic jams we reached the Millionaire Club Park where he had his job interview. What followed was simply two former city kids trying to escape from the urban but not quite urbane clutches of a strange, bloated Mediterranean city. Montpelier was to us dirty, overextended, and generally not interesting. We reached the train station and took the first train as far as we could affordably, to Nimes. Nimes seemed pleasant at first but outside the historic city center, in which the likes of Hemingway had lived, was an all to mundane and un-pedestrian-friendly suburban area. After our first attempt to find a camping spot resulted in the crunch of broken beer bottles under our feet we decided to stay at a cheap corporate hotel just off the highway and out of the rain. The next day we set to walking and hitch-hiking in the pouring rain until we were picked up by...

...our lovely, beautiful new friends, Zsuzsa and Peter, who pulled over to shake our hands while we were very wet with our thumbs up on the side of a very busy and seemingly unforgiving Holy Saturday road. Zsuzsa works in Brussels for the UN and Peter is apprenticing with a horsehoe maker and fitter. They plan to return to their native Hungary to farm. Zsuzsa reminded me of my dear friend Laura Geraci so much that I nearly had to pinch myself. Peter fed us chocolate and apples and bread and said he wanted to drive us all the way to Geneva.

They took us to see the Pont du Gard, a HUUUUUUUGE ruin of the aquaduct that the Romans built sometime in the first century AD (or thereabouts). We discussed our similar aims and dreams while walking around and atop the ruin.

There are many Roman ruins all over Europe, which is handy since Rome isn't on our itinerary. We were especially lucky to be taken under the wing of Zsuzsa and Peter on their trip, as we didn't even know the aquaduct, which is featured on the back of the 5 euro note, was so close to our route.

After they dropped us off, leaving us with pockets full of apples and hearts that were completely warm and rosey despite the wet and cold weater, we were immediately picked up by a very sweet couple returning from a Spanish holiday. It was the wife's birthday and she played the best Joan Baez album that I've ever heard, Gracias a la Vida. As we listened to her gorgeous voice accompanied by the ethereal and dreamy and perfect Veracruz harp we drove for hours through orchards and vineyards and cover cropped fields, windmills a nuclear power plant and lots of Easter traffic.
When they dropped us off we found an apiary (in this case, a small clearing populated with many, many bee boxes, where the bees make their hives and honey), set up tent, and slept a good long sleep until waking up to an Easter morning full of marzapan and jambon (cured ham). We received two last rides, one that took us a mile to a rotary, and another from a nurse and a geologist, who drove us into the ALPS, the real live Alps with snow on them. (They also took us on a small sidetrip through a very tiny 13th century village that many Easter-celebrating-relaxing folks were also touring, full of gorgeous old stone buildings, a big waterfall, more tulips than you could imagine, et cetera. Our drivers left us at the mouth of a favorite hike and we scaled some mountain before settling down beside a trout river, eating more marzapan, getting friendly with a grandmother who was also hiking through the wood, and dreaming for many, many hours.
Gracias a las personas who pick up hitch hikers!

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