Hitchhiking From London through France to Barcelona

France seemed like a good next move after much time kicking around Ireland and the UK. I had no immediate interest in tripping back through Paris, so I eyeballed a southbound route towards Barcelona that would take me through Rouen, Nantes, Bordeaux and Andorra.

Someone had given me an Oyster card with credit still remaining, this gave me a public transit boost out of the center of London, but not completely out of the thick of it. I used my last £5.51 at a fish and chip shop (after some negotiation on the price), then finally landed a ride heading for the coast.

The guy who picked me up suggested I'd have better luck just by stealing a car rather than hitchhiking. I was content with my form of travel, all the same I listened to stories of his younger years smuggling drugs and running clubs in the city.

There are two primary ways of hitching over the channel to France, those being getting a ride with someone getting on the ferry or getting a ride with someone going through the train tunnel.  From where he dropped me off both were still an option, but after a short ride to more traffic I then got the all important ride from a guy doing the latter. We drove up on to the train and before long were pulling off, now in France where he'd be turning north.

This left me walking the winding highway in Calais. Below me in the grassy areas were piles of refugees, I gathered, some with tents, some circled up, mostly lingering and waiting. I walked the big loop and found a good place to stand with my thumb out waiting on the next ride. I watched as some of the refugees brazenly lurked through the slow UK bound traffic, checking for unlocked truck entries or other places to hide and potentially stowaway over the border. I imagined for many this was a daily ritual of failure with little-to-no consequence for being caught.

I got a couple short rides before I had to camp for the night just off the desolate stretch of highway south. In the morning I came to a tunnel and stood just before it until the police came to tell me I couldn't be standing on the highway; they said they could fine me, but as expected they instead had me hop in the back seat to give me a ride up a few exits.

"What do you do for a living?" the male officer asked me.

"I'm a brewer, I make beer," I replied with one of my dozen rotating answers to that question.

"Ahh," he smiled, "So you came to learn how the French do it!" he asserted condescendingly.

I bursted out with some laughter which I quickly tried to dampen as not to offend him. France may have a reputation for wine, but the only decent beer to be widely found in the country is overpriced Belgian beer from just over the border.

"Have you ever drank beer before?" I asked him as innocently and seriously as I could to veil the mockery, also eyeing the female cop in the passenger seat to gauge her response. In fact she was the most beautiful person I'd ever seen in police uniform to date, but she seemed less interested in this beer conversation, which is exactly what the pretty-french-girl stereotype would dictate.

He discarded my ridiculous question, perhaps thinking something was lost in translation, then once again I was on my own outside waiting on the next ride.

I caught five separate rides altogether after the police, the last of which from a truck driver who dropped me near to downtown Rouen.

This looked to be a lot like many European cities with big squares, cobblestones, impressive religious structures and statues a plenty. Like the other French cities I was aiming for, I had arranged a place to stay with a Couchsurfing host.

I met up with him after some walking around and enjoyed a couple days in the city. Besides my solo wandering he shared meals of snails and cheese and the like, as well as taking me to places in the city made famous by Jean of Arc. The most impressive of everything I saw was a light show projected onto an intricately carved cathedral not far from his apartment.

Another five ride day of hitchhiking got me to Nantes to meet my next host on the stretch. Perhaps it was something from my profile, but his first suggestion was to go to the Delirium Cafe - a Belgian beer bar. I gladly accepted this suggestion.

Once again I spent just a couple days, the highlight of this city being a giant mechanical wooden looking elephant that stomped around one of the squares, occasionally spraying a blast of water.

Another short day of hitchhiking (just two rides) and I made it to Bordeaux where I'd be staying with another Couchsurfing host, a guy I'd actually met a few years earlier when we were both tripping through Phoenix.

I spent a few days there, including a day-hitch back and forth to a nearby wine-soaked village called Saint-Emilion. While I was mostly surviving on wine, bread and coffee, I ended up accidentally having an epic lunch with foie gras and duck, a menu misread that was quite costly, but well worth it.

It only took two rides to hitch to Toulouse and I only spent a single night there anyway. I stayed with a friendly family who showed me a good rooftop bar and cooked up a good meal back at their home where we shared travel stories and ideas for future trips.

I walked out of the city come morning, aiming for the small country of Andorra before dropping into Spain. The second ride I got, however, was heading to Carcassonne where he said there was an impressive castle to see. He talked me into it and I took the detour with him, popping out of his car right by the entry. I spent a while walking through the grounds of the great big thing, then made the equally long walk back to the road pointing towards Andorra.

Several rides got me into the country, without any confirmation from any Couchsurfing hosts I was left to wander. Of course, I'd marked where a brewery was and became determined to try some Andorra beer. I got a ride to the brewery itself, only to discover it was closed. More rides jumped me from city to city as I kept seeking it out, then finally I got a ride from a guy who's girlfriend knew of a local beer bar that would do the trick.

I sipped my beer, the day now dark. I wandered the city a bit afterwords, but finally had to make the long walk to the edge where I could find a place to camp.

I walked over the border into Spain the next day and got a half dozen rides or so, including an interesting Spanish girl who'd spent five years as a clown in Paris. The last ride was perfect: a Spanish brewer heading directing into Barcelona. He told me about how he'd fly to the US a couple times a year for inspiration and general beer tourism. Once in the city he dropped me off directly at his favorite beer bar.

After a beer my host came and met me there to kick off a couple days exploring the big city. She showed me the famous Gaudi architecture, including the giant cathedral. We checked out the busy beach a bit and some of the parks as well. In between this were tapas and introductions to friends throughout.

The southbound stretch since London had gone over well, next I'd be heading back to France with ideas of getting deep into Italy after. Ideas change however, sometimes all it takes is one pretty girl to change the course of things. Onward as always.

July 15, 2015 to July 26, 2015