Unexpected companions: The hitchhikers

A white cat is sitting in a self-made cat castle, looking like a Volkswagen

Every good vacation is filled with new experiences, and our recent trip to Nice was no exception. Some of these experiences are quite unsurprising: seeing new places, discovering cool art, getting locked in… But some of my favourite vacation stories revolve around the more unexpected new experiences. The kind you can’t plan for, but which really bring something unique to your journey. In this post, I’d like to share the story of the first time we picked up hitchhikers!

Some time near the halfway point of our 15-hour-long ride home, we were taking a break at one of the aires that you find along many French toll roads. While I was lying down on the backseat to get some rest, I saw a girl approaching Boyfriend. They kept looking at me and talking with many hand gestures, so I got out to see what was up. She and her friend (who was off on the opposite side of the parking area talking to other drivers) were trying to get to Geneva, and wanted to know if we happened to be going in that direction. After a brief chat and some fiddling with Google Maps, they decided that we kind of were.

The woman looked friendly enough, we wouldn’t have to go out of our way to help them at all, and, frankly, we could really use some excitement on such a long drive (even though we had an awesome playlist and a number of audiobooks). So, after carefully considering the situation, we decided to help the two of them out.

We had to rearrange some of our baggage, but before long, all four of us were in the car and on our way north. After some introductions, we learned that our guests were veteran hitchhikers, and that they had even met through an organisation that helps would-be hitchhikers find travelbuddies. Both Boyfriend and I were very curious about their experiences, and they seemed more than happy to share stories. They told us that it’s actually really easy to get around by simply asking people for a ride, and that, on average, they have about 5 minutes of downtime between rides (though, as they themselves added, the fact that they were both young, attractive women might play a role in that). It isn’t always that easy, though: sometimes it can take hours before someone agrees to take you along. Some friends of theirs once had to wait nine whole hours.

Speaking of hitchhiking as young, attractive women, the conversation quickly moved on to safety concerns. They told us that, while you have to be careful, of course, there are a lot of things you can do to stay safe. For starters, apparently real pros never try to get a ride by standing by the side of the road holding up signs or doing the hitchhiking sign. Instead, they moved from one busy area to the next (think gas stations, large rest areas like the aires, et cetera), and approached people on their own initiative. This immediately gives you more control. Additionally, travelling in pairs is of course also very advisable (not to mention more enjoyable).

We briefly talked about the differences between hitchhiking as two women and, for example, as a woman and a man. While this might make sketchy people less inclined to be sketchy, it also has a flipside: drivers tend to feel less safe around male hitchhikers, which makes it harder to get a ride in the first place. To this, one of our guests added that that was silly, really, as she could beat someone up just as easily as a guy could (which, while I agree with the sentiment, might not exactly be the best thing to tell your driver, so I joked we would kick them out of the car at the next stop).

All too soon, we reached the part where we had to part ways. We were almost out of gas, and they needed to take an exit that would take us too far off course. We said our goodbyes and wished each other safe journeys. They were a little closer to home, and we were one very memorable experiences the richer.

Scaredy Cat and the closed gates of Nice

Our last day in Nice was another adventure for Scaredy cat, or rather grumpy cat, when we got locked in three times in one day! Our first day, we had explored the seaside and our second day, we spent at Cimiez Hill before heading towards our second hotel. When booking our vacation, we had planned to stay in Nice for four days and I had found this beautiful apartment that looked out over the sea. I fell instantly in love with it and we arranged our week so that we could stay there.

Two days before we would leave for France, I got a phonecall: my grandfather had died. Now I wasn’t close with him but I still wanted to attend the funeral, to support my father. Only problem was, the funeral would be on saturday, and we would leave Nice on Sunday.

So we had to change our plans. I still wanted to go, because that day we also had our covid tests and I didn’t want to have a stick pushed up my nose for nothing. So we quickly decided to leave a day early, which would be the following morning, and stay in Nice until Friday morning and then drive back in one go. Plans were changed, we had to change dates for our catsitter and of course had to change the hotels – which we did in the car driving towards Dijon. The beautiful hotel we booked wasn’t available a day earlier, but I didn’t want to cancel it, so we decided to stay in two different hotels in the city. The first hotel, Villa Saint Hubert was fine. It was spacious and clean and we could have stayed there the two nights we spent at Nice, but I had fallen in love with the pictures of our second hotel. Which wasn’t a hotel as much as an apartment that was rented out. It was gorgeous, had everything we needed – I forgot to take pictures of anything else than the view – and the view was magnificent.

My heart still cries a bit for the lost vacation. It was supposed to be a relaxing trip where we would explore the city, do some swimming and lounge and read in our beautiful apartment. Instead, it was kind of a hectic trip. Booking hotels while we were already driving towards them, walking 25 kilometers in a day to be able to see as much as possible in the day and a half we had now instead of the four days we should have had.

Anyway, after exploring Cimiez Hill, we went to the apartment, checked in and rested a bit before we wanted to explore again. We had already walked far, our feet were tired and a heavy sunburn was coming up. I was also feeling sad we had to leave already the next day.

After taking a hundred pictures of the apartment’s view, we decided to visit Vieille Nice, the old city center, and grab something to eat.

Locked gate number one

Which is when we got locked in the first time. One of the differences between France and the Netherlands is that France has hills and mountains, while The Netherlands, as we would say, is as flat as a penny. We went downstairs and found the door locked. Of course we had been given keys but whatever we tried, we weren’t able to open the door. The key simply didn’t fit. We tried and tried but it wouldn’t bulge. Then, while Boyfriend was calling the landlord, I walked up a flight of stairs and saw another door that led outside. We tried the key and it fit perfectly. Apparently, if you’re in a city that’s on a hill, an apartment can have front doors on multiple levels. Who would have thought. We felt very dumb…

When we were finally free, we saw a bunch of cats so naturally we had to pet them. So far we hadn’t seen a lot of street cats in the city, but someone left cat food and water out for them, so of course they got together here. It made up for us feeling dumb and being locked inside.

Locked gate number two

We walked the city and Boyfriend really wanted to go up Castle hill in the city center. The night before it had been closed already so we took our chances now. We walked up the 3654821156672 sets of stairs (rough estimate) for a beautiful scenic view over the city. I was already tired from our walk in the morning, but as we would leave tomorrow, I wanted to see as much as possible, so we pressed on. When we were finally at the top, we rested for a bit, drinking some water before exploring a little further. But then a guard came and said the hill would close, so we had to leave. No sign of the beautiful waterfall I had seen on pictures, but alas, the view had been beautiful so we walked down again. Feet hurting and all.

The guard had pointed us to where we should go, back to where we came from, but when we got back at the gate, it was closed…

That guard had closed the gate before we had the time to walk down and go through it. And we were so close too! But the gate itself was also on a hill and it was too high too climb over it. There was a sign at the front saying it would close after 9 pm (that of course, we only noticed now), but there wasn’t a phone number or anything we could have done to let someone know we were still inside. Lucky for us, some people that lived in the city saw we were locked in and came to help. They didn’t have a key, of course, but they knew another way we would be able to go outside. Guess what? It was all the way up again. I really had had it at that point and I just wanted to sit down and not move anymore, but of course we couldn’t stay here.

Putting one foot in front of the other, we stumbled back up the hill again, towards the other side where we would find the car entrance to the hill. I was exhausted but finally we made it to the other side. We did see a beautiful sunset, but I was too annoyed to appreciate it much. Luckily Boyfriend took some pictures.

When we finally arrived at the opposite side, we saw another gate. I felt my hope sinking and my annoyance rising, for it looked closed as well. When we got closer, we discovered that it was, indeed, locked, but there was a door at the side that opened when we pushed it. We were back at the docks.

At this point, we were tired and hungry and the blisters on our feet were far from happy. We googled sushi restaurants nearby, found a place, stumbled towards it, and found it closed. I just wanted something quick at this point, it was getting late and I wasn’t in the mood for a fancy dinner. There were no fastfood restaurants in the area and after looking and looking we found a bar that had fish and chips and nachos. We went in, sat down and only then noticed why it was so loud inside: there was a pubquiz going on. All around us, drunken people speaking loudly and I was in no mood, so I left again. We decided to just go back to the apartment and order something.

Locked gate number three

We stumbled further and of course, the apartment was on a hill too. After what seemed like hours, we finally saw the gate to the area the apartment was in. I sighed in relief. Boyfriend punched in the code and then… nothing happened.

We had been given the code to open the car gate. The row of cars in front of the gate should have been clear enough. Apparently the car gate locked after some time. And we didn’t have the code for pedestrians. I could have cried at this point, it all felt so ridiculous. Our last day in Nice and it was such a disaster! We tried calling the landlord again but it was too late and the company had closed off. There was nothing we could do.

Boyfriend tried to climb the fence and he sat on top of it when a man walked towards us. Of course, this day wasn’t crappy enough and we had to get arrested for breaking and entering too. We tried to explain, Parlez vous anglais, I asked, do you speak English? And the man said Non.

In my best French I tried to explain while boyfriend still sat on the top of the fence. Nous louons un apartment mais nous n’avons pas le code… I stumbled and I have no idea if I made sense and if he understood. But he shrugged, typed in the code and opened the gate for us. I have never been more grateful.

Travel story: Partying Like it’s 1922

It was your typical rainy day in Dublin and after a day filled with adventures and walks, it was time for a party. Time to dress up! Feathers in my hair, a black flapper dress, silk gloves that reached my elbows and pearls adorning my neck. My dancing shoes were polished and shining. Boyfriend was wearing a vest, a bowtie and a bowler hat. We looked stunning. We looked ready for a party.

After a quick meal of cauliflower soup, we headed towards The Gate where the party was being held. Not sure what to expect, but dressed the part nonetheless, we went in. A man in a beautiful suit asked for our tickets and after him pronouncing my name very funnily, we were allowed in. We were not the first ones to arrive, luckily. Who arrives first at a party! The anticipation hung in the room, people were looking around, waiting for it to start. Whatever ‘it’ was, but enjoying themselves. We got ourselves a drink and looked at the people around us. Most were dressed like we were, some were dressed in weirdly modern clothing. More and more guests seemed to arrive, until it was full enough to have a good party. Until one man, who had been chatting away here and there, stepped into the spotlight:

 “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since”

And so it began. The party. The fabulous party that everyone wanted to visit, but not everyone was lucky enough to be invited. The party of the great Jay Gatsby.

Reading the Great Gatsby is one thing. You can follow the entire storyline, with all its little trips outside the main story, following characters that have their own problems to deal with, that don’t focus on the main plot. Seeing the movie is probably like that, but usally with bits and pieces cut out of it, but I must admit I haven’t seen it. Experiencing the story however, on one of Gatsby’s own parties, is a whole different thing.

For this is what we came for. A play of the Great Gatsby, but not your typical ‘sit in your chair, watch and shut your mouth’ kinda play, no, this was an experience. Dress the part. Join the party. Talk to the party guests. Learn how to dance the charleston and just enjoying yourself.

And we did. Thorougly. We danced. We laughed. We sometimes followed side charachters into side rooms to hear parts of their lives, but never missed the big parts that were going on in the big, beautiful hallway where the party was held.

Seeing shows and plays is one of our little traditions whenever we travel somewhere. Whether it’s the opera in Prague, a tragedy in Shakespeare’s own theatre, a flamenco show or a comedy where everything goes wrong, we always seek and usually find inspiring entertainment on our trips. When I heard of this one, I must admit I wasn’t immediately excited. I don’t enjoy audience participation, usually. But this was different. This was a play in a setting that fit the book absolutely perfectly and it was so well done. I had a marvelous time and I’m pretty sure all of the other guests at Gatsby’s party did too!

The story of the dog that lost its sock

It was January, 2019. About minus 25 degrees and the sun hadn’t completely risen yet. We were in the most northern part of Sweden: Lapland. A land of snow and ice, when the sun doesn’t rise in winter and doesn’t set in summer. My parents, friends and family had declared me crazy when I told them we were going there. Always complaining about the cold, staying inside and drinking hot cocoa while my sister was outside building snowmen, they couldn’t believe I wanted to go where it would be minus 25 degrees. I am not sure I believed it either.

That cold snowy morning, I sat down in a dogsled, not yet sure of what I was in for. Bundled in 5 layers of clothing, heat patches in my shoes and mittens, blankets on top of me, I sat in a sled that would be pulled by five amazing dogs: Bagheera, Tweety, Light, Ivy and Viper. Three dogsleds were in front of us, only one behind us. While I sat down, Boyfriend stood behind me, steering. Though there wasn’t much of that, because the dogs would run at their own speed, following the ones that ran before them. His main job was to stand on the brakes whenever the dogs would go too fast and to signal to the other sleds. My only job was to enjoy the ride and not freeze to death.

For unknown reason, Tweety was wearing little red socks. Maybe his feet would get to cold, maybe he was injured, I don’t know. But as he ran past the snowy trees, over valleys, over hills, he suddenly lost one of them. We were not sure why he was wearing them, but figured it must have been important. So we signaled to the people behind us that we would stop. Boyfriend jumped on the breaks while I tried to scramble out of the sled (which is harder than it sounds, as everything, including the sled and my shoes, were frozen) to get the sock. Just as I got out, though, boyfriend saw that it was just behind him, if only he reached for it. So he did, but then, accidentaly, stepped off the brakes. Immediately the dogs felt that whatever was holding them back was lifted, so they made a run for it. He mumbled Oh shit, before running after it. I stood frozen for a few seconds, not sure what to do. The people in the sled behind us weren’t sure what was happening, but they saw the dogs taking off without us, and then us running after it. It must have been a hilarious sight!

Anyhoo, by this time, the sleds that were in front of us had noticed that they missed a few sleds, so they had stopped as well. Our dogs literally ran into the people in front of us, knocking them over in a tangled mess of dogs, sled equipment and one unfortunate tourist. Luckily, nobody was harmed, though we felt really silly running after the dogs, especially since they were about 61028134 times faster than we were. When we finally caught up with our dogs again, our guide looked at us, shook his head and asked where we had left the sock. Only then we realized, in all the confusion, we had still left it behind in the snow…