My aim is to travel from the UK to Brisbane for one of my best friends' wedding. Plane travel is so environmentally damaging so I am looking for another way. I also think that by travelling over land and sea I will be able to understand our world better as I will connect with the people and landscapes and not just look at the departure board in the airport. Any tips gratefully received!! Departure date 1st September.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Hitching to St Chartier

I haven't felt like travelling much since returning from Brisbane but when my friend Tabitha (the fiddler) suggested hitching and busking our way to the St Chartier folk festival in the middle of France, there was no way this budding accordionist and lover of free (both carbon and money) travel could resist.

With barely any practice we set up on the South Bank in London with our nearly matching red felt hats and colourful clothes to see who would enjoy our music. Somehow we managed to sound half decent as the rain fell and the tourists and Londoners huddled with us under the bridge. A couple danced as we played the Amelie Waltz, and another lady danced alone entranced by what she called our 'mysterious sounding' music - our favourite traditional tunes from around the globe. So with a few pounds in our pocket we began in East London with our thumbs out and spirits high.

After a slow start, Ken got us underway and through the Blackwall Tunnel. He was followed swiftly by Simon and then Billy the Trucker who deposited us in Dover. A short ferry and no lift later (Billy was stuck on the ferry behind) we stood in the dusk in Calais on a roundabout of lavender thinking our luck had run out, but then Jean-Michael and Paul turned up and squashed us and our bags in the back of their three-door Peugeot and took us all the way to Paris at top-speed. Tabitha's fluency and my bold attempts at French kept the conversation going and soon we were dumped in the suburbs at midnight. Sticking to our ideals for travelling cheap and easy we found a comfy mound in a park and lay down to sleep.

After a day in Paris busking we had enough for a couple of coffees each and took the RER train to the end of the line in the direction of the south-west (it seemed a sensible way as any to get going again) and were soon in Dourdan (and nearly left on the train as it ran to the depot). Again it was about midnight but we were lucky to find a spooky canal and misty park to put up the tent. I was a bit freaked out and panicy but Tabitha took charge and we had a great night's sleep.

The next day was easy with ride after ride (after relaxed coffees and pain au chocolate) as we barely waited for twenty minutes between hitches and soon found ourselves in Chateau-Roux. Here we treated ourselves to an expensive meal, but it was well worth it and then, amused at the contradiction, took to the street again to find a spot to sleep. It was a bit harder this evening but we soon found a cosy bush near some old derelict buildings and shared the night with what we thought may have been a Marmot (mountain squirrel type thing). Rainfall at 6am woke us up and we trudged to the nearest cafe for coffee and advice on how to reach St Chartier (which so far no one in France seems to have heard of!).

Our final lift came at 8am and we were at the festival by nine and pitched our tent before the rain fell. The morning was spent playing music again. I have never played so much every day and was even starting to think I sounded ok. Fiddle and accordion were soon joined by other musicians on the guitar, bass, drum and clarinet and soon had our own little session going under the relative dry of a gazebo.

And so the festival continued with music, music, music. I played as much as I could and watched some amazing musicians, especially in the village bar. We danced to Breton music on a huge sprung dance floor under the shadow of the marvellous Chateau, and I was spun around and instructed by many wonderful French men. Traditional music and new tunes were spinning around in my head as I watched, played, hummed or talked music for 6 days! A truly wonderful, simple, real festival with a fabulous friendly vibe and I will definately be back...Maybe by bike next time.....

Not sure what the general consensus is on the eco-impacts of hitching. In my opinion more people should do it, it is fun and you meet such a bunch of characters. And as the journey is happening anyway, it makes my carbon footprint for the journey nothing! How could I do anything else!

p.s picture is me playing my accordion on the Trans-Siberian railway...


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