Everybody warned me about hitchhiking in the South of France.
“People only care about money here. No one wants to help others.”
“Once I waited for two days. You can’t do it.”
I’ve had around 150 rides in over 20 countries. Everywhere I go people have some reason or another why hitchhiking is dangerous or impossible. They’re always wrong, the only problems I’ve ever had is due to waiting locations – no place for cars to stop, little vision, cars going too fast etc. Sometimes, very rarely, this negativity affects me. Yesterday was one of those days. I was sleep deprived, alone and feeling, completely unreasonably, sorry for myself so I went to the train station instead of the highway.
“How much to Marseille?”
“Thirty or fort . . .”
“That’s ok thanks.”
Guess it’s not going to be one of those days. I got a ticket to the edge of town for €2 instead. I found a good spot at a highway on-ramp and stuck my thumb out. 7 minutes.
He was one of those strange drivers who doesn’t wanna talk at all. He asked me where I wanted to go and that was it. I would have slept the whole way but the radio was yelling out factory accident techno. He dropped me at the highway exit to marseille, about 30km out. There I found a decent spot and stuck my thumb out. 7 minutes, again.
The car was ancient. The upholstery was peeling and flaking like an English sunburn, the seats sank alarmingly low and backwards and there was a total of zero electronic devices inside. It wasn’t a shitty bomb, just a really, really old car. What an eccentric guy, I wonder what he does.
“How do you say? Chief editor? Editor chief? . . . I’m an editor at the regional newspaper here.”
Well that’s cool.
He told me everything he thought about Marseille’s multiculturalism, Olivier Giroud and the French antiques market. I told him about couchsurfing, hitchhiking and how aboriginal artists are taken advantage of by squeaky art dealers. He dropped me at his office, I got a free newspaper and I caught a metro to the centre of town.
Two rides, a total of 14 minutes waiting and 196km achieved in two and a half hours. That’s potentially the easiest day of hitchhiking I’ve ever had*.
I had arranged to meet a couchsurfer that afternoon. On the way to his house I walked through the Noailles markets, a traditionally multicultural bazaary affair. A crowd of people were jostling around a giant steel vat. Underneath their bobbling heads a lanky Algerian guy was crouched with a funnel and a line of plastic bottles. He was distributing the bottles back to the bobble heads full of a thick milky liquid.
“Hey what’s going on?” I asked the crowd in some pretty putrid french.
“Hey, are you Italian?” The one armed guy answered.
“What? No. I’m Australian.”
“Oh ok. This is fermented milk. Want some?”
“Yeah I do.”
“You got a bottle?”
I skulled what was left of my water and handed it over.
It’s thick but drinkable, like a sour yoghurt from Turkey or Eastern Europe. It’s tastes healthy and strong. I like it.
Marseille is famous for Bouillabaisse, a Fish soup cooked with root vegetables and served with rouille, an olive oil and saffron mayo, on bread. There are restaurants selling it everywhere. Of course I was keen to get some but Seb told me there are only really two places to get it – the others only serve shit or inauthentic versions. But, he says, it will cost me at least €50 to get the good stuff*.
“Well what’s money for anyway. Wanna come with me?”
“Sorry, I don’t like fish.”
I didn’t really feel like washing away €50 on my own so that’s that I guess. This was my substitute meal.
Marseille has been multicultural for centuries and the influence of North Africa on the region has been extensive. Still, you would rarely see something like this on a list of Marseille foods to try. It’s funny how the idea of being traditional is distributed. Sometimes I think it’s just about timing and luck.
I went to the most acclaimed pasties service in Marseille for lunch dessert. This is what was recommended.
And I said I was going to eat only carrots in Europe. Ha.
I studied journalism at Uni. That might sound surprising because of the state of my spelling and grammar but you’re just going to have to believe me. Before I left Australia I was feeling dispassionate about a future in journalism. I was unengaged in national politics, dismissive of local media productions and worried about cash flows but since I’ve been travelling I’m now more engaged and excited in journalism than ever. This is mostly thanks to people like Seb. One thing I’ve really enjoyed throughout this trip is talking to locals about their country, culture and government. Do they like their government? Do they want change? Are young people engaged, what do they want? I’ve often felt like I’m in an interview, questioning people like I’m on a job but it’s felt completely natural and I’ve always been curious and engaged. I think this is mostly because the people I’ve talked to, like Seb, have been passionate themselves. Now my comprehensive rejection of a future in journalism seems less clear.
I have the worst luck.
23/06/14: I arrive in split for crucial Croatia Mexico game. Mexico wins 3-1 and Croatia are eliminated.
24/06/14: I leave split for Italy. I watch the game on a ferry full of Italians. Italy loose 1-0 to Uruguay
04/07/14: I arrive in marseille specifically to watch the France Germany quarter final. France loose 1-0.
*only includes hitchhiking I’ve done on my own. Hitchhiking with one boy and one girl is usually that easy.
*This isn’t unsual or a rip off. The fish traditionally used in the dish, red rascasse, sea robin and European conger, are rare and expensive.