With a Scotsman's advice on how to
put the accent on the hitch
LAST week, I returned from a
trip to Rome. I was with a friend, and we covered more than 3,000 miles at a total cost of about £18 each, including British and foreign money.
We could have done it on much less, but to tell the truth, we must have been the thirstiest pilgrims since Belloc set out on his journey. We took ten days to reach Rome from Edinburgh, which wasn't too had as we chose the wrong road over the Alps and had to walk most of the way over the passes.
We returned in another ten days, but in that time we had a day and a half in a small Swiss town and a day in London.
However, as regards advice, there are a few basic points to be observed :
It is best to stand at a certain point and thumb a Lift: especially at the top, of a steep hill where cars and lorries have to change gear, or at the other side of a roundabout. Never thumb while you are marching along, unless you are searching for a strategic position, or are just fed up standing at the one point.
But as regards the latter, patience is a great virtue to the hitch-hiker. We had to thumb for five hours one day before we got a lift — but we travelled over 200 miles when we did get that lift.
Wear some conspicuous article of
dress—a kilt, if possible. Sassenachs will no doubt shudder at the prospect—but the fact remains that we got our best lifts solely because we were wearing kilts. And anyway, the kilt is so designed that knobbly knees remain hidden, whereas shorts do anything but that.
Some people find Norwegian headgear a big help, and the brighter the better.
There is a third alternative—if you have the courage. Near Genoa, we passed a solitary hitch-hiker—with red sunburned face and straw hat— frantically waving a Union Jack at every car which passed. He didn't appear to be having much success as we passed, and yet he had reached Genoa.
Some hitch-hikers paint or sew Union Jacks on the back of the packs, but I don't know with what success.
Incidentally, we had the Holy Year badge painted on our own packs, but it was no help to us. Not until we reached Lyons did anybody ask us if we were going to Rome, but then this may be explained away by the fact that everywhere on the continent, people labour under the delusion that no Scotsman is a Catholic.
• rHE choice of route is very portant for anybody in a hurry to reach Rome. We went from Calais to Arras, St. Quentin, Rheims, Dijon, Lyons, Grenoble, Briancon, Turin, Bologna, Florence, Siena, Rome.
This is not advisable as it is difficult to hitch over the mountain passes. The ideal method is probably to go to Paris and then get on the main road (N.7) to Lyons and Nice, and enter Italy along the coast.
However. there is a reasonable amount of traffic from Calais, via Arras, St. Quentin, Reims, St. Dialer, Dijon, Lyons. Then one is on the aforementioned road to the coast. From Nice the road goes straight to Rome, via Genoa.
Hitch-hiking in Switzerland is very easy, even though motorists there have been learned to give no lifts— since somebody was murdered in this way. as far as I could gather.
The best way between Switzerland and Italy seems to he the Simplon Tunnel, but I can give no details, as we came back from Rome via Genoa. Milan, Chiavenna. From there we took a bus across the pass to Spliigen and then walked to Thusis, fifteen miles away. This we could afford to do as we had travelled from Rome to Chiavenna in two days, and were well ahead of schedule.
Good maps are important. and there is an excellent map of all French main roads, issued by Michelin—" Les grander routes "which cost 100 francs in France (about 2s.) or 3s. 6d. in Great Britain. Swiss maps are very dear, but as Switzerland is such a small country. they can he dispensed with. However a good knowledge of your projected route across this country would then be very desirable.
Italian maps are very dear, but that is not surprising since Italy is a very dear country in which to live or even to visit. We found Switzerland was cheaper.
There is an excellent road map 1 : 650,000—of all Italy which, although printed on both sides of the paper, costs 500 lire (about 6s.). Once again, however, this can be dispensed with if the coastal road is followed all the way.
In Italy, too. the famous autostrada should be avoided by hitchhikers, since only cars and lorries are allowed thereon. Bicycles and pedestrians are definitely not allowed —and anyway, strange things happen
on the autostrada. We had our windscreen completely smashed by a well-aimed bottle hurled from a passing vehicle. Our driver was very angry. and yet not too surprised, for he had a revolver in the dashboard compartment.
* * *
THEN again, don't hitch-hike in threes or fours. It is just impossible, unless it be a party of girls.
Girls, incidentally, have no trouble in hitching on the continent— though 1 have met some who will only accept a lift if they outnumber the male occupants of the car by about two to one.
Hitching singly is very easy, as most lorry drivers are only too pleased to have company. However, one can't enjoy a beer by oneself.
Hitching in pairs can be good fun. and thuugh a trifle slower in getting lifts, it usually means good lifts.
You see. there is only room for one man and rucksack in a lorry cabin, but the back seat of a car can hold two in comfort; and a good lift in a car is better than three or four lifts in a lorry.
Also, travelling alone, one gets many local lifts of about ten miles. So that, after walking out of town to a good strategic spot in the country, one gets a short lift to the next town and one has to start walking out to a good strategic spot in the country again, etc.. etc. A great deal of time can he saved by taking a bus or tram to the outskirts of each town. But make sure it is the right bus or tram. Here a knowledge of the language is a great help, but alternatively dile could always learn off a sentence like: " Is there a bus or tram which will take me to the outskirts of town in the direction of . . .?
Don't rely on youth hostels. Take a tent so that you can camp wherever your last lift drops you—which is usually miles from any hostel.
And the best way to find a good camping site is to retire to a cafe when it gets too dark for hitching. and after a couple of drinks ask if there is a suitable site for pitching a tent. Many French villages have a site set aside for this purpose.
AS regards food, anybody in Italy can supply pasta, which is very filling and very inexpen
sive. Otherwise, the sky's the limit for a real meal.
In France, anybody who fancies a good meal at a reasonable charge should try Les Routiers which are clearly marked by a painted tyre outside each cafe.
However, a good hitch-hiker has no time for regular meals. but carries an aluminium water bottle holding a litre of wine. and has a loaf slung horizontally across the back of the rucksack and lots of cheese and chocolate.
British chocolate is advisable, since chocolate is very, very dear on the Continent. (I saw a 1,41b. bar of Rowntree's going for 2s.)
If one travels with a companion. one bottle can always be filled with water—useful for washing and shaving in the mornings. It is advisable to shave. as drivers will not pick up anybody who remotely resembles a desperado.
Finally, always stick ao main roads, even in this country where hitching is so easy. Avoid hitching on a Sunday on the Continent and avoid hitching on a Saturday and Sunday in this country. (This fiveday week !) Don't expect lifts from British or Belgian tourists. They are usually packed into their cars like sardines. or else they don't like to see their tel having a cheap holiday while they arc paying an extortionate price for very poor quality petrol.
Thumb everything that comes along. Make it obvious that you want a lift—don't just give an embarrassed look to the driver ; and thumb him in ample time to let him pull up without standing on his brakes.
And, if I may say "finally" again, it is a good idea to thumb to a large town like Lille on the way hack. It is then possible to spend a whole morning shopping, have a mid-day meal and. for a cost of 8s., get the 13.20 train to Calais in time for the boat.