after the madness of the apero metro party, we didn't sleep a wink. instead, we all went to sebastiano's house at 3 am, where he cooked up some more pasta for us, like a good italian boy :) i only hung out with sebastiano about five times throughout my two week stay in paris, but he was so sincere and charming and open from the moment we met, that the times that followed felt more like being with a dear friend than with a foreign stranger. people like him are so rare and wonderful to stumble upon. i was keenly aware of this in those last hours at his house with the girls. we ate and smoked and shared secrets in his simple room. nodding off to pink floyd until the metros reopened at 6 am. then we said goodbye, went back to chloe's apartment in montmarte, repacked, and said another goodbye--just in time to meet our carpool driver on the other side of the city.
noelle and i set up this carpool ride through a website called blablacar.com. for sunday morning, there were 3 drivers going to amsterdam, all asking about 30 euros each. so we picked one at random and contacted him. it was a french guy who spoke very little english. while we were on the phone, sorting out a time and place to meet, he raised his voice with me out of frustration because i couldn't understand him. i had a bad first impression of this guy, but i ignored my intuition because i thought this was our cheapest, safest option. bad stefanie!
we met up with this guy at 8 am. he didn't look at all how i imagined on the phone. something about his tone made me think he'd be old and fat, but he was relatively young and thin. noelle and i piled our bags into his old van, feeling so exhausted from the night before. he then told us we would have to wait an hour for two more people who were supposed to ride along with us to amsterdam. he parked the van and went to a cafe, while noelle and i slept in the backseat. an hour later, he woke us up to tell us the train that the people were coming in on would be delayed another hour. so we slept some more.
finally (after over two hours of waiting to begin the trip) our driver came back with two middle-aged turkish guys. noelle and i woke up long enough to let the men crawl past us to the very back seat of the van, before passing out again. there were so many little red flags in the situation that would've made us uncomfortable had we been conscious enough to digest them. we might've not continued on with the ride had we not been too damn tired to care about anything but the insides of our eyelids...
when we woke up again, we were suddenly at a gas station off a highway outside of paris. the driver asked us to pay up our carpool money right then, so he could use it for gas. so i gave him 60 euros--30 euros for each of us. he counted the money then looked at me and asked for "the rest of it"... he suddenly said that he needed 60 euros each. we were still half-asleep and very confused. "you mean 60 for both, right? your ad on the website said 30 euros each." the man immediately got angry and called us crazy for thinking we could possibly get to amsterdam for 30 (although the other drivers listed were also asking 30). he said he does this all the time and that it's always been 60 each. we told him we couldn't afford to pay that much. he tried dropping the price to 50 euros, but noelle and i literally just had enough cash for the expected price. we couldn't pay more even if we wanted to. the man refused to let us come along for any less and said that he would drive us back to paris (although it wouldn't have cost him anything to overlook the miscommunication and let us go to amsterdam for 30). and by that time, it was almost noon, so the other two blablacar options had long passed.
as one final attempt to prove to him we weren't crazy and that it really did say 30 euros online, we asked him to pull up the website on a smart phone. he pulled up an entirely different website, which said he was asking 38 euros. he then started randomly demanding 38 and he swore that THAT is the number we agreed to on the phone, although we never even talked about the price on the phone. what happened to 60? what happened to no less than 50 each?
when this random new price emerged, we KNEW that he was trying to scam us and that the situation was past the point of fixing. it wasn't ever a miscommunication. i got the feeling that this guy does this all the time---schedules carpools with poor foreigners, waits until they're out of the city and vulnerable to demand double the money, so that they have no choice but to pay. luckily, we're not complete suckers.
he then began accusing US of scamming HIM. he called us bad girls, and said he didn't want bad girls in his car. so he told us to get out right then and there. the turkish guys in the backseat (who spoke zero english) began trying to reason with him in loud, fast-paced french. so there we were, tired little noelle and i, sandwiched in a van between men yelling and cursing in french about us. at that point, my patience hit its limit. i didn't want to be anywhere near the absurd hostility that was clearly building. so in the midst of this argument, noelle and i turned to each other and said, "fuck this. let's hitchhike."
hitchhiking is obviously looked way down upon in the united states, but it's a lot safer and more acceptable in europe. also, i hitchhiked to work every day in the virgin islands and i'm still alive! granted, st thomas is a tiny island and i never needed to ride very far, but those daily little hitchhiking adventures gave me confidence in the act and provided good practice for what i was about to experience...
so we got our bags out of that Bad Vibe Van and didn't look back. noelle went straight to the back of the gas station to find cardboard for a sign. i went inside to buy us lunch and drinks. i noticed, as i absent-mindedly started picking up different foods i couldn't read and putting them back, that my hands were almost shaking too much to hold anything. i couldn't believe that had just happened... to go from sleeping and feeling secure to being dumped on the side of a highway in a foreign country... quite an odd adrenaline rush.
before i had a chance to choose anything, noelle called for me to come back outside. Bad Vibe Van had returned. the turkish guys hopped out with money in their open palms. it was an attempt to tell us that they wanted to pay the difference to the driver for us to come along. so because he was now insisting on 38 euros and we refused to pay more than 30, the turkish men wanted to pay the 8 each so that we wouldn't be left alone there.
we tried to explain to them that no amount of money would make us feel safe enough to get back in that van, but they didn't understand. and they were overly insistent on us agreeing, talking loudly all the while. as if saying the same thing at a higher volume would help us understand. as if the problem was our hearing, not the fact that we don't speak french...
suddenly, a handsome man appeared by my side out of nowhere and asked in perfect english, "is there a problem?" WHY YES, YES THERE IS. he was wearing motorcycle gear, and for a split second i got the impression he was some sort of authority figure, like a cop, but not? either way, i immediately felt safe.
this knight in shining armor heard out both sides of our situation. he, too, thought it was strange and that we'd be safer not going anywhere with these hostile people. he translated that we wanted them to leave us alone, and they finally left.
at that time, we'd caused such a scene that the gas station clerks came out to ask what happened. our knight translated the story to them, because for some reason, nobody at this place outside of paris spoke any english. apart from our knight, of course. what are the odds?! he appeared just in time to save us.
when we told him we were just going to hitchhike to amsterdam, he said that he was going there too but unfortunately couldn't take us because, well, he was on a motorcycle. he then told the clerks that we were hitchhiking north and they agreed to ask incoming customers if they were going our way. after our french knight rode off, i went back inside to get food. when i got to the counter to pay, the clerk waved his hand in a way that said i didn't have to pay for it. "what?? are you sure?" he said it was free! and gestured for me to get more drinks, too. i was so overwhelmed by the kindness that i teared up as i thanked him over and over again.
noelle and i posted up near the entrance of the gas station with our bags, free meals, and cardboard signs. we felt surprisingly happy and hopeful in that moment. because although we had just experienced a bad situation, the kindness we were currently being showed completely trumped that. we were ready for more kindness. we were ready for this adventure.
we figured hitchhiking would be fun! and not to mention, FREE. we realized this was actually the perfect situation. we wouldn't have chosen to hitchhike on our own, because we weren't sure it'd be safe enough for us without the boys. but now that we were basically forced into the situation, we mustered up the courage and it felt great. and we were in the perfect hitching location! when hitching, it's best to be near a highway (because you know everyone passing by is going the direction you need), but not ON the highway (because it's illegal and unsafe). gas stations on the highway are the ideal place to hitch from and we were at the perfect one! and we got a free ride to it! had we decided to hitchhike from the get-go, it would've been pretty difficult for us to get to a highway gas station from the center of paris.
all these little things had come together to bring us there in that moment. even though they didn't feel so positive at the time, it all fell together into the best possible situation. we were seriously grateful.
we barely got done finishing our free meals when a young man pulled up in a white van and offered to take us to brussels... for 20 euros each. we knew brussels was on the way to amsterdam, so we thought about it for a second. but we had hardly been sitting there for 20 minutes, and we knew we could catch a ride for free. so we told him no thanks.
about 10 minutes later, the same man came back around and said, "forget it, you can come. for free!" so we said goodbye to the gas station clerks. the clerks gave us their phone numbers and email addresses, and even wrote down the man's license plate number, so that we'd be safe. and then we rode with this guy 3 hours north into belgium.
he took us to a train station on the outskirts of brussels, because he suggested that would be the safest/easiest way to get to amsterdam from there. we went into the train station and weighed our options. tickets from brussels to amsterdam were 25 euros each. we thought about the convenience of it, of getting to amsterdam within an hour or so. but it was only 3:30 pm, and we still had 7 hours of daylight left. now that we realized how easy hitchhiking was, we decided to stick with it. i was itching to get back out on the road.
so noelle and i got on the internet for a moment to let our gypsy tribe know we had at least made it to brussels. then we started making our way toward the highway. after a bit of walking, we got directions from some nice belgians and found a prime spot near a highway heading north. noelle and i dropped our bags in the grass, hooked up my ipod to her portable speakers, and started holding up our signs in the sunshine of that sunday afternoon.
right away we started getting good vibes. the weather was perfect. the music was uplifting. and everyone driving by us smiled and wished us luck. there was this general feeling that the universe was on our side and wanted us to succeed. we immediately had a couple ride offers, but they weren't taking us far enough down the way to leave us in a good spot. so we waited a little longer, feeling absolutely euphoric about where we were, the kindness we were encountering, and the adventure that was sure to come.
soon enough, we got a ride from a guy who took us about 30 minutes on the highway, to another connecting highway which we needed (but didn't know we needed until him) to get straight to amsterdam. he gave us advice the whole ride there and then dropped us off at a rest area of sorts.
so we sat and changed our signs to include antwerpen and rotterdam, both closer cities on the way to amsterdam. we tried holding them up near the highway there and then quickly realized that cars were driving by too fast to help. so we then resorted to talking to the people who drove in to the rest area.
noelle found a guy who said he couldn't take us from there, because his car was full with stuff, but he said if we somehow made it to rotterdam that he could take us into amsterdam from there. within about 5 minutes of speaking with that guy, another guy pulled up who said he could take us to rotterdam. we introduced the two guys to each other, they talked in dutch for a bit, and set up the perfect plan. one guy would take us to a specific gas station where the other guy would pick us up and take us straight to amsterdam... SCORE!
so after two rides with very nice dutch guys, we arrived at scarlett's doorstep in amsterdam feeling happy and accomplished and stress free. the guys from our last ride even carried our bags into the building for us... and scarlett had dinner waiting on the table. we felt unbelievably lucky and grateful.
so the entire situation became worlds more rewarding, thanks to the small, seemingly negative confrontation that morning. instead of riding 5 hours into amsterdam with that sketchy french guy for 30 euros a piece, we spent the entire day soaking up the kindness of strangers from 3 different countries, and it was all COMPLETELY FREE. we got free food, free advice, free rides, and so many more wonderful interactions. and yanno what, we wouldn't mind doing it all over again ;)