At the visitor’s center in the small French town of Saint-Vallier-sur-Rhône, we asked the director, our new British friend Hillary what to do. We had taken the train from Lyon earlier that morning, with the intention of continuing by bus to the tiny burg of Hauterives, to visit Ferdinand Cheval‘s “Ideal Palace.” That was the plan . . . until we found out that the buses were really few and far between. The next bus would be along in 4 hours. A taxi was a logical second choice, but they’re hard to come by, and would be on the super high side of pricey. We were determined to see the Palace—hence our dilemma.
Cheryl said to Hillary, “What about hitchhiking? Is it safe?”
Hillary’s response was immediate, “Yes, it’s very safe . . . for you.!” (She didn’t come right out and say it, but apparently we looked somewhat stable that day.) Within minutes, Hillary was in the back room scrounging a piece of cardboard to use for a sign. She was kind enough to even print it for us with her bold marker to make sure we had the spelling right—one side for the destination, and one for the return trip. We were set. She then told us how to get to the round-about on the outer edge of town where people would be driving our direction, and we were on our way. We walked to a shady spot under a tree at the side of the road. Our choice even had a wide space for easy pull-off.
The first time we hitchhiked together was in 1970 in Ohio. The last time was 1972 in France. What a coincidence! There we were on the road again in France 40 years later. However, instead of merely sticking our thumbs out, we were sporting that fancy new sign, which made us feel like we had at least made some progress over the years.
We thought we had a pretty good shot at making this scheme happen, since: local people knew the transportation problem of getting to the Palace, and therefore would consider our request legit; we were two, rather than a lone drifter; and as we mentioned before, we qualify for the senior hitchhiker’s discount. So there we stood, with smiles on and a lighthearted, lovable look, waiting for our first ride.
After about 50 cars and 15 minutes, a black Citroën pulled over. It was Brigitte, and she was headed for work in the very town of Hauterives. Score! She was delightful as we tried to talk despite some serious language problems. That didn’t stop us though. We had a few good laughs, and were delivered almost to the very doorstep of the beloved Palace. Not a bad start! As a gesture of solidarity, we had lunch at Le Palais des Glaces, the restaurant where she works. It was fun to see her again, as if we were old friends. After lunch, we joked with her that it was time to go, so she’d better fetch the car. Another laugh.
About 2 that afternoon, we had located a good shady spot on the road out of town. Another 50 cars and 15 minutes went by, when a white van that looked like a bread truck stopped dead in the middle of the road. Guillaume, said he wasn’t going that far, but we accepted the partial ride anyway. He told us that he was driving the truck because he owns a restaurant and catering service called Les G’s. After a busy summer, he was off to meet a friend who was accompanying him to the shore for a few days. As it turns out, we had such a good time talking that he decided to take us all the way back to Saint-Vallier-sur-Rhône, leaving his friend waiting a bit longer for their lunch together somewhere midway. What a nice guy!
We made it back to the train station just minutes before departure time, as if we had been part of some precisely scheduled professional tour group. The moral of this story is: where there’s a “Will” (Guillaume in French means William) there’s a way to overcome any “Hill-ary” that may be blocking your path—all you have to do is find some nice people who will help you “Brig-itte” to your desired destination! Merci! Merci! Merci!
P.S. Stay tuned for our next issue called “The Postman from Hauterives,” to read the rest of the story.
Note: You may be interested in some of our other stories from our time in France.