Vosges - The train and day 1
Finally the big day arrived, I would leave to the Vosges. I carried about 15 kg of luggage, including food for a week, my petrol stove, and extra gas. I also carried spare warm and waterproof clothes and gaiters to prevent snow from getting in my shoes. Around 17:45 I took the bus to Eindhoven and then the train to Arnhem. There I would take the night train to Switzerland. It turned out I had been a bit too cautious, as I arrived 2,5 hours too early. The station was mostly deserted, but there was an indoor waiting area to sit down. Every 5 minutes the same message was shouted over the speakers. It mentioned a train going all the way from the Netherlands to Moscow, one day I will take that.
My train wasn't on the schedule and the tickets were very unclear. I wasn't the only one confused, because someone was already explaining the exact same thing to another passenger. I was supposed to get on at platform "W". In the distance I saw "G" and on the horizon "H", I couldn't image the platform running all the way to W. It did and eventually the train arrived. The front end consisted of decorated carts with pretty women waiting to help the passengers and carrying their luggage. A while later, in the dark, was my wagon. It looked more like a freight waggon and there was an old guy that only spoke German. He asked for my passport and then grumbled 175, he didn't say anything else. My bunk bed actually wasn't that bad. Now my adventure would really start. There would be a wake up service in the morning.
While I was still half asleep three men barged in screaming PASSPORT PASSPORT!! Confused by all the action I didn't know what to say. When they tapped my arm for the third time I told them I had already given them my passport. Simultaneously they screamed STUDENT CARD, STUDENT CARD. Apparently last night in the dark I had accidently given them my student card instead of my European ID card. After checking it for literally 5 minutes with a loupe I got it back. So far the wake up service.
A few hours later we arrived in Basel, Switzerland. From there I wanted to take the train to Mulhouse in France. I already knew there were no trains crossing the border, so took the tram as far as possible. From there I needed to walk over the border into France, where I could take a second train. While passing customs, an officer walked up to me and asked if I carried more than 10.000 euros or cocaine. Surprisingly I didn't. Still I was asked to come inside, where a team of 4 people searched me and all my luggage. They only forgot to check half of the pockets in my jacket and the top of my back pack. The guy also asked if I was in the military because some of my stuff had a camo print. The fact that I studied chemistry probably also didn't help. He did like the Berghaus gaiters I carried. When they finished they just spread out without saying anything. I asked if it was OK for me to leave, to which they replied 'yes' even though it was very clear they didn't trust me.
The part of town where the train station would be lay just outside of my maps. After an hour of searching I still hadn't found it and everyone I asked for directions didn't speak English. Therefore I decided to just walk to Mulhouse, after all it was only 20 km and I would probably pass a bus stop. During this vacation it wouldn't really matter where or how far I would walk. I walked north and noticed the highway to Mulhouse was going in the same direction. After about 7 kilometers I sat down for a break when a police car stopped. I thought, great, first the train conductors, then the custom officers, and now this. The men asked if I was fine. I said I was and asked if I was going in the direction of Mulhouse. He seemed to be thinking so I said 'roughly, for walking' to which he replied 'yes'. A few hours laters I met a forester who told me Mulhouse was about 40 km in the other direction. I guess the police officer either hadn't understood me or lied because he thought I looked suspicious.
I started walking back and around the time I reached the spot where I had started this morning a car stopped. The driver said he had seen me in the morning and asked what was going on. I explained what had happened and he offered me a ride, as he needed to go to Mulhouse anyway. We were talking about hiking and he told me to be careful in the Vosges, as it could get really cold in winter. In Mulhouse I didn't' have any problems taking the bus to Thann and finding the GR5 walking route. Another police car passed so I quickly walked into the forest.
I quickly went in search for a place to sleep. This was the first time I was alone in a forest at night and it would also be my first time sleeping there alone. It definitely was an interesting feeling, but not as scary as one might think. When I had found a half decent spot (there were only slopes) I called home. While doing so I saw someone shine a flashlight, that person probably lived in one of the houses I had passed. I tried to end the call as soon as possible. To prevent myself from sliding down the slope I pitched my bivy bag against a fallen tree. I had intended to start my hike slowly so my feet and back could get used to hiking. Instead, I had already walked 30 km today and my feet had blisters, fortunately my back felt fine.