Vosges - The train and day 1
Finally the big day arrived, I would leave to the Vosges. I carried about 15 kg of gear, 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. I had been a bit too cautious and arrived 2,5 hours too early. The station was mostly deserted, but there was an indoor waiting area to hide from the cold. Every 5 minutes the same schedule was repeated 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 mentioned schedule and my tickets weren't entirely unclear about where my trained would leave. I wasn't the only one confused, because someone was already explaining the 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 welcoming the passengers and men waiting to carry luggage. Much farther, in the dark, was my wagon. It looked more like a freight waggon and there was only one 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 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 a 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. I said I didn't but was still asked to come inside, where a team of 4 people searched me and all my luggage. They 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 also didn't help. 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. I walked north and saw the highway to Mulhouse going in the same direction. After a few 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 right direction to reach 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 or had lied because he thought I looked suspicious.
After walking back to the station where I had started that morning a car stopped. The driver said he had seen me in the morning and asked what I was doing. I explained what had happened and he offered me a ride. We were talking about hiking and he told me to be careful in the Vosges, as it could get really cold in winter. Once in Mulhouse I took the bus to Thann and quickly found the GR5 walking route. Another police car passed so I quickly walked into the forest.
I went in search for a place to sleep. To prevent myself from sliding down the slope I pitched my bivy bag against a fallen tree. This would be my first time sleeping alone in a forest. It definitely was an interesting experience, but not as scary as one might think. While calling home I noticed someone with a flashlight, that person probably lived in one of the houses I had passed. I quickly ended the call.
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.