Travels in Europe: Day One – London to Cologne

Posted: August 9, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

August 8th

Trying to navigate London during the commuter hours is never an entirely pleasant experience. But this morning isn’t the worst time I’ve had catching the tube. It’s awash with people who are all lost in their own individual orbits of their morning routines. And like planets in space, they avoid mid-tube change collisions blindly, with easy of practice while I dip and dodge and apologies profusely for interrupting this cosmic dance. Being in their own worlds means they don’t notice the moth trapped on the jubilee line train, futilely bumping along the strip lights of the carriage until it exhausts itself. Perhaps it’s the soul of morning friendliness which has clearly escaped from those in the carriage.

Boarding the Eurostar is quite like being at an airport but people in the queues don’t take the security as seriously, much to the exasperation of the station staff who are constantly barking out orders for people to remove their belts. I have no sympathy for the idiots in front of me who, with stinking hangovers, take an age of the earth to get all the spare change from where they have secreted it on their person. My bra, it seems, is an object of suspicion which sets off the security gate, and the little pads they search you with. The trials of being a busty woman.

The train departs on time, there’s a first. Cloud has descended on the countryside like a cataract, blurring the lines of churches, villages and fields into impressionist smudges. I’m lucky enough to get two seats to myself, but this is countered by the fact that I am surrounded by Belgian school kids on a trip. To deal with their constant chatter the man across the aisle falls asleep as soon as the train starts and fills the carriage with contented snoring.

We emerge from the channel tunnel to an austere landscape of concrete, barbed wire, endless empty train track and car parks before breaking the zone of immigration to the French countryside. Undulating, patches of brown, green and yellow are lent a gloomy air by the low thick cloud. The only real difference between here and home are the design of the electricity pylons.

Our escape from the coast is an escape from the cloud, sunlight adds softness to the edges of the land which is incredibly flat, so unlike the constant modulations of Yorkshire. Village churches are squat, hunkered down in defence position, with spires that twist like witches hats.

After a stand off in the seat in front where a stubborn Brit and and unyielding Belgian fight over who gets the double booked seat, I offer the spare place next to me and a now jolly Belgian in the brightest canary yellow trousers I have ever seen.

Spending two hours in Brussels Midi train station is a little bit like being trapped in a particularly difficult computer game. I’m not entirely sure what tasks I need to complete to escape this dungeon level and get stuck in a loop of eateries. The successful gamer eventually gets a drink and food, although do not make the error of getting fries without a drink because the penalty is an expensive smoothie.

One particularly interesting mini game concerns the finding of a socket to charge your phone/tablet/computer. This involves an exercise bike where peddling generates the electricity to charge your portable device. Actually I think this is a pretty genius invention.

Train number two is fancy, even economy on the ICE sports wooden panelling and nice navy carpets. I share my seat with a lady who is perfectly coordinated in shades of blue right down to watch earrings and book she is reading, german translation of The Cuckoo’s Calling.

Last point of interest is the station at Liege-Guillemins which is an impressive piece of modern art, if you like the feeling of being inside a giant whale skeleton.

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Comments
  1. We had fun changing stations in Lille, from the one where we arrived to the one next to it, with loads of luggage. We spent my birthday evening in the city, visited a brilliant (free) zoo in the park and had pizza. It’s worth a visit next time, beautiful architecture and amazing food 🙂

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