Posts Tagged ‘Trains’

August 11th,

Urban is the theme of the morning. My friend and I have breakfast out at a coffee shop/micro roaster Van Dyck. It’s all hospital surgery white, with shiny metal embellishments. The delicious coffee can be smelt half way down the street. We have espresso shots of the Adorno blend which is surprisingly light with a caramel hint. It certainly wakes me up.

As the weather is the opposite of what was predicted (glorious sunshine, not thunderstorms) we go for a stroll in the neighbourhood to look at the street art. This is one of my friend’s artistic passions and she is a great guide for finding large, or hidden or minuscule pieces of art on walls (flayed rabbits, Edelweiss Pirates from WW2, grinning skulls in mock ad posters).

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There’s even art hanging from trees ( a white fish holding a rainbow umbrella).

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Some are commissioned, others are spontaneous outbursts of creative political expression. The latest artist feels Banksy inspired. The works are playful and irreverent with unusual depictions of children in black and white.

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My friend won’t let me leave before trying some traditional german food so once I am packed we head to a modern beerhall. The meal is comprised of creamy cabbage (with bacon bits) fried potatoes (with bacon bits) and grilled german sausage. There is a lot of pig on my plate. It’s delicious but sinks like a brick in my stomach, weighing me down with my heavy rucksack for the rest of the afternoon.

After saying goodbye to my friend, I pick up some perfume and find I have some time to kill before my train. Wandering once more around the Dom, this time with my rucksack, makes me empathise for turtles. Dodging through the crowds is difficult and I’m not able to stop to listen to the excellent accordion buskers playing Mozart without causing a real pile up in the street. Eventually I give up and go for an ice cream (banana, melon and strawberry, if you were wondering).

I really didn’t need to worry about getting to the station early, the train is delayed by 30 minutes due to “people on the line.” Then, when we have all been waiting around for 20 minutes the PA system announces the train is arriving (yay) at an entirely different platform (boo).

You have to love a slighted American abroad; man, does this dude make a fuss. A girl wanted to sit in her reserved seat and so she asked the American dude to move. She didn’t say he couldn’t sit next to her but he moved across the aisle and I nabbed the free seat. He proceeded to spend the next twenty minutes complaining about this girl, who clearly wanted her window seat, to the guy he sat next to. He ends by muttering something about “that’s logic, European logic for you.” Seriously dude, shut up or I will give you a slap of European logic.

The train guard looks like a Young Mark Gatiss, and he pays a lot of attention to talking to the men he checks tickets of but not the ladies. The American across the aisle is in trouble again for not filling out his ticket properly. He’s a surfer/jock in a wife beater style top, if that helps give you a picture of the git.

As the second train heads for the channel tunnel, a rain appears across the tracks as if the continent were waving a cheery goodbye. This holiday has been much needed and I definitely want to travel round more of Europe on the train in the future.

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.