Tuesday, September 02, 2008
The day before we left, Mrs.B ‘inadvertently’ opens my Visa bill and discovers that I ordered a weekend in London. So far for the big surprise then. I was not amused.
...we got up at 6 AM – why do voyages always have to start at such early hours? The taxi I ordered almost missed our house, but I was on the lookout so I was able to grab him by the neck. After a train ride of an hour, we arrived at the Eurostar check-in desk at Brussels’ South station (oh, for the group of English tourists at the bakery shop: Bruxelles-Midi = Brussel Zuid = Brussels South Station. They’re not three different train stations).
It was there and then that Mrs.B discovers that she’d forgotten her ID-card. And despite the fact that the English are radically against ID-cards, you still have to have one to enter their stupid country. I didn’t take much imagination to see my wonderful weekend in London fly away, together with the 500 or so Euros it had cost me. I had steam coming out of my ears, my eyes were shooting fire and as we say here, I was shitting beans. But luckily-luckily-luckily this very nice-nice-nice lady from Eurostar had mercy on our poor souls and she managed to find us a couple of places on the next train, around noon.
So we took the train back to Antwerp, then a taxi back to our house, where Mrs.B ran in and out to fetch her ID-card and the we taxied back to the train station and took the next train to Brussels South Station. The whole operation took us a mere two and a half hours, but we’d made it.
Of course, we had to make do with the seats that were left. And I must say, I’ve rarely had any crappier seats on a train before. Even a toddler would complain about the leg room and the seat drooped so that we constantly felt we were sliding under the seats on the opposite side. By the time we’d arrived, both our backs and bums were broken, shattered, crumbled and bruised slightly.
The other good news was that the Eurostar now has its own custom-laid tracks, which enables it to ride at full speed. And there are lots of tunnels, which you enter and leave at around 300 kilometres per hour. This means that the air pressure in the train builds and drops violently, making your eyes pop like one of those clicker toys.
Big compensation for this whole experience: I made Mrs.B look in the middle of the tunnel under the English channel by pointing outside and saying: ‘hey look, a fish’.
After we’d arrived in the beautifully restored St-Pancras station, we took the tube (subway/metro) to our hotel. For once, I’d managed to book a hotel that doesn’t look stunning on the internet, only to discover it’s a cramped, flea-infested shack in real life. The only downside was that it was robot-operated: we had to check-in ourselves on a terminal, using a credit card. Luckily, there was human assistance to do the fully automated check-in procedure for us (so what’s the whole bloody point?) Sadly, all our credit cards were not acceptable in the UK or otherwise very, very empty. Luckily, I was able to dig one out of my wallet that I’d been meaning to give up for ages, but which now came in handy.
The room was nice and spacious, but the oversized air-conditioning had its very British interpretation of a balmy room temperature: it was freezing. So we had to keep each other warm. With physical exercise. In the bed.
More on this trip later, including the infamous ‘Incident in the Park’…