August 30

Pissed off

17th August 2012 (Brussels, Belgium)

I wanted to take an express train to Paris, just one hour from Lille. The TGV, in association with Eurail, had other ideas. Apparently you need to book 24 hours in advance on a Eurail pass and you can’t do it at the station, you have to call the Eurail line. I called for the 18th but was told I could only pick up the reservation from Paris Nord or Germany, or they could send it to me by post, which could take “one or two weeks”.

I can’t figure out what’s more stupid:

  • Having to book 24 hours in advance, whether or not the train is full.
  • Having to book via telephone when one’s hotel is 50 metres from a train station.
  • Needing a physical manifestation of this reservation that mysteriously can’t be emailed, faxed or sent by carrier pigeon.
  • Needing to use a postal service that could take “one or two weeks” when you bloody well operate a network of fast trains.

Paris’ loss was Belgium’s gain, however. As I sat brooding in my room it occurred to me that Boff had been to Brussels and I had not, plus they had some kind of big deal flower thing that I would see but he would not. I hopped on a train. It was supposed to take two hours. There was some delay and it took three…

It also happened to be one of the hottest days of the summer, something in the vicinity of 35C. By the time I arrived at Bruxelles-Midi I’d run out of water and had to buy some from Carrefour.

On the train I’d pored over the map Boff had given me, so confidently headed north towards the Grand-Place (you need to say that in a French accent). Unsure at a turning, I stopped only to discover that I’d lost the map—probably in Carrefour where I’d been gratefully rehydrated. Nevertheless, I blundered in the right direction and managed to find encouraging signposts that took me to a street of Asian restaurants (Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese) at the end of which was a cafe that served me rabbit and chips with a big cold beer, probably the most delicious meal of the trip.

Then it was just a short way to a giant square surrounded by grand Belgian buildings filled with flowers. The balconies were packed so I avoided them and managed to find myself at a Dali exhibition.

It was around this time I began to feel ill, not quite nauseated, not quite headachey but really very tired all of a sudden. I’m not sure if it was the heat, the beer, the rabbit or all three. I parked myself in front of an air conditioner in the exhibition and napped for 15 minutes and then found a room with sofas for watching a Dali doco, told the attendant I had a headache and napped for another 30 minutes. The exhibition was okay but not as good as Berlin: it had a lot of Dali’s commercial work including ads he did for a hosiery company, magazine articles, and some first editions of his books.

Groggily I stepped outside and found myself wandering toward the Manneken Pis. Photo of the day is a waffle shop’s tribute to Brussels’ favourite son with some tourists beside him for scale. Also managed to catch a large jar of Nutella in the frame—yay Nutella!

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August 18

Evidence of someone else’s good time

11th August 2012 (Cologne, Germany & Ghent, Belgium)

Had a bad time of it on the train. There were no sleeper cars so I set myself to sleep in a seat, which is usually very easy for me except I was surrounded by this family who then proceeded to eat pungent oniony burgers (at 3am) and pass serviettes, drinks and rubbish over me. Imagine a 4-seat arrangement in which the father and son are in A and B, I’m in C and the mother is in D. I didn’t want to swap with the mother because my seat had my destination on it so I would be woken up at the appropriate time. It then turned out they were in the right seats but wrong carriage but when they departed they left their pungent oniony rubbish behind. Then someone’s phone kept ringing. It’s 3am dude, you’re on a train—who the hell is calling you?!

So I stopped over in Cologne for a few hours. Unfortunately, the hours were 8.30-11.30am on a Saturday, which meant all the things that I might have wanted to see were open at 11am instead of 10am, i.e. not enough time to see and then catch a train.

The main hit is the Dom. Let’s just say they don’t hide it in some back alley; it is the first thing you see when you exit the main station and I can tell you, you don’t see much else for a moment. I might have thought of it like how Sydney visitors always see the Harbour Bridge and Opera House from Circular Quay Station except that I’ve been to Rome and there’s a much more impressive analogy with the metro station next to the Colosseum. Cologne and the Dom are somewhere in the middle.

My photo of the day shows its two towers on the left. It was one of the few things open early that I didn’t actually care to see (I was really hoping to visit the chocolate museum…). Instead, I took a walk over to the other side of the river where I found evidence that Germans may sometimes have a good time.

I arrived in Ghent intact but desperately needing a shower and a nap. Boff and I took it easy in the evening just walking around the canals. I’ve never been in Europe in summer before so I didn’t realise that when ‘sunset’ is at 8.38pm, it actually means it gets dark at 10pm. Slow dusk! What will they think of next?

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August 11

Wash and burn

6th August 2012 (Warsaw, Poland)

I went to Warsaw to see my uni friend Danielle, who now lives in London. We’ve only seen each other a handful of times in a decade so this trip seemed to be an ideal way to catch up, apart from the fact Boff wasn’t interested in Warsaw and decided to go to Belgium instead.

Before meeting her, though, I needed to get my laundry done, which required finding the nearest laundromat and how to get there. Turns out there are very few in Warsaw so I ended up catching the train a number of stations south to an outer suburb and still had to walk a fair way to find it. The train stopped at every station for about three minutes. There were announcements in Polish that caused a bunch of people to get off, but a lot of people stay on and some join the train so I stuck with the original plan.

When I got to the suburb, I ran into trouble because it’s so far out my map didn’t cover it. I managed to communicate with a newsagent who points me in the right direction. At the laundromat, the boss gets her daughter to translate for me. I’ve never really wanted to learn Polish before but at this point I feel not knowing the language is actually an imposition on the people. I eat my way out of this dip with 500g of raspberries costing a mere A$2…

Finally met with Dan and went into the Stare Miasto (Old Town) to have lunch. I decided once and for all to try fried camembert, which sounds like a heart attack except for the fact that I hadn’t eaten properly for more than a day, so I forgive the kilojoules. We take lots of photos of the architectural and decorative features that make Warsaw a great city to explore, and find odd things everywhere, such as a bench made of pipes next to a statue of some inventor guy. Photo of the day is Dan next to a tiny car we found parked on the street.

We also eat one of those soft serve ice creams that are bigger than your head, which we conclude is probably a joke played on tourists given what it looks like to eat one.

Dinner is Indian. Yes, Indian. Very good Indian. And dessert is a plum vodka (70%) and a sea buckthorn liqueur that are both impossible to quaff because they burn going down.

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