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!