Thursday, December 22, 2011

Travelling to Brussels

So, we decided that the title for this post should really be, "Next time, pay the extra £10 and take the eurostar instead of the coach!"

Not that I am opposed to taking a bus.  Indeed, when Steve was figuring out the route to Brussels, we both thought that it was going to be a great route:  London, Dover, Bruges, Brussels.  We had already taken the eurostar through the chunnel, so thought it would be fun to try something different.  We both thought it was going to be great to take the bus, since the slower speed would make it easier to see the country side (the Eurostar goes so fast that you can't really SEE anything).  Plus, we thought it would be fun to take the boat over at Dover!  We would be able to look back and see the cliffs.  Sweet.  Or at least, that was what we were expecting.

Sleeping on the bus
Our first moment of hesitation came as we were boarding the bus.  To say that the seats were 'less than spacious' would be an understatement.  They were just as bad as the seats on Spanair Airplanes (which are not bad at all if you are shorter than 5'7", but are torture for anyone taller than that).  The only strategy was to hunker down and try not to move.  Duncan (who had stayed up til 3:30am the night before) coped by falling asleep within minutes.

I kept telling myself that the view would make the cramped seats worth it, but it was a rainy and misty day, so visibility was limited to the the margins of the highway.  Still, I felt comforted by the thought that we would be able to get off the bus and walk around once we were of the ferry.  So... as we approached Dover, I was very happy!  The mist had peeled back, and I could see the castle up on the hill, and windows poking out of the cliffs themselves.  I kept waiting for the bus to stop so I could get some good shots.  But, we stopped just long enough to pick up three more passengers, and then we drove back out of town the same way we had come.  It was only at this point that we realized that maybe we were NOT taking a boat at Dover; we were only there to get more travellers.  As Homer Simpson says, "D'oh!".... shoulda taken some shots from the bus!

horse on the hill at the chunnel
Steve and I exchanged some confused words, trying to recalibrate our expecations.  If we weren't destined for the channel, then where WERE we heading?  A bit of a drive, and we arrived at the Chunnel.  Huh?   Yep... that's right.  The Chunnel.  After a torturously long wait on the bus for French customs (who boarded, collected everyone's passports, left with them, did who knows what, and returned to redistrubute them complete with their new stamps), the bus drove onto the train itself.

It was a bit like boarding the ferry in Victoria, but the bus had to drive into a super narrow train compartment.  Once everyone was in, metal grates came down between the individual train compartments.  So... we were in a bus on a train.  It certainly sounds more exciting than it really was. It is pretty claustrophia inducing! ... and no snack bar!

The high point was getting off the bus (while the train was moving) to go find the toilets, "located in the first and last carriages".  To move between the carriages, you have to press the red button, wait 2 seconds for the doors to be unlocked, then push through into the space between carriages, (a space that felt creepy to me... i kept wondering if I would fall through the floor) where you again push a red button, wait, and then push through into the next carriage.

Duncan at the door!
on the train in the chunnel
between carriages

Pantheon, seen from the bus
On the positive side, the ride on the bus/train was only 37 or so minutes.  From there, we were back on solid ground, in France, and then on our way to Bruges (or at least, the coach terminal on the edge of Bruges).  We finally arrived in Brussels as the daylight was beginning to fade.  We drove past Pantheon, and headed for Ave Leopold II.  The lights were out, and the street sparkled all the way down to the city centre.  Most of the sparkle was the rush hour traffic that was greeting us.  I swear that it took us an hour to travel the distance that we ought to have been able to cover in 5 minutes.  For those of you who have not hit rush hour in Brussels, i don't know what to say:  people try to cheat the intersection, and things get stuck in absolute deadlock (cars in the centre of intersections, preventing movement from going in any direction.  It was so bad it was almost funny.  At one point, it was the BUS itself that had cheated the intersection, so we sat there blocking things up for a good 15 minutes before movement started again.  Finally the bus driver seemed to lose patience, and actually drove up over a sidewalk/meridien to get to a road in a different direction.  Quite the adventure.  But... at the end of the day, we arrived safe and sound (albeit cramped and sore and starving... with Alex on the edge of what might be his first migraine ever).  We all agreed that, next time, it would be better to pay a bit more and take the eurostar.  Lesson learned!  :-)    So... we found the hotel, unpacked, ate dinner (a relief after all those hours on the bus with no stops for food), and headed off to explore the grand place by night.  But that is another story.....  

1 comment:

  1. An old joke from Grandpa Pilling comes to mind.

    If you want to get somewhere in the worst way, take the Greyhound.

    While the ride was bad for you, the story is good for the reader. I have no idea why someone else's misery has brightened my day.

    Looking forward to hearing about mannequin pis, the museum of clothes associated with him, rubbing your hand over the sculpture and thus receiving good luck in the Grande Place, and best of all ... the delicious frit place, Antoines.

    The bus ride will soon be forgotten.



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