Brussels/Berlin 2023

Monday 10th July 2023: AUR-EDB-KGX-STP-ZYR

After a tough year at school, various mad end of term events, Fife Pride, and Tinto Summer School, I found myself on a train heading south. After a short workout and a bath at home, I left Aberdour (AUR) at 8.39am, and arrived at Edinburgh Waverley (EDB) just after 9.13am. With my train to London King’s Cross (KGX) not to depart until 11.00am, I took myself out of the station to “Jake’s”, just across Market street. There I intended to have a bacon roll and coffee but being informed that they were out of bacon and rolls and these being necessary items for such a combination, I opted for an almond croissant instead. This I very much enjoyed and it seemed appropriate given the continental nature of my journey.

On returning to the station, I waited in the benched area and admired the attractive ceiling and carvings, wondering why in essentially 43 years of passing through this station, I hadn’t noticed them before. Just before I was about to leave my seat to catch my train, a very loud alarm sounded with the message “Attention, attention. Would Inspector Sands please report to the Network Rail reception”. Not being that person or knowing anyone by that name, I essentially ignored the message, noting that it seemed to be being played on a loop. I wondered if it was a publicity stunt or an advert for some upcoming television series before it became an instruction to evacuate the premises. This was mostly ignored by those boarding trains until the staff got involved, ushering everyone out the building. I found myself on Calton Road.

Inevitable confusion ensued until we were allowed back in. I boarded my train which departed only 2 minutes late. On some investigation, I found that “Inspector Sands” is a common code for a fire alarm that needs to be investigated before the evacuation order is given. It has roots in theatre where it was used to avoid panic and derives from the fact that sand was often used as a fire blanket in these times. I felt better informed than I had been previously and also glad my journey had not been adversely affected by this turn of events.

Travelling by train is an odd combination of tiring and relaxing. I often wonder how sitting still for so long can really “take it out of you” but really, I enjoy this particular mode of transport. Railway lines give views of areas at angles not considered by most. This is most likely due to the fact that the lines date from the Industrial Revolution, during which time the aesthetics of the vista were most likely not a factor in planning. I watched the various cities, farms, and factories whizz by, particularly enjoying the spectacular view of the Tyne Bridge as I passed through the city of Newcastle. I noted that I must again at some point frequent this area of North England, as I headed south on my latest new adventure.

My destination today was to be Brussels, the capital of Belgium. It’s a city I know almost nothing about but given that it is on the railway line to Berlin (my actual holiday “stay” this year), it seemed to make sense to spend a couple of nights here. Some time eating chips, chocolate, waffles, and drinking beer, and coffee could be time well spent.

So why choose this lengthy, and more expensive method of reaching the Belgian and ultimately, German capitals? A flight would be quicker and less costly surely? Well, there is of course the environmental aspect in terms of trying to keep the “carbon footprint” low but also the romantic aspect where “the journey” feels like a journey and essentially becomes part of the experience. There is also the fact that a new Brussels to Berlin sleeper train has been introduced within the last few months but more of that in a future post.

Suffice to say, despite the drama at Waverley my journey to London was uneventful and punctuated only by the on-board purchase of the bacon roll and coffee I had intended to have much earlier. These were surprisingly good. En-route I also enjoyed the book “Lessons in Chemistry” by Bonnie Garmus, leant to me by a very good friend.

On arrival in London, I found a nearby pub – “The Skinners Arms”, where I enjoyed a pint of “Abbot” ale and some “Scampi Fries”. This establishment had a television showing BBC news where I watched the statement given by the police following the stabbing of a teacher at a school in Tewksbury. I considered the statement my paternal grandmother used to make that one does not watch the news to get one’s “jollies”.

Looking for a simple and close-by meal, I frequented an establishment that is a local chain – “Casa Tua”. This Italian restaurant provided me with gnocchi and pesto accompanied by a glass of red wine. These were very enjoyable. I then ventured to St. Pancras International (STP/SPX/QQS) and braved the large crowds boarding the various trains. There were two pianos being played by musicians who were clearly not without talent. I recognised a number of pieces by the band “Queen”, along with Hal David and Burt Bacharach’s “Walk on By” popularised by Dionne Warwick. The theme from “The Pink Panther” by Henry Mancini was also evident.

My ticket was checked once and my passport three times before I found myself in the departure lounge. Processing took at least an hour so if you’re reading this and thinking upon a similar excursion, my recommendation is to plan your time accordingly.

My train boarded at 7.15pm and departed at 7.34pm. It arrived on time in Brussels-Midi (ZYR) at 10.38pm local time. I walked the half-hour to my apartment in Rue des Dominicains. The area round the station seemed populated by road works but I soon found myself passing a number small restaurants and groceries before arriving in the central area. My focus was very much on getting to my destination so while I could see there was much to take in, I told myself I’d come back later and plodded on.

The apartment check-in was a classic “lock-box” which I negotiated swiftly and gained access. I had a very cold shower before messaging the owner about how to turn the hot water on. My European adventure had truly begun!

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