21.10.2005 - 22.10.2005 12 °C
I have arrived at Brussels in Belgium, the first part of my train journey is now under my belt. I started easy, admittedly, taking the Thalys high speed train from Paris to Brussles, which covers a distance of about 300 km in a little under 1 and a half hours.
I took the metro from Brussels Midi station to my hotel, close to the North Station from which I am departing to Moscow. So far, I have yet to ride on anything that doesn't run on rails since arriving at Charles de Gauille Airport in Paris two weeks ago. The RER lines and metros conveyed me around Paris and to the train station, the metro for Brussels and the high speed train in between.
My hotel, the Sabina on Rue du Nord, has all the ambience of a prison cell, but is centrally located. Walking out my hotel and down the block I come across the Rue du Barricades, where something historic happened, so they erected a statue. I am not sure what historic event, I am only in Brussels for a day, I cannot know everything. However, given the name of the plaza, I will guess that barricades were erected. Exactly what they were stopping, I don't know. Perhaps Huns or Visigoths, perhaps German panzer tanks, perhaps drunken English soccer fans moving north from the drinking district into the heart of the financial district? Only the statue at the centre of the square knows for sure, and he ain't talking.
I pop into a pub and have a beer and a croque monsiuer (grilled ham and cheese). The beer costs 1 euro 50 for 250 ml, a great deal compared to the 4 or 5 Euros that would have cost me in France.
Beside me are a couple from Ireland. Three men at the bar are chatting with the couple, joking in spats of French, English and Dutch. Already Brussels trumps Paris, in that people actually talk to each other in bars. But soon enough the couple leaves, and the three locals huddle into a insular group. When it comes to ice breakers for socializing, a fair skinned, long haired red headed Irish lass ( even with a boyfriend ) trumps a splotchy, balding, brown haired Canadian boy.
Overheard at the Manneken Pis, "make it look like he's peeing on my head
The next day (Oct 22nd), I wander around Brussels to see the sites. It's a nice town, a cool mix of new and old, residential, tourist and business existing side by side. I could get to like it, especially if it stopped raining. But it didn't stop raining all day. It's okay though, after seeing the Manneken Pis (the little boy peeing statue), sitting inside by the fire at a bar on the central plaza sipping a Trappist made Orval beer, that's alright too. Cause after all, it's my vacation, right?
- * *
In just under two hours, I board a train to take me to Moscow via Cologne, Warsaw, Brest (Belarus) and Minsk. Not sure I get much time in any place, other than Brest, which is where you clear Belarusian customs and they change the wheels on the train to match the Russian gauge of track, which is a little wider than European tracks.
I've outfitted my self with tea, snacks, instant noodles (heard differing things about the quality of food on the train), a deck of playing cards and lots of books for the up coming days, which consist of basically 6 of the next 8 days on board. Today in the train station I saw a man who kept pointing his lighter at people and flicking it on and off like it was a gun. Obviously off his rocker. That's the kind of thing that spending endless days aboard a train can do to people.
Hopefully, I don't go mad.