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14 Travel Features Inter-rail diary: Brussels

Rob Fehily recalls the second leg of his European ex- cursion in Brussels, Belgium.

Our train from Paris to Brussels penetrated the Franco-Belgian bor- der with great zeal and swiftness; the trip lasted a mere 83 minutes. To our pleasant surprise, the harsh, arid and scorching Parisian tem- peratures were lightly leavened with a fresher, congenial Belgian breeze. Cloud cover provided some much needed respite from the sun. Alighting from the train and

wandering outside, we noticed, standing atop a large office build- ing whose crystal, limpid windows glimmered in the early morning sunlight, a giant metal replica of the heads of Tintin and Snowy. What a welcome. It did not take us much time to

come to a particularly strange con- clusion about the nature of Brus- sels, and by this I mean that there existed in the city an alien, though eerily beautiful and breathtaking, mix of ancient and ultramodern structures. At one minute you could be gazing up at the Cathédral Sints Michel et Gudule (Cathedral of Saint Michael and Saint Guilda)

in wonder at its structural integrity which has weathered the vicissi- tudes of centuries past, while at an- other you could be strolling down the street in the looming shadows of enormous skyscrapers. However, ominous as those

shadows seemed to us initially, these structures were not the grey, concrete, pus-filled pimples on the face of this city, but rather tall, proud candles whose flames were the reflection of the piercing sun- light in their sheeny, pellucid glass walls. So numerous are these awe- some edifices that they compose a section of the city aptly named the 'Manhattan District.' Since we allocated only one day

to the exploration of Brussels, we scurried apace around the city in desperate search of a tourist office. Yet our assiduous industry bore plump fruit in the form of our lo- cating "Use-It", a tourist office to the north-east of the city centre. This is the Brussels tourist Mecca. Free coffee, internet access, hotel- booking facilities and city maps ensured that the next fifteen or so

Nearly all aboard

Peter Neville reminisces about how missing a flight turned out fantastically.

The last scheduled day of our mini break was upon us. It had been a great trip. Each day was full of new adventures. I had gone to London with my best friend, who had never been to England before. On the other hand, I journey there several times a year as I have family over there. To be honest, I relished the idea

of being a tour guide, a guardian, a guy to be trusted and depended on. I was given a list of things that my friend wanted to do, and I planned on getting every one of them done. Then, it came to the last day of the trip. That’s when it all went wrong… Picture the scene- London

Bridge Station, six o’clock in the evening. A beautiful sunny day had turned into a rain-coated evening. I was sitting on the floor of the sta- tion with my friend, our suitcases beside us. There were seats avail-

able, but a moment of desperation calls for a hard floor, not a comfy chair. We’d just realised that we had

thirty three minutes to get from London Bridge to Luton Airport, check in, go through security and get to the gate (the journey to the airport would almost take an hour on its own.) You may be tutting at this point, and arguing that it was my job to ensure that we go to the airport on time. Normally I’d agree with you. However, if I agreed with you in this case, we’d both be wrong. This may sound stupid to say,

but missing the flight wasn’t planned. The master plan that had spent hours being prepared didn’t take into account two unexpected days in the city, and how those days would be spent. We’d had three days in the city already where all the usual touristy stuff had al-

hours would be as smooth and trouble-free as possible. Equipped now with the means

to properly taste the Brusselian burg, we hopped onto a city tour bus with a newfound sense of con- fidence and vitality. This genial feeling was maintained by the sights to which we were treated on the excursion. Churches, chapels and skyscrapers all merged to- gether into a fantastic visual feast. Yet in my opinion the most inter- esting component of the jaunt was yet to come. The Atomium is a magnificent,

102 meter-tall monument built in 1958 for 'Expo', the Brussels World's Fair. Essentially, it is a replica of the unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times, manifested as nine steel spheres connected to one another by tubes. Initially this mysterious struc-

ture, a soaring steel cynosure tow- ering proudly over luxuriant gardens, puzzled and transfixed me utterly. Upon being told by our guide exactly what the Atomium actually was I looked upon it with a fresh sense of awe and excite-

ready been done, and the t-shirts respectively purchased. We’d even gone to the local city

of Brighton which is a nice and not so trashy seaside resort, about an hour south of the capital. So, what was there to do for the two days we now had to spare? To say that we’d done absolutely everything in the city would be outrageously arro- gant and wrong. But still we had to find something to keep us sane. I should explain here that the reason we missed our flight was due to an excess of picture-taking. I suppose a flight is more important, but no- body (or at least me) thinks about that at the time. The prospect of a long journey

home was not a heart-warming one- it was a blooming terrifying thought. It would take sixteen hours to get to Kerry from London by train, ferry, Luas, Irish rail, and taxi- every bloody means of trans- port! Moreover, it would cost al- most a hundred euro for a single fare. I admit that wasn’t a very nice discovery as I had only brought four hundred euro for the entirety of the trip, and had about fifty pence remaining! Fortunately, I

October 26th 2010

ment - I have a special fondness for all things science and to me this construction was a shining tribute to the great precocious minds of the scientific revolution in Europe centuries ago. The end of our day was topped

off by a 90 minute-long, confusion ridden blunder through the streets in hopeless search of our hostel. We did however eventually find the needle in the Belgian haystack. Our faces were ruddy and sweat- encrusted with the energy expendi- ture of the day, so it was to bed almost instantly after a much needed frosty cool shower. Tomorrow, like two machines

was staying with my grandmother who loaned me some money to get home. In talking of my grand- mother, if she is reading this- I will pay you back! Someday… That trip was nothing if

not memorable. Our moment of desperation at missing the flight occurred at London Bridge, and our redemption moment of finally getting home began in the same place; we had been saying that we would like more time in London; we got to do everything we planned to do with said extra time.

driven by a time limit and an ob- jective which had to be completed at all costs, we would push forward on our journey further eastward into Holland.

Brussels expenses 3rd July: €8.50 (approx) = food + drink €20 = accommodation (no break-

fast) €7.49 = 2 Gb SD card for camera €16 = city tour bus €3.50 (approx) = metro journeys €3.50 = use of locker at the train

station Total = €58.99

with and me are still together one year on. Yes, every cloud has a sil- ver lining. So, perhaps it is not a good idea

to miss a flight. In fact, it is proba- bly a very bad idea to miss a flight, especially when your travelling companion has already booked to go to Lisbon the day after arriving back. It is a fairly dire journey, travelling by any means possible, and one I can only think would be any bit enjoyable if you were in a group. But, on the up side, it is an experience.

On the plus side, a very unexpected plus side, I arrived in London with a friend and left the city with a girlfriend

On the plus side, a very unexpected plus side, I arrived in London with a friend and left the city with a girl- friend. It was fantastic that an amazing trip, bar the embarrassing slip up by me, and ended in an equally incredible fashion. It’s a nice fact that the person that I went

It is very important that experi-

ences are had when we are young- whether good or bad. Henceforth, although the sixteen-hour journey back was a pain in the ass, I learnt more about my friend than I ever would normally have. For that rea- son, I’m glad I missed that flight.

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