That time we got stranded in Brussels


Back in October last year, G and I were travelling back from Holland and, as the title of this post suggests, the journey went a tad wrong.

I kept a sort of diary during the bizarre 24 hours we were stuck in Brussels and here it is for your reading pleasure…



Sunday 18 October 2016

It’s happened again. Yet another one of my journeys (previous incidents here and here) has descended into chaos and I’m starting to question whether the one constant factor in all of these incidents is yours truly.

So this time we're stranded in Brussels. Overnight. With work in the morning. I know; your heart bleeds for me.

G and I have been visiting family in Holland and were on our way home. We took a gentle stroll between platforms, getting off our train from Rotterdam at Brussels and followed the Channel Tunnel signs through Brussels station to get our next train to London. I'd had a nap on the first train and a snazzy goat's cheese sandwich to enjoy on the next. We were aiming to be home by 8ish. All was dandy.

And then we turned a corner and there was a queue longer than the list of Donald Trump's inappropriate remarks spilling out of the Eurostar check-in desk entrance. Five minutes after joining the queue, word gets around that there's been a power failure and all trains are cancelled.

Um, say what now?

Fast forward through fragmented information from Eurostar staff, a hotel hunt and a fair amount of swearing; I'm sat on a hotel bed in Brussels when I should have been home three hours ago.

I mean I don't WANT to go to work but it really is kinda awkward trying to explain you're 'stuck' in Brussels. No seriously, it is a pain. IT IS.

No one seems to believe me when I try and explain that we’re not exactly wandering around stuffing our faces with chocolate and seeing the sights. So far, my extent of Brussels includes the station, a hotel attached to the station and a bar opposite the station (where I had a very strong Malibu and coke). We haven't soaked up much culture, I tell ya.

I’m also not that sympathetic towards Eurostar. You can say 'power failure' as much as you like guys; you're talking to a Thameslink commuter. It's like the boy who cried wolf. I DON'T BELIEVE WHAT TRAIN COMPANIES SAY ANYMORE.

We've requested our tickets to be rescheduled via the Eurostar website (as told to do at the station) and received an email saying they'd contact us soon with details of our new train. That was four hours ago. Have they got in touch? Have they heck.

The real crux of the matter, however, is that I am currently carrying my weight in cheese back to the UK (Holland does good cheese okay) and I have now been forced to check into a hotel where my cheese will be deprived of a fridge for God-knows-how-many-hours longer than intended. So now I'm really pissed.






Monday 19 October 2016


This morning started along the same lines. Our alarm went off at 6:50 (5:50 UK time, let it be noted) just in case we'd been scheduled onto the 8am train back to London. G checked his emails and there was still nothing. He tried to talk to someone on Eurostar's live chat before realising it didn’t start until 7am GMT time.

Back to sleep for an hour.

At 8:01, we sit and wait for G to connect to a Eurostar employee. After an age, we get through to someone and the convo pretty much goes like this:

Eurostar guy: Did you receive an error email?

Us: Noooo, we received an email telling us you'd be in touch with our new train time.

Eurostar guy: Oh. Right. Um, hang on.

Us: ......

Eurostar guy: It looks like your tickets have been rescheduled but I can't access the booking. I'll pass it on and someone will ring you within an hour.

Us: Can you at least tell us what time train we'll be on?

Eurostar guy: No, I can't access the booking.


WHAT EXACTLY IS THE POINT OF YOU?

We wait an hour whilst watching BBC News. Naturally, no one phones us back. There's only one more train left in the morning which would mean I could get back to London in time to be in the office for the afternoon. It's in an hour and a half and I'm starting to see it trickling away from us.

G gets back on live chat and this time we're told just to phone the customer service number. So G sits on hold whilst I send borderline abusive tweets to Eurostar and make a couple of Twitter friends with people who are also stranded.

After 20 mins on hold and just as I'm about to get outright abusive on Twitter, an email drops in G's inbox. We've been put on a train at 5pm.

FIVE PM.

A whole 24 hours after we were supposed to travel.

We grumble and rant and then spend a few mins getting in touch with work. Eventually it dawns on us that it's getting on 11 and we've yet to eat anything. WHAT EVEN IS THIS. We check out the hotel, store our luggage and go in search of food before we become hangry maniacs.

It's only really at this point that we realise we have an afternoon to fill. And that we're in Brussels.

This should be exciting. We should be relishing that we've suddenly found ourselves not at work and in the middle of an unexplored European city. But we're sleep deprived, stressed, low on euros and there's this drab greyness pressing down on the city, with drizzle slowly soaking into our clothes.

I try and remember my own rule that cities should never be judged by what they look like when you first step out the station, but I'm struggling and G names a fair few cities that do actually have quite pretty stations so that really helps the situation.

We trudge on, with the rain getting harder and the city getting greyer.

Apart from spying a couple of mediocre crepe places, nothing jumps out at me as we walk for twenty minutes and I'm just debating whether to remove Brussels from our hypothetical Europe trip when we round a corner into Grand Place.

Woah.

I don’t know a lot about architecture but I know that this is beautiful and intricate and I’m pretty blown away.

I don't know what each of the buildings are in this crazy gorgeous square (I'm lacking my usual pre-trip research) but I don't particularly care. All I know is that it has finally clicked that I should be sat in the office, catching up on post-holiday emails right now and instead I'm swivelling my head between the dark, gothic building on my left and the immensely grand building on my right; and all of the smaller gold-decorated buildings in between. I no longer care that it's drizzling or that I've been tired and grumpy all morning. I’ve suddenly been reminded that this is an experience that I wasn't supposed to have.

G spies a cafe in the corner advertising coffee and Belgian waffles and we hop right in. It’s a bit rough and ready but we sit by the window munching on brie & honey bagels and waffles covered in strawberries, ice cream & real, thick chocolate sauce. We learn that there are two different types of Belgian waffles and that the buildings around the square were built across two centuries.





We brave the heavy rain after we're finished and head back out. I accidentally fall into a chocolate shop in the square, where we're given free samples and end up buying a slab of sexy Belgian hazelnut milk choc.

We shelter from the rain by wandering through a covered shopping street where we note that the main things on sale in Brussels are chocolate, beer, lace, fries and watches. But mainly chocolate. ALL THE CHOCOLATE. We wander in and out of the rows and rows of chocolate shops, happy to just look at the endless different types and all the colourful macarons (and imagine what we'll buy when we come back to Brussels, deliberately next time).

The rain stops by the time we're done and we wander a bit more, finding ourselves outside the enormous St Michael and St Gudula cathedral; I have to tilt my head all the way back to take it all in. We head in and learn that it took 300 years to build and talk to a guy who tells us which members of the Belgian royal family were married and/or buried there.

As we meander through the cobbled streets, I can perfectly visualise how gorgeous this city will be in the summer; how these streets will light up under the sun and be full of people sitting outside the cafes.

Unfortunately, this is when it decides to literally rain on my parade. We get a quick glimpse of the famous Manneken Pis before the rain starts bouncing off my shoulders and we accept it's probably time to head back.

By the time we make it back to the hotel to collect our bags, you can wring out my jeans, there's water dripping off my nose and my shoes are squelching. We have to go change our jeans and shoes in the hotel toilets and try and pack our wet stuff in a way that it won't soak everything else in the suitcase (harder than it looks). I'm back to my former grumpiness but this time it is significantly improved by the Belgian chocolate in my bag.

Until next time Brussels...





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