Friday, 29 July 2011

A Train Ride to Luxembourg

Note to self: Avoid Belgian trains. Three simple words that would have saved me a heart-attack and a half today, if only I’d known ahead of time that finding a train from Brussels to Munich would be more difficult than building a flying machine to take me there in the first place. The fact that I assumed a six hour train ride would be simple to arrange was my own fault, the panic caused by the lady at the train station who said everything was booked but she JUST might find me a train that got me in JUST on time to catch my flight out of Munich seemed a little unnecessary.

So what did I do? I got on a train to Luxembourg . After playing a little game of travel agent, I decided that flying out of a small town in Germanywould be a better option, but the bus to that small town left fromLuxembourg . So I got on a train to Luxembourg .  The train however, left late, went slow, and stopped for chips and dip before easing into its final destination about 25 minutes late, which was great, because the bus I was trying to catch to the airport had left 5 minutes before that from that exact spot. So there, I was… in Luxembourg , wondering what I was supposed to do now, knowing that ALL the trains to Munich were sold out.

So I went to the desk in Luxembourg and asked for a ticket to Munich , as soon as possible. He asked if a train leaving in an hour would be okay, and that it would cost half the price I was quoted in Belgium . I said that would be fine. So here I am, on a train… in Luxembourg , about to head toFrance , so I can fly out of Munich in the morning.

I obviously never thought that I’d end up in Luxembourg on this trip. I didn’t think I’d go to Austria either, but we needed gas and beer. Germany , The Netherlands, England France Spain , and Belgium were all expected. But Luxembourg was a bonus. I hadn’t been here before… one more country off the list.

For the record, the train station here looks like it was bombed by the Germans… sometime this week.

I prefer flying to taking trains, but sometimes there are just no options. Like where this all began, in Fuessen Germany . There is no airport in the small Bavarian village of Fuessen . Just lakes and mountains and cobble stone streets lined by buildings that look like they were stolen fromCanada ’s Wonderland.

The train to Fuessen was right on time. As was the train out of Fuessen a week later. In fact, every German train I was on was perfect, right to the minute. I look forward to leaving France on another German train later on today.

(This section has been removed... it was long and boring. Constant self-editing. It was about a week of work in Germany - BJF).

My train left for Amsterdam at 5:50am. Bjorn (my Swiss roomie and drinking buddy) was kind enough to drop me at the train station and keep right on going back to Switzerland . At one point, a few hours later, I woke up in a fog, dreading that I had slept through a stop where I was supposed to change trains. Eventually I realized that I was still almost three hours away from that stop, and that I was tired, perhaps still a little drunk, and certainly not familiar with the geography of Germany .

As planned, I ended up in Amsterdam around 2:30pm. After a brief stop in a Hemp Shop/Internet Café (there are many of them in Amsterdam) to locate my hotel information, I eventually walked the few blocks through streets that were at least moderately familiar from my visit two years ago.

I’m always amazed how a brain can do that. Of all the places I’ve ever been, I suddenly recognize that a shop seems familiar, or the feel of a particular neighbourhood reminds me that I’ve been there before.Amsterdam was a constant source of amazement in that experiment, because I constantly would feel that knew roughly where I was, without really having a clue… yet, I was always right.

For the day or two, things were pretty relaxed. A lot of walking around, a few drinks, a couple nice meals, and tours through the Red Light District. For those of you who are curious, I only ever partook of the internet offered in the special coffee shops, and none of the other local delicacies. The biggest letdown of the whole city, however, was that I couldn’t find any good clothes at Sissy Boy this time, where I got two great shirts on my last visit.

After Amsterdam , I kicked off one of the silliest days I’ve experienced in quite some time (honestly, for a 24 hour period, it destroys the “NYC and Back for 2 Ballgames” trip).  Wake up in Amsterdam, train to Eindhoven, flight to Stanstead, England flight to Biarritz, France, taxi to Irun, Spain, and then a train to Pamplona, and a taxi to a place to stay.  For the next 14 hours or so, I was surrounded by folks in white suits and red scarves and sashes, 99% of whom were absolutely trashed. There was music in the streets, crowds dancing and singing, and a general sense of festivity in every corner of every narrow street in the city.

I don’t think anybody does anything in Pamplona for the week of the San Fermin festival except party and sleep (but mostly party), from the time the bulls run in the morning until they pass out in a park sometime later that day. After watching the famed Running of the Bulls (and being dangerously close to deciding to participate), I split from Pamplona on a bus headed to Zaragoza which, if you must know, is almost two hours south of Pamplona. Almost exactly 24 hours after taking a taxi into Spain , I was on a flight out of it.

Before too long, I landed in Belgium . As is often the case with RyanAir flights, we landed in a city’s secondary airport, or a town only kinda nearby. So there I was at Charleroi , on a shuttle to the shiny metropolis of Brussels . After a nice steak at a local brasserie, I crashed pretty early at my 4 star hotel which was nice and cheap on Priceline.

The next day was filled with touristy things like Mini-Europe, the Atomium, and the Mannekin Pis, which I think will be my favourite thing aboutBrussels for a long time. The little statue of a peeing boy draws thousands of visitors a day, and is such an attraction that he has more than 800 costumes to wear depending on what sort of festivities need attention. Christmas, World Cup, holidays, etc. all require a special costume for the normally naked boy… which is how he was the day I saw him. There is, however, the Mannekin Pis tavern across the street from the statue, which has many of the costumes and artifacts on display to be enjoyed over a pint of La Chouffe.

The next day, I decided I should figure out how to get back to Munich to catch my flight home… which is where I left this last time. I was still on that train… leaving Luxembourg for Munich . I arrived in Munich around 3:30am. I took a taxi to another nice hotel I got on Priceline (oddly enough the same one that Greg stayed at when we were there two years ago… *talk about recognizing things when you’re not sure where you are! Try that at 3:30am after 7 hours on the train and a crazy taxi ride!).

I wish I could have spent more time in that room. It was a suite with three beds. I used one bed for about three hours, and I don’t think I moved for that whole time. The lines in my skin imprinted from the sheets and pillows were as deep as I’ve ever seen them. Regardless, I was up at 7:10am, on the shuttle to the airport at 7:30 and on a plane to Atlanta at 10:00. That was roughly 13 hours ago. As far as I can tell, I’m about one hour fromToronto , and I should arrive safely with all my bags. I’m just going to assume the rest of this all goes according to plan.

I land. I get through customs. I get my bags. I get a shuttle downtown. I walk into my apartment. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll change this later…

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