Posts Tagged “trains”
A powerful writer can change the physical world.
A fictional 1991
Harry: Platform 9 ¾? But, Hagrid, there must be a mistake. This says Platform 9 ¾. There’s no such thing. Is there? Hagrid?
Harry: Excuse me sir, can you tell me where I might find Platform Nine and Three-Quarters?
A whimsical 1999
Station Guard: Nine and Three-Quarters? Think you’re being funny do ya?
My magical 2012
Although the new signage may concern some at Hogwarts, who enjoyed the previous discreteness of the platform, the new sign is likely to help many new students who are making their first time visit. Naturally, no muggles will be able to pass through the wall and access the actual platform itself.
Lydia: Excuse me sir, can you tell me where I might find Platform Nine and Three-Quarters?
Station Guard: Walk along that way and it’s right after the sandwich stall.
This year I was able to tick off item #29 on my “To Do” list, and visit Platform 9 ¾ and Kings Cross Station for myself.
Trivia: J. K. Rowling chose King’s Cross Station as the portal that would take Harry to Hogwarts because this was where her parents met on a train to Scotland
Last week, Amy wrote about a typical day for her. I thought that it would be interesting to try and capture a typically work day for us here in Belgium.
In the spring, we wake up with the sun, and let the kittens in for some breakfast in bed treats.
We check our email, and then Adrian makes us cereal with fresh fruit (currently pineapple and strawberry), which we eat while watching something like The Daily Show. We finish getting ready, and then if we’re leaving at the same time, I will walk Adrian to the train station while counting puppies.
Adrian then boards the train to Leuven, and I hop on the metro to my work. Luckily both of us commute outwards from the centre of Brussels, so it’s easy to get a seat. I then have half an hour to read a book, listen to a podcast, or chat with a colleague if they happen to be in the same carriage.
From the metro stop I have a five minute walk to my work, situated in a business park on the outskirts of Brussels. I get some water for myself and my pot plant, sit down in my cubicle, switch on my laptop and look at my calendar for the day. As an epidemiologist, I use large patient databases to look at patterns of chronic diseases. I am responsible for the study design and implementation, as well as interpreting the results and communicating the conclusions at congresses and via manuscripts if the data look interesting. Generally my mornings are spent replying to emails while writing and reviewing documents. We have a great subsidised cafeteria on site, so I spend my lunch hour sitting outside with my colleagues discussing food, travel, and world news. My afternoons are typically filled with meetings, often teleconferences with the UK or the USA. Nine hours later, it is time to hop back on the metro and head home again.
If I stay in Brussels, I might meet up for coffee with a friend, go to my monthly book group or release unwanted books at the book swappers meet. Perhaps Adrian and I might go to a public lecture or to the movies, or I’ll pop into the supermarket next-door to our apartment to pick up a few ingredients for dinner. About once a fortnight I’ll hop on the train and meet Adrian and our Leuven friends for dinner and drinks.
After working through a PhD in Canberra, and then a full-time post-doc and part-time Masters program in Seattle, working only 40 hours a week here in Belgium leaves me with a lot of spare time on my hands and I often feel a bit lost. We are both hoping for a big change in our lives in August that gets us busier and gives us some unique challenges and adventures.
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We arrived home safe and sound on Tuesday night.
On Monday, as we had to catch the bus from Jen’s house to the train station, I made poor Adrian leave about five hours early to ensure that we wouldn’t be stuck in some sort of horrendous Roman traffic jam. Roma Termini was full of people – queueing, waiting, sleeping, and complaining. All tickets had been sold out for the rest of the week:
No seats were available in the train station, so we wedged ourselves and our luggage against a wall and waited for the minutes to tick past. We caught the train from Rome to Milan slowly north without incidence, and we were able to check into our hotel around 11:30pm. Our next train was set to depart at 7:10am. Adrian begged me not to make him get to the station five hours early again, and I agreed. I set both phones on to wake us up at 6:00am, and we even had time to grab a panini at the station before boarding our train to Zurich.
This was my favourite part of the route – what a difference between Italy and Switzerland, suddenly we were surrounded by snowy peaks, brightly washed houses, and crystal lakes. At lunch time we were in Zurich, grabbed some pizza and giant pretzels, then found our next train. I was so happy to finally see some sign of our progress:
As all the high-speed trains had been booked out, we had the rare chance of catching the INT90 from beginning to end, stopping at:
St Louis Haut Rhin (France)
At one stage, I thought that the train announcer said “Nous n’arrivons jamais.” (We are never arriving), but quickly realised he was saying “Nous arrivons Jemelle (We are arriving in Jemelle), which was much better news. Later, when we first heard “Dames en heren” (Ladies and Gentlemen), all the Belgians cheered, because Flemish announcements meant that we were getting very close to home.
At 8pm that evening, we got off the train at the very last stop, pointed the way to the Eurostar for some stranded Brits, and then a short walk later were finally home with our kittens.
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Our final port of call in Italy is Rome, where we have been staying with my friend Jenny in her lovely apartment near the Australian Embassy. Adrian woke me up on Friday and announced “Kitten day tomorrow!”. We have enjoyed our trip, but we were glad that we had a flight back to Brussels on Saturday. We had heard something about the volcano, but we checked with Ryanair and everything looked okay. Then, at 6:38pm on Friday, Ryanair send me a text that said “URGENT – Your Ryanair flight has been cancelled – please visit www.ryanair.com for free rebooking/refund”. This was the only form of communication – no email with further information. Panic begins to set in.
We go to the website, and it tells us that we cannot rebook online because we have already completed the online check-in procedure. We phone the call centre, but it is overloaded and we cannot connect. The call centre closes at 7pm GMT. We don’t know what to do. Do we book another ticket for Tuesday? Should we go with Ryanair or Brussels Airlines? Should we hire a car and drive, or catch a train all the way back to Brussels? We decide to see what the news is in the morning, and then go into town to assess the situation first-hand.
On Saturday morning, Adrian reads that the last time a volcano like Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 1821, it lasted for more than two years. We decide that we will not try to fly back to Brussels. We catch bus 38 to the train station, and try to find the end of the line for the international train tickets. This is the line:
While Adrian lines up, Lina helps me find the car hire booths. Every single company is completely out of cars. The people at the desks are just shaking their heads at anyone who approaches. One guy looks smug as he waves a reservation form. I bet he’s glad he booked ahead.
We wait in the line for 2.5 hours. The line is peppered with air passengers who flew into Rome and then had their connecting flights cancelled. The line for baggage storage is also daunting. Periodically, a staff member with a megaphone announces discouraging news like “No tickets to Paris until Wednesday”, and “There is an extra train to Madrid at 2pm. We can not issue reservations for this train. You will have to buy your tickets on the train”. We imagine the stampede that will happen that afternoon for those seats. Half of the ticket counters are closed, and there are only five staff members working. Each reservation takes at least 15 minutes to process. Often the ticket agents have to pull out rail maps of Europe to find an available route.
Finally, we reach the head of the line. I ask the ticket guy for tickets for the first train to Brussels. He shakes his head, “No trains left for today or tomorrow”, and seems to wave us away, like that’s that. “How about for the day after that?”, I ask. He looks very surprised, and I wonder if he has even looked up to see the line in front of him. A colleague comes and asks him what kind of sandwich he wants for lunch, and they discuss that for a while. However, he manages to find us train tickets from Rome-Milan, then Milan-Zurich-Basel-Strasbourg-Luxembourg-Brussels. We leave on Monday 19th April at 4:36pm and arrive on Tuesday 20th April at 19:51. We tell him that we’ll take it. For the two of us, the tickets are a total of 418.40 euro, plus 81 euro for a hotel for our 8 hour stopover in Milan.
We feel so lucky that we have tickets. As we returned home in a mass of people, I clutched my handbag fiercely, terrified that it would be stolen and remove our one chance at getting home. I still stroke the tickets occasionally, reassuring myself that we do have an escape from this mess. Our friend Lina is currently waiting at Rome airport, waiting to see if her flight to Australia via Malaysia will go ahead. In the meantime, we are holed up at Jenny’s apartment, doing our washing and hoping that we can return to our lives on Wednesday.
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