Friday, 27 March 2009

St Pancras – Gare du Midi

First time crossing borders by land, how exciting! Well, that's not counting the time when my parents and I walked across the bridge to Paraguay from Foz do Iguacu a zillion years ago. But does Paraguay really count as another country? I don't think so.

Grazi and I meet at St Pancras International, each of us coming from different parts of the city. Me, from Victoria, only a few stops away. Her, from Knightsbridge, ditto via the Picadilly line. I can't get over how awesome public transport in London is. All tube stations lead to Rome. Well, not really. But you get what I mean.

Once there we grab a quick bite to eat and head straight to check-in. The check-in process is effortless (takes about 3 seconds), and there's no "no-liquids, no-hats, no-tweezers, no-paper clips, take-your-shoes-off-so-we-can-check-for-explosives" kind of policy you see in most airports nowadays. You arrive, slide your ticket in, show your passport, and off you go. So we get on this ridiculously long Eurostar train and a few minutes later we're heading to Brussels.

Travelling by train is so much better than by plane. It's quicker across short distances, there are no long waits or queues. Plus, it's more comfortable, you can appreciate the scenery, and you're not forced to watch awkward security demonstrations. And, check this out: I didn't need to show my passport when arriving in Belgium! If only they knew there was a Brazilian entering their country unnoticed...

Upon arriving the first thing you notice is how all signage is in both French and Dutch, which makes finding directions a bit confusing -- not to mention reading train timetables. After a few minutes trying to find out where to go and what kind of tickets we were supposed to buy, we embark on a quick tram ride to the hotel.

In our first night in Brussels we decide to head for the main (dare I say only) tourist destination in the city. Rue des Bouchers-Beenhouwerstraat is a veritable tourist trap. Lined with Greek, Italian, and seafood restaurants, waiters stand by the sidewalk trying to lure in anyone who walks by, Bangkok style. We decide one of the places has quite a reasonably priced four course menu, only to discover the menu isn't available. It happens a lot, apparently. We then settle for an Italian restaurant to have overpriced so-so spaghetti and half frozen lasagne.

After having a few treats from one of the countless chocolate shops around, we have had enough for today. An early morning and a long day are waiting us tomorrow -- heading to Bruges!

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