Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Belgium and France. Here We Come!


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 esterday, was a travel day and it was a long one at that.

Waiting at BWI.
Flash back to earlier in the day. My plan was to *call* Uber at 12:30p. I figured they would take anywhere from 15-30 minutes to get to my house but as our luck would have it, there was a driver less than 4 minutes away! We were leaving from BWI and I factored in some travel time in case the traffic was bad on 95N but as that turned out, there was no traffic. In just around 1/2 hour, we arrived at the airport....well ahead of our 3:55pm departure time.

I had checked us in yesterday so all Z and I had to was go through security. Thanks to my Global Services membership, I automatically qualify for TSA PreCheck and since I bought the tickets under my name, we both could use the line. There was only one person ahead of me and we breezed right through. It took us about 10 minutes to get to our departure gate leaving us more than 2 hours to wait for our flight! With the task of getting to the airport out of the way, I could relax a bit. Both Z and I occupied ourselves with our iPad.

Our flight to Charlotte left on time even though the plane was full. I was seated in the middle row and in no time was happily chatting away with an older African American woman seated in the window seat. Her name was Joanne (sp?) and we bonded over our love of traditional southern cooking. Our hour and half long flight arrived a few minutes early giving Z and I a comfortable window to make it to the Paris departure gate.

Our flight to Paris was not full which was nice - we were able to board quickly and there was plenty of space for our luggage in the overhead bins.


I took the window seat so long legged Z could have the aisle seat.  I kept busy watching the world go by as we lifted off.


We settled in for the long overnight flight. A couple of movies, a couple of meals and a bit of snoozing and the eight and half hour flight passed by easily.  We landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport, bright and early on a cold and cloudy day.  The weather was not nice here and I was hoping it would be better in Belgium.  I think we were both a bit tired but at the same time exhilarated to have finally made it!  We breezed through immigration.

The plan was to catch the TGV from the airport to Brussels Midi train station.  I had checked out the train schedules earlier and knew there was a 10:55a train.  We had more than enough time to catch the train but first, we had to make our way from the arrival area to the train station.  It's been 9 years since I last did this and I swear the walk to the station was much shorter.  It seemed like we walked for a mile, weaving ourselves and our suitcases in and out of an absolute throng of people, as we moved forward.  This airport is insanely crowded!  Eventually, with some stops for directions, we found the train station.

The station was crowded....as you would expect and we had a bit of challenge, thanks to neither of us speaking French, finding where to buy the tickets.  I figured we could probably have figured out how to do it the kiosks....which I know provide instructions in English though Z thought otherwise.  In any event, I decided to stand in the line for the Thalys train ticket counter as I figured we would not only get our tickets from Paris to Brussels but also from Ghent back to Paris - might as well buy the round trip.


Even though the line to the ticket counter was incredibly long, it moved well.  We managed to get our tickets and then headed to the lounge area to wait.  According to the ticket agent, the train arrival would be posted up 20 minutes in advance of the scheduled departure time.  We didn't have long to wait.....until the sign indicated that the train was 15 minutes late.  That added a bit of wait time but thankfully, the delayed train did arrive on time.


20 minutes before departure, it was a thumbs up so we headed down to the platform.  Z found a sign indicating where, on the platform, our specific train car would pull up.  We stood nearby.


The train pulled in a few minutes ahead of the departure time and everyone got on board.  We had assigned seats and we easily located them.  We settled in for the hour and 15 minute ride to Brussels.


Z was definitely tired.  Shortly after the train pulled out of the station and he got a few minutes view of the French countryside, I saw him nod off.  Poor kid.  A few more overseas trips under his belt and he'll soon figure out how to kick jet lag.

By the time the train pulled into the station in Brussels, it was around noon - that would be 6a US east standard time.  I woke Z up and we both made our way off the train and out of the station.

Standing outside Bruxelles-Midi train station.

I had the address of our Airbnb apartment.  According to Google Maps, it was about a 30 minute walk, presuming you don't get lost along the way.  Given how tired we were, I was more than willing to foot for a car/taxi ride.

Plan A was to fire up Uber and see if there were any cars in the vicinity.  No luck.  No pins.   Plan B was to get a taxi so we stood in the line.  It was only a 2.3 km walk so I figured the ride wouldn't break the piggy bank even though we are in pricey Brussels.

In no time, it was our turn to get in a cab and I handed the driver the address.  Off we went.  It was nice to be back in Europe though I was a bit surprised at how much traffic there was in the city.  It seemed like at several points along our route, construction was taking place which added to the traffic congestion as road lanes were reduced.

I watched the meter tick, tick, tick.  With each tick, it was a few more cents.   Our driver took us down a narrow cobblestone street and stopped outside our apartment building.  The meter read 12.30 euros.  Not too bad.

Our Airbnb host had given us instruction on how to enter the apartment and we managed to get in without much difficulty.  Somehow, unlocking a door can be surprisingly challenging!   On the other side of the locked door was a spacious studio with a sleeping area in the loft, a small kitchen, a bathroom with a shower, sink and washer dryer.  The toilet was in a separate room.  Most importantly for us these days....we had WiFi - two hotspots at that!  Our studio opened out on to a small courtyard.  It was nice.  This would be our home in Brussels for two nights.


We took a few minutes to settle in and relax.  The little nap that Z took on the train seemed to have reinvigorated him and he was ready to hit the town and so was I!