Geeks Abroad! Post 6: Trains in France and the evening in Brussels

The following takes place on May 9th, 2015.

Good morning!  Well, sortof good…it’s so early.  We say goodbye to Stuttgart and head towards Strasbourg, France by car.  It takes about an hour and a half. When we arrive at the train station we have to say goodbye to Jimmy as well, and send him home to get some rest.
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We might’ve had enough time to switch our ticket to an earlier train but since the only French I know is limited to basic greetings and like 2 phrases I learned from TV shows, so we waited it out.  As we sit, I notice there’s a phone charging station where you charge your phone by pedaling.

Also, we notice a couple of soldiers with big-ass guns walking around*, so THAT was slightly terrifying.

Finally it’s time to board the train to Paris. Our journey is un-eventful, the French countryside having less mustard flowers and more windmills.  Also their soda cans have got to be the tiniest I’ve ever seen.  So far in Europe, I’m used to getting 8oz bottles, but this can is 150ml, which is just barely a smidge over 5oz.  Even those little 90 calorie cans in the US are 7.5 oz, dang!
We arrive in Paris, at the Gare de l’Est station, and have to make our way to the Gare du Nord station a few blocks away.
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We have about 1 hour between trains so we decide to get something to eat. We find a place in the station that serves sandwiches and pastries and the helpful proprietor speaks enough English to help us with our choices. I also got a chocolate tart.  Please note the spiffy travel hair and complete lack of makeup–yeah, I’m stylin’.
As we are eating, we are approached by a very persistent beggar woman.  After a minute the proprietor appears and shoo’s her out (well, more like silently pointing than actual “shooing”).  I find myself very fond of this proprietor!

In hindsight, it might’ve been better if we’d just stayed in that deli/bakery for the rest of our hour, but what do we know?  Our train doesn’t have a platform assigned yet, so we just sortof wander around, checking out the station.  Jon pops into news stands a few times to look for something to read.  Since these shops are rather small and I have my luggage, I decide to wait outside the shops.  The station is crowded and loud.

As I wait I am approached by another woman asking for money.  I am polite and apologetic as I tell her no.  I observe others being approached, and quickly adopt their method of handling these beggars, which is just a simple ‘no’, which I utilize as I am approached 6 times in that hour before our train left, including two women who didn’t even ask, they just walked up with their hand out.  A random guy starts trying to talk to me in French, and I regret that I hadn’t at least learned how to say “I don’t speak French”.  I half-smile and shrug awkwardly until he gives up.

I see there are soldiers at this station as well.*

Finally our train arrives and we have a platform!  I am so ready to get up out of this train station!  As we leave the city, I can see the top Eiffel Tower in the distance, but couldn’t get a picture of it.  And that is the summary of my time in Paris.  It’s a good thing I didn’t have a romanticized view of the city otherwise I would be severely disillusioned right now.

We arrive in Brussels in the mid-afternoon.  I see this random, unexplained thing in the train station, but I love it cuz, ya know, I like the weird stuff.
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We catch a cab from the station to our hotel, the Royal Windsor Hotel Grand Place.  It is late in the afternoon, and though I would like to just rest in the room, I know we only have a couple of hours to explore Brussels, so we head out.

Our first stop, the Manneken Pis (the peeing boy), which is a big deal as far as tourist attractions go here.  All the souvenir shops are flooded with anything and everything they can make with this peeing boy’s image.  Also, they dress him up regularly, which is how we found him.

We then had to get some Belgian Waffles from a street vendor, because reasons.  We then attempt to eat them with the most ridiculously tiny forks possible.  The whole process of eating them was almost comical, but they were sure tasty.

Then, with our main objectives of the statue and the waffles taken care of, we wander around the sea of tourists and buy souvenirs and Belgian chocolates and take pictures of the buildings.  Lots of statues…hard not to think of weeping angels here.

We ate dinner at the restaurant in our hotel, and Jon got a sampler of local favorites and a goblet of beer, while I just had some pasta.

After dinner there was more walking around and sightseeing.  We saw quite a bit of street art.  I believe there was a whole lot more to be seen, but we only got out to a couple block radius around our hotel so it was a bit limited.  I was a little bummed I didn’t get to take Jon to the comic book museum, too.

Oh, and I also found another peeing fountain/statue down a little side-alley between pubs.  On researching it later, I discovered there was also a statue of a dog peeing on a post somewhere that we didn’t see.
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Finally we retired to our room for the night.  I was surfing the internet on my phone via the hotel’s wifi, trying to figure out the timetable for the next day’s travel.  I had tickets purchased but they were good all day, not just one specific train.  After a few minutes of browsing the WiFi cut out.  When it didn’t come back up after a while, Jon decided to go downstairs to complain about it while I watched one of the few TV stations in English (the rest being French and Dutch). A rerun of the Jimmy Fallon show was on, which was fine with me.

Then the power went out.  It was around 9:30, so dark out, but the light from the street outside lit the room enough for me to find my little bitty flashlight.  After some time Jon made it back to the room (he had to walk up 5 flights).  Evidently their trying to fix the WiFi had knocked out the power.  He told me it was still on in the lobby though, so we decided to go down and sit in the lounge in our pajamas for a while.  They did have a live piano player there, after all.  We weren’t the only ones with the idea, so the lounge was pretty lively.  We got ourselves a couple of drinks and I mused to Jon that they could at least comp us a free drink on account of the power being out in our room, but I didn’t have enough rage about it that I actually went to talk to someone about it.  Also, I noticed this sculpture in the lobby that makes me think of Gollum in a dress.

After about an hour we found out the power was restored to our floor, but the WiFi was still down and was expected to be down until the morning.  I expressed my irritation at the front desk for a few minutes and they placated me by directing me to the business center, which had internet through a wired connection.  So finally I was able to look up the train schedule!  I printed it out, even though there was a sign in there saying printing was 10p each.  The room was dark and there was no one to pay, anyway(I’m such a rebel!!!).

Upon returning to our floor, we got to shimmy through a set of mostly closed fire doors blocking the Elevator vestibule from the hallway to the rooms.  We found out later that the fire alarm had also gone off while we were downstairs.
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Once we got back to our room, that was pretty much it.  We made sure our stuff was packed and ready to go in the morning once we got dressed and then we went to sleep.

Stay tuned for the next post….the CAT FESTIVAL!!

*PS:  I confess I was too afraid to take pictures of the soldiers I saw so those pics are ones I found online

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