Friday, 27 February 2015

In Brussels (again)

On Wednesday morning, just ahead of my journey to Brussels, I took a last walk around Langenhagen. I'd only been there a few hours, but there was something about it that I liked and, as I trundled my way towards the tram stop a few hundred yards from the hotel, pulling my suitcase behind me, I wished I'd had more time to wander around.

The tram journey to Hannover Hbf was straightforward, but the view out of the window was pretty boring: car showrooms, industrial estates, that sort of thing, but all neat and tidy. That's what I like about the Germans, everything is neat and tidy and efficient, the trains arrive and depart on time, it's all good.

At Hannover I bought a roll – smoked salmon and egg – and ate it on the train as it pulled out of the station. While I had reserved a seat, it was occupied and I couldn't be bothered to argue the toss with somebody who probably didn't speak English and besides, there were better seats available, seats with tables. My reserved seat was stuffed into the rear of the coach and didn't have a table. The thought of staring at the back of the seat in front wasn't very appealing.

The train went as far as Cologne where I had to pick up a second train to Brussels. I had a half-hour wait, during which time I ate a smallish, custard-filled pastry, and soon I was heading out of Germany. At Liege, there was a notable change in the scenery. The clean lines of German architecture was replaced by a considerably less tidy outlook. The buildings were older and resembled the Victorian houses of South London. I could have been in Streatham. Despite this, I do like Brussels, especially some of the quiet streets and small squares and cosy restaurants.

The view from room 704, Best Western Royal Centre
I was booked to spend the night in the Best Western Royal Centre, a hotel I hadn't been impressed with when I last stayed there about a year ago. I'm not keen on hotels that don't have restaurants and this was one of them, but the hotel redeemed itself by directing me towards a district of the city where there were a handful of restaurants and I settled for Napoli, an Italian pizza and pasta place that was absolutely superb and under 10 minutes' walk from the front desk.

Earlier, I noticed that there was a full minibar in my room (Room 704) so I enjoyed a glass of wine and a bag of crisps while watching Pointless. Unlike in Germany, the Royal Centre offered a couple of BBC channels, which meant I could catch up on the latest news 'back home' – they're hounding Sir Cliff Richard again, but no more news on Prince Andrew.

The reason behind this particular trip being the way it was – and by that I mean that I had to visit Germany and Belgium – was because one of my appointments had decided to postpone a meeting that had been originally scheduled for last week. I managed to re-arrange my Brussels visit, but the initial postponement meant that I had to travel by train to Belgium. I figured it would be easier than taking a taxi to Hannover Flughafen and flying there as that would have meant the usual hassle of arriving at the airport a couple of hours prior to take-off, going through the hassle of airport security and so on when the alternative was simply jumping on a train. I reckon that, pound for pound, the train was the easier and the cheaper option.

The Brussels Metro at Troon
Thursday morning and my interview wasn't until the afternoon so another late (ish) start. I say 'late' but I was still up with the lark and enjoying breakfast downstairs and then I tried to do some work, but the poor hotel wifi prevented this and the business centre in the lobby proved equally troublesome – the keyboard of the computer was different – the A was where the Q is normally located, the M was where I would normally find a K, the W was where the Z should be and so on. In the end I gave up, emailed my contact in Brussels and the meeting was scheduled for an hour earlier than originally planned.

Rather than spend a fortune on a cab, I checked out of the hotel and walked to the nearest Metro station where I took the train to a place called Troon and then, after a cup of tea in a drab restaurant called Pulp, a number 80 bus that took me across town to where my second and last meeting would take place.

The rather stark Pulp café
I grabbed a sandwich and a banana for lunch, conducted my business and then jumped on a bus towards the centre of town followed by the Metro to Brussels Midi where I picked up a Eurostar train to London. I got home around 8.30pm, enjoyed a chunk of fish pie and a pear and after watching the news went to bed.

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