Not ones to skimp on starting out as we mean to go on, we took in not one, but four countries our first day of our exploration of Europe from London to Istanbul. Cue some Crowded House please.
Some of you may think counting the UK and London as one of these is cheating, but we started out there so it counts in my book. We’d also never been on the Eurostar before or indeed through the Channel Tunnel so that was an adventure long coming. Unfortunately it started off badly – despite us diligently checking in on time so we could take pics of the always stupendous St Pancras station…:
…we were told to stand in the naughty corner to finish our coffees before putting out bags through xray, then found we had to wait in the “lounge” with only overpriced breakfast from just 2 different shops available. And of course the train was running late. All this makes me so proud of Britain..!
I can’t complain though as it was so early that I wasn’t functioning properly either, as after looking at this departures sign I temporarily forgot that Paris had a Disneyland and wondered how on earth the train was going to take people to California… (still looks cool though I think).
So, overzealous and underefficient country number one out of the way (it’s interesting to note that I am now writing from Vienna having passed through France, Belgium, Germany and into Austria that the UK is still the only one where I’ve had to show my passport or have my luggage checked in any way – Daily Mail readers will be in outrage I’m sure but you know what? It’s nice to be trusted the same way as when I travel from Leeds to London), we whizzed through northern France and into Brussels, the capital of Belgium.
My fabulous and effortlessly classy friend Veerle, who I met at Airwaves and who works in Brussels, met us to took us a lovely cafe called Zebra for lunch (I had traditional chicory soup and properly minty tea with fresh as well as dried mint tea leaves), while we gawped at the colourful continental cafe’s clientele.
She also directed us to all the sights we’d be able to cram in in 4 hours, so off we wandered to the Grand-Place, the incredibly pretty central square that was rebuilt by the city’s merchants guilds following its destruction by Louis XIV in 1695.
Here we almost immediately were approached by a friendly chap with a big Nikon round his neck called Raffaele. He is a German photo-artist and is in the process of collecting thousands of photos of different people’s faces to print and use as 6×4″ sized “pixels” to make one giant face.
Apparently we seemed like cool people and he wanted our pictures for his project, which was fine by us and we happily obliged, because we’re generally attention seekers. He told us he was in Brussels to judge a Warhammer miniature design competition, which I was completely clueless about but when my travelling companion Dave walked past Brussels’ branch of Games Workshop and saw these in the window, everything suddenly became clear!
No visit to Brussels is complete without a Belgian waffle (check me out ordering one in French with no help!), some Belgian beer (ours was brewed by monks and found its way to us via the local supermarket for consumption on the sleeper train), and a quick gawp at the Mannekin-Pis, a foot-high naked cupid sculpture that forms a fountain in central Brussels. I think you can probably guess where the water comes out. It’s not much to look at in itself, so here is a picture of Japanese schoolchildren posing in front of it, an equally traditional site in Brussels, and much easier to find than the statue itself for obvious reasons:
Our train to Cologne was about to leave though so off we popped Deutschlandwards. We didn’t have a stop in Germany but we did manage to see two sights which are helpfully within the station. Firstly the Cathedral which I didn’t expect to be virtually touching the front of the Bahnhof, and secondly this fairly gigantic retro neon homage to the reason why Köln (Cologne) is famous to most of us – Eau de Cologne:
From Cologne we caught the sleeper to Vienna. We found our couchettes and found that we were sharing with a very friendly Russian guy named Youri, who offered us beer almost immediately. We could tell this was going to be the beginning of beautiful friendship! Youri had studied in Germany for 6 years and thus spoke great German – but no English, as he explained that during the Cold War Russia banned the teaching of English in schools, an idea he clearly thought was pretty damaging to Russian integration to the rest of the world, and frustrating to himself. Dave speaks only English so this posed a problem – or did it? Enter my unused-for-20-years German language skills! It turns out I can remember a pretty decent amount of what I learnt at school and I really enjoyed translating for the pair of them and thinking of roundabout ways to explain simple concepts when I couldn’t remember the crucial word in the sentence. Much fun! (I’m a geek though remember..)
We also learnt that Youri loves meeting people and saw us take the picture at Cologne station (the one above, scroll back up if you need to..). This apparently was enough for him to think we were pretty cool foreigners and not “boring Germans” (his words not mine!), so that earnt us our second lot of cool points for the day! (This has never happened before nor is likely to again so please forgive me for keeping tally).
Youri was also particularly excited to see Dave produce his Lomo-LC-A+ with an instant photo back, for two reasons – firstly of course the LC-A+ LOMO is originally a Russian camera and better known in his home country as the Diplomat camera Putin publicised as accessible for all. The second reason was that Youri’s brother, like Dave, is a Lomography obsessive, which I suspect will be the start of a worldwide lomo-penpals-of-Dave brotherhood, and quite rightly so if you like pretty pictures. Happy coincidences all round!
So, nicely stuck experimenting with German vocabulary, and not so nicely stuck with a touch of wobbly-headed landsickness after having been on a train for 14 hours – it’s onward to Vienna!
Days since leaving the UK: 1
Kilometres travelled so far by main train journeys:
I’ll have to add this up later, my brain hurts! 328+219+915= 1462
Countries travelled through so far: 4
Cities visited: 3