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Anne Ku at Ilp in May 2001
Anne Ku writes about her travels, conversations, thoughts, events, music, and anything else that is interesting enough to fill a web page. She has written and produced two chamber operas, premiered in Utrecht, Netherlands. See her publication list for more.
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Bon Journal

Part 4: train connections to Brussels

From Utrecht to London (part 4)

I never dreamed I'd be typing this story from my hotel room directly opposite the Brussels South train station. At 1 am, I should be asleep in bed, in central London at this time, if not for the wind.

Yes, it was the wind that blew a nation to nearly a complete halt.

On Dutch radio, all the traffic chaos and train delays were attributed to a single cause: the wind from the northeast. The strong gusts blew entire trees down, blocking railtracks and creating unforeseen havoc on an already busy Friday afternoon.

Less than 20 hours before this quiet moment, I saw dry leaves being visibly blown across roads and canals in Amsterdam. It was a sight worth mentioning, for never had I seen such fervour and determination. The ferocious wind cooled the earth a few degrees. Autumn turned to winter in an hour.

I had planned a good four hours to pack for my London trip and even have some slack for checking e-mails and practising some piano. After much waiting on chilly platforms for trains that never arrived, going up and down the stairs to queue with other impatient passengers, and eventually catching a ride somewhere between Amsterdam and Utrecht, I was left with only 15 minutes to pack a week's worth of luggage.

My 99-euro return train ticket which I had booked online in mid-October entitled me to travel from any station in the Netherlands to Brussels and connect to a Eurostar train to central London. I never thought that I'd actually train hop, so-to-speak. On this unpredictable day, the usual intercity train from Utrecht to Rotterdam didn't exist because trees got in the way of intercity trains originating further east. As soon as I arrived at "Utrecht Centraal" I scurried with my green roll-on suitcase and jumped into the first train to Den Haag in hopes of connecting to a local train from Gouda, the next stop.

A damsel in distress is quickly detected. A kind Dutch gentleman told me he was going to Rotterdam, thus follow him. Almost as soon as we got off in Gouda, the Dutch city famous for cheese, we spotted an empty train following behind, on the same platform. He assured me that trains were not the only ones delayed. His son, who was doing his hotel internship in Southampton, was supposed to have arrived in Schiphol Airport at 9 am but landed only at 1 pm. A four hour delay -- imagine that!

Once in Rotterdam Central, despite the kind gentleman's leading me over the bridge on a short-cut away from the maddening crowd, I felt something was amiss. The station was nearly empty of trains. A conductor told me that I had missed my southbound connection by one minute. The next train was not due for another hour.

The domino effect of late trains and backlogged passengers meant that each stop was prolonged as passengers tried to get on board. I looked around for someone who might be going my way to find out which end of the train to wait and get on, as my final attempt to "save time." An American lady with an English accent cheerfully replied that she was also going to London. Having someone else to share the pain was definitely worth the gain.

As we boarded our 18:55 train, we were hit by hail. So far, I had seen wind, rain, and now hail. What next? There was nowhere to stand or sit if not for my noticing someone leaning against a fold-up seat. I motioned that I'd like to sit in it. The Belgian man dutifully, in front of his two female colleagues, got out of the way to allow me to sit. Every stop of the way, I glanced at my mobile phone for the time. I had booked the last train to London. At Antwerp, I knew it was difficult to catch the 21:02 Eurostar to London.

When we approached Central Brussels, an inspector checked our tickets. "You won't make it to London tonight," he said. "Just go to the Eurostar office and ask them to get you on a train tomorrow morning."

"What about tonight? Where will we sleep?"

The American lady and I rushed to the Eurostar terminal at Brussel South train station. Obviously we had missed the last Eurostar train to London. Were there others from the Netherlands? The rest of Europe? "Just the Netherlands," a Belgian train officer replied. "It only happens on the Amsterdam - Rotterdam - Brussels line, whenever there's a weather problem."

His colleague took over and calmly reassured us that he'd book us the nearby hotel for the night. "Which train would you like to catch tomorrow morning?"

Not the earliest, I thought. Enough time to get a good night's sleep --- and perhaps grab a nice dinner in central Brussels.

He booked us on the third train departing next morning. And sure enough, it snowed.

22 November 2008

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