Merry Christmas Eve...Off to Belgium

Trip Start Dec 18, 2010
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Trip End Dec 29, 2010


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Friday, December 24, 2010

It's snowing on Christmas Eve! All the snow that had started to melt was back in full force! We had a slow start to the morning today as we had a 12:43 train from Koln Central station to Brussels. We joined our travel partners once again in the hotel’s restaurant for a Christmas Eve breakfast before heading back to our room to finish packing. After packing up, we decided to give Koln and the Cathedral one last wander. We found a magnet at the tourist office, picked up a few post cards, checked out the Cathedral and met the group in the hotel lobby.

We trekked across the main square in front of the Cathedral to the Koln Hauptbaunhof to catch our Thalys (fancy Belgium train) train to Europe’s capital. The train station was packed with holiday travelers. As we were at the station well in advanced of our departure time, our train and platform were not yet announced. Feeling quite pleased with our morning so far and looking forward to new adventures we happily waited and took pictures. Watching the departure board, we were amazed at how many trains were delayed…20 minutes, 40 minutes, 120 minutes…still feeling sure of our own travel situation, we finally saw our train come up on the board…and the there it was…12:43 Thalys train to Brussels…cancelled! Now, when there is an addendum to the posted schedule, it is usually translated into English. The word cancelled (with an exclamation point…must be important) was not translated. We had to find someone who could translate for us. We found one group who confirmed the worst. Still feeling unsure, we asked another traveler, who not only confirmed the cancellation, but also laughed at our slow acquisition of this new German word and its implications for our not so flawless travel day.

Go figure, Heidi spent a lot of time researching and making a reservation for the fastest, most convenient train on a busy Christmas Eve travel day, and the train was cancelled. We figured that after a week of hearing the awful travel reports from around Europe and having essentially avoided all of it, the chaos was bound to catch up with us at some point.

We found a Starbucks to get internet access and figure out our options. Every train website listed the train as running and on time. Heidi had even checked this information before we left the hotel, but no train means no train. Scott and Heidi stood in line at the DB (Deutsch Baun) ticket office for more information while Dan researched trains online. The conclusion and final decision was to hang out in the train station for 3 hours and hope to get a seat on the I.C.E train departing at 3:45pm. We hung out at Starbucks because we had internet access and seats, caught up on our blogging, watched the travelers come and go, and hoped that the next train would be on time and have seats for the two hour ride. Christmas Eve Day in Starbucks in Koln…not exactly traditional, but quite memorable and it could have been a whole lot worse!

We went to watch the departure board as our train time drew near. So far, so good…the train was still running and on time. We made our way to a very crowded platform; the Thalys cancelation had created a huge mess for travelers to Brussels. As the train approached, we could only hope that a door would stop in front of us, we would be the first ones on the train, and have a shot at snagging any open seats. To our luck the door stopped right in front of us. We squeezed and blocked the door to let people off the train and to make sure no one got ahead of us, then a mad dash into the passenger compartment to find a seat. Five seats right off the bat! We were set. The train filled to standing room only, and with the amount of luggage and gifts on board it was a very tight fit.

We enjoyed some wine on the train and thought we were cruising, but our travels’ troubles were not done with us yet. The train was delayed by snow and other trains on the line just over the Belgium boarder before the scheduled stop in Liege. At first the optimistic conductor stated that we would only be stopped for about 15 minutes. When we heard "major problem" translated in four different languages, we knew it was time to really settle in. We were stopped for more than an hour, and as the travelers grew weary fearing that we would never reach Brussels, people’s bags began to open and their Christmas wine began to flow. The mood quickly changed from downer to festive as strangers commiserated with each other by sharing wine and the lady with the bottle opener was an instant celebrity. Again, being stuck on a train due to a snow storm on Christmas Eve is not exactly traditional, but extremely memorable and it could have been a whole lot worse! Finally we began to move again and it was smooth sailing to our destination.

Arriving in Brussels was a godsend and this is where Christmas Eve Part 2 picks up. We exited the train station to find our hotel directly across the street. We got checked in, dropped off our luggage, and headed out to explore the old part of the town. We wandered through a 400-500 year old part of Brussels to find a place to have dinner. As we came into the large central square, there was a Christmas tree all lit up and the City Hall was decorated with a light show that used the entire building as an animated video screen with Christmas scenes. We ate dinner in the basement of one of the buildings on the square that looked like a cave type cellar, complete with rounded brick ceilings and old stone arches. Dinner was great, good food, wine and a local dish called stoemp; mashed potatoes and mixed veggies that was very good.

After dinner we meandered through the streets of Brussels winding our way back to our hotel, and feeling quite jolly, Dan started a fierce snowball fight along the way. As in Germany, the people of Brussels didn’t seem too keen on our holiday fun, but we carried on anyway, culminating in a huge ambush on Scott as three snowballs hit him at the same time! Down he went in snowball glory! We dusted ourselves off and decided to imbibe on Christmas Eve wine that Scott and Heidi brought from Germany. Sitting in the grand lobby of the hotel, we created quite a stir when Marsha decided to order a “White Russian”. Service people ran about in a frenzy, the drink guides came out, and about 20 minutes later her drink appeared…a very delicious concoction!  While drinking our wine we planned our Christmas morning festivities until it was time to part ways with Scott, Heidi and Marsha and head over to the local Cathedral for the 11:10pm service to listen to organ music and Christmas singing.

The cathedral was a stunningly beautiful gothic style church decorated in its Christmas finest. We found seats near the front of a packed crowd and settled in for beautiful organ playing and Christmas music (only one of which we recognized). As the mid-night mass was approaching, we ducked out past the camera men and news reporters who apparently record the mass on Christmas Eve.  Exiting the church, we were inspired by the expanse of white snow surrounding us and proceeded to outdo each other in snowball target practice. While Casey can get good distance, Dan has much better aim and was able to hit the targets more consistently. From there we decided to contribute to the landscape by making a snowman (miniature style…but we were still proud of our work) and snow angels.

Walking through what we thought would be deserted Christmas Eve streets, we were surprised to find so many people out enjoying their night as they partied in a multitude of cultural bar and club offerings. We found an open souvenir shop, purchased some water and strolled back through town. Along the way we stopped a couple and asked for directions to the “peeing man” statue only to have them ask us if we could help them open their bottle of beer and low and behold we could! Dan, taking out his handy wedding ring opened that bottle of beer right up. The woman exclaimed, “This is the best wedding ring ever!” Having quite a chuckle (Casey having long given up even pretending to be shocked by this use of such a sentimental piece of jewelry), we continued on our way back to our hotel.

Exhausted, ready for bed, and with thoughts of sugar plums dancing in our heads, we happily said good night eager for Christmas morning.

Merry Christmas Eve!

Dan and Casey
Slideshow Report as Spam

Comments

jason_vivian
jason_vivian on

Our flight leaves at 630pm on wed. I'll keep an eye out for you guys...haha

Lari Moore on

Big Sigh!.......

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