Eurostar to Brugge
Trip Start Dec 31, 2010
24Trip End Jan 31, 2011
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Where I stayed
Slept and slept more until the wakeup call vaporized my last dream at 7. A quick breakfast (unnecessary as it would turn out) and short walk to the Eurostar platform just in time to board the 8:57 to Brussels. A lovely French conductor told me I could sit anywhere in the business class car I liked. I could have sat in every seat as I was the only person in the car. Felt like James West sans Artemis Gordon.
The train slides out of St. Pancreas on time and plunges into a long tunnel through central London, re-emerging in suburban office parks and industrial zone morphing quickly into farmland and green fields. It's only 40 minutes to the Channel once the train hits cruising speed, largely paralleling the M20. Many short tunnels along the way, quick blackouts like a night's sleep and finally one from which you never wake. With no sign of the Channel the windows go black for the 20 min crossing to Calais where the clock moves an hour ahead to 11 am. Emerge under a lid of broken, clotted cream clouds listening to Nick Drake's "Pink Moon." Green fields. Milk chocolate plowed earth. Tidy farms. Red tiled roofs and white and cafe ai lait stucco walls. Wisp of smoke from the chimneys. Clusters of houses around church spires and surrounded by open fields dotted with clumps of feathery, bare trees. Not a soul in sight this Sunday morning. Alone in the landscape with a railroad car to myself. Gently swaying, sliding through a quiet Sunday morning. Hardly a car on the road. Muted colors of open fields, gently rolling low hills.
After 30 minutes arrive at Lille. White scraps of snow now litter the fields.
Arrive at Brussels Midi at noon. Station is vast and airport-busy. WC is strictly pay as you go and I lack the appropriate euro coin. Train to Bruges at 1.05 with only one stop at Gent-St. Pieters at 1.40. Houses in the towns along the way are foursquare and middle-class. Everything is neat and prosperous and the trains all run on time.
Disembark at 2 local time and following my infallibly inaccurate sense of direction, circumnavigate the large station under an overpass, through a small park to the cab stand and am soon in the old town and deposited at my hotel, a stately 18th-century yellow house facing a canal. Check in to comfortable quarters on the second floor overlooking the canal, take an afternoon walk through crowded medieval streets to the square and beyond. So many people here, even in January. Summer must be SRO. Most shops closed for Sunday, but crowds mill all the same, suggesting most, like me, are here to look.
Back to the hotel and down to it's cozy bar for a whisky. (Tried for a martini, but the bartender tells me they have no shaker; American-style cocktails a rarity here. He tries to tempt me with the hotel's signature offering consisting of gin with apricot brandy and something else, but I lost interest after the mention of the apricot brandy.) There's a fire crackling in front of a large sofa and I'm off to the side in a red velvet wing chair away from the heat tapping these last words before heading into town for dinner.