Wednesday, June 27, 2018

A cascading series of transportation failures

A series of cascading catastrophic transportation failures.

That’s how I think of yesterday.  Not the fabulous meal at my father’s favorite restaurant; not visiting the Magritte Museum; not getting Belgian waffles; not even visiting my favorite chocolate shop in the world.  Just the overwhelming stress of transportation failures.

It began the night before when I was unable to get tickets to Brussels as the international desk had closed at 9 pm.  Apparently, no one needs to travel to other countries from Amsterdam after dark.

I woke up at 7 am Tuesday morning, and rushed to the train station fifteen minutes later.  I woke my dad up and had made arrangements with my nephew to make sure he gets to breakfast at 8 am if I wasn’t back.

When I went back to the now-open international desk, I was informed that the high speed Thalys train I wanted was sold out.  We had to take the slower, nearly three-hour train.  I bought the tickets there and for return, they still had space on the fast two-hour Thalys, so I booked those as well.

We could take either the 8:22 train or the 9:22 train.  On my way back to the hotel, I toyed with the idea of taking the earlier train, but figured that would be too rushed, and too chaotic.  As it happens, there really was no choice, because dad was still asleep and abed when I returned at 7:55. “But the clock say’s ‘6:00 am’,” he said, referring to the clock under the tv that we never turned on.  “That clock is two hours slow,” I replied.

After a leisurely breakfast we made our way to the train station. I had already changed our lunch reservation to 12:30, and I figured we’d take a taxi to the restaurant and arrive on time.  The traveled through the picturesque Dutch countryside, and we saw canals, fields, horses, and cattle, along with the occasional wind turbine generator. 

As we came into stations, I noticed that our slow train was getting slower:  there were delay notices on the platform.  First, it was just 5 minutes delay; then 10 minutes delay.  I began to start worrying about making our reservation.  As we sat in stations for minutes on end, I saw us arriving later and later and later.

“Uncle Jeff, are you singing something?  Your lips are moving.”
“Uncle Jeff, when are we going to arrive?”
“Uncle Jeff, are you upset?”
“Uncle Jeff, why are you banging your head against the window?”
“Uncle Jeff, it’s going to be alright.

Finally, they announced we were coming into the Brussels stations:  Brussels-Nord, Brussels-Central, and ending in Brussels-Midi.  My plan was to get off in Brussels-Central, but when we reached Brussels-Nord, we simply sat on the platform.  Finally, at 12:30, they came on to announce that the train would go no further and we all had to exit.  I heard a Dutch woman say something like “there’s a problem at Brussels-Midi.”

Now, I was really freaking out.  I have no idea where Brussels-Nord is in Brussels or how to get to our restaurant, in a southern suburb, from there.  We grabbed a taxi and hoped for the best.  We arrived at 12:55, and I sent them all in while I paid the driver.  That took a while, because he wasn’t expecting someone to pay with a credit card, and now had to warm up his machine.  Which was very old, and slow, and had trouble booting up, and connecting to the internet.  7 minutes later, I went into the restaurant.

Les Brasserie Georges is just as lovely as I remember.  I needn’t have worried about losing our reservation, as it was only sparsely populated at lunch.  After much discussion, dad and I both ordered the millefeuille (puff pastry) filled with goat cheese and apple, while Matt had some shrimp croquettes, and Shayna passed on an appetizer.  The food was excellent.  I also ordered a glass of a nice Sancerre to go with the meal.

For the main course, dad had the glazed salmon, which he loved (though he worried if he could finish it given how big the appetizer was).  I had the onglet, with an onion relish and vegetables, that was fantastic.  Shayna had the bouillabaisse, which she enjoyed very much; and Matt had the spider-cut steak, which was great.  I could tell that the stress and exhaustion were getting to me when I broke my wine glass.  Luckily, it was empty when I put it down on the table and accidentally set the edge of it on top of the edge of Shayna’s knife.  It tipped over and broke.  Needless to say, I apologized profusely.

Then, we walked over to see my parents’ old apartment building, which had been completely renovated and redone since they lived there in 1994-95.  I couldn’t figure out how to buy a metro card, so we took a taxi to the Magritte Museum.  We enjoyed it (though dad sat it out), but I have to say, the collection was smaller than I expected.  They had one or two very famous pieces, and a lot of his lesser-known work.

Shayna very much wanted to see the royal palace, as she’s into all things royal and monarchical these days.  I’ve told here that dad and I are very much republicans (that is, anti-monarchy).  Afterwards, we strolled down past the Old England Building (a wonderful art nouveau edifice) and saw the concert hall where my parents enjoyed classical music.  Soon enough, we found our way to the Grand Place, and found the Belgian waffle place my nephew wanted to visit.  I have to say, I found them ok, but more hype than substance. 

The Grand Place was full of people, many of whom were lined up for free Belgian French fries (some company’s anniversary).  I went to Neuhaus to introduce Matt and Shayna to my favorite chocolate, and buy some for myself.  Then it was time for the long walk to Brussels-Midi.

It was a hot and sunny day, and while the walk should have taken 20 minutes, it worked out to about 40, with lots of questions of where is the station, why is it taking this long, and my worrying about how to keep my father from falling as he weaved about the cobble stones.

When we arrived at the station, we found our train delayed 40 minutes.  At first there was no explanation, then that there was a problem on the tracks, then that there had been an act of vandalism.  Finally we found that it was a combination of electrical delays in France, people on the tracks near Brussels-Nord, and some delay involving a train in the Netherlands.

By the time we left we were 90 minutes behind schedule and I was down to my last nerve, hanging on a thread.  I just checked out for a while. 

Ok, we’re about to board our flight to Copenhagen.  More later.

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