Goodbye Amsterdam

After my coffee this morning I went back to the hotel to get my bags, checkout and head up to the station.

The hotel just after checkout

Amsterdam station is unlike any other in Europe I’ve been through, you need to scan your ticket to get on or off the platform concourse area, and once there, there is no digital board listing the departure platforms. I couldn’t find the paper listing anywhere so had to ask at the information desk. Of course my train leaves from the last platform quite a walk away. I grab an early sandwich here rather than taking it on the train with me.

The train arrives on time, departs on time and gets to Brussels on time which overall has been a rarity. This train is as fast as advertised just shy of 300kph. The only frustrating thing is the other passengers who don’t seem to be able to read the seat numbers against their ticket and hold up everyone else boarding. Hell really is other people sometimes.

The train is comfortable, only real complaint is no in seat power, which is super surprising for a first class high speed service. Thankfully I have my battery.

It’s horrendously hot for this part of the world and the aircon on the train is only barely coping. Thankfully it’s only a 2hr trip.

There are plenty of wind turbines and after a while I realise we have crossed the border into Belgium as on one of the generators it announces Wind4Flanders.

The most surprising thing really is the lack of green due to the heatwave. After a month of 30+ days with little rain everything is brown. Blink and I could swear I was on the Western Line in Sydney given the outlook. The occasional amazing church with their spires gives it away that I’m not at home.

Once in Brussels I eventually find the luggage storage area and where the Eurostar leaves from and attempt to store my luggage. I need 5 euros in coins and only have 3.50 so I have to purchase something to get coins. Do this and all is good until I then need to go to the loo and remember that in most of Europe to spend a penny it will cost a Euro ! I find a machine this time that converts notes to coins. Now I’m back to a stack of coins I won’t need. The cycle of currency waste continues….

Walking outside the station I’m hassled by two beggars in less than 1 minute. I was going to walk up to Palais de Justice but change my mind as it’s a 25 minute walk in 36c and decide to get a cold drink instead

Warm day here….

Walking outside I see this thing against the side of the wall in the middle of nowhere that looks just like a toilet. 2 seconds later a passerby uses it and removes any doubt. I guess it saves people just wizzing against the wall anywhere

Inside I find a cafe and get a cold iced coffee and am reminded I’m in the French speaking world as the coffee it terrible. Most station coffee is rubbish but it’s hard to mess up an iced coffee, even Starbucks do a decent iced coffee

You know you are in Belgium when the vending machines do waffles !

The Eurostar is again having issues (possibly heat related) delayed over an hour and a half out of Brussels. it’s reliability has certainly decreased over the past 12 months given my recent problems with them. They do promote themselves as better than flying but add in the delays and the now airport like security check and queues its not as clear cut. I did consider getting a ferry from Amsterdam to the UK, I’m thinking that would have been the better option. They announced we can claim compensation after 48 hours.

The queue behind me is way way worse. At least here in Brussels the waiting area is properly air conditioned unlike Paris.

finally on board. Was starting to worry they might cancel it

Once it gets going it really gets going. One slight bonus with the delay is that I won’t be dealing with peak hour on the tube getting from St Pancras to Paddington.

Hundreds of kilometres of fencing at Calais to prevent illegal immigration though the tunnel. At the section where the fencing starts it’s protected by two border guards.

9pm finally back in the UK. Flight leaves in the morning for Singapore

Au Revoir Charlie

Today is a relocation day. We are leaving Paris and heading back to London for a night so Sharon and Emma can get their flight back to Sydney tomorrow night, and I can get my flight to Copenhagen.

We had mostly packed yesterday afternoon so we would be ready early. We had to checkout by 11 and our train wasn’t till 3 so we had a few hours to look around. We used to find somewhere near Gare Du Nord to keep our luggage for a few hours whilst we looked around. I’d been super stressed about our ability to get across Paris on Bastille Day, but need not of worried as the traffic was less than normal. Apparently it doesn’t get crazy until sun down. It will also be insanely crazy on Sunday with France in the final for the World Cup. I expected to see tri-colours everywhere but it seemed quite subdued and really just felt like a normal Saturday morning.

Gare Du Nord was its usual eclectic mix of grimy streets, strange smells, throngs of people, back packers, dodgy characters, beggars and shite souvenir peddlers. One dodgy looking bloke was just hanging around the subway entrance looking to push past someone and get through on their subway ticket for free. I’d seen a few people do that over the past week and could spot their MO getting close to people and trying to follow them through. I blocked him from trying this as Emma went through.

As soon as we had dumped the luggage we got a train back to Gare Saint Lazare to check out the Primtemps Haussmann department store. The less time I spend at Gare du Nord the happier I’ll be.

This department store (Primtemps Haussmann) is wonderful. The true Parisian shopping experience and prices to match. They have a roof garden with a great view but unfortunately it’s closed today. We settled on coffee and a cake. Again sigh….. this was a commercial Nespresso machine. Ok and consistent as Nespresso always is, but not worth €5 a pop.

This store also has a pretty spectacular food and grocery area which we wandered and oogled all the nice looking food products for a bit. For lunch we grabbed some packaged sandwiches from the local carrefor supermarket to take on the train and avoid paying Eurostar prices for substandard food, and also to avoid joining the expected far-queue at the restaurant car on the train.

Cookie kit in a glass jar!

Not sure I’d want to explain “happy plants” to the guys at customs in Sydney.

View from the cafe

Inside Gare Du Nord looking down from the Eurostar check in area.

We started the check in process just before 2pm. Took a while to get though but thankfully not as bad as the trip to Paris. For some reason our seats were reassigned and we lost the table seat we had and were across from each other on the train. Eurostar experience overall is down on my expectations given the great trips I had last year and in 2016.

Bastille Day M&M’s for sale today

Just in time for the World Cup….

I picked up my copy of Charlie Hebdo from the station to browse through on the train back to London. I do wish they would do an English version, oh well some entertainment for the next few days over coffee with google translate to fully appreciate it

Train arrived in London on time but they screwed a few people around by not stopping at one of the designated stops (Ashford) and had to organise other transport for them. London has it all over Paris as far as arrivals go, St Pancras is clean and well maintained. We took the tube from St Pancras (Kings Cross technically as that’s the tube station attached to St Pancras international) to Paddington where we have a hotel so we don’t have to relocate across London in the afternoon tomorrow to get to Heathrow. Just jump on the Heathrow express.

Our hotel in London is right on the “CS3” cycle super highway where it’s mostly separated from traffic and crosses London. I wish Sydney could do something like this.

Our room has a mezzanine level

Eurostar or Jetstar ?

Our first bad experience with the Eurostar today. Thankfully we were on the last train out of London and we didn’t get the full Jetstar treatment with our train being cancelled. That happened to one or two earlier today due to some signalling issues on the tracks in France. Luckily we only copped a delayed departure and far-queues from hell trying to get though immigration and into the departure lounge

Love the British and their orderly queuing, a few queue jumpers got caught, publicly shamed and sent to the end of the line.

A few trains departed with out catering. Luckily it’s only 2hrs to Paris. Thankfully even though it took forever to get through our train was only 40 minutes late. I was also somewhat surprised we had a spare seat next to us given the earlier cancelled trains.

The Eurostar people even helped load our luggage. Not long after departure I’m reminded of all the things I love about the Eurostar, comfortable seats with legroom, it’s fast and you get a great view.

At the end of the day, the Eurostar wasn’t Jetstar.

Sharon brought these delicious strawberries to nibble on during the trip. They were perfect, sweet all the way through. At home we sometimes get strawberries with a slightly tart taste, not these ones.

We have finally made it to Paris. We get our apartment tomorrow. For the night we are in this corner room on the 6th floor of a hotel right between Gare Du Nord and Gare Du Est stations. More pics of that tomorrow.

It does have a lift but I love these stairs