Euro Love Train part 2 14th July 2018: London to Brussels to Amsterdam

[Warning to any new readers, of which there are a few I think: my blog is my personal, excruciatingly detailed diary of the travel I do and how I feel when I'm drinking heavily. Expect more profanity than profundity]

Packing doesn't take long. I'm kinda good at it. Also I'd put something like 12 pairs of pants in my suitcase a couple of days previous, so anything else was a bonus. Slept well, but was not woken up by the cat, strangely. Had set two alarms out of paranoia, and what always happens when I do so happened: I woke up by myself in plenty of time. Stupidly early in fact, at like 0430. Left a mischievous message on our Facebook event page only to get an instant private response from Andrew, our chef, who was joining us from here on in.

Rather than leave and head to St Pancras about 3 hours early I chose to write up the previous day, then set off from my gloriously art deco local station. I finished off the Death in Ice Valley podcast, laughing when in the final episode the Norwegian lass says "I'm not a psychologist". (Helen, did you do the same?)

Perfect changeover at Vauxhall and I'm at St Pancras in plenty of time, attempting to meet Andrew by going to where he says he's meeting Andrei, only to then discover he's moved by the time I arrive. Eventually me, Andrew and Andrei are together and standing up near the Betjeman pub, the 0800 meeting point for everyone. And today is a big "everyone": the five of us who did Dublin to London are being joined by Andrew for the entire rest of the trip and also another 3 fellas we collectively call "the Berliners".

John is already outside the pub. By 0805 no-one else has turned up. Our Eurostar is at 0858 and you have to get through by 0828. Furthermore not everyone is travelling on a cursory-glance EU passport. The queues are fucking insane, as people stream through for the 0858 and 0922. At the barrier my boarding pass is rejected and a replacement is spat out at me: YOUR SEAT HAS CHANGED. Then it won't let me through and I have to seek assistance.

Eurostar is so horrific. I'm sure it was never this bad at Waterloo. The queues are crazily long, virtually no-one knows where they're going. There are two borders to legally cross: UK exit immigration and French entry immigration are separate desks, which is just unreasonably bureaucratic. Hopefully Brexit will fix this.

It's just Andrei, John and I right now. Apparently the others have turned up and are behind us in the queue, and turning round I can spot Ed, so that's good. Andrei and I both have Amex platinum cards which get us into the lounge, albeit with no guests, so we go there to grab a cup of coffee and just have a look... except no, Andrei's not allowed in. American American Express cards aren't welcome here, only British American Express cards are. Ha! So I go in to grab a coffee and a tea except all hot drink machines are currently out of order.

Back to the main concourse and the tannoy is requesting that literally everyone on the 0922 should go to the information desk becuase they've changed trains and thus everyone's seats. This does not make things less of a zoo. Eventually the 0858 platform is announced and seemingly two thousand people surge to ride 4 slow travelators up. We hang back for a bit rather than join. Eventually we're up and in coach 14, Standard Premier don't you know. And, good lord, this is actually really quite fancy. Comfortable seats, plenty of space, storage, power (which we don't find for over an hour, mind; it's well hidden). Time for a bloody mary, surely?

Andrew is chef, sommelier, and similar on this trip. All the ingredients for breakfast come out and everyone takes photos of him doing so. When the meticulously made drink is served, it is both welcome and excellent.

"This is the best bloody mary I've ever had" would be higher praise if I'd had more than one bloody mary prior to this in my life.

Next comes cheese and bread. Everyone loves cheese and bread, especially Fortnum and Mason cheese.

A beer also comes out. It is "Ale Factory" branded, commissioned by Mike and his Scale Factory business. I complain vociferously about how disgusting it is, but not to Mike because he and the other Berliners are actually not in Standard Premier but back with the proles, 11 carriages to the rear.

Kent looks nice out of the window, though Ebbsfleet is hardly picturesque as a stop. The official freebie breakfast also arrives along with tea and coffee, and despite already being pretty full I can't resist a freebie plate of pastry.

A border crossing arrives, the tunnel. We toast it with, er, something. Was it vodka shots? I think it was. I got shouted at for taking a sip rather than downing it. Anyway. Bonjour, France.

John is laughing repeatedly while reading my Toujours Tingo book. But conversation starts to get a bit rowdier, what with all the booze and also because we'd invited the Berliners up and they arrived. Sloe Gin comes out, about which I complain loudly, but against my wishes this is what we toast the border between France and Belgium with. There is also an attempt to toast Bastille Day which I resist, but despite that I'm having more Ale Factor beer thrown at me and complaining about already being drunk. Lightweight.

At 1208 local time we're pulling into Bruxelles. Zuid and Midi are the same thing apparently, and we go from there one stop to Central where we find a load of left luggage lockers. A bit of rowdy Tetris and 10 euros or so later, we're largely baggage free and able to go get something to eat and drink, because that's a good idea right.

Mike and Andrei immediately go off piste, deciding to bugger off to some fancy brewery tap room that specialises in sour beer. The rest of us are on the hunt for moule frites. I make a jokey suggestion that we jump on a Brussels Boris Bike and this is, worryingly, taken seriously. Why are there municipal bikes in an almost entirely cobbled city?

Walking through the nearby arcade and then past the old town, Simon, Gareth and I discuss how fucking terrible an idea the mere existence of the World Cup 3rd/4th place playoff game is. 22 crestfallen players giving their all for 2 crestfallen managers. And which fans buy tickets for that game?

Anyway. We get to Cafe Grimbergen and order a load of Grimbergen and a ton of moules frites. John is happier than a pig in shit.

Post-lunch, we split into even smaller groups. Some go to buy provisions for the next train, while I stick with the "let's go buy some ice cream" group. It's just up here by the "canal" that's really a pond.

It's baking hot. I am stuffed to the gills and dehydrated but still manage to fit in a sorbet, which is delicious. Our private Facebook group jumps into life as everyone reminds everyone else that we absolutely have to be back at Central station by 1530. Andrei suggests we meet at Beer Planet, to which our party agrees. Ed though leads us to the main square first, for some involuntary tourism.

Rewinding through a couple of back streets and we arrive at Beer Planet which, much to my annoyance, isn't actually a bar but a shop. So I go into the shitty sports bar called Rooster's just next door-ish with Simon and Gareth. Don't Worry Be Happy is being played on the radio, which reminds me of hearing buskers play an instrumental version of it earlier in the day. An entirely instrumental cover of an acapella original tickles me.

Nadal vs Djokovic is on the TV, which confuses me because it's meant to be women's final day. Huh. Anyway. Andrei and Mike turn up with a load of beer and neck a quick IPA before we set off back to the station, arriving at exactly 1530 as promised. The lockers seem curiously hard to find this time, but eventually we get them and get the lift up to the platform. The 1549 to Amsterdam arrives and we are virtually the only people in first class. Hurrah!

Initially, 3 of us occupy a 6 person mini-cabin quiet coach thing and Andrew puts on some smooth jazz. He actually wants to sleep though, so after the powercut that drops us into pitch black darkness I bugger off to the main part of the coach. I go wake up Andrew after a while because we're about to cross a border and it needs toasting, of course. But there are far more interesting borders than this; check out the nearby Baarle-Hertog.

All those lines are borders! That's a Belgian enclave in the Netherlands, inside which are subsequent Dutch enclaves. You could cross borders about 40 times in an hour around there! What the fuck was it like when the two countries didn't share a currency?

Our tickets are checked and not all of us have filled them out properly, earning our first lecture of the day about the importance of doing so.

Anyway. There's beer, and I hate it. Seriously, each successive weird trappist or other beer that gets handed round I like less and less. Also I have a row with Mark, a proper one. I don't like being assertive so tend to only stand my ground if I'm right, and I try very hard to make sure I'm right before making most claims. So when I'm shouted at that the restaurant for the evening is in the red light district, which I absolutely goddamn definitely fucking know is not true, I take it badly. A disproportionate amount of evidence is required to demonstrate the simple fact which I presented but the whole exchange exhausts me.

Also the beer bottles are too big for the tiny at-seat bins, and the power sockets don't work properly.

The Dutch are so stereotypical.

About 45 minutes before arrival I suggest that we actually all have a sensible chat to make sure we each know where and when we're meeting, since the maximum number of people staying in the same place is 3. We go through it several times, but even so when we get into Amsterdam Centraal there's a chorus of "so what are we doing and when?". This pisses me off further so I just say "well, I know where I'm going, see you at 8.30" and bugger off.

It would be a pleasant walk to my hotel if I wasn't carrying an uncomfortable bag that I refuse to wheel on cobbled streets and uneven pavements because I can't stand the loud noise. Also I'm carrying a cooler bag whose handle is perpendicular to regular suitcase handles making them impossible to stack nicely. It's very fucking hot and my hotel has the steepest steps ever.

Getting up those with two bags is traumatic. I leave one on the little landing and head to reception where a friendly man checks me in. He hands me a receipt for city tax, which has my full credit card number on it WHAT THE FUCK. And he takes a €10 cash deposit for the card and TV remote control. Um, OK. I go into my room and it's tiny and dingy and has no window. Closing the door sets off an alarm. Sigh.

I go speak to the receptionist and he does something and the alarm stops. My single bed is tiny. Only one of the three lights works. The motion sensing light in the toilets doesn't stay on long enough, meaning I have to wave my hands about periodically when using the loo or having a shower, which is virtually the same thing because it's bloody cramped.

Five coat hooks? Really?

I am hating everything. I go to write down my thoughts, and of course I've lost the top half of my fucking pen so can't even do that. ARGH. RAGE RAGE RAGE.

Showered and out I go. The schadenforeman is really fucking weak. I am unable to find anything good about the situation. In a shop next door I buy a terrible Amsterdam tourist pen and a coke zero, then go for a wander around the canals. Helen used to live around here and it's probably nice if you're not in a horrific mood.

A poster gives some hint as to why affordable accommodation was so hard to find this weekend. Later I learn this is some kind of comedy and hip hop festival, and I get to display my knowledge of MC Miker G and Deejay Sven, but not yet.

Our venue for the evening is a stone's throw, and looks nice. I don't really fancy going there just yet and anyway I have an errand to run.

Helen lived around here for a while, and I send her pictures to reminisce over. It's nice. Again, had I not been in a terrible mood I might have appreciated it even more.

There's alleyway art as well. After this it's still too early to meet the others, so I slowly retrace some of my earlier steps in the stupid, vain hope that I might spot the missing top of my pen, assuming it came out when I was changing glasses from the same pocket. But maybe I just fancy staring at the pavement for a bit.

At 8.30pm on the dot I'm at Profelokaal d Wees. No-one else is, mind. But then Andrei and Andrew turn up, while I am discovering that the shitty tourist pen I bought DOES NOT FUCKING WORK. Oh my christ.

We're at this venue because Andrew knows the sister of the man who runs it, but also because Helen recommended it to me. It does 17+ types of jenever/genever, and a bunch of beers. As we get our first drinks, Andrew's friends start to show up, and Mark and John join us. We go outside, standing. Andrei and I are brothers in misery; he's dehydrated and hungry and had been expecting we were going to have a sit down meal all together in a reserved area, but in fact we've splintered into small groups and are only drinking or getting finger snacks.

Well, we try to. John, Andrei and I sit at a table and order a tasting flight of young geneve, which comes with cheese and delicious wild boar salami. We also order a large sharing platter of loads of stuff - bitterballen, cheese, meats, wurst, the lot. It never arrives. The others all move inside so we go join them and it seems that, oh, they were given our food. Sigh.

A further 4 genevers are ordered, old ones this time. I go ask for a chicken satay and instead am rewarded with the bill, because, fuck knows why. Did she think I asked for the check maybe? Because I didn't.

I'm actually cheering up a bit, probably due to the (by now) 9 types of gin I've had. It's gone 10pm and the Berliners still haven't bloody turned up. When they do we don't talk to them for long because we misery brothers are now on the hunt for large bottles of mineral water we can take back to our respective hotels. There's nowhere within 3 blocks that sell it, until we find out on our return that there's a convenience store just 3 minutes away in a slightly different direction to any of those we took. What we do learn is that when we'd spoken to Mike and his mate Phil about where to buy water, they had thought we were being euphemistic and going out to seek pills or whatever. Er, no, we wanted water.

Back at Proeflokaal I'm retrospectively annoyed we didn't buy a tasting flight of "riots", aka boilermakers, which is genever paired with beer. But, well, we didn't. I did at least get to take a piss in a barrel – a giant converted barrel, that is.

Lots more of Andrew's friends have turned up and the night is, apparently, only just starting. But fuck it, I am a self-imposed first casualty of the night, playing full Cinderella and disappearing – without even paying for anything – just before midnight. Even the promise/threat of an Indonesian middle of the road rock covers band playing in a dive bar at 2am isn't enough to tempt me away from the luxury of my shitty fucking hotel room.

I do at least manage to buy water, a white chocolate twix, and a coke zero. The steep steps are not as difficult to ascend as I had feared, and no disaster befalls my attempt to enter room 204. Midnight strikes just as I do so. The aircon isn't plugged in and I have no way of reaching it.

Helen is online at home having just watched The Matrix, and is telling me how much of an arsehole the cat has been all day. What a shitty Saturday this has turned into, after the great first half. I cannot fucking wait to leave Amsterdam.

Created By
Darren Foreman

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