Sunday, 2 March 2008

Another Belgian Waffle

Listless and restless

I found myself in Belgium this weekend having promised myself on Friday that I would stay in the Netherlands and try to be like a resident.

In my restlessness, I had to get out of the house before I ended up spending the whole weekend cooped up like an offending prisoner in solitary confinement.

In the end, I did nothing, I stayed in Antwerp overnight without doing much but catching much needed sleep in my hotel room, as if I cannot get that kind of sleep at home.

Service and pique

I checked out early and headed for Brussels where this time I had a friendly tiller clerk at the ticket office administer to my needs. The last time I was there, I was buffeted by a pig-ignorant buffoon who I expressly told I want a 1st Class return to Brussels and I ended up with a 2nd Class ticket.

When I returned to change the ticket, he said, I never told him I wanted a 1st Class ticket as well as refusing to speak in English – I was almost incensed with rage then I decided there was no point giving him the pleasure of annoying me.

Lockers open for pissing

When I got to Brussels Central Station, I can report that they have adjusted the self-service luggage lockers to take round figures of coinage rather than the €3.10 or €3.60 which I reported in April 2006.

Progress, I would say that I walked into town to be deliberately underwhelmed once again by the great pissing attraction of Manneken Pis, bedecked in one of his changing costumes and urinating through an opening in his clothes.

Lately cancelled and out-of-date

That feeling of things working in Brussels was soon dashed as I waited to get on the train to Amsterdam which was to leave at 17:19 – in fact, I was surprised that it was not displayed as running late, it is usually late.

Suffice it to say that after 8 trains left the platform I was to get the train from that the estimated 15 minute lateness, the notice board finally conceded that it could not determine when the train, one station away in Brussels Zuid where it starts the journey would arrive – a journey of 7 minutes at most.

In the end, we all decided the train was cancelled and no one had the courtesy to tell us that was the case.

Shopping for some snack, I took a bag of luxury madeleines off the shelf and had the urge to check the expiry dates, all four bags had expired, one was even almost 3 weeks out of date - I took all 4 bags to the till and told the assistant; these should not be on the shelves - I was tempted to go back and check 30 minutes later to see if they had returned to the shelves.

I love England for the fact that shops can be closed by health and safety officers for selling perishables that are out-of-date. I see too many of these infringements in supermarkets in the Netherlands too, it appears they do not take these things seriously at all.

Bunched up train crowds

At 18:19, the next scheduled train arrived just a minute late and we got on. Before we left Belgium there was only standing room the 1st Class carriages, still some people had the gall to put part of their luggage on seats.

It was interesting to see from the crowd of about 15 people who could have demanded those seats, very few are that assertive. I found that really strange, there was a point where I felt I should ask the people to offer those seats to others.

The conductors walking through the trains should have felt duty bound to ensure those standing could sit where luggage occupied seats, but they did nothing.

For a crowded coach, it was a bit peaceful and those who had their phones going off recklessly got looks that made them behave.

In the snippet of time which was my experience – maybe Brussels doesn’t really work just yet, but things are improving.

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