Being on the Eurostar heading out to Brussels gives me an rare two hours in which to read, play 3DS, play iPad games or indeed time to write blog entries. And yet I have nothing to offer from Monday/Tuesday’s excursion. So I’m going to have to catch up now.

Things just didn’t seem to go “right” the second I picked up the tickets at St Pancras (for those who don’t like rants or whining, you might want to skip ahead). As it was lunchtime and there wasn’t really any time to get food in the GMH refectory (not that it was particularly tempting apart from the Syrup Sponge pudding). Alas, the Continental Café was closed for refurbishment so the only place at the terminal was Café Nero which as one could imagine was heaving. This was compounded by the fact the Paris train was due to leave shortly after the Brussels train so the lounge heavily…subscribed.

After checking my ticket, I was in the dreaded Coach 18 which is where the under 5’s seem to get crammed in. Lo and behold, one was parked directly opposite complete with frazzled mother who tried (and failed) to keep her hooligan under control. There are bruises on my shins from where the little brat was kicking. I support fully the notion of child free flights/train journeys; equal rights be damned.

Eventually the train rolls into Brussels, dive onto the Metro (broken ticket machines aplenty at Gare du Midi) and head over to Rogier which I kinda think of as Tottenham Court Road (de Brouckère is my Oxford Circus Equivalent whilst Bourse is Bond Street). The Hotel Max is about two minutes walk down the road and I’m somewhat anxious to see just what this minimalist hotel is going to be like.

I enter the doors and see…I don’t know – a Stag Party? There were five men and a woman, except that the woman is a man in drag looking like the worst kind of 1970s New York hooker. They were Brits, from Lancashire judging by the accents and were having issues checking in as the hotel computers seemed to be on the fritz. The sole member of staff was trying to sort their problems out but she wasn’t being given an easy time of it.

My turn came up, computer failed, wouldn’t dispense the hotel key and I thought it took payment twice. After a fair amount of wrangling, we got the position sorted out and I could finally head upstairs to drop off my bags. The room itself was very utilitarian, huge window overlooking the street (and the sex shops below) and twin beds which probably explains the higher than expected price of the room. Popped down to the vend-o-rama on the first floor to see the choices of food and drink available + the toiletries vending machine (seriously – all the bathroom had was a free bar of soap). Bought me a shaving kit and shower gel and decided to head out for a walk.

Didn’t know what I wanted to do that evening though there was the notion to go and find a proper Hamman somewhere just to rinse off the earlier annoyances of the day. After finding that L’Oasis was just up the road near the humorously titled “Ring”, I headed on down for a good old sweat in a 19th century Bordello environment. Saunas in Europe are a little more like Gentlemen’s clubs rather than health spas and designed to maximise the socialisation potential, including licensed bars. Of course heat and alcohol don’t mix that well; they both dehydrate so when I hit the bar, I made sure I was finished sweating.

My general stupidity together with a somewhat cavalier attitude that evening blinded me to the fact I was drinking far too much, mixing said drinks and not eating. It was especially pleasing when I only ended up paying €15 for what turned out to be one Leffe and 4/5 quadruples. So the ralphing which was to follow certainly was inevitable. Went to bed without having stocked up on water or a shower so woke up feeling absolutely lousy. Plus – this was Brussels time, one hour ahead of the UK so getting up at 7.15 am was really 6.15 am my time.

After slashing my thumb on my shaver which didn’t stop bleeding for an hour (probably thanks to the alcohol kicking about my insides, I was horrified to see I was already quite late. The hotel didn’t serve breakfast and there was no time to run next door to pick up anything so I went to the first meeting of the day feeling horrible and being rained on quite heavily. I dunno what I must have looked like but I’d imagine “pitiable”.

Managed to get through the pre-meeting at the embassy and then it was on to the Justus Liptus building where to my annoyance I found the security arrangements had changed and I couldn’t get in without summoning assistance from across the road. Customer Service…isn’t one of the European Union’s stronger assets. And after coffee and lots of water, I was able to get through the rest of the day also.

After the meeting broke and a more suitable change of clothes entered into, the next stage before the 1956 train back was a trip to the supermarket for some treats. Rather than going to the one I went to twice before, I tried the Carrefour in the Shopping centre by Rogier Metro station as that was much larger than Ansbach. There was an impressive amount of food on sale and the Belgians certainly like their Delicatessen goods. Picked up a bunch of food (especially cheese) and forewent the alcohol this time as I’d lost the urge to bring some Lindman’s Kriek back.

Of course I get stopped by security outside the supermarket – I had to re-enter to drop off my trolley and tried to leave by the same means. So was made to unpack a delicately balanced bag in front of a crowd of onlookers to prove I hadn’t nicked anything. It was shaping up to be a pretty sucky day but at least there was the perverse satisfaction of seeing the guard disappointed.

Was too late to get something proper to eat so for the third time in 24 days, my meal had to be sandwiches, this time at the Subway opposite the Eurostar platform entrance. Train was completely packed on the way back and alas I had a seat companion so couldn’t stretch out. Arrived back slightly early though but a 20 minute slog through the second set of passport controls on the trip at St Pancras paid put to any notion of suddenly swinging south to go to the Griffin so just went home.

And if you think that sucked – you don’t want to know what went on in my absence. The world seemed to go mad…I’ll post why in my next blog update.

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