Brussels 2017–Day 4

Sunday, March 26th 2017

This was our last day in Brussels and as our train was to leave at 11:56, there was not much time to do anything apart from pack up and make our way to Bruxelles Midi Station, our point of departure. The clocks changed to Summer Time during the night, meaning that we have had one hour less sleep. On the other hand we would gain an hour on returning to London because the UK is on Western European Time which remains one hour behind Central European Time.

Having washed and dressed and packed, we left our small, slightly mis-shapen room for the last time. Cramming ourselves and our bags into the cranky lift-without-a-door, we let it transport us to the ground floor. There we met a manager we had not seen before and checked out in the small reception area.

Brussels has a very good public transport system, run by a company called the STIB, which stands for Société des Transports Intercommunaux de Bruxelles (Brussels Intercommunal Transport Company). The best way to to pay fares is to use the electronic smart card called MOBIB. This acronym stands for MOBility In Belgium (yes, they name it in English). You can buy MOBIB cards from ticket machines at stations or at ticket offices with human clerks. There are cards valid for various periods and I think there is also a personal version that can be recharged like the Oyster Card used in London.

We had already bought 48-hour MOBIB cards for travelling around on Friday and Saturday and last night we bought MOBIB cards to take us to the station this morning. For a few euros you get a card that is valid on all public transport (buses, trams and metro) for one hour from the moment that you first touch in on any vehicle.

Tigger knows I tend to become anxious if we tarry in going to the station so proposed that we make our way there straightaway. We could have breakfast at the station.

We went to the stop on Avenue des Gloires Nationales (National Glories Avenue) and caught a number 87 bus. This took us to a station called Simonis where we changed to the metro. It was a short ride from there to Bruxelles Midi train station. The only problem was that on this large metro station, although there were  abundant signs directing you to street level and to other metro lines, there was absolutely no sign indicating the way to the train station, a strange lapsus. In the end, I had to ask a couple of metro employees.

Having arrived at our destination, the first thing to do was to locate Eurostar Departures. They had sent us an email saying that it had been moved from its normal position to a temporary location and we wanted to make sure we knew where it was. In the event, it was not difficult to find as it was well signposted.

We now had plenty of time for breakfast before facing the travails of the baggage search and passport control. We knew where to go for breakfast as we had been there before.

Sam's Cafe
Sam’s Cafe

Sam’s cafe has seating inside and ‘outside’ on the station concourse. You order at the counter and then find a vacant table or, as in our case, one of you finds the table while the other buys the breakfast. We had coffee and our last sugar-glazed Belgian croissants.

We relaxed and watched the people going by and the activities of a busy urban station. I have become fond of Brussels and its inhabitants and was a little sorry to be leaving. Everyone I talked to was polite, friendly and helpful. One specific case stands out and I will recount it.

On Friday, we set about buying our 48-hour travel passes but couldn’t work out how to do it. All we could see was machines selling MOBIB cards and we didn’t realize at that point that these were what we should buy. We needed advice.

Beside Simonis metro station buses stop for their drivers’ rest period. I approached one of these buses and shyly tapped on the door. The door promptly opened and I asked the driver how I could buy travel passes. He immediately got up, and prepared to leave the bus to show me what to do. I was embarrassed by this because I didn’t want to interrupt his rest period but he stoutly said ‘It’s my job to help people with their travel’. Taking his coat and bag, and shutting the bus doors, he led me to the MOBIB machine where Tigger was waiting.

He explained that we needed to buy MOBIB cards for the required period and proceeded to press the necessary buttons on the machine to select the 48-hour passes we required. The machine apparently takes coins only, not notes. Happily, I had lots of coins accumulated from previous trips to Europe but was unused the different denominations. I tipped the coins into my hand and the bus driver started feeding them into the machine.

Unfortunately, something went wrong. Possibly the machine timed out but whatever the cause, the machine reset itself, swallowing our money. The bus driver was incensed by this and pummelled the machine but to no purpose. So then he took us to a ticket office with a clerk and demanded how we could get our money back. The clerk said the only way was to note the date and time and the number of the machine and write to the STIB. All he could do was to sell us tickets across the counter. The bus driver was indignant on our behalf but there was nothing he or anyone could do.

Now we had tickets, the bus driver asked where we wanted to go and then accompanied us to the metro, down two escalators and pointed out the platform where we must catch our train. When we finally parted company this was, as you can imagine, on very cordial terms. We were grateful to him both for the time and energy he put into helping us and his amiable demeanour throughout.

If that was the most notable example of kindness and helpfulness, there were others that, if less spectacular, nonetheless left us with a happy impression of Brussels and its citizens.

 

Having finished breakfast, we decided we should report to Eurostar Departures, knowing that you need to get there in good time in order to complete the formalities. However, by the time we had been through the baggage search (much less rigorous and fussy than when you travel by air) and passport control (both the Belgian and the British), we still had some time to wait.

At last the platform of our train was announced and we all progressed up the moving carpet and set about finding our reserved seats. The train stopped only at Lille and then at St Pancras International. Somehow, the train gives less of a sense of international travel that flying does. I had to remind myself ‘Now we are travelling through France’ and then ‘Now we are travelling through Southern England’. Disembarking at St Pancras and following the tortuous route to the exit, it almost seemed as though we hadn’t been away.

But we had. And we had seen some very interesting places and met some very pleasant people and I look forward to doing it again in the not too distant future.

Copyright 2017 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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