Friday, 21 April 2017

Thursday 20th April 2017

Away day to Leuven

We had set the alarms to go off at quarter to five, they would both come on to the dulcet tones of Radio 2, old radio quiet, thinking that maybe something gentle would ease our brains into Thursday. Instead, imagine my surprise for Down, Down by Status Quo to fade into the obvious opening bars of Highway to Hell. I laid there listening to it, even though the radio wasn't quite tuned in, it was clearly AC/DC blaring away, and an unGodly hour. Apparently this was the Radio 2 Rocks show, however, looking at the playlist, Flock of Seagulls, Oasis and Kansas doesn't suggest rock to me. But AC/DC is good enough for me.

Jools is up, so I get up to, and between us we do the chores of the morning so I can be out of the house and at Martin Mill by six to get the ticket and wait for the train.

As I wait on the platform, the sun has risen, and some of last years teazles waved in the light breeze between my eye and the sun: I take a photo. Of course.

Martin Mill sunrise But I am on the train for just half an hour, just to Ashford where I will change to get a Eurostar to Brussels, then an IC train to Leuven. And I have to say, it is a pretty nice way to start the day, a seat to myself, as the sun rises higher and the landscape and buildings in Dover turn to gold.

The train fills up until we get to Ashford, when I get off, forcing my way through the crowd of commuters trying to get on. Down the steps into the subway, turn left to the little used west side of the station, up the steps and escalators to the Eurostar check in and lounge. Three staff are waiting for customers, my ticket is scanned, then I put my bags on the belt for the scanning machine, then through two sets of immigration checks, and into the large lounge that overlooks the roof of the station.

Waiting at Ashford A few other people are waiting, so I get a coffee and a Bakewell Slice, and sit down to wait. No long queues here, just pleasant and peaceful. And no worry about getting a seat as all our seats are reserved. So, even when the train is called and we are allowed onto the platform, we all amble and not rush, just like we're going on our holibobs, not work. Although I do feel that only a few of us are going to work, there are families going to Disneyland, all with Mickey Mouse hats on, although the younger children are barely awake.

Thundering 66 The train glides in and those of us in above cattle class are met at the carriage door and shown to our seats. I can move to a nice dounle set of armchairs, even facing the way of travel. Would I like breakfast I am asked. Yes, I think I would. Coffee? Yes please.

Somewhere between Calais and Lille The train pulls out and is soon at top speed going back to the Kent coast, rattling through the Eurostar depot and then into the darkness of the tunnels. I time the transit under the sea at 19 minutes, emerging at Calais into bright sunshine. It seems that I am the only one who is looking out the window, as we travel towards Lille, over rich countryside, dotted with picturesque villages and the sky pierced by the spires of their churches. It is a delight, only problem was we were doing nearly 190mph, so as soon as you saw something, it was gone again.

Wheanwhile, in France I take a few shots of what I see, just to show I'm not making this all up.

Through Lille and into Belgium, arriving in Brussels at just gone ten. Oh well, to Leuven and to work, I suppose. I have to get a train there first of course, so try to make sense of the departures board, where on the final destinations are listed. So I walk the width of the station, checking the screens on the information screens until I get to platform 12 and the one I want, in 5 minutes, direct to Leuven.

Midi Arrival I go up to the platform to wait, take a few shots, and soon see my train approaching, snaking through the jumble of points in the distance, pulling a rake of double-decked carriages. Needless to say, once the train stops and the doors open, I go to the dop deck so to get the best views out over the city. At this point the tracks snake and wind their way through the middle of the city, through a dark tunnel, in the middle of which is Centraal Station. The ride is rough, and not inter city quality, but then it is expected.

Good morning, Leuven Once though Nord station, we speed up and leave the city behind, rushing over the countryside, through the suburbs, over the infamous ring road until the large fermenting towers at the Stella Artois factory can be seen. Leuven again.

Good morning, Leuven I get off, swinging my work bag, now without carrying strap after that broke a month or so back. The zips are failing and stitching coming apart. I need a new bag, and with two hours to go before the meeting, I decide to go on the hunt for a bag shop. Shouldn't be hard, right? Lots of bags about, but almost all are the tiny fashionable handbag variety, and although it would be a talking point for me to walk into a meeting with one of those, not very practical. I reach the church, and remember I promised myself a waffle here one time I visit, and with those visits running out, I see there is no queue, so get a waffle, bog standard variety. I retreat to a ledge beside the road surrounding the church, and tuck in.

One hundred and eight And I was disappointed. Not what I was expecting at all. Maybe I should have had the chocolate covered one, or something even more exotic, but this seemed to have a sprinkling of sugar, and that was it. But I eat it, not before snapping said waffle for my picture of the day.

Along the street I find a department store, go in and through the lingerie section, the largest in Leuven apparently, down the stairs I come to the luggage section, and find a bag. I would have liked a larger one, but there was a difference of over €100 between the one I got and one with a few more pockets. So, I buy that and make my way to the office. I am given a desk to work at, and so make sure everything from the old bag is moved to the new one, but best of all, put the strap on, which means hands free again, which means easier for snapping on the go.

Anyway, best get to the room for the meeting.

Afterwards, the three of us do the usual thing, go down the main street to the town square, and retire to The Capital for a couple of decompression beers, and so quiet swearing. Now, although sunny, it is chilly, but not chilly enough to sit inside, and yet our glorious leader who, lets not forget, is descended from Vikings, thinks it is too cold to do so, so inists we sit at the table by the door, so we can still look at the scene outside. We have a beer, then another soon afterwards so the first one would not get lonely.

Chimay Tripel draught Aah, this at least makes the pointless traveling and meetings bearable. With just one more of these days for me, I will miss them, but I know how good they are, so will savour every moment.

Jesper leads us to the burger restaurant, and buys us a late lunch, and more IPA. And fries and onion rings. I have a Greek burger, which has feta cheese and chargrilled aubergine. As you can imagine as being the aubergine's chiefs publicist, I can recommend very highly.

Sint-Pieterskerk, Leuven And like that the day is over, and it is time to beat retreat to the station to catch our trains either to the airport of for me, back to Brussels. As we walk back, people are sitting outside the street cafes, drinking beer and wine, looking very happy. We should have joined them, but we have places to be.

Stadhuis, Leuven I arrive at the station with a few minutes before a direct train pulls in. It is packed, but I get a seat, then at Nord and Centraal, we pick up more passengers until it is my turn to apologise as I need to get off. I walk to the Eurostar terminal to find a massive queue, and lots of stressed people waiting to catch the earlier train. I join the queue and inch towards the check in, then queue again to get through security and again through two lots of immigration. It has taken an hour, meaning I have half an hour to kill before we can board the later train.

I sit and people watch, not much else to do really, there is a high end chocolate shop, but does paying £15 for a bar of dark chocolate really make you happy? I decided not to find out and carry on watching.

We are allowed to board, and warned we might be late in leaving. Oh well, nothing I can do about it, so I read a magazine until we leave at eight or so. Only ten minutes late, which might not sound much, but usually I only have a ten minute wait at Ebbsfleet before the train back to Dover. No point in fretting.

Bondgenotenlaan, Leuven We leave Brussels, the city, sky and suburbs bathed in a rich golden light, on a perfect spring evening as the sun got low in the west. I am served a cold meal, a small bottle of wine and a poppyseed roll, so to munch on as we cruise home. I am enthralled by the view out of the window, but around me people either watch videos or work.

e320 It is sunset as we get to Calais, and the sky is fire red, it is a stunning end to the day, and so we emerge into Kent at Folkestone with darkness nearly having fallen. We are 11 minutes late, and that meant I would miss my train, but maybe that was late as well......

I scramble off the train at Ebbsfleet thinking of the absurdity that the Eurostar had passed within ten miles of home, yet I had to travel to the banks of the Thames to get off te train, and travel back. Bad enough when on time, but as I climb up the stairs from the platform, I see that the time was 20:58, and my train had left three minutes ago.

Night of the Javelin I sigh and call Jools; she will meet me at Ashford in the car, and I will catch the half past eight train, meaning i have 35 minutes to kill on the station, with no shops of other people. I while away the time by looking at the updates from the Man Utd game, hoping that they might slip up. They don't, but still, we can hope.

Jools is waiting for me, so we drive home in light traffic, catching up on the day's news, getting home at just gone half nine. I am pooped, as usual, so boil the kettle for a brew and break out the ginger nuts.

The cats seem happy to see us, and tell us how hungry they were.

Nothing really changes, so I put some food out, and we go to bed. Phew.

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